Flesh for Frankenstein (1974)
By: Julian on June 17, 2010  | 
Beyond | All Regions, PAL | 2.40:1 (Non-anamorphic) | English DD 1.0 | 94 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Paul Morrissey
Starring: Udo Kier, Joe Dallesandro, Arno Juerging, Monique van Vooren, Dalila Di Lazzaro
Screenplay: Paul Morrissey, Tonino Guerra
Country: Italy
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To know death, Otto, you have to fuck life... in the gall bladder!

My interest in Flesh for Frankenstein, a film I had overlooked for far too long, was reignited after hearing John Waters quote the movie's best-known line in his 'This Filthy World' show in 2010. Paul Morrissey's take on Mary Shelley's 1818 novel is unique and brilliant, enshrined in the pantheon of video nasties and replete with violence, depravity and a deliriously fun performance by Udo Kier as Baron Frankenstein.

Baron Frankenstein lives with his Baroness (Monique van Vooren, a Belgian actress who appeared in Pasolini's Il Decameron) and their two children, and his Aryan aspirations of a master race. His plan is to create a male and female prototype, and let eugenics take care of the rest. With the able assistance of Otto (Arno Juerging), the devious Frankenstein goes about his experiments in the basement of his mansion, while Baroness Frankenstein plays away games with Nicholas the stableboy (Joe Dallesandro).

Paul Morrissey followed this film with Blood for Dracula, and the two have been seen as companion pieces because of their violent, sexual content, their take on classic horror material and significant cast and crew overlap (to name a couple: Kier, Dallessandro and Juerging all appear in similar roles, Morrissey directs an Andy Warhol production and Italian exploitation director Antonio Margheriti plays second-unit; more on Margheriti later, though). However, Flesh for Frankenstein is the inferior film because it doesn't synthesise plot and exploitation quite as well as Blood for Dracula does, and while the former is more violent, the all-important scenes of exposition tend to drag their feet a bit.

As an exploitation film, though, this latter point is Flesh for Frankenstein's only failing. Morrissey's film is a consummate exercise in sleazy, violent Grindhouse cinema, a crowd-pleaser for genre fans on a multitude of levels. The most prominent is undoubtedly Kier's performance as Baron Frankenstein, a histrionic psychopath with necrophilic tendencies. I've read thousands of words about Flesh for Frankenstein and a sexual allegory that some perceive to be writ large, but I think that's a pretty difficult symbolism to extract from Baron Frankenstein defiling the corpses he created: I very much doubt Morrissey and Tonino Guerra's screenplay thought beyond giving the punters an immensely engaging exercise in depraved exploitation. Morrissey may have given this a little bit more thought in Blood, though, but I think the vampiric presence better lends itself to a more sophisticated commentary on sexuality.

The only three worthy contributions Andy Warhol made to popular culture throughout his career as a pretentious show-pony (yes, dear reader, I'm perfectly comfortable with denigrating one of the twenty-first century's most significant pop culture icons in a handful of words) was this film, its companion piece, and the Velvet Underground, and Warhol himself didn't do anything for two and a half of them. Indeed, Warhol's contribution to Flesh (and Blood) is virtually in name only. It hasn't stopped the phalanx of witless Warhol adorers to flock to this film in droves, but anything that maximises its visibility is fine by me. It's also a testament to Morrissey's talent that he effortlessly straddles the line between the Factory and the Grindhouse without turning his film into a self-indulgent shambles, although it's the Grindhouse more at work here; the Factory's politics and loose sexual mores are quite prominent in Blood.

The reason that Flesh is more a Grindhouse effort than a Factory effort may well be because of Antonio Margheriti. The Italian exploitation director best-known for Cannibal Apocalypse is credited for second-unit director and make-up department duties, but he is broadly considered to have done some direction on Flesh and Blood, although the exact volume of this work is not documented. Kier has since said, though, that Margheriti had no involvement with the film's direction. Nevertheless, Margheriti is credited on the IMDb as a co-director for Flesh, and many websites move forward on the premise that Margheriti directed the film. His fingerprints are certainly on a number of scenes, especially those containing particularly graphic, leering violence. But as I've written in my review of Blood for Dracula, Morrissey's influence as Warhol's and the Factory's representative is also ever-present. My best assumption based on the content of the film is that Morrissey was largely responsible for directorial duties, and Margheriti had a considerably broad influence. It's interesting to note that Italian prints credit Margheriti for having directed Flesh, omitting mention of Morrissey altogether.

Flesh for Frankenstein was filmed in the Cinecittà, a Roman film studio that has housed many great productions, from Ben Hur to Gangs of New York. Like its companion film, Flesh carries with it an Italian Gothic aesthetic that DP Luigi Kuveiller lifted from the likes of Bava. The visuals are very effective and Baron Frankenstein's mansion is a terrific setting for this sort of homage to Italian Gothic horror cinema. This is a great film, and one that exploitation fans should be absolutely delighted by.
The film is presented in 2.40:1 (its original aspect ratio is 2.35:1). It's a disappointing transfer and looks like it has been sourced from a VHS print.
One English Dolby Digital mono track. Claudio Gizzi is responsible for the score, and it's very good. His work on Blood is similarly effective.
Extra Features
None. The R2 Tartan release has an audio commentary with Morrissey, Kier and film historian Maurice Yacowar, 24-minutes of production stills commentated on by Morrissey and 4-minutes of screen tests. Audio-visually, the Tartan release is reportedly superior to the R1, and certainly superior to this R4 edition: it is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement, with an English Dolby 2.0 mono soundtrack. This reviewer will certainly upgrade: Force have released a two-fer for around $20, but Flesh would be a terrific experience with a clean, crisp picture.
The Verdict
There are some failings in Paul Morrissey's first horror effort to carry the "Andy Warhol presents..." tag, but Flesh for Frankenstein remains an effective and very entertaining exploitation movie. Highly recommended.
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score

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