Flesh for Frankenstein (1973)

Udo Kier and Joe Dallesandro star in Paul Morrissey's absurdly gory and sex filled Frankenstein film. Image USA R1 DVD.

The Film

In the 1960s, Andy Warhol was considered to be the most controversial and undoubtedly the most groundbreaking artist alive. Although best known for his pop culture paintings, he also worked in the medium of film, shooting a variety of experimental films including Eat (1963) showing a man eating for 40 minutes, Sleep (1963), a 6 hour film of a man sleeping, and Empire (1965) an 8 hour film of the Empire State Building at night. After his near-fatal shooting in 1968 however, Warhol turned the filmmaking side of his "Factory" over to his assistant Paul Morrissey. Under Morrissey's direction, this division was turned away from the purely experimental films and started shooting more conventional narrative films - Flesh (1968), Trash (1970) and Heat (1972) followed, an insight into Sex, Drugs and Rock-and-Roll respectively, with Joe Dallesandro, a former nude model, taking the lead role in all three and becoming quite infamous. In the early 1970s, director Roman Polanski was preparing to shoot his sex-comedy What? (1972) in Rome for Compagnia Cinematografica Champion. Initially he was experimenting with 3-D for the production, but eventually decided that 3-D would be useless for his production, so instead he invited his friend Paul Morrissey to make use of the equipment and shoot a couple of low budget pictures for the company...

Deep in Serbia, Baron Frankenstein (Udo Kier), and his assistant Otto, are experimenting on humans in his laboratory. Meanwhile his wife (and sister) Baroness Katrin Frankenstein has withdrawn their children from school, to bring them to live with her at the castle. When she discovers the estate handyman Nicholas (Joe Dallesandro) having sex on her land, she orders him to meet her in the morning. Meanwhile, the Baron stalks Nicholas and his prudish friend Sacha to a local brothel - he is looking for a lustful brain for his creature - but in mistake takes the head of Sacha. Waking up next to the headless corpse of his friend, Nicholas runs to Katrina, who offers him protection... in exchange for some sexual favours. When the Baron completes his experiments, and finds his male creature completely unwilling to reproduce, he blames his wife for interfering, and all sorts of trouble breaks out...

Along with its companion piece, Blood for Dracula (1974), Flesh for Frankenstein shows only the slightest link to the original novel, providing instead a completely new take on the classic story, and at the same time, seemingly satirising the European exploitation movies, with their frequent sex and gore. While Morrissey's films in America had largely been improvised, the cast for the European filmings were not native speakers and he had to write the script himself, largely on the way to filming in the morning. Fortunately, the script holds together well, and despite the relatively short run-time and the exploitation movie trappings of sex and blood, it is continually understated, almost to the point of parody. We are treated to lengthy, and daftly banal dialogue sequences between the Baron and his wife, while the Baron himself seems to spend the rest of the time talking only in the manner of speeches, continually declaring his intentions to create an Aryan master race who will bow only to him - although he does get many of the film's best lines: Two women... one man... he must be very powerful. Although slow paced it is never boring and builds to a superbly dramatic climax that would make Shakespeare proud!

Morrissey demonstrates some effective direction throughout the film, making good use of moving camera shots and odd angles with some beautiful widescreen compositions (viewed in anything other than its original 'scope' ratio, this film would look terrible). Despite the relatively low budget, just $300,000, the film looks very good, with well scouted locations and large sets. Originally shot in 3-D (although the DVD print is 2-D) there are several shots of items held up towards the camera, but fortunately these do not affect the flow of the film. Some of the body part effects are a little dated, but mostly very realistic (suggesting the use of real animal parts). Claudio Gizzi provides an effectively understated piano score that fits well with the film. 

The strikingly hansome American star Joe Dallesandro takes the lead role here as the sexually charged Nicholas. Spending about half the film naked, his acting is hardly likely to be considered award winning, but he brings a noticable presence to the film. The very distinctive Udo Kier gives a superb performance as the Baron, resisting the temptation to over-act during the patriotic speeches, and retaining an ernest sense of determination throughout. The very attractive Dalila Di Lazzaro spends almost the entire film nude as the Baron's female creation, while Arno Juerging plays his suck-up assistant. Dallesandro, Juerging and Kier would essentially reprise their roles in Blood for Dracula (1974).

Flesh for Frankenstein is a very interesting film. A move firmly into the mainstream for Paul Morrissey, it boosted Joe Dallesandro and Udo Kier to cult stars in Europe, where Dallesandro would stay and star in a variety of Italian films for the next few years. Certainly a shock to fans of Mary Shelley, it works as a satire on the excesses of European exploitation cinema and equally well as one of the best of the genre. Recommended to fans of exploitation horror and of the lead cast.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? Joe Dallesandro - star of Flesh, Trash and Heat who went on to become a euro-cult star in the late 1970s.
Udo Kier - German actor best known for his occasional Hollywood appearances and Lars Von Trier films.
Directed by anyone interesting? Paul Morrissey - a member of Andy Warhol's Factory team who also directed Blood for Dracula (1974).
Is it scary?No.
Any violence/gore? Frequent graphically gory shots.
Any sex? Frequent female nudity plus some brief male nudity.
Who is it for?
Fans of European exploitation, Andy Warhol, Dallesandro or Kier will all enjoy this.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour
The print is good with strong colours, some mild grain, minimal print damage.
Audio Original English mono track, sounds fine.
Subtitles None.
Extras The disc contains:
  • Audio commentary with Paul Morrissey, Udo Kier and film scholar Maurice Yacowar (recorded seperately). Very interesting and informative, although Yacowar is often very dry. (As on the old Criterion disc)
  • Stills gallery, with commentary from Paul Morrissey explaining about the film and the pictures. Interesting. (24 min).
  • Screen test shot by Morrissey for the Sasha actor, with commentary from Paul Morrissey. A curio. (4 minutes)
Region Region 1 (USA, North America) - NTSC
Other regions? Available on a similar release in Europe and in the USA. This release is considered to be the best currently available.
Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut. The print used is English language.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 7th January 2007.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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