“Flesh for Frankenstein”: Paul Morrissey spiced up this tale of horror with incest, nymphomania and necrophilia

By on January 17, 2017

Night Flight’s “Take Off to Rock and Cult Films” — which originally aired on March 25, 1985, and you can now find streaming exclusively on Night Flight Plus — featured a quick peek at a handful of rock/cult films we were showing on “Night Flight” at the time, including two campy 70s horror films directed by Paul Morrissey and originally rated “X,” Andy Warhol’s Dracula and Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein, the latter which had been originally released in 1974 as Flesh for Frankenstein.

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Night Flight’s Pat Prescott introduces the excerpted clip for Frankenstein — written and directed by Morrissey and produced by Warhol, Andrew Braunsberg, Louis Peraino and Carlo Ponti (for Ponti’s production company, Compagnia Cinematografica Champion) — this way:

Andy Warhol is the master of camp films and pop art. Warhol’s attempt at cultural subversion in film focused on turning Hollywood conventions on their heads. He took classic horror tales like the Frankenstein story and the Dracula legend and made these classics into anti-erotic sex comedies. Under the direction of Paul Morrissey, Warhol produced Frankenstein and spiced the tale of horror with incest, nymphomania and necrophilia.”

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In the Spring of 1973, the two films were filmed quickly and inexpensively, back-to-back, something that producer Roger Corman had done quite a few times — in order to utilize a good filming location and sets, cutting costs by having the same actors appear in both films — so they could ultimately be paired together and distributed on a double-bill of drive-in sleaze (Dracula was originally titled Blood for Dracula).

Director Paul Morrissey — who had swept the floor at Warhol’s Factory in 1965, a year before The Chelsea Girls was released — would soon begin directing films that were produced by Warhol, like Flesh (1968), Trash (1969), and Heat (1972), but these were often credited to Warhol as the director (he merely financed them), which understably caused Morrissey much grief during his career.

Legendary Italian screenwriter Tonino Guerra — who would earn three Academy Award writing nominations for his work on Casanova ’70 (1965), Michaelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966), and Federico Fellini’s Amarcord (1973) — was just one of a couple of screenwriters who didn’t receive any credit for their contributions to the script; only Morrissey is credited with writing the screenplay (which, somewhat unbelievably, was originally titled Meat for Frankenstein until Warhol suggested the change to Flesh for Frankenstein).

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The original source material for Morrissey’s screenplay, of course, was based (just as all Frankenstein film inevitably are) on Mary Shelley’s 1818 gothic horror novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, which was originally written as an allegory about the evils of what was then modern science and the hubris of mankind.

Here, however, the great Udo Kier plays the Baron Frankenstein like a caricature of Hitler, a madman obsessed with creating a “master race” from the body parts of corpses.

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Ultimately, he wants to have his perfect male and female zombies obey his commands, which amounts to fucking in order to foster a genetically superior species; he’s particularly keen on finding a perfect Serbian nose (referred to as a “nasum”) in order to realize his “Serbian ideals” of pure physical and intellectual attributes said to have come directly from the ancient Greeks.

The baron’s wife Katrin (Monique van Vooren), who also happens to be his sister, is a sexually-repressed baroness obsessed with aesthetics, and their creepy children aren’t quite right in the head either, as they like to sneak into daddy’s lab and play around with the bloody cadavers (they never say a word because the child actors did not speak English).

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Joe Dallesandro plays a testerone-driven sheep herder Nicholas who is killed during a bout of overly-vigorous copulation with the Baroness, and the lovely Dalila Di Lazzaro (a gorgeous Italian model that Morrissey saw in an Italian TV soap commercial) also makes an appearance as the female Frankenstein’s monster.

There’s an infamous necrophilia scene, the Baron fucking a female corpse, which is played for laughs when his bug-eyed assistant Otto (Arno Juerging) attempts to do the same with the girl but makes a bloody mess of everything (Baron tells him: To know life, Otto, you must first fuck death in the gall bladder.”)

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Udo Kier’s Baron Frankenstein is really a tour de force performance, a wonderfully comic portrayal that, in its own way, is just as over-the-top funny as Gene Wilder‘s Dr. Frankenstein in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, which was also released in 1974 (curiously, the Baron’s last name is never uttered once during the film, while Wilder’s character makes a big deal about its pronunciation in Brooks’ movie).

We love how Kier looks at his wife/sister and says, “You a sex maniac!”

Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula were originally both going to be filmed in something called “Space-Vision 3-D,” but after the production costs for Frankenstein, which was filmed first, proved to be so expensive, not to mention time-consuming, when Dracula was filmed the producers opted for standard 35mm film.

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At times, the film’s excellent cinematography elevates Flesh for Frankenstein to an arthouse feature level, while gratuitous, sordid sex scenes (lots of full-frontal nudity, mostly female) seems more on par with what was typically being seen in 70s-era softcore adult films and grade Z horror flicks.

The sex scenes were not pornographic, however, but apparently Warhol believed that by-passing the MPAA ratings board and self-imposing “X” ratings himself would likely appeal to the theater audiences he imagined would enjoy Frankenstein and Dracula.

There’s also clearly an influence here from Italian giallo films — geysers of bright red blood spurt and splash across the screen, for instance — which would also certainly influence American slasher films during the next decade.

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Upon its release, Nora Sayre of the New York Times wrote that, “As” [Baron Frankenstein’s] hands caress kidneys, spleens and gall bladders, his unfinished creatures appear like mutilated corpses, and disembowelment becomes a substitute for sex.”

We should also mention that the gory special make-up effects on the film were the work of Carlo Rambaldi, who was responsible for creating the space monster that bursts forth from actor John Hurt’s chest in Ridley Scott’s 1979’s space horror classic, Alien.

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We’ve never seen Frankenstein in a theater, in its original “Space-Vision 3-D,” but we can sure see how some of the film’s gruesome action — including visceral internal organs exploding up towards the camera lens — and some of the cast’s over-exaggerated acting were surely enhanced by the 3-D process.

Even though Pat Prescott refers to both of Morrissey’s films as “anti-erotic sex comedies,” there’s nothing truly anti-anything about Flesh for Frankenstein; true, the film’s over-the-top absurd depiction of excessive and bloody gore and garish scenes of sexual depravity (armpit sucking, for instance) is pretty funny stuff, but we wouldn’t necessarily call this film either “anti-erotic,” or even a “sex comedy.”

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Flesh for Frankenstein‘s interior scenes were filmed at Cinecittà studios in Rome (which was officially opened on April 28, 1937 by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini), with a crew of Italian filmmakers.

In Italy, some of the first prints of the film — released as Il mostro è in tavola, Barone Frankenstein (“The Monster and the Table, Baron Frankenstein”) and also Carne per Frankenstein — credit second unit director Antonio Margheriti as the film’s director (although he uses his pseudonym, Anthony Dawson).

This had apparently had been arranged by one of the film’s producers, Carlo Ponti, for “union reasons,” as he was trying to get huge tax breaks from the Italian government in order to help pay for the film, a scam that ultimately failed (the practice was how Ponti ultimately ended up serving time in jail).

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One of the film’s most impressive sets was Baron Frankenstein’s laboratory, designed by production designer Enrico Job (who was married to Italian filmmaker Lina Wertmüller), which featured tile walls and stone flooring, a massive glass tank, lots of statuary and all the assorted equipment you’d expect to find in a mad scientist’s lair.

Fans of The Rocky Horror Picture Show will no doubt note that the lab was replicated almost brick-by-brick for Lou Adler’s 1975 film. (It’s also easy to see how how Joe Dallesandro’s studly “monster” might have also been purloined by Rocky Horror‘s Richard O’Brien as well).

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Released in the U.S. on March 17, 1974, and in France that October, followed by a March 1975 release in Italy, the original release of Flesh for Frankenstein was a big hit all over Europe, America — ultimately earning $4.7 million in rentals in North America alone — and in Australia and Japan, too, earning somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million in less than two months of its original limited theatrical release (on a reported budget of $450,000!), before going on to earn as much as $7 million gross on worldwide ticket sales.

Despite their boffo box-office success, Flesh for Frankenstein — which was also known around the world variously as The Devil and Dr. Frankenstein, The Frankenstein Experiment, and Up Frankenstein — and Blood for Dracula would be the last two Factory films that Paul Morrissey directed, and the last Factory films in which Joe Dallesandro starred.

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Morrissey was particularly upset by the use of Warhol’s name on the title as a publicity gimmick, and the fact that Warhol was often miscredited as the film’s director, and although he continued to direct independent films after ending his association with Warhol, these are the two films which he’s probably best remembered for today.

Dallesandro, meanwhile, was unhappy that both of the films made so much money and yet he wasn’t paid very much for his performances.

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Eight years after its initial theatrical run, Frankenstein and Dracula were re-released again, in May 1982, as Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein and Andy Warhol’s Dracula — during the 3D craze of the 1980s which spawned both Friday the 13th Part III in 3-D (1982) and Jaws 3-D (1983) — which is how they both ended up being included in Night Flight’s “Take Off” episode from 1985.

This remastered, re-released Frankenstein (as well as Andy Warhol’s Dracula) was now sporting an “R” rating and it had been edited slightly too (removing some of the full-frontal nudity, no doubt), which allowed for even wider theatrical distribution; some have even suggested that Warhol produced the film in the first place so that a movie poster could be produced showing the scars he had on his own stomach after being shot by Valie Solanas in 1967 (not true).

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For subsequent U.S. DVD releases, the film was given its original title again, Flesh for Frankenstein, and the full-length uncut edit was restored to (it was now unrated too, neither “X” nor “R”).

In 1998, The Criterion Collection re-released a newly-restored Flesh For Frankenstein on DVD, from a new digital transfer from the 35mm negative, presented in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, with audio commentary by Morrissey, Kier, and film historian Maurice Yacowar.

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Watch Night Flight’s 1985 episode of “Take Off to Rock and Cult Films” — which also features segments on Rude Boy, and Breaking Glass — which you can find streaming exclusively on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.