Shot more or less back to back with his other 'made in Europe' production with the one and only Udo Kier Blood For Dracula 1973's Flesh For Frankenstein ups the ante in the laughs department but still delivers some atmospheric moments and plenty of nasty gore. What made this one stand out from the heard of gothic Frankenstein movies was that it was to be made for 3-D audiences, and while it isn't presented that way on this DVD, you can still tell that there are certain scenes in the film that really would look quite good with the added depth (having seen it in 3-D, I can attest that it's pretty damn cool to see a handful of entrails come out of the screen at you).
Kier plays the one and only Baron Frankenstein, a strange mad scientist type who lives in a creepy old castle with his sister who he has also made his wife, Baroness Katrin (Monique Van Vooren). Together they have two inbred children named Erik and Monica, and the Baron's lab assistant, Otto (Arno Juerging) resides in the castle as well.
The Baron spends almost all of his waking hours downstairs in the lab with Otto, trying to complete his most recent experiment, which is to reanimate a male and female couple that he has built out of parts from various corpses. While the female is looking good and almost ready to go, the Baron still has not found the right head to attach to his male creation, who he'd also like to infuse with a strong sex drive to ensure that the female of the pair is kept happy and so that he can breed his creations.
Thankfully for the Baron, there's a local farm worker named Nicholas (Joe Dallesandro) who spends a lot of his free time making it with the local ladies and as such, he's got a reputation as a bit of a stud. When the Baron heads on down to the local house of ill repute to find Nicholas, he errs and ends up capturing his best friend, Sascha, instead. The Baron cuts of Sascha's head and attaches it to his creation, while Nicholas has been hired by the Baroness to take care of her womanly needs. When he heads on over to the castle for dinner one night, he notices something unusual about the Baron's new pal, and he starts to become suspicious. The more he and the Baron's two children start to look into things, the worse it looks and the decide to figure out just exactly what is going on in the castle and why…
Like Blood For Dracula, this film makes excellent use of its sets and locations which give the movie a look that really does a fine job of hiding the fact that it was shot for peanuts. While some of the gore effects are so obviously fake that it becomes laughable (which may or may not have been the point in the first place), a few others are downright grisly and quite disturbing by their very nature (best exemplified by Otto's scar licking scene and the many shots of hands holding entrails down in the laboratory).
Udo Kier once again steals the show as the mad doctor. He throws himself completely into the role and is at times very over the top in his performance, but it works and it works well. He's got a great chemistry with Arno Juerging and they work well together in the film. Van Vooran isn't as interesting in the movie but she is a treat to look at in that she's got such a unique face that it gives her instant screen presence even when it seems like she might be sleepwalking through a few scenes. Joe Dallesandro is more or less playing the same local man-whore here that he played in Blood and he's more than capable of delivering what the role requires, even if his accent sticks out like a sore thumb.
Image's 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is very nice and proves to be a vast improvement over the previous Criterion DVD release (which was a non-anamorphic port of their laserdisc transfer). The image is much sharper and presents a lot more detail in both the foreground and the background of the picture. Colors look very rich and the reds are vibrant and bright but don't bleed into the rest of the image. Black levels are strong and there aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts. Some edge enhancement is present in a few spots but if you're not looking for it you're not likely going to even notice it as it is really minor. Film grain is present throughout but it's not distracting and while there are some instances where you're apt to pick up on some print damage, again, it's nothing too serious (the majority of it is noticeable in the opening five minutes) and for the most part, Flesh For Frankenstein looks really good on this DVD. A 3-D option would have been nice to see, but no dice.
While the score sounds really nice on this English language Dolby Digital Mono track, the dialogue is up and down. For the most part it's pretty clear but levels do fluctuate in a few spots and some audible hiss is present in the mix that creeps out in a few spots. Overall, the track is all right, and it sounds as good as it ever has despite some minor flaws that were likely inherent in the source material. There are no alternate language tracks or subtitles provided on this release.
Like on Blood For Dracula, the commentary track that was originally recorded for the Criterion Collection release of Flesh For Frankenstein has also been carried over for this release as well. Paul Morrissey and Udo Kier discuss pretty much everything you could hope them to on this lively and informative track that details the making of Flesh For Frankenstein and make some interesting comparisons to its sister film, Blood For Dracula. A film historian named Maurice Yacowar is also on hand on this track to keep things focused and fill in the blanks as far as the film's history is concerned. Morrissey covers some of the censorship issues and some of the effects work that they had to deal with and what it was like shooting in Europe, and Kier discusses a lot of the details behind the idiosyncrasies of his performance, and in a career of strange performances, this one does stand out. There's virtually no dead air at all on this commentary and it's pretty much packed with interesting information and quite a bit of insight. With both Kier and Morrissey on the track we get a look at the making of the movie from both in front of and behind the camera and if you were at all interested in the feature, you'd be crazy not to check out this commentary as it really does help further one's appreciation of the movie. Yacowar adds some interesting critical insight to the whole thing, which makes it a little more serious than maybe Morrissey and Kier intended it to be, but that doesn't diminish anything here – it's a great track.
Up next is a very lengthy still gallery in slideshow format that plays out with commentary from Morrissey for almost twenty-five minutes in length. Morrissey gives us background information on most of the images presented to us and once more he proves to have a really solid memory of making this film as his recollections are again quite interesting. He details some interesting pre-production and production details and also provides some general trivia and facts about the movie and the people he worked with to make it. This bears a strong resemblance to the similar feature on the Blood For Dracula DVD but is obviously specific to this film.
The final supplement is a screen-test for Srdjan Zelenovic who was originally slated to star in the film. This runs for just over four minutes in length and once again features a commentary track from Morrissey who explains why Kier ended up playing the role instead. This is an interesting little supplement and while it's brief, it gives us a glimpse at would could have been a very different film.
Flesh For Frankenstein is a morbid and grotesque comedy that won't be to everyone's taste but that does deliver some interesting humor and horror in that oddball way that Morrissey has. Kier and Dallesandro are great in their roles and Image's DVD looks great, sounds good, and features some keen extras. Recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.