Screening Log #24: Flesh for Frankenstein (1973)

Written by Paul Morrissey, Pat Hackett, and Tonino Guerra based on a character by Mary Shelley
Directed by Paul Morrissey
Starring Udo Kier, Monique van Vooren, Joe Dallesandro

 

 

Twinned with Blood for Dracula, Paul Morrissey’s Flesh for Frankenstein again sees the skeleton of a Victorian monster animated to serve as an allegory for critical political observation, married to camp and shocking gore in an undeniably unique and grotesque polygamous relationship. The film also uses much of the same cast, as well as several locations, seen in Blood for Dracula, as this film was completed quickly under budget, so the former was filmed. Old-world aristocracy is again the target of the film’s criticism, employing Baron Frankenstein, Udo Keir, as the critical figure.

Less overt than Dracula‘s explicitly socialist leanings, Flesh for Frankenstein rather submerges an opposing standpoint in its attack on Frankenstein’s quest to perfect the Serbian race. The desire for genetic perfection espoused by Frankenstein echoes, distinctly, the quest of Hitler and the Nazi party to purify the human race as Aryan. The Baron, “married” to his sister, has already fathered children with her, demonstrating the manner that his desire for a pure bloodline has compromised his personal morality… you know, more than his collecting ideal body parts from villagers who surround his castle. Joe Dallesandro, again, plays a virile transient worker named Nicholas who is caught by the Baroness enjoying females on the castle grounds and is put into her employ as a man-servant. The working class is once more positioned as the attractive, well-muscled, often bare-bottomed, counterpoint to the self-obsessed and perverse ruling class. This holds doubly true in this film, as Baron Frankenstein beheads Nicholas’ friend Sacha, whose nose is precisely the sort Frankenstein required for his perfect male. The commodification of the working class is manifested in the manner that Frankenstein covets their parts to reconstitute a whole; the alienation of the working class results in their literal dissembling.

Where Blood for Dracula ends with the proletariat assuming control of the manor – perhaps temporarily – and the death of the vampire, Flesh for Frankenstein ends on a starkly darker note, intimating that the ills of the class are genealogically transmitted to the children. The “flesh” of the title opens itself to multiple interpretations, be it flesh as material with which to construct his new master race, flesh as material to satisfy his strange sensual desires, or flesh as new flesh, children gained either through natural – albeit taboo – means, or unnaturally through science.

The film is constructed with a dark sense of humour, a flair for dramatic gore and with performances that are equally stilted and intense, all shot with a strong sense of blocking punctuated by images of startling balance and composition. What results is a picture that reflects its subject’s mad brilliance, piecing together admirable qualities from other genres of film into its own corpus to create an unwieldy, impressive, creature that is wholly unnatural. Certainly, any film containing the line, “To know death, Otto, you have to fuck life… in the gallbladder!” can’t be all bad.

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