After watching Lady Frankenstein (aka La Fagila di Frankenstein) on my Mill Creek 50 Chilling Classics set, I just had one burning question: why?
WHY IN THE HOLY HELL HAD NO ONE EVER TOLD ME ABOUT THIS MOVIE?
Of course I'd heard of the movie before, but with a name like Lady Frankenstein, I'd expected something silly and worthless a la Frankenstein's Daughter Meets Jesse James--and the poster art, featuring an evening gown-clad big-boobed blonde among laboratory equipment, didn't help matters much. But behind the boobs of that blonde was in fact a FANTASTIC Frankenstein movie with great production values, real Hammer-esque atmosphere, an engaging story carried by charismatic actors, and a script with a perverse streak a freakin' MILE WIDE.
FOR THE LOVE OF THE MODERN PROMETHEUS, WHY?!?!?!
An aged Joseph Cotten plays Baron Frankenstein, who after 20 years is on the cusp of realizing his dream of reanimating dead flesh. He and his elderly assistant Charles spend the first few minutes of the film paying slimy, disreputable graverobbing types to collect the raw materials for their final push toward immortality. While Paul Muller as Charles does a great job as the loyal henchman and voice of reason, it has to be said that the much esteemed Cotten is pretty terrible as the mad doctor. At first I wondered if Cotten was interpreting the doctor's character as an alcoholic; later it became clear to this viewer that Cotten was, in all probability, ACTUALLY DRUNK during most of his scenes. Still, the period sets are very well done, the lab looks great, and the build-up to the creation scene is economical, fast-moving, and very well done.
On the eve of the Baron's triumph over death, however, his daughter Tania shows up for an ill-timed visit. Tania Frankenstein is played by Rosabela Neri, known to her American fans and credited here as Sara Bey, and she is SMOKIN' HAWT. Far from being just a pretty face, however, Neri is immediately believable as the intelligent, driven daughter of a man of science, a sexy apple that has not fallen far from the mad scientist tree. She's just completed her anachronistic training to become a surgeon, and has returned home hoping to help her dear old dad in whatever blasphemous experiments he might happen to be engaged in this week. The tipsy Cotten refuses her help, however, and forbids her entry to the lab until his results are ready for peer-review and publication.
Charles is quite a bit happier to see Tania, though, as the dirty old man has apparently had a thing for her ever since she was a wee bairn and he a middle-aged lab tech. (Eew.) Of course now that she's grown up into a ridiculously sexy mad scientesse...well, let's just say the lab isn't the only place where dead flesh is being resurrected. (Eew x 2.)
Meanwhile, Lynch the graverobber is being hounded by Captain Harris, played with hardboiled enthusiasm by Mickey Hargitay. It seems some of the bodies Lynch delivered to Castle Frankenstein might have been a bit fresher than was strictly legal, and Harris wants him to swing for it. Though the muscle-bound Hargitay is perhaps best known as "Mr. Jayne Mansfield," here he's very impressive as the tenacious, no-nonsense police inspector on Lynch's trail. And Lynch--played by the hilariously yet appropriately named Herbert Fux--is just the apotheosis of the slimy, too-clever-by-half lower-class degenerate, street smart and cracking wise, confident he can stay one step ahead of any flatfoot from the constabulary. The scenes between Hargitay and Fux are so great, you can almost forget there's a monster mash a brewin'.
But brewin' it is, and when a sudden storm blows up, Baron Von Bottlesucker is ready to call down the thunder and bring his creation to life. When the creature's brain is damaged during the last-minute transplant (brains has got to be fresh), Charles sensibly wants to call the whole thing off, but naturally the Baron is having none of that nonsense. He presses forward, with predictably disastrous results.
A few words about the creature here. Though the set designs, costumes, and makeup to this point in the movie have been nothing short of top-notch, the monster is one of the dumbest-looking in the entire subgenre, and that includes the 7-ft Chuckie doll in Roger Corman's Frankenstein Unbound. This creature has a head like a Metaluna Mu-Tant, an orange shirt, and the ugliest pair of form-fitting vertically-striped pants I've ever seen on an animated conglomeration of dead body parts. He's ugly, too--but only because during the reanimation a stray spark catches his face ON FIRE. Though I wasn't a fan of the creature design, I had to appreciate the creative effort to explain the creature's disfigurement. So that allays some of the silliness. But not much.
Monster goofiness aside, the creation sequence is one of the better ones I've seen in a Frankenstein movie, very exciting and well-realized, second perhaps only to the wonderful stuff in the old Universal flicks. Sensing how silly he looks in those pants, the newborn monster wastes no time going on an kill-crazy rampage, starting with the man that dressed him, Baron Frankenstein himself. The creature crushes him like a wine grape--probably releasing twice as much alcohol in the process--and then heads out to the countryside to find some villagers to dismember.
It's here that the movie starts to get pervy, and in the most wonderful way possible. Out of nowhere we find ourselves in an idyllic nature scene by a rushing river. Nearby, and buck-naked Eurobabe basks in the sunlight, attended to by a half-naked Euroboy with love on his mind. Alas, we barely have time to exclaim "Whoa! Funbags!" before the Creature rumbles in and tears the loverboy limb from limb. Then the monster picks up the screaming young lass, and in an homage so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes, lumbers over to the water and tosses her in, recreating exactly the "flower boats" scene from the Karloff classic, except with no flowers and a naked Eurobabe instead of a little girl.
Yep, now you know what kind of party this is. Where are the mashed potatoes?
Meanwhile Charles has told Tania about the disaster in the lab, and shows her the Baron's body, still leaking whiskey all over the laboratory floor. But Tania is not one to sob and faint--her thoughts immediately turn to science, and vengeance! Realizing that the monster will be unstoppable by conventional means, she resolves immediately to create a SECOND monster to hunt down the first--or, in her own words: "Not a monster--an executioner! Our creature will kill my father's murderer!" Tania, I love your can...I mean, your can-do attitude. Let's get it on!
It seems Charles is thinking the same thing I was, because he immediately professes his love for Tania and willingness to help her do anything, as long as she might someday love him back. The movie's pervy streak continues to broaden as we see Tania eyeing the stable-boy Thomas, who is muscular but also completely retarded. Charles plaintively asks the Baroness, "Could you love me?" "Yes," she replies, "if you looked like Thomas!"
The vengeance plan is quickly revised to accomodate the pervy plan as well: Charles agrees to help Tania create a monster using Thomas's body, if she will put Charles's brain in it, thus giving him the raw sex appeal he needs to be her lover. Charles and Tania are quickly married to seal the deal, though the marriage is unconsummated so long as he's a wrinkly old coot.
Meanwhile the monster's rampage continues. What the Creature lacks in sinister looks and fashion sense he more than makes up for in sheer viciousness, as we are treated to several brutal murders which the villagers are powerless to stop, despite some very spirited resistance. Soon Captain Harris is questioning Tania and Charles about their abrupt nuptuals, the Baron's death, and the sudden rash of crushings and pullings apart in the neighboring village, but they play dumb.
What happens next must go down in the annals of Mad Movies as one of the greatest mad scientist body-procurement scenes in cinematic history. Tania uses her feminine whiles to lure the retarded Thomas into her bedroom, where she sheds her gown and corset and makes a man of him. Neri's acting has been great throughout, but here she totally commits to her role by getting completely naked and letting the audience feast its eyes on her heart-breakingly stunning gorgeousness. To be that beautiful AND talented--it hardly seems fair. But at least we get to see her ride the 'tard like a thoroughbred, so that's something.
Meanwhile, Tania's new husband is watching the whole thing from the closet, getting angrier as the sex gets hotter. Finally he can stand it no more, and creeps out to smother the hapless handicapped helper in mid-coitus. (Minimal damage to the body that way.) Solidifying the film's grasp on the title "PERVIEST FRANKENSTEIN MOVIE EVAR," Thomas expires underneath the Baroness WHILE SHE ACHIEVES ORGASM! Ho-lee shit. I still can't believe they went there, and I've watched that scene at least a dozen times.
After a peak like that it's bound to go downhill, and in short order Charles's brain is in Thomas's bod (and his larynx as well, from the sound of his voice), the torch-bearing mob is finally zeroing in on the Castle, and the first Creature, enraged by sibling rivalry, returns to do battle with his better-looking little brother. The final battle doesn't take too long, as Charles/Thomas triumphs over Egghead McIrate and claims Tania for his prize. Tania, overwhelmed by joy at her success in both mad science and revenge (not to mention way turned-on by her monster-man's manliness) falls into his arms even while the mob sets the castle ablaze, as mobs are wont to do.
Hargitay catches the couple in literal flagrante delicto, and the film reel runs out, apparently, as there is a super-abrupt ending with no credits, in mid-tussle. I can only assume this is a bad cut in the print and the the theatrical version went on at least a few more seconds; however, my limited internet research suggests that this is the way ALL the prints end, so either it was intentional or this is the best surviving print we've got.
I LOVE THIS MOVIE.
It's not without its failings--the monster is dumb looking, as I said, and Cotten slurring his way through his lines is frankly embarrassing, especially if you're familiar with the esteemed actor's other work. There's some weird editing with jump-cuts, though how many of these are due to print damage or censors I can't tell (though I can't imagine what they would have censored, considering what they left in). And if you look carefully in an early scene, you can catch a glimpse of a crew member in Tania's mirror! Still, for someone like me, that just adds to the charm.
And the plus column WAY outweighs the negative. I'm an official Rosabela Neri fan club member now--not only is she gorgeous, she's a great actress, pulling off the driven mad scientist role well, and also lending depth with her portrayal as a woman who will use her mind as well as her body to achieve her perverse goals. Hargitay is great, Fux is great, the set designs and costumes are great--hell, even the dubbing isn't all that bad. Plenty of blood, plenty of nekkidity, and loads and loads of fun all add up to my new favorite non-Karloff-starring Frankenstein movie, period.
6 thumbs, and more if you're a perv like me. Get yourself a copy of this, pronto. Thank me later.
PS--as if I needed another reason to praise the 50 Chilling Classics set, I was stunned that somebody working for Mill Creek put this, Devil Times Five, and Funeral Home all on one disc--and ALL THREE have scenes where a mentally challenged character is seduced by a manipulative older woman. A trilogy of 'tard seduction! It had to be intentional on some DVD author's part, and for that, whoever you are, I thank you. I hope Mill Creek gave you a nice fat bonus.