Paul Morrissey, 1974
Starring: Udo Kier, Monique van Vooren, Joe Dallesandro
"To know death, you’ve got to fuck life in the gall bladder."
In a remote castle in Serbia, the Baron von Frankenstein begins experimenting with corpses to create the perfect Serbian, so that he can form his own army of idealized beings that will obey his every command. He is helped by a perverse, somewhat mentally challenged assistant, as they set out around the countryside to find an ideal male head to add to an almost complete male body. Meanwhile, the Baron’s wife (and sister) takes on a new servant, a virile farmhand named Nicholas, to pleasure her in the Baron’s absence. After Nicholas’s friend becomes part of the Baron’s experiment, he begins to suspect that something in the castle is not quite right…
This American-Italian-French coproduction was shot in Italy and Serbia, giving it a thoroughly European feel. It’s hard to believe that artist Andy Warhol was ever involved in a horror film (let alone two), but he lent his name and cash to both Paul Morrissey’s Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula, gruesome, hilarious, and explicit spoofs of classic horror’s two most beloved monsters. While Blood for Dracula is generally considered the more popular of the two, Flesh for Frankenstein is my personal favorite.
Co-written by director Paul Morrissey and Tonino Guerra (Blowup), Flesh for Frankenstein was released in 3-D, which would really be a sight to behold, though I’ve never had the chance to experience the film that way. This was essentially a U.S. marketing gimmick, as was renaming the film Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein. Also known as Frankenstein 3-D and The Frankenstein Experiment, this production was allegedly co-directed by Italian horror and sci-fi master Antonio Margheriti (Castle of Blood, Yor, The Long Hair of Death, and many more), but star Udo Kier later dispelled this rumor. He said that Margheriti was never on set and later sources claimed that the director’s name was only used to get Italian funding.
Perverse, gory, and utterly unhinged, this certainly doesn’t look like a ‘60s Gothic horror film. The colors are vibrant, blood is plentiful, and thanks to 3-D organs explode across the screen. This endearingly over the top film was shot back to back with Blood for Dracula, which contained much of the same cast and crew, including Kier in another inspired performance. Though there are some wonderful set pieces, including the estate, laboratory, and countryside, Kier is the real draw here and it’s hard to take your eyes off him. With his thick German accent and hysterical ranting about finding the perfect “nasum” (nose/profile) to create a Serbian master race, he manages to range the heights of comedy and depravity in nearly every scene. While he’s absolutely perfect and hilarious for the entire film, his death scene, which involves throwing his own amputated hand at Dallesandro and sliding orgasmically onto a pole that is impaling him, is a real work of art.
Monique Van Vooren (The Decameron) is fittingly aristocratic as Baroness Katrin, though she is almost constantly overshadowed by the men in the film. Joe Dallesandro (Killer Nun) is downright distracting with his outrageous Brooklyn accent, which stands out like a sore thumb amongst all the other European actors. Serbian actor Srdjan Zelenovic, who plays his friend, is absolutely beautiful and the camera worships him at nearly every turn. It’s a shame he wasn’t in more European cinema from the period and mostly stuck to Serbian film. Dalila Di Lazzaro (Phenomena, Frankenstein ‘80) is lovely and memorable as the female creature and tolerates quite a lot of abuse and manhandling from Kier. Arno Juerging is delightfully twisted and creepy as the Baron’s assistant. He and Kier have great comic rapport and it’s easy to see why Juerging was asked to return for Blood for Dracula in a very similar role.
It’s also worth mentioning that the most terrifying child in all of Italian cinema – Nicoletta Elmi from Demons, Deep Red, Baron Blood, Bay of Blood, Death in Venice, Who Saw Her Die? – appears here as the Baron’s daughter. She and her brother feel much more like an eerie set pieces than two fully functioning characters, but they effectively set the film up for a sequel when they take up their father’s scalpels, presumably to begin his experiments again.
While I absolutely love Flesh for Frankenstein, it’s an acquired taste and is certainly not for the faint of heart. Basically everything Paul Morrissey can do in the name of bad taste is done, including some serious armpit licking, two generations of incest, horrendous sexual noises, frontal nudity for nearly all the characters, murder, decapitation, mutilation, guts bursting out all over the place, and, to top it all off, Kier engages in necrophiliac sex with the viscera of the female creature. Despite the fact that it is extremely gory and graphic, Carlos Rambaldi’s (Alien) effects are really a sight to behold.Flesh for Frankenstein comes highly recommended and is one of my favorite ‘70s horror films. It is also among the funniest. There’s a nice Criterion DVD, though it is out of print. You can buy it used on Amazon, watch it there streaming, or rent the disc from Netflix.