RICHARD MARKWORTH takes a look at Flesh for Frankenstein 1973 aka Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein
TITLE: Flesh for Frankenstein 1973 aka Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein
DIRECTOR: Paul Morrissey
CAST: Joe Dallesandro, Udo Kier, Monique van Vooren, Arno Juerging, Dalila Di Lazzaro, Srdjan Zelenovic, Marco Liofredi, Nicoletta Elmi, Liù Bosisio, Cristina Gaioni
Written and directed by Paul Morrissey, “Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein”, AKA “Flesh for Frankenstein” (1973), is an arthouse pastiche of classic Hammer horrors shot in Italy. Despite the title, Warhol had minimal involvement, with his name appearing primarily for marketing purposes.
By 1973 horror cinema was beginning to eschew familiar gothic trappings and move into contemporary territory, as exemplified by productions such as William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist”. However, here Morrissey was clearly attempting to evoke the almost fairy-tale look and feel of the 1960s Hammers.
A classy score by Claudio Gizzi, some beautiful photography by Luigi Kuveiller and old-school effects by Carlo Rambaldi contribute greatly to this end. Unfortunately, Morrissey’s exploitative cocktail of gratuitous sex, nudity, and gore, sometimes combined, prevent this Euro sleaze-fest from achieving Hammer’s class.
The plot revolves around Baron Frankenstein (Udo Kier) as he attempts to create a subservient master race by constructing a “zombie” couple whom he plans will mate and produce perfect children.
If this Nazi-style scheme isn’t enough to cast doubt over Frankenstein’s sanity it should also be pointed out he has an incestuous marriage with his sister Katrin (Monique van Vooren) and, despite the pair having produced children, can only gain sexual gratification by rummaging in the surgical incisions he’s made in female corpses in the ultimate example of invasive procedure.
Meanwhile, the libidinous Katrin prefers the traditional approach and takes lovers to scratch her carnal itch.
Ever the perfectionist, the Baron requires a perfect Serbian nose to complete the ideal look for his male creation. Furthermore, to ensure the subject can fulfil Frankenstein’s procreation targets, he decides he must obtain the brain of a lustful man, with the local bawdyhouse the obvious venue to source a donor.
Farmhand Nicholas (Joe Dallesandro) fits the bill regarding the latter quality, spending most of his working day entertaining young ladies before heading off to the brothel to unwind. Clearly the man needs a hobby.
Nicholas learns his asexual best friend, Sacha (Srdjan Zelenovic) is considering the priesthood so talks him into visiting the bordello to see what he’s missing. A mishap involving Nicholas, two prostitutes and a stray lizard (yes, really) creates a case of mistaken identity as Frankenstein and assistant Otto (Arno Jurging) loiter outside waiting to ambush a suitable customer. Deciding Sacha is his man, his Serbian nose sealing the deal, Frankenstein and Otto attack the friends, clubbing Nicholas unconscious and removing Sacha’s head with a massive pair of shears.
Despite the shock of discovering Sacha’s decapitated corpse, Nicholas manages to keep an appointment with Katrin the next morning. Baroness Frankenstein, having previously caught Nicholas philandering with a farm girl during working hours, had summoned him ostensibly to chide him over his behaviour but, deciding she likes what she’s seen, seduces him and employs him as a personal gigolo/domestic.
Frankenstein introduces his zombie couple to the dysfunctional family at dinner, claiming they are patients. Nicholas, serving the food, recognises Sacha’s head on the body of the male and decides to investigate. Will he get to the bottom of Frankenstein’s evil schemes?
This film is best viewed as a black comedy, albeit a somewhat scuzzy one, that aims very much for shock value.
Dallesandro demonstrates a limited acting range. His facial expression, whether involved in a threesome or spotting his friend’s re-purposed head, barely changes. Sadly, he is not the worst offender in the cast. The dialogue throughout is generally risible, although I read this as deliberate humour by Morrissey.
Originally filmed in 3D, many shots, such as body parts presented to the camera, were obviously constructed purely to take advantage of the medium and some of these do seem redundant when viewing in 2D.
However, there is much for horror fans to savour and Kier saves the film. His Frankenstein, far removed from Peter Cushing’s icy aristocrat, displays a manic, veering into camp, creepiness that repulses the viewer yet simultaneously draws attention.
The film clearly has something to say regarding the upper classes’ treatment of the poor, with the Baron and Katrin callously exploiting the worker’s bodies for their own selfish purposes and the ending, involving the Frankenstein children, is decidedly unsettling.
Don’t expect high art. And certainly, don’t watch with granny!