Flesh for Frankenstein

Movie Information

Flesh for Frankenstein, part of a series of Classic Cinema From Around the World, will be presented at 8 p.m. Friday, March 7, at Courtyard Gallery, 9 Walnut St. in downtown Asheville. Info: 273-3332.
Genre: Campy Horror
Director: Paul Morrissey
Starring: Udo Kier, Joe Dallesandro, Monique van Vooren, Arno Juerging, Srdjan Zelenovic
Rated: X

Released in 1973 as Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein (though I’ve never seen a print with that title actually on it) in a 3-D process called “Spacevision,” Flesh for Frankenstein holds a special place in history as the last really “mainstream” X-rated movie. It was also one of the most genially demented. Writer-director Paul Morrissey (although Italian horror hack Antonio Margheriti’s name is sometimes associated with the film, those involved in its making say he had nothing to do with it) took the basic Frankenstein story and embellished it. He threw in some Aryan-superman philosophy of the Wagnerian stripe (whenever the Baron waxes ecstatic about his new race of beings, a bit of Tannhauser comes up on the soundtrack), a wide array of sexual perversity (the Baron’s sexually voracious sister is also the mother of his creepy children), tons of severed limbs and sundry body parts and oceans of really red blood. Morrissey brought it to life with the most improbable display of awkward overacting imaginable. To say that the film is for specialized tastes understates the case. It’s simply a gloriously decadent, degenerate joke that you either get, or you don’t.

Compared to Frankenstein, Morrissey’s companion piece, Blood for Dracula (1974), is reasonably restrained. There’s no subtlety with Frankenstein. No one simply delivers his or her dialogue; they scream it. Even reliable Udo Kier seems to be operating on the belief that what he’s saying will be funnier if it’s pitched to the last row of the balcony (or perhaps he’s trying to drown out the dreadful performance of Monique van Vooren as his sister). The facial expressions—especially those of Arno Juerging as the Baron’s assistant and Srdjan Zelenovic as the would-be monk the Baron has mistaken as a good candidate for breeding a stock zombie—are of an acting style that went out of movie fashion around 1915. Of course, all this is as deliberate as the casting of Brooklynese Joe Dallesandro as an Italian stable boy (it’s essentially the same role he plays in Dracula, but minus the Marxist rhetoric here), and it’s meant to be funny in its campy incongruity. Whether it is—and whether one’s tolerance for strangeness includes flying viscera, severed limbs and incest—is a purely personal matter.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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