Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Flesh for Frankenstien

How does one describe Paul Morrissey's Flesh for Frankenstein (aka Andy Warhol's Frankenstein, 1974)? And what does it have to do with Andy Warhol? To give the answer to the second question first; not much. Warhol himself is quoted as saying that his role was just 'to go to the parties'.
The answer to the first question is... complicated.

Maybe we should start with the director; Paul Morrissey (and not, as some prints would have us believe Antonio Margheriti, but more on that later).

At first glance, politically conservative, Catholic Morrissey seemed like an odd partner for notorious New York-based Pop artist Warhol. Indeed, while Warhol was busy holding drug-fuelled salons (though Warhol himself was apparently something of a teetotaller) and the occasional orgy at his 'Factory', Morrissey was working his ass off making underground films produced by Warhol and marketed on the strength of his name. Ironically, most of Morrisey's output was highly moralistic and his outlook on life was the very antithesis of Warhol's (although Warhol himself was raised a Catholic). It is unfortunate that, even today, most of the films Morrissey directed during this period are often attributed to Warhol but let us set the record straight; the Factory's most famous cinematic outputs, Flesh (1968), Trash (1970), and Heat (1972) were entirely the work of Morrissey and, indeed, he has reiterated many times that he alone developed his cinematic style and Warhol merely signed the cheques.

Anyway, in 1974, Italian producer Carlo Ponti was looking for a director suited to make a 3D horror film. Upon asking Roman Polanski (who had briefly considered making What (1972) using the process), Polanski passed but suggested, much to everyone's surprise, Morrissey.

Upon receiving his commission, Morrissey turned up at Cincitta Studios in Rome with a two-page outline for what would become Flesh for Frankenstein, and Joe Dallesandro, his favourite actor, who had portrayed sympathetic hustlers and low-life's in his previous productions.

Joe Dallesandro: Twink

However, the first actor actually to be cast was the great Udo Kier, whom Morrissey had met once on a plane. He had immediately been struck be Kier's Teutonic other worldliness and decided that he would be perfect as Baron Frankenstein.

Udo Kier: Pretty Boy

The rest of the cast was filled out with Belgium born actress and New York socialite Monique "sure I have a sex life. What girl with my equipment wouldn't?" van Vooren as Katrin, the Baron's sister and um... wife...

Monique van Vooren: MILF

...Serbian artist and arthouse actor Srdjan Zelenovic...

Srdjan Zelenovic: Confused

...and, as the Baron's crazed assistant Otto, Arno Juerging, who was apparently pushed into acting by his mother, who apparently turned up at the Warhol Factory one day and ordered them to use her son. As German mothers can be quite persuasive, they did.

Arno Juerging: Making Mom proud

Getting her big break, in the role of the Female Creation, or, as dear Udo puts it "mein Feee-male Zam-beee", was spectacularly beautiful Italian model and actress, Dalila Di Lazzaro.

Dalila Di Lazzaro: Nice workmanship, Herr Baron

Now, the thing about Flesh for Frankenstein is that it is not only the most outrageous Frankenstein movie ever made, being a cross between The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) and A Serbian Film (2010), but also a rather astute satire on class values, eugenics and human sexuality. That's right; a movie most famous for a scene were Udo Kier literally fucks a not-quite-dead woman in her gall bladder through a huge, gaping stomach wound actually has some brains behind it.

Of course, I could go in to an in-depth analysis about the moralistic position of Aryan "Serbian ideals" in relation to their genetic and racial background, which the film so deftly and critically analyses and satirises a full 20 years before the outbreak of Bosnian War, or I could do what everyone else does when discussing this film and make fun of the silly accents.

Fuck it. Accents it is.

So, the film opens on two creepy children skulking through an equally creepy section of the castle. We can tell they're creepy children because they proceed to dissect a doll and decapitate it with a guillotine. We can tell we're in a creepy part of the castle because it's filled with cobwebs, a really big spider (in 3D!) and a guillotine. Why anyone would have a guillotine lying around in their basement or garage is beyond me. Doesn't matter anyway since this is Castle Frankenstein we're talking about here, and the place is probably filled with shit that'd make Dr. Harold Shipman blush.

Seriously, these kids need counselling

Anyway, after a bizarrely protracted scene of Baroness Katrin riding with the children through the woods in a cart pulled by a ridiculously dinky pony (where she stops to berate Dalesandro's character, Nicholas the Stable Boy for "korryink Orn" mit ein... sorry, with a young shepherd girl, whom Katrin describes as "zuch twash"), we get to meet Frankenstein himself and his assistant, Otto, who discuss their plans in the Baron's study. It's a very nice study, I might add, because Gustav Klimt did the decor. The Baron dreams of finding "der purfekt narzoom" because apparently, the Serbian race is descended from "der glowry ov der ancient Gveeks" and they have the world's finest noses. Or something.

Later, at dinner, we discover that the Baron and Katrin are not only husband and wife but brother and sister as well. Nice. Also, Katrin is a catty bitch. Their children continue to be creepy and silently refuse to "eat zom zoop". Katrin has removed them from school because the other kids have been telling stories about her and because her creepy children are apparently too beautiful to mix with the riff-raff. This means that they will be spending even more time in this unhealthy environment.

That evening, the Frankenstein's groundsman, Sacha (Zelenovic) is digging a deep hole when Nicholas wanders by. It turns out that the two are friends. It also turns out that while everyone else speaks with an exotic Eastern European accent, Nicholas, despite claiming that Sacha and he have been friends for years, talks like a male prostitute from The Bronx. It actually takes a while for this to sink in, since it's so out of place we don't quite believe what we're hearing. It's also played so, so completely straight that it is only at this point we realise that we are not, in fact, watching a bad horror movie but a very camp comedy.

Sacha dreams of giving up working on the land and becoming a monk. "Arr ya really soyerious? About wannin' ta ba-come a Monk?" asks Delasandro. "Ja. Ja. I am. I wanna liff a cloy-streed life", is the reply. So Nicholas pursuades Sacha to visit "the gyurls in town".

In the morning, Katrina and the children are out having a picnic when they happen upon Nicholas yet again involved in sexy shenanigans. Seemingly annoyed, Katrina decides she wants to see Nicholas the next morning at the castle.

Meanwhile, in the laboratory (or should I say "lavatory" -some critics have even speculated that this was a deliberate mispronunciation; all the characters make it sound this way, regardless of accent. Certainly, the laboratory, with its slightly stained white tiles, resembles and gentleman's convenience. The "experiments" he performs in there certainly belong in the gutter), Frankenstein and Otto are busy cutting up their victims, removing organs and "pweparink" them. I think they mean "preparing" them, except that "pweparink" these delicate organs seems to involve holding them up to the camera (in 3D!) and sticking them is jars before carelessly mixing them up like yesterday's stew. This is all done while Frankenstein and Otto try to out-do each other in what appears to be a competition to see who has the fakest German accent. Considering both actors are German, this competion seems a little redundant to me. Anyway, with their perfect female creation nearing completion, they still need to find a head for the male with which to mate her. He must not only have "der purfekt narzoom" but also be a bit of a stud. This prompts the following exchange;

So off they go to stake out the local bordello, where, of course, Sacha and Nicholas are busy enjoying the girls. Well, at least Nicholas is (two of them, in fact). Sacha isn't really interested. In fact, he complete ignores the girl attempting to arouse his manly ardour and spends an unhealthy amount of time staring at Dallesandro's ass. It's certainly a very nice ass, but Sacha seems to be interested in more than its aesthetics. A lizard drops onto the bed (in 3D!) and prompts the prostitutes to scream and run outside. Frankenstein and Otto see this and, while Nicholas deals with the pest, Sacha goes to retrieve the girls. Of course, this comedy of errors leads Frankenstein to believe Sacha "must be veeerrrrry powerfoooll". The Baron also gets the hots for Sacha's "purfeckt narzoom".

Later that night, Sacha and a very drunk Nicholas make their way home, whereupon Otto twats Nicholas round the bonce with a club and Frankenstein removes Sacha's head with a huge pair of comedy garden shears (in 3D!).

For Frankenstein, it's Christmas; "Itz jooost vhat I vanted! It'z maknificent! I knooooo ve vould fint it! Otto! Look at eeet! Finally ve fint der right head mit der purfekt narzoom! Fur mein male zambeeee!"

While Nicholas wakes up to find his best friend hideously murdered in a bloodbath of carnage, Frankenstein and Otto proceed to transplant the head onto the body of their "male zambeeee". Wagner's stirring overture from Tannhauser swells as the Baron eleaborates on his ambitions in a proto-Nazi rant that may well qualify Udo Keir an award for Most Bonkers German Scientist Ever to Grace the Screen (even though, in the movie, he's supposed to be Serbian); "Zoon here in Zerbia und in mein lavatory, perfection vill bekomme ein weality! Yez, yez! Dat's right! Der twoo embodyment of Zerbian youth vill fint expwession! Mein vork ist der kontinuation ov der unfinished business hoff man on Earth! A fuuurrrzzzzeeeer refinement! But dis time I must corz der life! Dis ist der thresh-holt, Otto, ov der cweation dat vill weplace der vorn aus twash dat now poopoolates und wepoopoolates dat planet! Der loyalty vill be doo me only! I vill be der object ov der Ally-G-ience!"

Nicholas arrives at the castle as arranged and is shown to Katrin's bedroom. At first, he declares his intention to leave, on the grounds that he's a bit put out by the murder of Sacha. Then, this happens;

Dallesandro's ass (in 3D!)

So while Katrin and Nicholas get better aquainted, the camera tastefully pans away to reveal that the creepy children are reinforcing our impression of creepiness by spying on their mother (who is also their aunt, when you think about it) and her New Yorker lothario from behind a mirror.

Things go from perverse to completely-beyond-the-fucking-pale when we see what the Baron and Otto are upto in the laboratory. In a rather long and graphic sequence, Frankenstein operates on his Female Creation. At first all this seems fairly standard for a Frankenstein movie, although it is kind of creepy when the good doctor says "I go in to her digestive partz!". Turns out, he's not kidding.

In painful close-up we watch as each stitch is slowly snipped away and the huge scar on the Female Creation's torso is pulled open. Oh, and while all this is going on, it turns out she's semi conscious. Also, the Baron gets a bit, shall we say, hot under the collar...

"Spleen... kidneys... GALL BLADDER!" Even Otto looks a little freaked out when he pulls out her liver and starts fondling it. All the while, romantic piano music plays and the Baron gets more and more... ahem... excited.

Back in her bedroom, Katrina compliments Nicholas on his "remarkable" love making skills and hires him to be the family's new buttler. "By der vay", she says, "ve haff in der castle der most modern available plumbing facilities. Und I vont you to use dem. Every single day". Blimey, this dame has a way with pillow talk. I wonder what the Baron up to?

Oh! Holy Mother of Fuck!

Yep, the Baron got a little carried away. Any other surgeon would get struck off for that. Oh and, he's not plugged himself in anywhere normal, oh no. Welcome to the concept of torso fucking. "Zoon I vill kiff you life! You'll like zat!". Otto tries to cop a butchers at this but Baron is not impressed; "You filzy tink! Vhy are you lookink at me? Turn arount!". Otto leaves the two lovebirds alone and Frankenstein gets romantic; "My male zambeee ist almost cweated! I only need der bloot! Maybe tonight! Zoon you vill giff me der right  chiltren! Der chiltren I vont!" Otto, at this point, is polish his scalpel.

And how does the Baron justify spilling his seed into a barely concious woman's chest cavity? With this little gem of wit and widom;

I can only hope he showered afterwards.

Actually, this line was supposed to be the other way around (with life and death reversed). But Udo Keir gave the wrong reading and Paul Morrissey decided to leave it be, since, he realised, it didn't make sense however he said it. Bare in mind that they were actually making this stuff up as they went along, with Morrissey dictating the days pages to a secretary on the drive to the studio every morning. No wonder it's a little anarchic. No one had time to realise what they were doing. Oh, and this scene is what got the movie put on the Video Nasties list. It wasn't released in its uncut form in the UK until 2006. If you've seen the film, you'll know how rediculous that is.

So, after the creey children have observed more slutty business with Nicholas the Man-whore and Katrin the Nympho, who, ironically enough, explains that she and the Baron are together for the sake of their children, "to brink zem up right"...

...Frankenstein and Otto finally stop dicking around and do what mad scientists are supposed to do, in that they wire up their creations to some daft-looking machinary, pull some switches and get some sparks flying.


Also, Frankenstein takes the oportunety to have another rant, just for good measure; "No von hast komm as klose as I in unterstantink der zeekret ov life intelligently cweated! My mistakes haff been few but I luurrrned from every von! Let ust make zurtain dat der electrodes are place pwecise as alvays! At der cvitical en-ur-gy points! Apply der electwicity!" So switches are thrown, electricity crackles and bodies shake. Success!
"I'm zo happy fur you Baron!"
"I'm fulfilled!", screams the Baron, "Boot not yet! Ve haff to vait fur der final triumph! Der bweedink! Und den, der chiltren! If der be only zome vay to wedoooce der gestation per-wii-od! How can I vait fur nine momffs from tonight 'til sie bares me der fuuuurrrrst chilt? I must! Zer's zome tinks even science konnot modify!"
Otto looks up at his master with abject adoration "Ze honour you do me to share in dis incvedible twiumph ist more than I deserved, Bawon!".

For some reason, Frankenstein decides it would be a good idea to take his creations to the table. This leads to an extremely awkward family dinner. As Nicholas serves, he recognises Sacha (or at least his head) and, naturally enough, becomes extremely suspicious. The Baron notices this and becomes suspicious himself.

No one looked forward to dinner in
the Frankenstein household

Later, Nicholas voices his suspicions to Katrin. Obviously, she's not to impressed by his nonsensical ramblings about his dead friend's head on someone else's body (the male creation being much taller than Sacha) and insists that Sacha's murder must have been some drunken nightmare.

The creepy children, meanwhile, have crept into the laboratory. They piss about for a bit, nick a disembodied hand (Lord knows why) and come across a rather impressive set of lungs kept breathing in a tank under the Baron's desk (in 3D!). When the Baron and Otto return with the creatures, the creepy children skitter off, ending up in the catacombs beneath the castle, where they are attcked by rubber bats (in 3D!). At this point, we should breifly digress into the world of tax evasion. No, bare with me. Remember I said some prints (specifically, Italian ones) bare the name Antonio Margheriti as director? Well, the disembodied lung contraption was his work, left over from one of his own films. He did, apparently do some second unit work, shooting a handful of special effects inserts. Now, Ponti had a practice of crediting Italian directors on prints released in his native Italy in order to qualify for tax breaks. These directors would receive a sum of money for the use of their name but often had minimum involvement in the films themselves. It was such a successful practice that Ponti wound up in jail, along with his wife, Sophia Loren.

Anyway, with the creatures put safely away, Frankenstein has a good old bitch to Otto; "Vhy, Otto, dey zeem zo iterested in mein vife's new servant? Der moozt be zum qvality dat attwcts dem?" Otto swears Nicholas looks familiar but the Baron is dismissive. "Vhy shouldn't he? Dey all looook der zame? Except mein Zerbian! I alvays look fur der noble idealz und artifacts of ancient zivilization! My zizter und I are verrry mooch alike! But Sie... zomehow alvays likes to keep her noooze alvays in der GUTTER!".

Actually, Katrin actually seems to prefer keeping her nose in Nicholas's armpit, giving it a good lick, complete with comedy slurping noises. Nicholas, on the other hand is rather distracted, imploring Katrin to help him to get into the lab but she is to busy indulging in musky underarm action to heed him.

With the children missing, their nanny, Olga (Liu Bosisio) comes into the laboratory looking for them. Unfortunatly, Otto corners her and chases her into one of the store rooms where he rips open her corset, presumably in attempt to emulate the Baron's wound fucking ways. This does not go very well and leads to her guts falling out (in 3D!).

Oh, well done, Otto!

Nicholas tries to find a way into the laboratory but the Baron catches him and gives him a good ticking off for wondering around where servants are not permitted.

The Baron returns to the laboratory and, like most incompetant rapist assistants, Otto decides to hide the body and pretend nothing has happened. 

In the mean time, Nicholas calls upon the creepy children to help him in his quest and they show him another way into the laboratory.

While Nicholas evesdrops from the vaulting above them, The Baron and Otto attempt to get the two creatures to mate. "Kiss heem! Kiss heem! KISS HEEM!", but the male isn't too interested and can't get it up.

Nicholas goes back to Katrin and tries to tell her what her husband... brother... I loose track... anyway, he tries to tell her what he's been up to. "Oye just hyad a lyook at ya' hyusband's wyork! Da lyabratory! Da bootcha's shap!" Katrin asks how he got there. "Ya children! Day knoo da way!".
She is not best pleased.
"How dare you! How dare you vake me in der middle of der day vhen you know I haff inzomnia! Zince vhen are der lower klass alowed zuch prezumption?!"
Realising Katrin's priorities aren't in too good an order, Nicholas declares that he's not going let all this continue and resolves to stop the Baron. "How dare you kontrdikten me! Who are you? You Nosink! You low life! You zcum!"
Nicholas replies with "You byatch!" and gives her a good slap before storming out and slamming the door in true soap opera style.
"You vilth! You varmer! How dare you valk aus on me!"

Pissed off that his experiments have gone pair-shaped, Frankenstein throws a hissy fit.

While Nicholas investigates the laboratory, The Baron questions his son, who is not forthcoming, so he and Otto confront Katrin.

Katrin, being a "zex maniak", arranges to tell the Baron everything in return for a night with the male creature. Frankenstein agrees and Katrin reveals that Nicholas is in the laboratory at this very moment.

None of this ends well. I'm talking Greek Tragedy stuff, believe you me. It wouldn't be seemly to ruin the ending but we're talking piles and piles of bodies, more gallbladder fuckery (though that, in itself, goes a bit wrong) and Udo throwing a hilarious sissy fit (again) while throwing severed hands at people. Oh and, the liver on the end of a spear as to be seen to be believed. All in glorious 3D, ladies and gentlemen, glorious 3D. Ultimately, even the children get involved in this bloodbath, making me think the Baron shouldn't have left his Eli Roth collection lying around for the infants to see.

So is the movie worth checking out? Well it's certainly one of those movies that has to be seen to be believed. It's outrageous, it got itself onto the Video Nasties list, it's an witty critique of the class system and 70s morality masquerading as trash. It has silly accents. And it's the only film to feature a guy sticking his junk into a gaping stomach wound to receive a DVD release by the Criterion Collection (that is unless Ingmar Bergman went in for this sort of thing, but I highly doubt it).

Go into it accepting the film on its own terms and you'll have a ball, though just make sure you smoke a little something first. Oh, and you may need a drink and a sit down afterwards.

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