Thursday, January 19, 2017

Lady Frankenstein


Lady Frankenstein (1971)
Dir. Mel Welles
Story by Dick Randall, Written by Edward Di Lorenzo (wikipedia lists about a dozen other writers, but those are the only two on-screen credits)
Starring Joseph Cotten, Rosalba Neri (as Sara Bay), Paul Muller, Peter Whiteman



“Sure, Rosalba Neri (aka "Sara Bay") is no Peter Cushing, but there's no doubt which one of them I'd rather see naked.” -- IMDB commentator “Lazarillo” (or is it “Iazarillo with an “i”?” hard to tell.) 11/30/04

So, what LADY FRANKENSTEIN offers is a radical reimagining of the Frankenstein story, where Frankenstein is a lady. Or, to be more specific, where Frankenstein is a man but then he dies at the end of the first act and he has a daughter who is a lady. A Lady Frankenstein, if you will. The movie at least has enough class to assume that you understand that “Frankenstein” refers to the scientist, not the monster. The monster is not a lady, he is a regular Frankenstein’s monster. That is the most class the movie will be able to muster, so enjoy it while you can.

The weird thing about LADY FRANKENSTEIN is for a while, it’s pretty much just REGULAR FRANKENSTEIN. Joseph Cotten --who starred in CITIZEN KANE, SHADOW OF A DOUBT, and THE THIRD MAN before he must have done something to really piss off his agent-- appears as Baron Dr. Victor Frankenstein, MD, who has a dream to resurrect the dead by transplanting the brain of a freshly deceased convict into a monstrous body he’s whipped up from scratch. When his sidekick Dr. Marshall (Paul Muller, NIGHTMARE CASTLE) points out that the brain they’re planning on swapping has been damaged, Frankenstein irritatedly tells him that sometimes science is more art than science and goes ahead anyway. Or, as he puts it: “Instinct changes the world, not thought! And my instinct tells me to transplant that brain right now!” To the surprise of no one except this brilliant scientist, instinct does not turn out to be the best means of determining when to transplant brains, and pretty soon the monster has killed him and is running amok.



Fortunately, Frankenstein has a daughter named Tania (Rosalba Neri --going by “Sara Bay” here-- probably most known for this movie, but with perhaps the best track record for films with great titles that I have ever seen on IMBD*) who is just home from college. She wants to get involved in the family business, but Frankenstein is having none of it, until his untimely demise. Fortunately, Dr. Marshall really, really wants to bone her (understandable) and reluctantly gets on board with her plan to take her father’s place. Weirdly, considering the whole point here is to resurrect the dead, there is very little if any discussion of reviving daddy Frankenstein; instead, the new plan is to A) deny responsibility for the monster who is running around the countryside encountering various Italians having sex in the middle of the road in broad daylight and murdering them, and B) transfer Dr. Marshall’s brain out of the unfuckable body of a nebbish scientist and into the comparably more fuckable body currently occupied by “mildly retarded servant” Thomas (Marino Masé, who has worked with both Goddard and Coppola. No, seriously!).

Not much happens to further either of these goals for a long time, and the movie contents itself with some unbearable filler about a detective and the Frankenstein family’s merry band of grave-robbers, which is distinguished only by the startlingly over-the-top anti-semitic Jewish caricature of a grave-robber (Herbert Fux, “Austrian actor and politician”** JESUS FRANCO’S JACK THE RIPPER), which is about as over-the-line as I’ve seen in a modern film (note the gigantic menorah in his house). But blatant anti-semitism can only entertain us for short periods, so we also have to occasionally flash back to the monster, still running around and killing naked Italians. This tends to be what Frankenstein movies think we’re paying for, but it’s usually a pretty dull affair, without much notable gore or memorable gimmickry. And besides, we didn’t pay for a Frankenstein movie. We paid for a Lady Frankenstein movie. So the more interesting storyline has to do with the plan to get Dr. Marshall a younger, hotter bod. The murder part turns out to be pretty easy; Madam Frankenstein lures the young man into the house with the promise of sex, and them has Marshall smother him while they’re right in the middle of things. I say “the middle,” because, heroically, she doesn’t let her partner’s demise spoil her fun. They should put a frame from this scene on one of those motivational posters above the word “persistence.” Unfortunately the brain transferring part goes a little less smoothly, as they are interrupted by the return of the prodigal monster, with a very pissed off mob of ignorant villagers hot on his tail.



None of this really adds up to much, but I do have to give the movie credit for doing something a little different. It’s an odd mix of Hammer-style gothic horror (a looming castle, period costumes, an impressive mad science lab) with imaginative sleaze that could only come from Italy (necrophiliac coitus, random open-air daytime sex), but directed by an American actor (Mel Welles, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS 1960) right as the scales were beginning to tip away from Gothic Horror towards the giallo and eventually the slasher. So it’s kinda a hybrid, stitched together from different traditions into an unwieldy whole. A Frankenstein’s monster, if you will. And draped over that odd structure is a bizarre and confused story of female empowerment and sexual liberation which the movie is both repulsed and fascinated by. Lady Frankenstein is a villain, and not much of a character even at that, but it’s worth noting that she’s very much the protagonist, a vastly more active and complex character than virtually any Hammer female role that comes to mind. The movie is cheap and incompetent (the opening credits have a fucking typo, for god’s sake), but as an especially offbeat iteration of the Frankenstein story, and especially as an artifact from a very particular cross-section in both horror cinema and the sexual revolution, it’s worth a peek. Also the monster has a popped-out eye dangling there, which wins it another half-star all by itself.

*Lo strano ricatto di una ragazza per bene (The Strange Blackmail of A Good Girl), THE SEXBURY TALES, AND THEY SMELLED THE STRANGE, EXCITING, DANGEROUS SCENT OF DOLLARS, IN THE WEST THERE WAS A MAN NAMED INVINCIBLE, THE FRENCH SEX MURDERS, WATCH OUT GRINGO! SABATA WILL RETURN, PASSWORD: KILL AGENT GORDON, HERCULES AGAINST THE SONS OF THE SUN, SECRET CONFESSIONS OF A CLOISTERED CONVENT

**If the thought of an Austrian actor playing a greedy, amoral Jewish desecrator of Christian graves fills you with some degree of concern, at least be comforted to know as a politician he “was among the founders of a citizens' initiative against commercialization and uglification of Salzburg's historic townscape and became an elected member of the city council. In 1982 he and others established the Austrian United Greens party (Vereinte Grüne Österreichs, VGÖ), which in 1986 merged into the Green Alternative (Grüne Alternative). Fux was elected MP of the Austrian National Council in the 1986 legislative election, he retained his seat until December 1988 and again entered into parliament in November 1989. In November 1990 he retired and later served as culture committee chairman in his hometown Salzburg.” according to wikipedia. So seems like a pretty good guy.***

***Also, Fux must be the only actor to work with both Ingmar Bergman and Jesus Franco in the same year (he has what must be an extremely minor role in THE SERPENT’S EGG, and co-stars as “Satan” in Franco’s LOVE LETTERS FROM A PORTUGUESE NUN). That’s some fuckin’ range as an actor. He followed it up the next year with another strange pairing, appearing in movies by Meneham Golan (THE URANIUM CONSPIRACY) and Werner Herzog (WOYZECK)

Because sometimes quotation marks and commas are the same thing.

CHAINSAWNUKAH 2016 CHECKLIST!
Good Kill Hunting

TAGLINE
Only The Monster She Made Could Satisfy Her Strange Desires! Which is actually more accurate to the plot than you’d usually expect from these things, and A Mad Surgeon's Mind in a Woman's Body which, while technically true, is both sexist and misleading, because it suggests the mind didn’t start out there.
TITLE ACCURACY
100%
LITERARY ADAPTATION?
Very, very, very loose adaptation of Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley
SEQUEL?
None
REMAKE?
No
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
Italy
HORROR SUB-GENRE
Science (mad), Monster, Frankenstein
SLUMMING A-LISTER?
Joseph Cotten
BELOVED HORROR ICON?
None.
NUDITY?
Yes, the area seems to be mainly populated by nude women and topless men engaged in the throes of passion.
SEXUAL ASSAULT?
Yes, in the sense that multiple people are assaulted while having sex
WHEN ANIMALS ATTACK!
No
GHOST/ ZOMBIE / HAUNTED BUILDING?
Zombie / reanimated corpse
POSSESSION?
No
CREEPY DOLLS?
None
EVIL CULT?
No
MADNESS?
Arguably
TRANSMOGRIFICATION?
Eventually some brains get swapped, etc
VOYEURISM?
Yes, Lady F and Timmy or whatever go at it while Charles watches.
MORAL OF THE STORY
Women can be just as good at science as men, but they’d just use that knowledge to put the brains of smart men into the bodies of handsome men.

And not a very strong C- at that. But at least weird enough to escape a two-thumb rating.

No comments:

Post a Comment