Saturday, November 30, 2013

Flesh for Frankenstein (1973) & Blood for Dracula (1974)

          Although these two horror flicks are often marketed as Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein and Andy Warhol’s Dracula, the Pop Art icon was only nominally involved in the production of the features. The actual writer-director behind these lurid riffs on the work of Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker was Paul Morrissey, who previously made features including Flesh (1968), Trash (1970), and Heat (1972) for Warhol. Flesh for Frankenstein is more noteworthy than Blood for Dracula, because it’s hard to think of another X-rated ’70s horror movie that gleefully presents incest, mutilation, and necrophilia in 3D. And if Flesh for Frankenstein is ultimately dull and silly, adventurous viewers should not deny themselves the “pleasure” of watching campy German actor Udo Kier, who plays Baron von Frankenstein, repeatedly molesting the gall bladder of the “female zombie” he’s building from the body parts of various women. This mad scientist gets off on his work, big time.
          Unsurprisingly, the plot takes considerable liberties with Shelley’s original narrative. The Baron is preoccupied with creating a master Serbian race defined by superhuman sex drive, so he kills people whom he perceives as having desirable organs, then repurposes their innards. Meanwhile, the Baron endures a twisted marriage to his sister, Katrin (Monique van Vooren), with whom he has fathered two children. Alas, she’s hot for everyone except the Baron. Eventually, the Baron kills a local man, Sacha (Srdjan Zelenovic), using his head to complete an in-progress “zombie.” Sacha’s pal, Nicholas (Joe Dallesandro), investigates his friend’s disappearance and learns of the Baron’s weird scheme. The movie climaxes with the unveiling of a male and female monster, which results in widespread bloodshed and sex (sometimes at the same time).
          Made somewhat in the style of Hammer Films’ horror movies, with elaborate sets and lush Old World locations, Flesh for Frankenstein has a glossy widescreen look but feels amateurish on every other level. The acting is terrible and the script is inane. Moreover, the gonzo quality of the gore—organs dripping with viscera are pushed toward the camera for full 3D impact—is beyond ridiculous. Combined with the over-the-top sex scenes and the goofy nature of Kier’s performance, Flesh for Frankenstein is perhaps best described as a cartoon for sickos. Which, come to think of it, seems pretty much on-brand for Warhol.
          While still campy in some ways—notably the ridiculous performances and stilted dialogue—Blood for Dracula is much more of a “real” movie than its predecessor. The narrative merely uses Stoker’s enduring character as a jumping-off point, because Blood for Dracula concerns the titular fiend (Kier) scouring Italy for virgins. (Or, because Kier plays the role with his thick German accent intact, “weer-juns.”) The opening of the picture is interesting, portraying Dracula as pathetic figure dying of malnutrition; he slathers himself in hair dye and makeup to give the impression of health, and he whines endlessly to his manservant Anton (Arno Jeruging) about how he’d rather die than face the struggle of hunting for victims.
          Most of the movie takes place in an Italian estate, where Dracula works his way through four eligible daughters of a once-respectable household; now financially destitute, the family’s patriarch happily offers up his daughters as potential brides to the visitor who is presented as a “Middle European aristocrat.” Complicating Dracula’s quest is the presence in the household of a communistic handyman (Dallesandro), who also happens to be sexually involved with two of the daughters. (Hilarity ensues whenever Dallesandro speaks in his Brooklyn accent; for instance, upon learning that Dracula digs virgins, he asks his lovers, “So what’s he doin’ wit’ you two whoo-ers,” stretching the last word into two syllables.)
          Periodically throughout Blood for Dracula, it seems Morrissey believes he’s making a proper drama, so he lingers on dialogue scenes and artful shots, creating tedium because the acting is so awful. Even the sex scenes are dull, despite abundant nudity. Still, the movie looks fantastic, and some flourishes linger, such as the nasty scenes of Dracula vomiting when he unknowingly drinks the blood of fallen women. Blood for Dracula eventually echoes Flesh for Frankenstein with an outrageous finale filled with comically staged dismemberments. Nonetheless, Blood for Dracula is never as outright bizarre as Flesh for Frankenstein, which is both a good and a bad thing—in (mostly) steering clear of self-parody, Blood for Dracula falls squarely in the realm of mediocrity.

Flesh for Frankenstein: FREAKY
Blood for Dracula: FUNKY

1 comment:

angelman66 said...

I can't help but love these films, even though they really are funky and freaky and not very watchable. I appreciate that Morrissey set out to match the production values and bloody Technicolor of those old Hammer Films, but instead of only objectifying the females, we get to feast our eyes on the guys as well, particularly the glorious Mr. Dallesandro! Horror films are all about sex, or at least they should be!