Monday, October 17, 2016

Frankenstein Month: 'Lady Frankenstein' (1971)

The Italian B-movie Lady Frankenstein gets an unexpected boost from screen legend Joseph Cotten, whose career downturn is this movie's good fortune. Cotten only shows up as Baron Frankenstein for a little less than half the movie, because he has to give way to the title character, but he brings a certain gravitas to his cheesy dialogue while he's there. The Baron's daughter Tania (Rosalba Neri) decides to carry on her father's work after he is killed by his first creation, which of course does not work out well for anyone. The elder Frankenstein has spent his entire life working on a formula to revive dead tissue, and just as Tania returns home from her own studies, he's finally perfected it, using the damaged brain of an executed criminal in the body he's cobbled together. But the brain is damaged and the creature ends up with a deformed face and a bulbous head that kind of looks like Marvel Comics villain the Leader. He kills Frankenstein, and then goes on a rampage in the surrounding town.

Tania's idea for stopping this creature? Make another creature, of course! She's convinced that a new creature will be able to stop the damaged original, who kills more people every day. Tania and her father's longtime assistant Charles (Paul Muller) are kind of hilariously inept at covering up what really happened to Tania's father, and the local police inspector (Mickey Hargitay, father of Mariska) is on to them from the start. Charles is not-so-secretly in love with Tania, despite being much older than her and presumably having known her since she was a child, but Tania cruelly and matter-of-factly points out to him that he's just not attractive enough for her, physically. However, she's attracted to his brain, so what if they put his brain in the hunky body of the mentally challenged stable boy? That would totally work, right?

Well, not quite, although it does afford director Mel Welles the chance to showcase several sex scenes that were no doubt a requirement from the Italian production company, and it gives Lady Frankenstein a bit of a feminist perspective, in that Tania takes complete charge of the process, proving herself just as amoral and arrogant as any previous Frankenstein. She dismisses men who downplay her academic accomplishments, orders Charles around and eventually creates a monster that is more powerful and sophisticated than the one her father created. Of course, she also ends up consumed by her own god complex, just like pretty much every iteration of Frankenstein, and eventually dies in the requisite destruction of her lab, which burns around her as she has sex with her creation. It's a kinky ending for a film that strives to transcend its softcore B-movie origins, and succeeds more often than you might expect.

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