Tuesday, July 28, 2015
The erotic potential of most classic horror concepts have been exploited over and over again, in some cases almost at the same time the creatures behind those concepts were hit upon. Vampires, for example, what with all the sucking they do and things such as this, and ghosts, which can haunt you and see what you're up to all the time. Demons, too, who can possess you and force you into all sorts of ribaldry. Plus werewolves represent the uninhibited beast within us all. Etc. One that hasn't, though, is Frankenstein. This isn't to say that the story of Frankenstein and his monster has never been sexualized, because of course it has, but to my knowledge it hasn't happened that often. Possibly this is because a reanimated corpse (or a reanimated corpse comprised of a bunch of pieces of corpses stitched together, depending on whose doing it) doesn't turn the cranks of as many people as creatures that are less overtly sepulchral and decayed.
Leave it to Jess Franco, then, to think "What the hell, I'll give it a whirl." Hence The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein, just released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Kino Lorber. And I have to say that in his approach to the above-described conundrum, Franco kind of cheats. The bonkers premise, which I'll try to sort of summarize, is first you got Dr. Frankenstein (Dennis Price) who has finally succeeded in bringing his monster (Fernando Bilbao) to life. Minutes after doing so, however, he and his assistant are brutally attacked by the evil Cagliostro (Howard Vernon), and an always nude, bloodthirsty, partially green-feathered pseudo bird-woman named, er, Melisa. Both the assistant and Dr. Frankenstein are killed, and the monster is stolen. Why? Cagliostro believes that by mating the monster with a beautiful naked woman (the specific identity of whom is TBD), he will create the beginnings of a master race. And he's probably right about that, because he he seems to know his stuff. In a race to stop him, Franco introduces, among others, a character, or character name, from Dracula, Dr. Seward (Alberto Dalbes), and the late doctor's daughter, Vera Frankenstein (Beatriz Savon). Plus, late or not, Seward figures out that Dr. Frankenstein can be brought back to life for a few minutes at a time and provide important information. Which helps.
So back to Franco cheating. None of the eroticism one might find in The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein, and at the very least over the course of its brief 74 minutes there's no shortage of nudity, stems from anything related specifically to Frankenstein or his monster. The monster does copulate with a woman at one point, but Franco doesn't linger on that or show much curiosity about what that might be like for either party. The closest the film ever comes to paying off that title is in an admittedly crazy scene in which the monster, at the bidding of Cagliostro, viciously whips a nude man and nude woman tied together back-to-back, standing on a floor covered with spikes. How all of that strikes you depends entirely on you and I don't need to know about it, but even if you're left cold in that one sense, you would, I think, kinda hafta get into the sheer Franco-ness of it all. Bilbao, as the monster, appears to be absolutely apeshit, and plus his makeup job, and the overall monster design resembles some combination of Karloff's original and a robot. Instead of green, he's silver, for one thing, and that one choice is striking in a way that is both off-putting and really goofy.
All of this is to say that the title The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein is really just an umbrella, beneath which Franco is free to let loose. And he does. Vernon is always a welcome presence, but really the film hits its high marks through Bilbao and Libert, who takes to playing a naked blood-drinking bird-woman with real verve. Add to this a fair amount of imagery that seems to have been inspired by Corman's Poe films, especially The Masque of the Red Death, and hey, if you're into Franco at all, you could do worse. You could also do better, but you could do worse.