Flesh For Frankenstein

Flesh For Frankenstein

****1/2

Reviewed by: Martin Fitzgerald

Freedom and a dead author is a wonderful thing for a film director.

We live in an age where best selling novels quickly translate into blockbuster movies. J K Rowling, Nick Hornby, Dan Brown, John Grisham - the list is endless. Under the watchful eye of the author, one castrated director after another produces adaptations that are all too literal, all too limited in their cinematic expression, determined to remain faithful to the book and not betray the expectations of the audience. The result is often a mish mash, a half way house.

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Thankfully, Mary Shelley could not offer her consultancy services on Paul Morrissey's Flesh For Frankenstein, on account of the fact that she has been dead for over 100 years. Lord only knows how she would have reacted at the script meetings.

Baron von Frankenstein (Udo Kier) is married to his sister - that's right, his sister - and they have two children. Along with his assistant Otto, they have created a female in their laboratory from the body parts and organs of the local townsfolk. Not content with this, they have also begun work on a male and have almost finished. All that's missing is the head, but, as the good baron tells us, not any old head will do.

Frankenstein wants the pair to mate and believes that finding the right brain in the right head will help further his cause. He requires someone obsessed with sex to be his victim. With this in mind, he observes the goings on at a local whorehouse, the place where he believes he'll find such a man. Inside are Nicholas (Joe Dallesandro) and his friend Sacha (Srdjan Zelenovic). Nicholas is a sexual predator, gratifying himself with all the women, whilst Sacha, an aspiring monk, is unconvinced of the pleasures of the flesh.

Frankenstein confuses the two, believing Sacha to be the virile specimen, and subsequently murders him, chops off his head and hurries back to the lab to complete his experiment and start a master race. Nicholas wakes to find the decapitated body of his friend and seeks revenge. Amongst much blood and nudity, the story evolves to its macabre end.

Former Warhol cohort, Morrissey uses Shelley's Frankenstein as a framework upon which to hang this grotesquely dark comedy, built around themes of voyeurism, necrophilia, incest and racial purity. Made in the same year as its companion piece, Blood For Dracula, Flesh For Frankenstein combines extreme violence, gore and the blackest of humour with moments of real calm and tenderness. Morrissey's camera, like so many of the characters in the film, acts as a subjective voyeur to the plot. Scenes are often shot from a single point of view to emphasize the role of the audience. The film may be 33 years old but it's still refreshing to see such dominance and freedom of expression from a director.

In the past, Morrissey's work has often been criticised poor and laughable acting. Rather like criticising a punk rock band for not being able to play their instruments, this appears churlish and misguided. When questioned about his lack of acting ability, Steven Seagal said, "I accept I couldn't have played Dustin Hoffman's role in Rain Man, as long he accepts that he couldn't have played mine in Hard To Kill." The man has a point.

Actors should suit the film they're in. It's called casting. In this respect, Flesh For Frankenstein would suffer greatly without the performance of Kier, who is completely out of control throughout, giving a comedy turn worthy of much greater recognition. Dallesandro, too, a rough trade dream, who some may recognise as the cover star of the first album by The Smiths, manages to command real presence and humour, despite appearing virtually naked in every scene.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is undoubtedly a great novel and deserves its place in literary history. What makes Morrissey a great director, though, is his refusal to allow it to get in the way of his film. This is his story and no one else's. For the man who discovered Velvet Underground, Flesh For Frankenstein should be considered his second greatest achievement and you only wish there was more of his kind around today.

Reviewed on: 28 May 2006
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Dark comedy based - very loosely - on Mary Shelley's novel.
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Director: Paul Morrissey

Writer: Paul Morrissey, based on the novel by Mary Shelley

Starring: Joe Dallesandro, Monique van Vooren, Udo Kier, Arno Juerging, Dalila Di Lazzaro, Srdjan Zelenovic, Nicoletta Elmi, Carla Mancini

Year: 1973

Runtime: 95 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Italy/France/US

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