Saturday, October 30, 2021

Lady Frankenstein (1971) and Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks (1974)

Lady Frankenstein

Baron Frankenstein has gradually been collecting all the body parts he needs to bring a man back from the dead. The time has come for his first test, just as his daughter Tanya visits. The experiment ends in disaster when Frankenstein is crushed to death by his creation. An intelligent doctor herself, Tanya immediately takes up her father's work, with the help of his assistant Charles, and conspires a plan to build a better monster. With the brain of Charles, and the body of a handsome but mentally challenged stableboy, will she succeed in making the perfect monster where her father failed?...

Lady Frankenstein is one of the classic entries of 1970s exploitation. It's got horror, and sex to provoke maximum attention. It says it all in the tagline-"Only the monster she created could satisfy her strange desires!".

The film starts out as a pretty typical Frankenstein adaption, with the added inclusion of a daughter. The 'good' doctor is an older man searching for the key to life, employing local gravediggers to keep his supply fresh.

Where the film takes a twist is at the halfway mark, when Frankenstein is inevitably killed by his own creation. Tania, previously put-upon by her old-fashioned father, takes charge of the situation, formulating a perfect plan to clear things up. She will create a new monster to destroy the old one, and in doing so she'll get the brain of the man she loves in the body of the man she desires.

Lady Frankenstein is definitely overlong at 100 minutes, so if you can track down the 80 minute version (not hard, since it's the most widely available), watch that instead. You're getting all the good of the film with all the fat trimmed off.

Tania Frankenstein is a pretty strong lead character. It's neat how the villain and protagonist here are one and the same. It takes a bit of time before she shows her ruthless side, and even longer before she takes her kit off! But when it does finally happen it's worth the wait! I do appreciate the time taken to explore Tania's personality, even if we don't see enough of her sleazy side.

The old Frankenstein is a nice enough father as far as mad scientists go, but has his sexist moments. He's killed by his own carelessness and obsession. I'm also not sure how it took him 20 years to get a single heart and brain!

The monster here doesn't have much in the way of character, but never tries too. He has a great appearance, and his domed head, burnt flesh, and bulging eyes give him a distinct look. We see a lot of him walking in daylight, which could spoil the mood, but I think it works well. And it just goes to show how much the make-up holds up to scrutiny!

The monster claims some victims from the town, including a farming couple. At first I found that a bummer, since he was the first to actually try using a weapon! But I lost sympathy with the victims who try running away...through the monster's path! Flee by all means, but if you have a weapon, use it! And maybe running another direction would help.

This naturally leads to an angry mob, as in all Frankenstein films, all the while a dogged detective is trying to keep a handle on things, and investigate the murders and other strange goings-on.

The cast here is good. Rosalba Neri is not only drop dead gorgeous as Tania Frankenstein, but also exudes a sense of iciness perfect for her character. Paul Müller is fine as Charles. Joseph Cotton makes for a pretty good Frankenstein, and the film gets the most out of him before his early death. Bodybuilder turned actor Mickey Hargitay is not playing the simple but handsome stableboy, but instead the local detective, doing alright. Paul Whiteman does well as the monster, making for a towering presence.

While an Italian production, Lady Frankenstein is directed by Gravis Mushnik himself, Mel Welles! He does a good job, and frames the scenes well, a few particularly so. The effects are very good too, with one of the more unique and grotesque Frankenstein monsters in cinema.

The music is fairly standard, verging on annoying in places. The score may actually differ depending on which version you watch. As for which is better, it's up to personal preference really. It's not like either are a riveting Ennio Morricone score.

Lady Frankenstein has its faults, but it succeeds at being a somewhat sleazy horror film, and is an enjoyable enough watch. Most of all, it lives up to the title perfectly...

Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks

In a rustic village, Count Frankenstein is conducting secret experiments with the help of a group of bodysnatchers. When his daughter returns home, with best friend Krista, the Count takes an instant liking to the young lady, and shows her his project. He has been experimenting with a resurrected neanderthal man, to figure out the mysteries of life. But will he succeed, or will a disgruntled ex-employee ruin everything? And what if the angry villagers find them all first?...

Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks is a film that entices with its colourful title. Thank god for trashy Italian cinema! But does it promise what it delivers? Well, that might vary from person to person. Has it got blood? Check. Nudity? Of course. Implied lesbianism. Do you need to ask? And it has its fair share of freaks, though not the kind you might be thinking of.

Despite the sleaziness it offers, Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks is still a fairly tame film. This isn't necessarily a negative, if you happen to like gothic chillers more than gorefests, and the title isn't lying, so it at least doesn't feel like false advertising. But still, it could've done with a little more spice.

The leading man here is Count Frankenstein (not a Baron this time!), who's not quite a villain, but not exactly scrupulous either. Daughter Maria and her fiancee are a likeable enough pair. She's only adopted, so while on good terms with her dad ("I hope you have forgiven me that I wasn't born a boy."), she has no hereditary obsession with conquering death. Krista meanwhile has...older tastes in men. Not once does she balk at the idea of shacking up with the Count. And weirdly enough, Maria doesn't seem to mind either, openly happy at the thought of her best friend becoming her mother! Ewwwww.

The opening credits have a section devoted to 'The Freaks', which sounds like fun! But instead these Freaks are just Frankenstein's graverobbing entourage. They're just regular assholes. Some more nefarious than others, but with no right to be called freaks. They're hardly mutated monsters! The most notable is dwarf Genz, who is fired by the Count, and stumbles upon a monster, who he decides to use for revenge, and trains in the art of...errr, 'romancing' the ladies!

And that brings us to the actual monsters of the film. Despite the earlier false advertising, there's still more than one. The 'monsters' here are cavemen, which is...surprising, to say the least! This raises a lot of questions the film never really answers, such as "How did cavemen survive, unnoticed at that, to the present day?". Ook is your typical caveman, bearded, uses a club, and dresses in furs. Frankenstein's pet subject Goliath though is tall, ginger, and has an unfortunate clown haircut.

The climax is a bit disappointing. The Count inevitably dies, as most Frankenstein's do, but it's surprisingly anticlimactic. I didn't even realise he'd died at first! There's still almost 10 minutes movie left, and we get a subpar monster fight, before the angry mob finishes everything off. Krista surprisingly manages to survive the movie, and so does Genz! If there was one person who wouldn't deserve it, he'd be it.

The music here is a high point, with some surprisingly good horror beats, perfectly fitting for a 70s Gothic flick. The rest of the music is fairly standard stuff.

The cast is ok. Rossano Brazzi makes for an alright Frankenstein, but never goes over-the-top. As the 'freaks' we have Edmund Purdom, Gordon Mitchell, and Luciano Pigozzi, who all do decently. An amusing credit is 'Boris Lugosi'. Before you wonder if he was born that way, he happens to be Salvatore Baccaro, a familiar sight in sleazy Italian cinema! Then there are some sexy signoras, who look just as good in demure Victorian clothing as they do disrobed and bathing!

Last to mention is Michael Dunn! Best known as Dr. Loveless from Wild Wild West, his career was never as big as he wished, and this film gives him the opportunity to get a nice meaty role. His character has little reason to stick around as long as he does, but I'm glad he does solely because of Dunn's presence.

Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks is definitely on the lower end of Gothic European chillers, but it's still an entertaining enough time for those who enjoy them. It's cheesy, and takes itself just seriously enough that it's an enjoyable watch...

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