Friday, December 29, 2006

Movies: Crust for Frankenstein.

Here's the scene: 1997, a mountainous seaside resort town in Spain. There's a small villa on the hillside facing the sea – a white tangle of stucco cubes, irregularly punctuated with balconies and windows. On one of those balconies sits infamous Spanish schlock-horror director Jess Franco (in flick reviewed today he's billed under his Christian name, no pun intended: Jesus Franco). He sips a cappuccino. It's his second of the morning. A newspaper, perhaps the local rag, sits folded on the small table to the right of his wicker chair. He holds the rich, bitter coffee in his mouth a moment. Then breaths in slightly through pursed lips, noticing how the sea air changes the flavor of the drink. Normally, small details like this would please Mr. Franco. But not this morning.

See, Jess has a problem. He's got something like 170 directing credits to his name (names actually, he's helmed flick under nearly thirty different identities) and he's not proud of a single thing he's done. In fact, he's made it a matter of public record that he hates every single one of his films and, as far as he's concerned, he's never made even a halfway decent flick.

But he wants to. He wants to make a Citizen Kane or a Grapes of Wrath. Something enduring, something profound. A film, at last, to be proud of.

Then suddenly, it dawns on him: "I'll make a Frankenstein movie – except it'll be Frankenstein's daughter and the monster will be a woman with a sort of penis stub for a clit and they'll have lots of sex."

And the very next year – taa-daa – the world gets "treated" to Franco's Lust for Frankenstein. This is actually the second film this month that puts a kinky twist on the Frankenstein story. The first was the B-grade Italian production Lady Frankenstein. Weirdly, there's a strange Orson Welles connection between the two. The later starred Joseph Cotton who worked with Welles in Kane. The former was directed by Franco who assisted Welles during his on-again, off-again Don Quixote shoot and who later "finished" the film for Welles. This simply a coincidence and has no really impact on the film in question. I bring it up only because that minor detail is about 1,000 times more interesting than anything that happens in the film.

A plot description will, unfortunately, make this dog of a flick sound more interesting that it is. Frankenstein had a daughter, Moira (played by Lina Romey – hot stuff when she started working in flicks back in 1973). Shortly after her birth, Frankenstein's wife passed away. The doctor then remarried, but his new wife turned out to be an a-class superfreak who not only slept with the good doctor, but the help, passing strangers, human-sized housewares – you get the idea. She also, frequently, turned her attentions on young Moira (though, later, Moira in flashbacks will clearly be played by her older self – perhaps lesbian incest prematurely ages one). Then the doctor passed on. Moira married and moved out of the home. Her marriage was a lousy one and Frankenstein, from beyond the grave, decides to visit his daughter and lead her his last creation. This, we learn, he does because he wants to teach her "lust." That's right. Dad doesn't think his little girl gets her nasty groove on so he's going to hook her up with a monster. We learn all this in voice over narration. When the film starts, an older, somewhat saggy Moira is visited, Hamlet-like, by her father's ghost. He sets her on a mission to find his last monster.

Mercifully, his last monster was stashed in a glass display case in Moira's old room, in the closet. The monster is a beefy woman with sockets in her neck and several lines of baseball-grade stitches running across her body. She tells Moira that if she revives her, she'll initiate frumpy Moira into the ways of ecstasy. Personally, from this woman, I would have taken that as a threat. But Moira must be lonelier than we thought because she promptly uses the life of one of her stepmom's many young bucks to bring the creature to life.

After some creaky-on-chunky action, Moira ends up going out to a stip-club and bringing back a young dancer to fuel her monster butch. Shortly after that, Moira's hubby shows up and gets dispatched. In between, Moira catches her monster top humping a tree and she has several nonsensical flashbacks to what I guess is her childhood (though, since the same actress plays her in these scenes, Moira appears to have been in her early 50s all her life).

This movie was crap. It had visual effects that would have been considered embarrassing in the first year of MTV music videos. I've had plates of linguini with more structure than this film had. Finally, and perhaps most damning, the only time this film was scary was when it was trying to be sexy. Watching this film feels like catching your parents fumble through something they thought was sexy, but is really just embarrassing. The combination of limply clumsy un-erotic pawing and utter humiliation makes the whole misadventure doubly scarring. Dusting off my Noteworthy Canadian News Events of 1998 Film Rating System I'm giving this flick an abysmal Crash of Swissair 111, and it is only getting that because it did consist of moving pictures and, therefore, qualifies on some minimal level as a film.


Anonymous said...

As usual, I own this DVD but haven't watched it yet.
Mostly, I bought it because of Michelle Bauer. I like her a lot.
But I'm kind of cold towards Jess Franco movies, in general.
I mostly learned about his films through the book, IMMORAL TALES, which discusses various European horror and exploitation films from the 50s to the 80s (a great book) and also focuses on four (I think) directors, one of which is Franco. Another is Jean Rollin.

On paper Franco sounds kind of interesting to me, but I haven't warmed up to his films in actuality, so far.
I'm more fond of Rollin's films, which is a real subjective distinction, because his films can be really boring, too, but there's a certain sincerity about them that I like. Oh, and nudity.

Franco's FEMALE VAMPIRE starring Lina Romay is AWFUL. Slow as hell.
But, it shares at least the same great exploitation costuming aesthetic as LUST.
Whereas Ms. Bauer's Creature is naked except for combat boots and sutures (I'm remembering that right, I think), the young Romay's VAMPIRE is dressed pseudo-Vampirella like (inspiration-wise, rather than literally) wearing only a black cape, black boots, and a wide black, leather belt.
But the film is terrible. Mostly boring.

I still hope for Franco, though.
Or at least, I'm still a sucker for Franco on paper. I recently bought THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z.
Of course, I haven't watched it yet...

And dude!
Happy New Year!
Hope you and your rabid, screamin' readers have a fun and safe, or at least survivable, holiday!

Anonymous said...

Oh, and the final paragraph of this post is classic, including the rating.

CRwM said...

I'm with you about the "Franco on paper" thing. Some crazy Spaniard with like 180 flicks to his name. Many of these made during the Fascist era. Plus papal condemnation. What's not to like?

At this point, I've yet to see a solidly good flick by him. Oasis of the Zombie was better than this, but only in the same way that Moe is the smartest of the Stooges - we're talking ultra-fine and mostly meaningless distinctions here.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to guess you watched this one solo, nuh ?

Anyway, you'd be happy to know my sister got me "The Keeper" for Christmas. Brought it in for my lunch-time reading today.

CRwM said...

Screamin' Sas:

Hope you like it. It isn't great literature or nothing, but I enjoyed it.

I must admit, I sometimes wonder if horror novels aren't my critical blind spot. For example, often I read the reviews of sci-fi novels by sci-fi fans and I can't help but wonder if they don't give their fave genre some slack. I'm curious if I do the same and just don't realize it.