Format: Internet video on laptop.
It was not without trepidation that I came to Flesh for Frankenstein. There’s a single reason for this: it’s sometimes known as Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein. I get why Warhol was important in the art world even if I’m not generally a fan of his work. That said, Andy Warhol’s Vinyl is the single worst movie I have ever seen. There are certainly movies that I’d want to watch again less than Vinyl, but I genuinely can’t think of a film that I’ve seen that was worse. That stays with you. It’s hard to trust again after one has been that badly burned.
Knowing that I had a mindset going in to dislike the film, I prepared myself for the worst. And, well, it’s not the worst film I’ve seen and not even the worst horror film I’ve seen. It’s not even the worst horror film I’ve seen this month. That doesn’t make it any good, though. It might well be that it was impossible for me to actually like Flesh for Frankenstein with as much of a negative set against it as I had. But I tried. I really did try.
Flesh for Frankenstein is only a Frankenstein movie because it has a Baron Frankenstein character (Udo Kier) and because that character is in the habit of sewing together bodies and attempting to bring them back to life. Otherwise, there’s not a great deal here that is legitimately connected to the original Mary Shelley story. Oh, it does take place in a castle, so I guess there’s that.
Anyway, this Baron Frankenstein is concerned not with merely creating a creature (which he calls a “zombie”) but with creating both a male and female version that will eventually mate and create a superior race unlike his own children, Monica and Eric (Nicoletta Elmi and Marco Liofredi respectively). It also soon becomes evident that Baron Frankenstein’s wife Katrin (Monique van Vooren) is also his sister. The other thing that becomes evident is that Baroness Frankenstein is sexually unfulfilled because the Baron may be into having his creatures getting it on, but he’s not so much into it.
What Frankenstein really needs is the proper brain to propel his creature. Specifically, he needs a brain that has a high libido. He and his assistant Otto (Arno Juerging) decide to sit outside of a brothel to find the right specimen. As it happens the brothel they stake out is being frequented by a stableboy named Nicholas (Joe Dallesandro) and his friend Sacha (Srdjan Zelenovic). The issue here is that Sacha has no libido; he’s planning to become a monk while Nicholas is a veritable sex machine. Of course, the Baron and Otto pick the wrong guy, which means that the non-sexual Sacha will be powering the monster. This comes with one of the most comic head-removal scenes imaginable.
So, let’s talk about the specifics. Udo Kier treats this film as if it were meant to be played at 1000% with every line. It’s high camp, and I have to wonder if it was intentionally camp or just Udo Kier being his bug-eyed self. The only otherwise notable things in terms of the cast is that Arno Juerging’s Otto looks like Pippin Took and Merry Brandybuck had a love child. Similarly, Monique van Vooren looks as if Shelly Long and Christina Ricci procreated and shaved the eyebrows off their child.
Flesh for Frankenstein is a film that wants to leave no taboo untouched. In addition to the incestuous relationship between the Baron and his wife, there are hints that the same is going to be true of their children. There’s also a good deal of necrophilia here. Both the Baron and Otto are enamored of their female creation (Dalila Di Lazzaro). In fact, there’s a lovely scene of the Baron humping her while Otto stands in attendance. This is followed by a line that sums up the entirety of this experience: “To know death, Otto, you have to fuck life in the gall bladder!”
Flesh for Frankenstein is also over the top in terms of its use of gore, even if most of it isn’t that gory. The gory is incredibly fake. There are plenty of organs on display, but they are surprisingly clean, as if washed and polished before popping out of bodies. And they do pop out of bodies, sometimes completely unbidden. And, true to form, much of this happens during or because of sex.
Flesh for Frankenstein was obviously intended to be a prurient display of weird sexuality, and it clearly is exactly that. I’m not sure if it was intended to actually be good, and it clearly isn’t that. As camp, it’s vaguely successful as a film, in large part because of Udo Kier’s gibbering, shouted performance. But a lot of this is simply gross—not disgusting or nauseating, but just gross, and not in a fun way. That said, I can see people liking this for one reason or another. I’m just never going to be one of those people.
Why to watch Flesh for Frankenstein: Where else can you see Udo Kier have sex with a corpse?
Why not to watch: “Camp” doesn’t begin to describe it.