In Serbia, Baron Frankenstein lives with the Baroness and their two children. He dreams of a super-race, returning Serbia to its grand connections to ancient Greece. In his laboratory, assisted by Otto, he builds a desirable female body, but needs a male who will be super-body and super-lover. He thinks he has found just the right brain to go with a body he’s built, but he’s made an error, taking the head of a asexual ascetic. Meanwhile, the Baroness has her lusts, and she fastens on Nicholas, a friend of the dead lad. Can the Baron pull off his grand plan? He brings the two zombies together to mate. Meanwhile, Nicholas tries to free his dead friend. What about the Baron’s children?
Flesh for Frankenstein – 1973
“To know death, you have to f*ck life in the gall bladder.”
– Baron Frankenstein
To be honest, part of me feels that the above quote from Flesh for Frankenstein pretty much sums up anything I could say about the movie far better than a full review ever could. Paul Morrissey (writer and director of this film, and an important part of Warhol’s Factory; he also directed Blood for Dracula as well as many of the earlier films) put together one of the more unique tales in the Frankenstein vernacular, a film that has managed to be praised as art and laughed off as trash simultaneously, a film that managed to land itself on the “Video Nasties” list. One has to imagine that this is not exactly what Mary Shelley originally had in mind that fateful night, but I bet she’d crack a smile or two if she ever saw it.
In Paul Morrissey’s version of the classic monster tale, Baron Frankenstein (Udo Kier) and his assistant, Otto (Arno Juerging), are working on recreating life. They have already created a female “zombie,” played by Dalila Di Lazzaro, and now must create a male in order to have them reproduce and begin a super race. They need a brain from a strong, powerful male, one who is good with the ladies, so to speak, and is Serbian (apparently this plays into the “super race” aspect), so they decide to go to the local bordello, jump a guy (whose name is Sacha, played by Srdjan Zelenovic) who seems to have made an impression on the ladies inside, and cut off his head.
Meanwhile, Baroness Frankenstein (Monique van Vooren; also Lyra the She-Devil in 1953’s Tarzan and the She-Devil as well as Miss Clean in the 1960s Batman TV series) wants next to nothing to do with the family or the castle she lives in, but instead has her eyes on pretty much any male who comes along, aside from her husband. She sends the children off to play or be watched by the maid, and meets up with stableboy Nicholas (Warhol regular Joe Dallesandro), who she entices into a steady sexual relationship and also hires on as a servant around the castle. Only problem is, Nicholas happens to be Sacha’s friend, was even with him when he was killed, so he finds it strange to see him walking around the castle, now alive and somehow taller.
Flesh for Frankenstein is all over the place in its over the top craziness and excess, but it’s also a well put together film. It is a very interesting story, shot wonderfully (which is the intended recipient of the “art” compliments) while at the same time featuring gratuitous blood and gore and nudity (which no doubt gets it labeled “trash” in some circles). The acting is not stiff, but rather a bit overboard at times, giving it a Pink Flamingoes/Desperate Living/early John Waters vibe, and yet that somehow works out. And even if a horror fan finds themselves bored throughout the first 3/4 of the film (not sure how, but just in case…), the finale is something that has to be seen, up there with Reservoir Dogs in its absolute destruction.
To imagine which aspect of this film prompted its banning and “Nasty” label in the UK really is a toss-up. Put every detail into a fishbowl and pick one out and you’ve got a winner. It could be the sexual content, which is fairly consistent throughout the film. It could be the 3D gore and disemboweling, often shoving organs out a body and into the audience’s face, whether that be a liver, or a heart, or the afore-mentioned gall bladder. Speaking of which, the quote I opened with, that scene (no spoilers here, my friend) is a sure fire, big neon sign just screaming “Look over here!” at the prudish censor board.
Add in the fact that the baron and baroness are brother and sister, and the children eavesdropping while their mother has sex with the lovers in her life that are NOT their father, and the dark humor (which includes one of my favorite scenes, when the two “zombies” are put together to make sure the male one “reacts” to the female), and you’ve got a nasty, funny, filthy film that most straight film critics and ratings boards no doubt hate – until, of course, they realize its kitsch value, and then begin to praise it alongside the films of Russ Meyer and John Waters and so many others.
I cannot think of a single reason that any of my readers should not check out Flesh for Frankenstein. This film has everything, from the blood and gore of a slasher flick, to the experimental styles of an arthouse film, and features a new take on a classic of the creature features: Frankenstein’s monster. It embodies the rebellious attitude that is a trademark of films of the 1970s. Highly recommended, a must see.