Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Red Eye Report's 2010 October Horrorthon #7: "Flesh for Frankenstein"

Baron Frankenstein (Udo Kier) views the world as a five-year-old would an ant farm. Within the bowels of a secluded mansion, he obsesses over purifying the human race and creating life as he sees fit -- by way, naturally, of stitching together only the finest body parts. As our story begins, the Baron has chosen a farmhand (Srdjan Zelenovic) to provide the head topping the culmination of his life's work. Unfortunately, he's missing the sex drive required to propogate the Baron's master race with a female creation he also has stashed away. That belongs to a local stableboy (Joe Dallesandro), who's currently using his gift to service the frigid Baroness Frankenstein (Monique van Vooren). But after the servant discovers what happened to his friend, he sets out to railroad the Baron's experiments and end his madness for good.

You have to wonder what frame of mind was used in making Flesh for Frankenstein. Considering Andy Warhol's involvement (which was reportedly very thin), being confused could just as well be the point, but this intensely sexualised take on a classic horror story has an agenda that rings quite clearly. The film is on a mission to challenge you, and challenge it does, reminding viewers of the true terrors of a tale that had at the time been rendered innocuous by kiddie monster shows. In fact, Flesh for Frankenstein could have the strongest moral code of any Frankenstein adaptation. While so many other versions inevitably cast their doctors as erstwhile noble men falling under the spell of scientific progress, Kier's Baron is a bastard to the bitter end. Blunt and open about his desire for racial purity, the Baron not only gave into insanity long ago but couldn't care less who knows it.

Yet as Wikipedia is so kind to include in its summary, Flesh for Frankenstein pays as much stylish tribute to the mad scientist classics as it satirizes and sensationalizes them to the extreme. The decaying laboratory, the various apparatuses, monologuing about life and death every three minutes -- there's enough common ground for monster fans to get comfy before being plunged into a psychosexual clustercuss. But the flick's on-the-fly approach does have its drawbacks, namely in the acting (or lack of acting) department. Although we know and love Udo Kier as the cult icon he is today, you can tell this is one of his first big gigs, so don't be surprised to catch a whiff of Tommy Wiseau in his performance. But he's still bugnuts crazy enough to let pass, as opposed to Dallesandro's wooden American accent leaving his scenes with the profundity of a cabbage belch.

Notorious for a reason and not for the faint of heart (or those who value joy in the world), Flesh for Frankenstein is rough around the edges but undeniably fascinating. Even if Warhol didn't have much to do with the production, his presence is there, persisting in writer/director Paul Morrissey's quest to show audiences what true horror is. Driven equally by ideas and exploitation, Flesh for Frankenstein is one tawdry little creation with plenty of life in it.

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