Thursday, October 20, 2016

Frankenstein Month: 'Flesh for Frankenstein' (1973)

Presented by Andy Warhol, Flesh for Frankenstein is as much an art project as a horror movie, with its deliberately shocking sex and violence taking precedence over scares or narrative coherence. The acting is either deliberately over-the-top or just flat-out bad, depending on your perspective, and the same goes for the screenplay, from writer-director Paul Morrissey. There's an obvious element of camp to the movie, but it also seems to want to be taken seriously, and it's never quite as funny or as unsettling as it sets out to be. Still, it's a bold take on the familiar story, building on the work of the Universal and Hammer series and adding a snide, self-aware Warhol touch.

In one of his earliest roles, character actor Udo Kier plays Baron Frankenstein, although the Frankenstein name is never mentioned in the movie. Kier's Frankenstein is depraved and megalomaniacal, determined to create not one but two creatures (which he refers to as "zombies"), a male and a female, so that they can procreate and spawn a race of super-beings who will obey only Frankenstein. It's a comic-book supervillain's plan, and of course it doesn't make any real sense (nor does it ever seem remotely likely that it will work). Detailed plotting is not this movie's strong suit, but that's not the point of what Morrissey and Warhol are trying to do. They're using the basics of the Frankenstein story to explore sexual debauchery and violence, and how the two go together, which is a worthwhile project even if it mostly just results in a lot of button-pushing grossness.

Some of that grossness is pretty entertaining, as is Kier's ridiculously overheated performance, in which he yells practically all of his lines. There are lots of internal organs spilling out of bodies as Frankenstein attempts to stitch together his two creations; he also eagerly has sex with the mostly lifeless body of the female creation, and not in the standard orifices either (leading to the movie's most famous line, delivered by Frankenstein to his assistant: "To know death, Otto, you have to fuck life ... in the gall bladder!"). There's lots of sex and nudity, but it's all grotesque and unpleasant; Frankenstein's wife Katrin (Monique van Vooren), who's also his sister, takes a hunky farmhand (Warhol favorite Joe Dallesandro) as a lover, and one sex scene shows her licking his armpit as icky slurping sounds (clearly post-dubbed) play on the soundtrack.

Not surprisingly, there's homoerotic subtext (or text, really) in the relationship between Katrin's lover and his best friend (Srdjan Zelenovic), whom Frankenstein mistakes for a virulent ladies' man and captures to use as the head and brain of his male creature. Frankenstein wants a creature who'll ravish his female counterpart, but instead he gets a mopey introvert who pines for the strapping servant. That leads to a pretty hilarious scene of Frankenstein and Otto staring down at the male monster's crotch, waiting for some reaction as he's presented with the naked, willing body of his intended mate. Like all of the movie, it's idiotic and clumsy and funny and clever and off-putting in equal measure. That doesn't make it good, per se, but it can be pretty amusing to watch.

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