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The Criterion Collection presents

Flesh for Frankenstein (1973)

"To know death, Otto, you have to f--- life in the gall bladder!!"- Baron Frankenstein (Udo Kier)

Stars: Udo Kier, Joe Dallesandro, Monique Van Vooren
Other Stars: Arno Juerging, Carla Mancini, Marco Liofredi
Director: Paul Morrissey

Manufacturer: CMCA
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (explicit sex, language, gore, violence)
Run Time: 01h:35m:13s
Release Date: 1998-12-15
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+A-B B


DVD Review

Paul Morrissey's Flesh For Frankenstein is, at its worst, one of the most ridiculous horror films ever made. At its best, it's a sly satire of similar films that uses subtle social commentary to elevate itself. Morrissey essentially takes the classic story of Frankenstein, the scientist obsessed with bringing a dead body back to life, and warps it into a twisted, sleazy tale of how an immoral family self-destructs. Often billed as a comedy, the film works better from that mindset and makes more sense, certainly.

Udo Keir portrays Baron Frankenstein, who spends countless hours in his laboratory trying to create zombies. Unlike the classic character, however, this Baron's goals are far more bizarre, in that he wants to create a zombie couple that will mate and bear him "perfect" children that adhere to his standard of beauty. He has married simply for the purpose of title, and earnest love to him is a foreign concept, at least in the context we know. Though his wife has given birth to children, their relationship is vague and nonsensical. The Baron's true love is his work, in which he is assisted by his impotent henchman, Otto. The children are quiet and don't do much of anything, except watch the goings-on in the castle. The core of the story revolves around the Baron needing a head for his unfinished, male zombie. His concept is to obtain the head of a man who is very sexually motivated, to be sure he'll mate with the female zombie. As is predestined, the Baron's perverted and corrupt ideals are screwed up from day one when he mistakenly takes the head of a very shy man who wishes to become a monk. At the same time, the Baroness takes a farmhand as her personal sex slave, as well as to perform other duties inside the castle.

Essentially, the lives of all the characters deconstruct as they sink deeper and deeper into their own immorality. The Baron is so infatuated with the zombies, he loves them more than humans (yes, we are talking necrophilia). The Baroness is now so consumed with the idea of being sexually dominating and promiscuous that she scarcely does anything else. Both of them think they're justified in what they're doing, but think nothing of the fact that their fantasies are hurting real people around them. They pontificate about how they're raising their children properly and are so much better than the peasantry surrounding them, yet this is, of course, disproved by their disgusting lifestyles. The distinct social messages and outright satire are very well mixed, but many times hard to distinguish. Regardless, this is not your average interpretation of Frankenstein; it is, instead, a clever way of taking the concept and exposing all of its central flaws in a very bawdy, staged manner. Everyone acts and speaks in exaggerated ways, many times spouting lines that will cause you to break out in laughter. I suppose if you made Frankenstein into some kind of weird opera, this would be the end result.

At first, all this makes the film seem really boring and incredibly stupid, but once you get into the groove it all becomes much funnier and enjoyable. Adding to the overall, weird comedy is the level of gore in the film—even though some people can't stand gore, the violence in this film is laughably cheap, most likely on purpose. Since the movie was originally filmed in stereoscopic 3D, there are scenes where organs and body parts are thrust into the camera with flair, causing the most obvious laughs. The cheap horror aspects are bookended, however, by amazingly good cinematography and sets, which lend a distinct visual style to the whole affair.

Flesh For Frankenstein will not work for everyone, and certainly cannot be viewed from the mindset that it's a true horror film; however, if you give it a chance and imagine you're watching some kind of wild play, you just might find this a quirky sort of masterpiece.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Although not anamorphic, the widescreen transfer here is amazingly clean and crisp. Colors light up the screen and the overall sharpness and depth to the image is a wonder to behold. In many scenes you can almost feel the textures of skin, fabric, and walls. Some age problems do exist, but they are fairly minor and only exist in a handful of scenes. The biggest age problems are speckles and hairs in the frame gate. There are absolutely no signs of edge enhancement, compression artifacts, or any other digital flaws.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: A Pro-Logic Mono audio track provides a surprisingly wide and immersive field of sound. Dialogue is clear and perfectly understandable. The haunting musical score by Claudio Gizzi comes across very well, providing the interesting backdrop for the onscreen action. Some of the scenes have slightly muted dialogue (recorded with on-set mics) and you might need to turn up the volume there, but in general there's nothing problematic.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 31 cues and remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Paul Morrissey, Udo Kier, Maurice Yacowar
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Production and publicity photo stills (with soundtrack score clips in stereo).
Extras Review: The commentary track featured on the disc is, as usual for most Criterion commentaries, edited together from various sources. It would seem that director Paul Morrissey made a live commentary while watching the film, as did Udo Kier. Then, the commentaries were edited together under the narration of film historian Maurice Yacowar, who analyzes the movie as it goes along. Morrissey essentially discusses how he tried to make the film more funny than scary, and also offers insight into what he thinks qualifies as good direction and good acting. Udo Kier mostly focuses on his experiences working on the film and how he tried to take his role as Baron Frankenstein very seriously so that he would seem funnier in retrospect. As insightful as Maurice Yacowar's input is, to a certain extent he dissects the film way too much and manages to find vast amounts of symbolism and hidden meaning in almost every frame of the film.

A 20 minute slide show of photo stills (from both production and publicity) is also featured, underscored by pieces from the soundtrack presented in full stereo.

The usual NTSC color bar pattern rounds off the disc.

Extras Grade: B

Final Comments

Flesh For Frankenstein is hard to define as a film, but it certainly accomplishes the goals it sets up. It's not really a typical Frankenstein film, so it shouldn't be treated as one. Criterion's seriously impressive transfer and respectful treatment create a solid, archival version of this vastly misunderstood film. Recommended.

Dan Lopez 2000-10-12