Flesh for Frankenstein / Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein / Frankenstein 3-D / Frankenstein / The Frankenstein Experiment / The Devil and Dr. Frankenstein (1973) ***½
Let’s get one thing out of the way right up front. Despite the fact that US audiences are most likely to encounter Flesh for Frankenstein under the title Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein, Warhol had almost nothing to do with this movie. Basically, he wrote some checks and gave a few tips on how to sell the film to its promoters. Rather, Flesh for Frankenstein and its companion piece, Blood for Dracula, are Paul Morrissey’s babies all the way. Morrissey was a longtime Warhol hanger-on, and was the real creative force behind most of the movies that have Andy’s name on them. The biggest thing the two men had in common was a taste for the tasteless, and this film here is a perfect example. A fitfully hilarious horror farce laden with wildly excessive gore and perversion, Flesh for Frankenstein sure as hell isn’t for everybody, but it’s exactly what I was after.
When we join Baron Frankenstein (Udo Kier, from The Story of O and Escape from Blood Plantation) this time, he’s well along in his work to create perfected living humans from the best parts of assorted dead bodies. His female creation (Frankenstein ‘80’s Dalila Di Lazzaro) is nearly complete, but he has yet to find a satisfactory head for the male. As Frankenstein explains to his assistant, Otto (Arno Juerging, who would play essentially the same role in Blood for Dracula), he has very exacting specifications for heads. For one thing, the face— and the nose especially— must be the perfect embodiment of the Serbian ideal; this is because the Serbs are “directly descended from the glory of the ancient Greeks.” (Ummm... no. In fact, because of the way the borders have been moving around for the last thousand years or so, combined with the Ottoman Empire’s rather heavy-handed way of dealing with troublesome minority groups, it’s debatable to what extent the people of today’s Serbia are even descended from the glory of the ancient Serbs!) But beyond that, Frankenstein has one totally inflexible requirement for the brain inside that head. Because his ultimate aim is to breed his two creatures into a master race devoted entirely to him, he needs the brain of a guy who thinks about little other than sex.
The baron would learn of the existence of just such a man if he would only ask his wife/sister Catherine (The Decameron’s Monique Van Vooren); she’s been spending the past couple of days trying to shield their two children from the amorous activities of a young farmhand named Nicholas (Joe Dallesandro, from Seeds of Evil and Killer Nun), who seems to be trying to lay every single girl in the village built on Frankenstein’s land. But the two Frankensteins really don’t like each other very much, and they speak as little as possible. So instead, the baron takes Otto to the neighborhood bordello, where the two of them will lie in wait to waylay the handsomest, horniest-looking man they can find— assuming he’s got a perfect Serbian nose, of course! Well as it happens, Nicholas is in that very bordello at that very moment, but he’s also brought along a friend of his named Sasha (Srdjan Zelenovic), who has exactly the nose Frankenstein is after. The trouble (as far as Frankenstein is concerned, anyway) is that Sasha has no interest in sex whatsoever. In fact, he wants to become a monk, and the only reason he’s at the brothel at all is that Nicholas has finally convinced him that he won’t be able to make an informed decision about whether or not he’s prepared to renounce sexual pleasure for the rest of his life until he's had a little to judge by. Nevertheless, some commotion in the whorehouse (actually caused by a lizard crawling across one of the girls’ asses) convinces Frankenstein and his trusty sidekick that Sasha is their man, and they intercept the two revelers on their way back to the village that night. Nicholas gets off easy; he’s already nearly unconscious from drinking, and a middleweight blow to the head puts him out until well after dawn. Sasha, on the other hand, gets decapitated with a pair of gigantic shears.
You better believe Nicholas is freaked out something fierce when he wakes up next to the decapitated body of his best friend. And on the same day that he was already scheduled to report to Castle Frankenstein for a tongue-lashing from Catherine, too! Catherine, you see, has gotten sick and tired of stumbling upon the spectacle of Nicholas boning some floozy on her property every time she tries to take the kids on an excursion away from the castle. But as Nicholas is soon to learn, what that really means is that Catherine wants to take him on as a manservant at the castle, so that she can take the place of all the farmhand’s random floozies! Those with sharp eyes will have already noticed a potentially dangerous side-effect of this situation. Whenever Baron Frankenstein succeeds in animating his two creatures, there’s going to be a man with Sasha’s face roaming around the castle. If Nicholas is in close attendance upon the baron’s sister/wife, he’s going to wind up meeting that Sasha-faced man sooner or later, and he’s going to figure out just what really happened to his old buddy’s head. Meanwhile, Frankenstein himself will soon be discovering the mistake he made in installing the brain of a would-be monk in the body of a creature intended to be an unstoppable sex machine.
Mary Shelley would be scandalized. But then, that’s exactly what makes Flesh for Frankenstein so much fun. It would be difficult to imagine a Frankenstein film in more outrageously poor taste than this one (although it’s worth pointing out that I still haven’t seen the one Jesus Franco made in the 1970’s...), or in which that poor taste is brought to life with such skill and exuberance. For example, Carlo Rambaldi’s very well-done gore effects were some of the most extreme that had yet been attempted up to then, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen another movie make such delightfully crass and offensive use of 3-D in my life. Paul Morrissey also made some inspired casting decisions. Udo Kier especially looks like he got a huge kick out of portraying the incestuous, necrophiliac, and just generally sex-obsessed baron, and his extremely broad acting and impenetrable German accent are just what the role calls for. It’s no wonder Morrissey hired him back to play the lead role in Blood for Dracula almost immediately after Flesh for Frankenstein was in the can. Monique Van Vooren is less attention-grabbing, but in her way, she’s just as perfect for the part of Catherine. Considering the open anti-aristocracy subtext of the film— to say nothing of the marital practices of the Frankenstein family— it seems especially appropriate to cast a woman with such odd, inbred-looking features as her for Baron Frankenstein’s wife. Van Vooren quite literally wears this movie’s politics on her face. The only weak link in the casting department is Joe Dallesandro, whose Brooklyn accent is almost as heavy as Kier’s German one, and who seems entirely out of place amid all these Europeans. Of course, even that sometimes turns into a point in the movie’s favor, adding yet another layer of madness to absurdities like Baron Frankenstein’s seemingly endless death scene. But I think the baron himself provides the most succinct encapsulation of what watching Flesh for Frankenstein is really like: “Otto— in order to know Death, you’ve got to fuck Life in the gall bladder.” Words of wisdom, my friends. Words of wisdom...