Oct 19, 2012

Flesh for Frankenstein

Admittedly, although I personally prefer Blood for Dracula aka Andy Warhol's Dracula to its companion Space-Vision 3D monster flick spoof Flesh for Frankenstein aka Andy Warhol's Frankenstein, I find both films to be especially enthralling and entertaining as campy anti-tributes to two classic horror stories. Like Blood for Dracula, Flesh for Frankenstein – a work that is like an unruly marriage between William Castle and early John Waters, except more sophisticated and 'conservative' – is a twist on the iconic story it lampoons with a potent political subtext making up an integral part of the film, but instead of focusing on 'communism-for-dummies' like Morrissey’s morose yet mirthful vampire flick, his mischievously magnetic tale of Modern Prometheus focuses on the racial obsessions of National Socialism, except with a Serbian spin. Married to his sexually promiscuous sister Baroness Katrin Frankenstein (Monique van Vooren), Baron von Frankenstein (Udo Kier in one of his most memorable performances) is a hyper-intellectual, inbred and all but impotent man (although he has somehow sired two children) who has substituted sex for emotionally sterile science, and sexual reproduction with corpse reanimation. Determined to build a super race of undead slaves of Serbian stock – who he believes are the direct descendents of the ancient Greeks – Baron Frankenstein will stop at nothing to achieve his goal, even if it means having to kill, dismember, and rebuild the bodies of sexually virile peasants in the process, but his sinister plans run amok when he picks the wrong working-class hero as his specimen. Insistent on finding an Übermensch of a male with an immaculate Serbian nasum and rampantly heterosexual demeanor; or as he states “a man who wants to make love to anything,” because Dr. Frankenstein believes these sort of men make for the most loyal of slaves, things don’t go exactly as planned when he decides to utilize the body of an anomalous Serbian peasant named Sacha (Srdjan Zelenovic) who aspires to live a life of celibacy in a monastery. Like Blood for Dracula, Flesh for Frankenstein is a work that obsessively focuses on the degenerate, spoiled blood of the morally and physically declining European aristocracy. In stark contrast to the aesthetically and thematically sterile genre films of British Hammer horror – formulaic works Paul Morrissey has made nil qualms about recognizing his detestation for – Flesh for Frankenstein brings life and new blood to a classic yet outmoded classic horror tale that is often seemingly lifeless when directed by less ardent filmic artists.

Somewhat surprisingly, Blood for Dracula and Flesh for Frankenstein were shot back-to-back in a mere seven days without anything resembling a completed script, as Paul Morrissey even went on to admit to an AFI audience that, “I think the secretary (Pat Hackett) made up most of the dialogue,” which is quite remarkable considering the relative coherence of the film’s story when compared to the director’s previous gritty, realist pseudo- cinéma vérité efforts like Flesh (1968) and Trash (1970). Morrissey made abundant room for changes to the script for Flesh for Frankenstein, stating, “Each night I’d think of what further absurdity might logically follow from where I began,” and indeed, the film is undoubtedly the most batty and campy, yet strangely refined retelling of Mary Shelley’s iconic story to date, even making Mel Brooks' parody Young Frankenstein (1974) seem prosaic and even hopelessly childish. As with Blood for Dracula, Flesh for Frankenstein features Joe Dallesandro as a proletarian partisan (Nicholas, the stableboy) who uncovers the perturbing and perverted plot of a debauched aristocrat (both times played by Udo Kier) who is more interested in the blood and guts of nubile young women than the tender, wet glory between their legs. In one of the most memorable lines in Flesh for Frankenstein, Baron von Frankenstein states to his socially inept assistant Otto (Arno Juerging), “To know death, Otto, you have to fuck life – in the gall bladder,” in a hilarious and memorable scene that Paul Morrissey meant as a parody of a line from Italian commie auteur Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris (1972); a film that the Warhol survivor was not particularly fond of, describing it as, “the worst kind of soap opera dressed up with these pretentious allusions, its self-proclaimed importance.” Indeed, one of the main reasons why both Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula have aged so gracefully over the years is due to the films' lack of odious ostentations. That being said, despite its innately perverted persuasion and absurdist gross-out imagery, Flesh for Frankenstein is clearly the work of a cultured man who understands the conventions of the genre and story he is spoofing that he is like Dr. Frankenstein himself, reassembling the pieces of the tale as a mad scientist auteur and resurrecting a wholly new and preposterously grotesque cinematic monster with a life of its own. My only complaint with Flesh for Frankenstein is that I will probably never get to see the film as it was meant to be seen: in gall bladder fucking 3D, where it brings the horror off the screen… and into your lap!

Featuring reproduction paintings by German Symbolist/Art Nouveau painter Franz von Stuck, who Adolf Hitler was notably a fan of (once even comparing his mother's eyes to one of the painter's renderings of Medusa's possessed orbs), and general Jugendstil inspired set design, Flesh for Frankenstein, like its brother film Blood for Dracula, is as classy and charming as horror comedies get, so it was only natural for audacious auteur Paul Morrissey to take his art and interest in German kultur one step further with the straight arthouse flick Beethoven's Nephew (1985). Although an admirable piece of celluloid art in itself, with Beethoven's Nephew it feels like there is a void within the film due to its lack of Morrissey’s unmistakable, idiosyncratic humor. As Morrissey has mentioned himself, it seems that comical films last well past their expiration date, hence why Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula both inspired nervous yet loud laughter after all of these years. Although seemingly one dimensional in theme to the uninitiated viewer, Flesh for Frankenstein is a clever and canny cinematic concoction that chronicles the fall of Europa’s aristocracy via the generational declension of a single German family. With a baron father who can only find sexual satisfaction by masturbating with a scalpel and a baroness mother who will fuck anything that moves, including a reactivated Serbian corpse, it is no surprise that the adolescent Frankenstein children display discernible homicidal pathologies as they play, hence why Flesh for Frankenstein concludes with a hint that they will lead a more sadistic, monstrous, and intrinsically anti-human future than their inbred parents. That being said, as much as I typically loathe sequels, I would love to see Morrissey’s take on James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein (1935), but something tells me the world will never see the birth of such of a celluloid monster. With the European monster films, both Paul Morrissey and Joe Dallesandro would finally detach themselves from the celebrity of pop-art beast Andy Warhol and spark fruitful careers in their own right (not that their work with Warhol was not of their own making); the former directing films in the old world (The Hound of the Baskervilles, Beethoven's Nephew) and Los Angeles (Madame Wang's) and the latter staying in Italy and starring in a variety of eclectic, if often dubbed, roles all around the continent.  The two Warhol brand monster films would also mark the last time Morrissey and Dallesandro would work together and I personally cannot think of a better way to end an artistically lucrative partnership.

-Ty E


Anonymous said...

After reveiwing "Blood For Dracula" on 30th November 2008 its taken almost 4 years for you to finally reveiw its (arguably even better) companion piece "Flesh For Frankenstein", i just wondered why ?.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Another truly superb reveiw of an absolute cult-classic, whats next i wonder ?, maybe "SURVIVING" (1985) with Heather O`Rourke.



teddy crescendo said...

DIONYSOS, that is a genuinely brilliant observation, a wanker like Jervaise Brooke Hamster would`ve never thought of something like that, hes to busy jerking-off to old photographs of Heather O`Rourke eating hot-dogs.