Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein (1973)

Poster for The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein (1973)I’ve talked about Jess Franco a couple of times, including how I first became aware of him – and then very quickly became a fan of him. The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein (1973) is one movie of his that I did not see back in the early days Franco fandom. In fact, I don’t think I ever saw it before last Friday. Surprising, considering what a provocative title it is. I don’t think I ever came across a copy on VHS or Beta.

Frankenstein (1931) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) were two of my favourite movies growing up. I’m not even sure how young I was the first time I saw them. Then, when I was about 8, I discovered Young Frankenstein (1974) and it blew my mind. I watched it on TV every chance I got.

Reading Famous Monsters magazine, I became aware of other versions of Frankenstein, most notably the Hammer Horror films like The Curse of Frankenstein (1957). I didn’t see the movies until many years later, but I enjoyed looking at the pictures in the magazine. 

Once I started renting movies in earnest, I tended to gravitate more towards slasher films, than classic monsters like Frankenstein. I guess I figured I’d already seen everything that those creaky old stories could offer.

Then one day I rented Flesh for Frankenstein (1973), or Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein, as I called it. It blew my mind in a different way. Young Frankenstein (1974) contained some tasteless humour and sex. Flesh for Frankenstein (1973), however, was on a whole other level or perverse and graphic material. It opened my mind to the possibility of classic monsters starring in much more exploitative films. I’m not sure what Mary Shelley would think, but it was A-okay with me. 

Enter Jess Franco. Let’s face it, the man is a master of exploitation. He’s made everything from soft core sleaze to hard core adult cinema – some of it staring his wife, Lina Romay. He’s also made some surprisingly tasteful movies, like Attack of the Robots / Cartes sur table (1966). He also made a pretty straight-faced (some might say boring) version of Dracula called Count Dracula (1970). I remember seeing this movie on TV when I was young. It starred Christopher Lee, Herbert Lom and Klaus Kinski – but it was no Hammer film. It also, oddly enough, wasn’t much of a Jess Franco film (as I would discover when re-watching it years later). It somehow lacked the tasteless good fun that many of Franco’s other films exude.

The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein (1973) is neither straight-faced nor boring – and yes, it is sleazy and fairly tasteless at times (thank Jesús – Jesús Franco that is!).

Jesús “Jess” Franco is very much a love him or hate him kind of filmmaker – and The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein is very much a love it or hate it kind of movie. A quick look at the reviews on the IMDb tell the story very clearly. Some people call it “One of the crappiest looking Frankenstein monsters in film history!”, or a “Truly awful waste of time”. Others call it “a surrealist masterpiece, poetic, perverse, comic, and mesmerizing.” The truth is probably somewhere in between but it is amazing how polarizing Franco and his films can be.

For me, on first viewing, The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein is not my favourite Franco movie, but it is also not my least favourite. It has some truly amazing scenes that are well worth the price of admission. It also has a few scenes that are a little closer to the boring end of the spectrum – but that’s okay. It’s like a song with a dynamic range; we need the quiet parts to be able to appreciate the loud parts. If it’s all equally loud, then the loudness loses it’s meaning and begins to sound, well, quiet.

If every scene in The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein was as batshit crazy as the scene that one IMDb reviewer describes as “a shrieking, silver-skinned Frankenstein’s monster relentlessly whipping a man and a woman tied together over a bed of spikes.”- (thanks mido505) – then we would soon think that it was normal (and that’s the last thing one should ever think when watching a Jess Franco movie.

There are (at least) two cuts of The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein circulating out there. The French cut, which is shorter but contains all of the nudity and sleaze, and the Spanish cut, which is longer, tamer, and features Lina Romay in a small role. As much as like Lina Romay, I would put my money on the French cut. Of course, true Franco completists must see them both.

The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein (1973) is a #NotQuiteClassicCinema reimagining of a classic monster movie. It would be wrong to say that it is in the same category as the original Frankenstein (1931) or The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), but for those with a taste of Jess Franco’s brand of cinematic madness, it’s a perfect addition to any #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Trash Or Terror Tuesday: Frankenstein 90 (1984)

It’s time for #TrashOrTerrorTuesday

…when I examine a film that’s been languishing in my personal library to determine if it is #Trash or #Terror

– or more importantly, if it deserves to stay in my collection.

And so, out from the dusty shelves of #VHS tapes comes…

Frankenstein 90 (1984) by #AlainJessua

w/#JeanRochefort #EddyMitchell #FionaGélin

An obsessed scientist assembles a living being from parts of exhumed corpses.

Sort of based on the novel Frankenstein by #MaryShelley

#Comedy #Horror #SciFi

#TrashOrTerrorTuesday

 

I avoided renting Frankenstein 90 (1984) for years because I had it confused with Frankenstein ’80 (1972), which got one star in my favourite horror movie review book, Terror On Tape by James O’Neill: “…notable mainly for the first-ever Frankenstein testicle transplant.” What the-? Why was I avoiding this movie? It sounds brilliant.

I eventually bought a copy of Frankenstein 90 because it was cheap, and I figured I should see what it was all about. I recall thinking that it was okay – not amazing, but okay – and I put it onto the shelf next to all of the other Frankenstein movies. Years went by, and I never had the urge to watch it again, so…

Time to put it to the #TrashOrTerrorTuesday test.

I had trouble getting into Frankenstein 90 right off the bat. It seemed to start right in the middle of the action, with a character (the mad scientist?) stealing body parts. Why? I didn’t know (but because it’s a Frankenstein movie I could assume it was to complete his monster). There’s some slapstick humour, but it seems a little forced. I just didn’t know enough about the characters, or the situation, to care for the first twenty minutes or so. 

It did eventually improve, and I found myself enjoying it – mildly – for the remainder of the running time. The obvious comparison that kept coming to mind was Mel Brooks’ masterpiece, Young Frankenstein (1974). Both films seem to be about descendants of the original Dr. Frankenstein attempting to repeat his experiments. Unfortunately, Frankenstein 90 is no Young Frankenstein. Mel knew enough to take his time to build up to the character’s decision to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps. We cared about him, and were with him on that journey – and he was played by the charismatic, funny, and Promo Photo from Frankenstein 90 featuring Jean Rochefort and Fiona Gélinlikeable, Gene Wilder. I spent a lot of my time while watching Frankenstein 90 wondering how this schlubby, middle aged scientist (Jean Rochefort, age 54) could have such a young hot fiancé (Fiona Gélin, age 22), when he was actually treating her with indifference (see photo on the left). 

I could go on and on about all the different ways that Frankenstein 90 is inferior to Young Frankenstein, but what’s point? I must judge Frankenstein 90 on its own merits.

So what’s the verdict?

Frankenstein 90 (1984) is a mild Terror, which is to say that it’s mildly amusing and could be an acceptable time passer for those who are curious. It does deliver a certain amount of sleaze (nudity, sex, and some exotic dancing – sort of). Not enough to make it the kind of Trash worth seeking out at all costs, but perhaps just enough to make it a mildly pleasant viewing experience (for those who view Trash with pleasure). I suspect that twice in a lifetime is enough for me, so I will likely pass it on to someone who is either looking forward to their first time – or who perhaps counts it among their offbeat favourites. 

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)

Jimmy Sangster wrote a lot of movies for Hammer Films, including The Curse of Frankenstein (1957). When he was asked to write a sequel called The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) – which the producers had already sold based on the title and poster art, Sangster reportedly said “I killed Frankenstein in the first film.” The producers said “you’ll think of something” and told him he had six weeks before shooting started. 

I love stories like that. As a writer, nothing gets my creative juices flowing more than a bunch of strange requirements and limitations. Give me a box to work in, and a deadline, and odds are I’ll come up with something fun and interesting. On the other hand, if you tell me to write whatever I feel like – and to take as along as I want to do it – I will probably never deliver anything. There’s something about the challenge of taking an idea that seems impossible and trying to make it work that I’ve always found irresistible. And deadlines are not only helpful, they’re practically essential. I don’t know how many times I’ve been forced to deliver something that I didn’t think was ready – like a song for new children’s musical a few years back. In spite of not being happy with what I had, I brought it to rehearsal and discovered that it not only worked, but people LIKED it. Left to my own devices, I probably would have kept tinkering with that song for days, trying to make it better. I might have even thrown the whole thing out and started fresh with a different idea. Would it have been better? I don’t know. But I can tell you that after I heard the cast perform that “flawed” version a few times, I couldn’t have imagined it being anything different.

I’m not sure how Jimmy Sangster felt about the results of The Revenge of Frankenstein, but the general consensus is that it’s a very good sequel. Sangster found a fresh story to tell – as opposed to just repeating the events of the first film, as so many sequels seems to do. It almost feels more like a  compelling art-house drama than a monster movie – although the horror eventually comes. 

Jimmy Sangster has to be one of the most prolific writers of horror films, and other thrillers, of all time. He’s got 75 credits listed on the IMDb. They’re not all horror films, of course. He also wrote the made-for-TV comedy The Toughest Man in the World (1984), starring Mr. T as a bouncer named  Bruise Brubaker. I remember seeing that one when I was a kid, but I had no idea who Jimmy Sangster was at the time. Sangster wrote a lot of made-for-TV movies after his time with Hammer Films had ended (or was winding down). My friend Brian and I watched one called A Taste of Evil (1971) during one of our annual movie marathons a couple of years ago (as I may have mentioned before, we have taken to exploring made-for-TV horror in recent year). About halfway through A Taste of Evil, I suddenly realized that it was kind of a remake – or maybe a rewrite – of an earlier script that Sangster had written for Hammer. I won’t say which one, as I don’t want it spoil either film, but it’s proof that Sangster really knew how to get the most out of a good idea. 

Sangster also wrote episodes of TV shows, including The Six Million Dollar Man (1974–1978), Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974–1975), and Wonder Woman (1975–1979) – which were all important shows of my childhood. Okay, I didn’t actually see Kolchak: The Night Stalker until later, but it would have been important if I’d seen it back then, believe me. I’m not sure if Sangster ever reused any of his old movie ideas on these TV shows, but it’s certainly possible. I’ve heard of TV writers from that era reusing the same basic plot on three or four different shows, so why not reuse a movie plot?

To be clear, I’m not criticizing this approach. In fact, I admire it. I’ve read the same advice in relation to freelance magazine writing. If you’re going to spend time and energy researching a topic, don’t just pitch one article that makes use of that research. Pitch five different articles to five different magazines. I suppose nowadays, they might  talk about websites, podcasts and blogs more than magazines. Whatever the case, the advice is still good. I’ve often wondered if I could somehow apply it to my own writing. Like say, for instance, I was commissioned to write a play about a very specific period of Canadian history. I study that period intensely for a couple of years, reading every book I can put my hands on, and I now know more about that period of history than I could ever use in a single two hour play. So, why not write two or three plays? They could have completely different stories and characters, and/or focus on different aspects of that same period of history. Or, even better, I could write a screenplay or pitch a TV series based on that same research. Or, when the theatre that commissioned me in the first place decides not to produce my play, I could turn it into a screenplay or TV series, or whatever I want. Of course, this is all completely hypothetical. Or theoretical. Or 100% true – I get the proper terminology mixed up…

I’ve never been good at getting the most out of the work I’ve done, although I did reuse one song I wrote in a second musical, so I guess that’s something (although honestly I think it might have been a mistake, for various reasons – but that’s another story). I guess what I’m trying to say is that I find Jimmy Sangster to be an inspiration. I only hope that one day the inspiration, and admiration, will somehow translate into determination and action as well.

Oh, and in case I haven’t been clear, Sangster knocked it out of the park with this Frankenstein sequel. Not that it’s all about him. Director Terence Fisher delivered a beautifully shot, atmospheric movie and Peter Cushing was as brilliant as ever in the title role. Eunice Gayson, best known for playing James Bond’s girlfriend in Dr. No (1962)  and From Russia with Love (1963), is also very good as the sympathetic Margaret Conrad. If you’ve enjoyed The Curse of Frankenstein, or any other Hammer horror films, you will definitely want to see The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958). A good deal more classy and classic than the average #NotQuiteClassicCinema, it’s the kind of movie that can take an ordinary #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn and turn it into something special.

Friday night at the home drive-in: The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)

As I discussed in my #NotQuiteClassicCinema post a while back, my Friday nights at the home drive-in are all about trying to relive the joy of the Not Quite Classic Theatre television show I loved as a teenager. And if there is one phrase that might sum up the contents of that show it would be “old monster movies’. I seem to recall that they screened sequels to movies like Dracula (1931), and The Wolfman (1941) – not the originals, mind you, but their lesser known offspring. The great Hammer films of the 1950s and ’60s would have been a perfect addition to the lineup, but I don’t recall any of them being shown. As a result, my exposure to Hammer films was sadly limited in those days. Continue reading