The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Flesh For Frankenstein (dir by Paul Morrissey)


Here are just a few things to be experienced in 1973’s Flesh For Frankenstein:

A fanatical Baron von Frankenstein (Udo Kier) needs a brain for his latest creation so his assistant, Otto (Arno Jurging) goes out with a giant pair of hedge clippers, snips off a divinity student’s head, and then runs off with it.

An incredibly sexy farmhand named Nicholas (Joe Dallesandro) speaks with a thick and very modern New York accent, despite living in Germany in the 19th century.  Meanwhile, everyone around him speaks with an extra-thick German accent.

The Baron announces to Otto, “To know life, you must fuck death in the gall bladder!”

Nicholas has an affair the Baroness von Frankenstein (Monique van Voreen), who in one scene loudly sucks on Nicolas’s armpit.

The Baron gets rather obviously turned on while removing organs from a body.

The Baron’s children decapitate their dolls and take a perverse pleasure in being cruel.  Some of this could possibly be because the Baron and the Baroness are also brother and sister.

The Baron rants and raves about how, by bringing the dead back to life, he will be able to create the perfect Serbian race, one that will only take orders from him and which will …. well, do something.  The Baron has a lot of plans but he’s not always clear on just what exactly the point of it all is.

Speaking of points, one character eventually gets a spear driven through his back an out of his chest.  Despite the fact that his heart is literally hanging off the tip of the spear, he still manages to get out a very long and very emotional monologue before dying.

Now, of course, you have to remember about that scene with the heart is that Flesh for Frankenstein was originally shot in 3D, which means that audiences in 1973 would have literally had that heart dangling over their heads while waiting for that endless monologue to stop.  How the audience would react to that would have a lot to do with whether or not they were in on the joke.

And make no mistake, Flesh For Frankenstein is not a film that’s meant to be taken too seriously.  It’s a satire of …. well, just about everything.  Baron Frankenstein, with his sexual hang-ups and his obsession with creating a perfect male and a perfect female so that they can have perfect Serbian children, is the ultimate parody of the mad scientists who usually populate these films and Udo Keir gives a truly mad performance in the role.  One need only compare Keir’s Frankenstein to the coldly cruel version that Peter Cushing played in Hammer’s “serious” Frankenstein films to see just how much Keir embraced the concept of pure batshit insanity.  Whereas Keir joyfully overacts every moment that he’s on-screen, Joe Dallesandro pokes fun at the traditional image of the strong, silent hero by barely reacting to anything at all.  The film’s nonstop flow of blood parodies the excesses of the horror genre while Nicholas’s affair with the Baroness satirizes not only Marxism but also an infinite number of European art films.  Flesh for Frankenstein is a film that is so deliberately excessive that it often feels as if it’s daring you to stop watching.  Of course, you don’t stop watching because you know the movie will probably start making fun of you as soon as you turn your back on it.

Flesh For Frankenstein is also known as Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein.  Warhol actually had little do with the movie, beyond lending his name.  The film was directed by Paul Morrissey, who served as Warhol’s “house director” during the Factory years.  The best Factory films were defined by the combination of Warhol’s detachment with Morrissey’s political and religious conservatism.  With Flesh For Frankenstein, Morrissey not only satirizes what he viewed as being the excesses of European and horor cinema but he also satirizes the fact that there’s an audience for his satire.  Flesh For Frankenstein is definitely not a film for everyone but, in this case, that can be considered a compliment.  It’s an audacious and wonderfully over-the-top movie, one that would be followed by Blood for Dracula.

One final note: Because the film was made in Italy, Antonio Margheriti was credited as being a co-director on the film with Morrissey.  While Margheriti did do some second unit work, it is generally agreed that he was not, in any way, a co-director.  Apparently, Margheriti was credited as being a co-director so that the film could receive financial aid from the Italian government.  This scheme later led to both Margheriti and producer Carlo Ponti being charged with criminal fraud.

Italian Horror Showcase: Bay of Blood (dir by Mario Bava)


Like many Italian horror films, Mario Bava’s 1971 film, Bay of Blood, is known by many different names.

The original Italian title, or at least one of them, was Ecologia del delitto, which roughly translates to Ecology of Crime.  That may sound a little dry to our English-speaking ears but it’s actually a totally appropriate title.  The film is about a series of crimes, all inspired by greed and the desire to take control of a bayside mansion.

The film was also called Reazione a catena, which translates to Chain Reaction.  Again, that may sound a bit bland but it’s a totally appropriate title.  This film takes the concept of a chain reaction to its logical extreme.  Everyone in the film wants control of the bay and everyone is willing to kill to do it.  One person murders someone just to get murdered themselves.  As dark as that may sound, this film actually finds Bava in a rather playful mood.  Bava’s direction is wonderfully self-aware and totally cognizant of how absurd the film’s plot occasionally is.  It all ends with a perfectly sardonic little twist, one that not only feels earned but which perfectly epitomizes the film’s darkly humorous worldview.

When the film was released in the UK and the United States it was given several different titles.  (At one point, in the United States, it was actually sold as being a sequel to Wes Craven’s Last House On The Left, which it definitely was not.)  One title was Carnage.  Another was Blood Bath.  Again, bland titles but totally appropriate to the film.  Over the course of the film’s 84-minute running time, 14 people are murdered.  With the exception of two innocent bystanders and four teenagers who made the mistake of trying to party in the murder mansion, they were all bad.  Still, fourteen is a lot of carnage.

In fact, Bava’s film would later be cited as one of the first slasher films.  That’s true, though this film has considerably going on beneath the surface than the average slasher film.  If the average slasher often can be defined by sex=death, Bava’s film can be defined as greed=death.  That said, several of this film’s murders were “borrowed’ by the early installments of the Friday the 13th franchise.  Remember that double impalement from Friday the 13th Part 2?  It was taken, almost shot-for-shot, from Bava’s film.

My favorite title for Bava’s film was Twitch of the Death Nerve, which is just so wonderfully over-the-top and melodramatic.  It’s the title that most captures the film’s combination of blood and satire.  If I was solely in charge of picking the film’s official title, I would have selected Twitch of the Death Nerve.

However, the official title of Bava’s film appears to be Bay of Blood and I guess that’s an okay title.  I mean, it’s appropriate.  A lot of blood is spilled in that bay, starting with Countess Federica (Isa Miranda) and then going on to include the majority of her family members and business associates.  The film opens with Federica’s murder and then doesn’t waste any time in revealing that Federica was murdered by her husband, Filippo (Giovanni Nuvoletti).  Filippo murdered his wife on behalf of her estate agent, Frank (Chris Avram) and now, Frank just needs Filippo to sign the property over to him.  Of course, what Frank doesn’t realize is that Filippo was murdered just minutes after he murdered Federica….

And that’s just the start.

Bay of Blood is one of Mario Bava’s best films, featuring a cast of wonderfully sordid characters and grisly murders.  The film itself becomes a bit of a black comedy, as one murder leads to another.  Bava directs with his usual bravura sense of style, making the bay both beautiful and menacing at the same time.  If you want to know why almost every horror film made since 1970 owes a debt of gratitude to Bava, Bay of Blood is a good place to start.

The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: Demons (dir by Lamberto Bava)


demons

“What the Hell happened to Rosemary?”

— Tony The Pimp (Bobby Rhodes) in Demons (1985)

A lot of what you need to know about Demons, an Italian horror film from 1985, can be summed up by the fact that one of the leading characters is named Tony the Pimp.  Demons is a very self-aware film, one that is not only over-the-top and ludicrous but which is cheerfully aware that it’s over-the-top and ludicrous.  Considering that Demons is an apocalyptic film that ends with nearly the entire cast dead, Demons is a surprisingly good-natured horror film.

The film opens in Berlin.  There’s a mysterious man hanging out at a subway station.  He’s wearing a silver half-mask and, from what we can see of his face, he appears to be heavily scarred.  Interestingly enough, the man is played by Michele Soavi.  (Though Soavi is now best remembered as the director of Dellamorte Dellamore, he was an actor and assistant to Dario Argento when Demons was produced.)  The man doesn’t speak.  Instead, he hands out flyers to random people, inviting them to attend the premiere of a new horror film.

The man obviously does a very good because a truly diverse group of characters show up for the premiere.  There’s a wealthy blind man who comes with his assistant.  (The assistant is played by Dario Argento’s oldest daughter, Fiore.)  There’s an older couple who keep shushing everyone in the audience.  There’s Cheryl (Natasha Hovey), who ends up sitting next to the handsome George (Urbano Barberini, who would later co-star in Dario Argento’s Opera).  And, of course, there’s Tony the Pimp (Bobby Rhoades) who shows up wearing a white suit and with two prostitutes.

The film-within-the-film is a horror film that plays out like an homage to every Italian horror film released in the 1980s.  It deals with four teenagers who stumble across the grave of Nostradamus and end up transforming into blood-thirsty demons.  One of the teenagers is played by Michele Soavi, though it’s never clear whether the teenager and the man in the mask are supposed to be the same person.

As they watch the movie, something strange starts to happen in the audience.  One of the prostitutes scratched her face when she put on a prop mask.  When the same mask appears in the movie, the cut on her face starts to throb.  Soon, she is transformed into a … DEMON!

JUST LIKE IN THE MOVIE!

Needless to say, the arrival of a real-life demon leads to a panic in the theater but guess what?  The doors are locked!  There’s no way out!  When Tony the Pimp breaks into the projection booth, he discovers that there’s no projectionist and the movie cannot be stopped!  On top of that, getting scratched by a demon means that you transform into a demon yourself!

In other words — remember the debate about whether or not horror movies can turn their viewers into murderous monsters?  Well, Demons says that they definitely can…

Demons was directed by Lamberto Bava, son of the famous Mario Bava, and it remains one of the most popular Italian horror films of all time.  With a script that was co-written by Dario Argento (who also produced), Demons is a fun and exciting horror film that cheerfully dares you to take it too seriously.  Watching this energetic film, you can tell that Bava was having a lot of fun with the idea that the world could end as a result of watching just one horror movie.

Demons was a huge box office hit so, naturally, there were hundreds of unofficial sequels.  Though Michele Soavi’s The Church was a Demons film in every way but name, the only official sequel was Demons 2.  We’ll look at that film tomorrow.

The Films of Dario Argento: Deep Red


I’ve been using this year’s horrorthon as an excuse to watch and review all (well, almost all) of Dario Argento’s films!  Today, I take a look at one of Argento’s best — 1975’s Deep Red!

profondo_rosso_poster

After the successful release of Four Flies on Grey Velvet in 1971, Dario Argento announced his retirement from the giallo genre.  His next film was 1973’s The Five Days of Milan, a historical comedy-drama with a political subtext.  The Five Days of Milan was a huge box office flop in Italy and, to the best of my knowledge, it was never even released in the United States.  To date, it is Argento’s most obscure film and one that is almost impossible to see.  In fact, it’s so obscure that, in two of my previous posts, I accidentally called the film The Four Days of Milan and apparently, no one noticed.

Forgotten Argento

Forgotten Argento

After the failure of Five Days, Argento returned to the giallo genre.  And while he was undoubtedly stunned by the failure of his previous film, Argento ended up directing one of the greatest Italian films of all time.  If The Bird With The Crystal Plumage and Four Flies on Grey Velvet were both great giallo films, Deep Red is a great film period.  It is Argento at his over the top best.

Now, before I go any further, I should point out that there are many different versions of Deep Red floating around.  For instance, it was released in the United States under the title The Hatchet Murders and with 26 minutes of footage cut from the film.  For this review, I watched the original 126-minute Italian version.  I’ve always preferred the original to the shorter version that was released in America.  Oddly enough, Argento has said that he prefers the shorter version.

hatchetmurders

Deep Red opens with a blast of music that both announces Argento’s return to the giallo genre and also provides some hints to his future as a filmmaker.  Whereas his previous films had all featured an excellent but rather serious score by Ennio Morricone, Deep Red was the first Argento film to be scored by Goblin.  There’s a gothic, almost operatic playfulness to Goblin’s work on the film.  (If the Phantom of the Opera had ended up working in Hollywood and writing film scores, the end result would have sounded a lot like Goblin.)  Goblin’s deafening score works as the perfect sonic companion to Argento’s constantly roving camera and vibrantly colorful images.  (The blood spilled in Deep Red is the reddest blood imaginable.)

deepred6511

Deep Red‘s protagonist is Marcus Daly (David Hemmings) and, like so many Argento protagonists, he’s both an artist and a man without a definite home.  At one point, he explains that he was born in England, grew up in America, and now lives in Italy.  He’s a jazz pianist but he supports himself by giving music lessons.  In a scene excised from the American cut, Marcus tells his students that, while classical music should be respected and appreciated, it’s also necessary to be willing to embrace art that some critics would dismiss as being “trashy.”  Marcus, of course, is talking about jazz but he could just as easily be Dario Argento, defending his decision to return to the giallo genre.

deepred4k3

While Marcus plays piano and tries to help his alcoholic friend, Carlo (Gabriele Lavia), a German psychic named Helga Ulmann (Macha Meril) is giving a lecture when she suddenly announces that someone in the audience is a murderer.  Later, Helga is brutally murdered by a gloved, hatchet-wielding attacker.

deep-red-hatchet

(Helga’s murder scene is always difficult for me to watch, even if Argento doesn’t — as Kim Newman pointed out in a review written for Monthly Film Bulletin — linger over the carnage in the way that certain other horror directors would have.  I have to admit that I also always find it interesting that Helga is played by the same actress who, that same year, would play the evil Lady On The Train in Aldo Lado’s The Night Train Murders.  Playing one of the Lady’s victims was Irene Miracle, who later co-starred in Argento’s Inferno.)

deepredscream1655_copy0_original

The only witness to Helga’s murder?  Marcus Daly, of course.  He’s standing out in the street, having just talked to Carlos, when he looks up and sees Helga being murdered in her apartment.  Marcus runs up to the apartment to help, arriving just too late.  And yet, Marcus is convinced that he saw something in the apartment that he can’t quite remember.  Deep Red is yet another Argento film that deals with not only the power of memory but the difficulties of perception.  Marcus knows that he saw something but what?

deep-red-12

Well, I’m not going to spoil it for you!  In this case, the mystery and its solution makes a bit more sense than the mysteries in Argento’s first three films.  Argento isn’t forced to resort to debunked science, like he did in both Cat o’Nine Tails and Four Flies on Grey Velvet.  One reason why Deep Red is so compulsively watchable is because, for perhaps the first time, Argento plays fair with the mystery.  After you watch the film the first time, go back and rewatch and you’ll discover that all the clues were there.  You just had to know where to look.

dr

That said, the way that Argento tells the story is still far more important than the story itself.  Argento’s first three films may have been stylish but Deep Red finds Argento fully unleashed.   The camera never stops moving, the visuals are never less than stunning with the screen often bathed in red, and Goblin’s propulsive score ties it all together.  This is one of those films from which you can’t look away.  It captures you from first scene and continues to hold you through the gory conclusion.  Deep Red is an undeniably fun thrill ride and, even today, you can easily see why Argento frequently refers to it as being his personal favorite of his many films.  In fact, Argento even owns a store in Rome that is called Profondo Rosso.

03_42

But you know why I really love Deep Red?

It’s all because of the relationship between David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi.  Daria Nicolodi plays Gianna Brezzi, a reporter who helps Marcus with his investigation.  After three films that featured women as either victims or killers, Gianna is the first truly strong and independent woman to show up in an Argento film.  I know that some people have criticized the scenes between Hemmings and Nicolodi, feeling that they drag down the pace of the movie.  I could not disagree more.  Both Hemmings and Nicolodi give wonderful performances and their likable chemistry feels very real.

Gianna and Marcus arm westle. (Gianna wins. Twice.)

Gianna and Marcus arm westle. (Gianna wins. Twice.)

To me, that’s what sets Deep Red apart.  You care about Marcus and you care about Gianna.  Yes, the mystery is intriguing and the murder set pieces are brilliantly choreographed, and Deep Red is definitely Argento at his best.  But for me, the heart and soul of the film will always belong to the characters of Marcus and Gianna and the performers who brought them to life.

deep-red

deep-red-2

Deep Red was the start of Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi’s long and often contentious relationship.  (Dario and Daria’s daughter, Asia Argento, was born around the same time that Deep Red was released and has directed two films, Scarlet Diva and Misunderstood, that deal with her often chaotic childhood.)  This relationship would play out over the course of six films and, as much as I love those six films, it’s always a little sad to consider that, when watched in order, the provide a portrait of a doomed and dying romance, one that did not particularly end well.  (It is possibly not a coincidence that, with the exception of Deep Red and Tenebrae, Daria Nicolodi suffered some type of terrible death in every film she made with Argento.)

But, regardless of what may or may not have been going on behind the scenes, Deep Red remains a triumph for both its director and its stars.

david-daria-dario