Monday, December 18, 2006
Movies: Lay, Lady Frankenstein, lay.
The scariest thing about Lady Frankenstein, a mildly kinky Italian-produced re-imagining of the Frankenstein story, is what it reveals about the career paths of even major Hollywood stars. I have to figure that a some point during production, perhaps while stuffing a clearly rubber-foam brain into the head of his monster, Joseph Cotton had to wonder how he ended up here. From Orson Welles' Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons to Mel Welles' Lady Frankenstein (note his misspelled name on the poster). Where did it go wrong? Not that this move was an outlier in an otherwise sterling late-stage career. Sadly for Mr. Cotton, it was just a trashy rest stop on a long trip down from Cukor's Gaslight and Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt to spots on Love Boat and Fantasy Island. Would-be actors and actresses, look on Cotton's works and tremble.
In all fairness, as rungs on a downward ladder go, Lady Frankenstein isn't that bad. It is an entertaining mix of B-movie schlock that, in its final half hour, starts developing some delightfully perverse themes. Unfortunately, as they always do, angry villagers come to cut the fun short. The resulting sleazus interruptus means the film ends up being more of a flirtation with the seamy side than an all out embrace of the kinky. Still, the shift in gears gives the somewhat flagging film a needed and appreciated boost in energy.
When the story begins, Baron Frankenstein (the gamely unembarrassed but still completely phoning it in Joe Cotton) and his assistant, Charles, are doing what Frankensteins do best: building a monster. I can't help but wonder if the name Charles wasn't some sort of allusion to Citizen Kane. The assistant's name allows Cotton several opportunities to drawl out the name Charles, much as he did as Leland Smith, long-time friend than enemy of Charles Foster Kane.
The good doctor and Chuck take a short break in their work to welcome back Tania, the hottie daughter of the Baron played by Rosalba Neri (credited under the name Sara Bey). Tania, we learn, has been off at med school and she has now returned a full-fledged surgeon like her pops. We also learn that Chuck has a thing for his boss's daughter. Shortly after Tania's return, she discovers her father's life-work on a slab in the basement. She wants to help her father with his work, but he rejects the offer of assistance. This is how Tania happens to be absent from the lab when daddy's monster awakens, kills the Baron, and wanders off into the world for some indiscriminate violence.
Tania decides to fight fire with fire and create a second monster to kill the first. She offers to give herself to the older and decidedly un-sexy Charles if he will agree to have his brain put in the body of the family's dull-witted but perfectly hunky handyman and use the super-human strength the monsterization process will give him to fight Monster 1.0. Chuck agrees. Tania seduces the handyman. She takes the big lug to bed and, while she rides him, Chuck smothers him.
Meanwhile, villagers are getting killed, the authorities are getting suspicious, and Monster 1.0 is stumbling around the countryside killing side characters and tidying up loose ends in the plot. Whether by random wandering or intentional design, Monster 1.0 ends back up at the Baron's castle, a gaggle of torch wielding villagers hot on his heels. Chuck gets his brain put in the handyman's body in time to revive and fight Monster 1.0. Monsterized-Chuck is successful and the thrill of combat has apparently turned Tania on. They proceed to get down right there in the lab, on the lab table, while the villagers burn the castle down around them. The film ends with a Tania being strangled by Monster Charles as they rut. Why? I don't know.
This was another title from one of the several shovelware collections currently littering my home. As is typical of the format, the print is pretty bad quality but, happily, it seems to be a genuinely uncut, uncensored version of the film. The effects were horrible and the plot, until Tania starts shedding her clothes and moral qualms in the effort to create a second monster, was fairly cheesy. However, before the viewer loses interest, things start to heat up a bit and the bizarre dynamic between Tania, pre-, and post-monster Charles makes for entertaining viewing. Strictly B-grade fare, but a nice diversion for a lazy afternoon or evening. Using the seasonally appropriate Finland's Ministers of Finance from 1918 to 1958 Movie Rating System, I'm giving this flick a lightly likable Sakari Tuomioja.
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