Written by: Umberto Borsato, Edward Di Lorenzo, Egidio Gelso, Aurreliano Luppi, Dick Randall, Mel Welles, and Mary Shelley
Directed by: Mel Welles & Aureliano Luppi
Starring: Joseph Cotton, Rosalba Neri, and Paul Muller
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Only the monster she made could satisfy her strange desires!
Iíve probably had multiple copies of Lady Frankenstein sitting on my shelf for several years now thanks to its habitual presence on public domain sets. Though itís carried quite a bit of natural personal intrigue for me (how many Italian Frankenstein movies starring Joseph Cotten are there?), itís never made that difficult leap from shelf to DVD player. My interest was momentarily prodded last year when I saw it featured in Mad Ronís Prevues from Hell, which made the film look just as nuts as youíd imagine. Itís a good thing I still managed to put it off because Shout Factory has given the film quite a legitimate release that includes the filmís full 99 minute cut, which is something few (if any) of those cheapie packs can boast.
Like the Universal original, this version of the tale opens with a grave robbery, with the exhumed corpse being delivered to Baron Frankenstein (Cotten). After decades of research and a few years of cribbing bodies, he and his assistant Marshall (Paul Muller) are ready to move forward on animating a patchwork body theyíve created. Theyíre successful but are left little time to revel in their triumph, as the man is indeed a monster that ends up killing his creator. Enter Tania Frankenstein (Rosalba Neri), who decides to continue her fatherís work along with Marshall in the hopes of restoring the glory to her familyís name.
Acting as a schlocky, cock-eyed cousin to its Hammer counterparts, Lady Frankenstein is pretty much thoroughly Italian despite the heavy American presence (Mel Welles was a Corman cohort, which perhaps explains why New World picked this up for theatrical release). For about the first thirty minutes, it plays out as a typical Frankenstein flick, complete with a big, spooky mansion and a whizzing, humming laboratory filled with bats and sharp implements for the mad doctor to utilize during his gruesome experiments. Cottenís Frankenstein is perhaps more mad than most in his obsession, as heís quite brazen in his insistence to complete his work; when Marshall discovers that the brain theyíre about to use is damaged, Frankenstein presses on anyway, which he probably realized was a pretty bad idea as his surrogate son crushed him to death.
Itís after that point that Lady Frankenstein gets tangled up in its spaghetti-flavored insanity. While itís a typically zoomy and roughly edited venture fraught with stilted dialogue and hammy acting from the get-go, things donít really get good (read: absurdly bad) until the title character embraces her destiny, which apparently involves letting the monster roam and terrorize the countryside. Featuring the loose plotting that only six different writers can provide, the film often throws logic and cinematic rhythm to the wind. Itís kind of weird--no one (including the detective trying to bust Tania and Marshall) seems too concerned that thereís this homicidal beast lumbering about. Shit, Tania and Marshall even take the time to get married as they concoct their ultimate solution: create yet another beast thatíll rumble with her fatherís failed creation. And this isnít going to be any old monster because Taniaís got ulterior motives at work, as sheís also out to create a perfect mate for herself by merging Marshallís brilliant mind with the chiseled body of a mentally handicapped farmhand (which is actually a great psycho-sexual co-option of Frankenstein Created Woman). For those keeping score at home, that means our ďheroísĒ goal involves killing a poor simpleton for the express purpose of hijacking his penis.
I suppose you can read a feminist subtext into the whole thing, as Tania does wield her sexuality like a weapon in her quest to create a perfect man. Really, any feminist subversion only extends so far as having a woman in the typical mad scientist role, which is obviously usually inhabited by males. That the film also makes her a horrific human being really prevents any sort of genuine feminist advances; in fact, sheís treated as a devilish jezebel that even other prim women distrust, plus the film often exhibits antiquated notions of keeping women protected from horrors. I was kind of interested in the sexual deviancy of Taniaís plot, as it surely matched up with the Romantic age (and especially the wild weekend) that produced Shelleyís original novel. Eventually the film capitulates to Victorian sensibilities; one might imagine that the requisite torch-bearing villagers are coming to burn down Frankensteinís manor not just because of the monster, but because sheís violated the laws of sexuality.
Thatís probably reading too much into it, so letís talk about the other thing that makes this difficult to swallow as a feminist treatise: the gratuitous boobs that pop up as the monster rampages. As you might expect, naked women donít float any better than little girls when theyíre tossed into a lake. The nudity form one half of the schlock tag team along with the gore thatís left in the creatureís wake. Whenever heís on the screen, the movie is legitimately interesting just because heís one of the more memorable iterations of Shelleyís character; not only does he have a malformed brain, but also a misshapen, bulbous melon to house it. If that werenít bad enough, the poor bastard gets lit on fire before heís resurrected, which results in a deformed eye and a scarred face. Itís a truly grotesque design that can stand proudly alongside its Hammer counterparts. Heís understandably pissed about his lot in an unwanted life, so he takes his aggression out on everything he encounters; I think he must have been a wrestler in a past life because he employs bear hugs, body slams, and axe-handle smashes to thoroughly reduce his victims to a pulpy mush.
Sure, this is a cheap, quick cash-in on the Hammer Frankenstein craze, but like many Euro-horrors before and after it, Lady Frankenstein deploys some insane, alluring wiles. Itís without a doubt the crown jewel of Shoutís ďVampires, Mummies, & MonstersĒ release, which features both the 85 minute U.S. theatrical version and the aforementioned extended cut. Appropriately enough, the latter is a composite print cobbled from various sources, including multiple television prints, which results in varying degrees of quality. Most of the film looks fine (I think this is the best the theatrical version will ever look in standard def), but the spliced-in sources are pretty rough, featuring detail loss and de-saturated color; these scenes trigger a slight pause, too. This version makes a jumpy movie even jumpier, as the only thing thatís added back in are some dialogue scenes and insert shots (Shout was quite thorough and meticulous--some spliced in footage is only seconds long). That you can lose nearly 15 minutes of this movie and have it make as much sense as itíll ever make speaks volumes (obviously, none of those 6 writers were really interested in telling a compelling story). Shout also throws in some trailers and TV spots to round out the package. Though itís quite possible that you also have this one sitting on your shelf, I say spring for this collection--you might as well have the most robust slice possible of this bit of cinematic mozzarella. Buy it!
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