MONSTER MONTH: Is Frankenhooker a ’90s Masterpiece?

Frankenhooker, 1990

After getting good notices for directing several Andy Warhol productions, including ’70s underground classic, Heat, filmmaker Paul Morrissey transitioned into horror by taking on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. But 1973’s FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN is not your high school teacher’s idea of Frankenstein!

In a lavish country castle in the 1800s, Baron von Frankenstein (Udo Kier) spends most of his time in his secret laboratory stitching together dead body parts – and getting turned on by fondling internal organs – in order to create a master Serbian race that will “take over the world!” With the help of his simpleton assistant, Otto (Arno Juerging), Frankenstein successfully brings to life two of his “human” creations, including a male specimen whose head the Baron took from local aspiring monk, Sacha (Srdjan Zelenovic). When houseboy Nicholas (Joe Dallesandro) recognizes Sacha, he tries to put a stop to Frankenstein’s devious experiments, with dire consequences.

While some might call this a bastardized version of the Frankenstein story, others will delight in its campy excesses and outpouring of cheesy gore and sex. Much like Morrissey’s later Blood for Dracula, Flesh for Frankenstein (filmed in 3-D) is a mix of exploitation and genuine filmmaking: the film works as a tragic fairy tale while also dishing out explicit violence and sexuality. Credit should be given to Morrissey for making Nicholas the sex object over a more traditional woman; Dallesandro spends most of the film completely naked and is continually used by Frankenstein’s wife, Katrin (Monique van Vooren) – who’s also the Baron’s sister – to satisfy her robust sexual appetite. There’s also gay subtext with Sacha, who earlier in the film is smitten with the hunky Nicholas, but converts to religion when he realizes they can never be together.

Funniest line in the film: “Why did you wake me? You know I have insomnia!”

On the same campy, OTT level as Flesh for Frankenstein – and containing just as many, if not more, dismembered body parts – is 1990’s gut-busting classic, FRANKENHOOKER. Professional electrician, and amateur mad scientist, Jeffrey Franken (James Lorinz), goes to desperate measures to attempting bringing his fiancĂ©e, Elizabeth (Patty Mullen), back to life after she’s mangled by his homemade lawnmower. After Jeffrey steals pieces of her body, including her head, he decides to create the perfect body for Elizabeth by killing several Times Square prostitutes and using their bodies to make the ultimate woman.

It really shouldn’t, but Frankenhooker works on every level. Shot in the same vibrant manner as director Frank Henenlotter’s classic, Basket Case, Frankenhooker is pure, unadulterated, energetic filmmaking at its creative best. The cast is first-rate (including Mullen, whose comedic timing is pitch-perfect), the dialogue snappy (and often hilarious), and the action almost non-stop and genuinely exciting. The film never takes itself seriously and pumps out the gore-drenched comedy with charming verve.

Unfortunately, Frankenstein’s monster doesn’t get nearly enough screen time in the 1945 monster mash-up, HOUSE OF DRACULA. In the course of one night, famed Dr. Edlemann (Onslow Stevens) is visited by both Count Dracula (John Carradine) and Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.), a.k.a. the Wolf Man. Wanting to be cured of their vampirism and lycanthropy, respectfully, Dracula and Talbot take up temporary residency in Edlemann’s cliffside castle, where the doctor plans to give Dracula a blood transfusion. Meanwhile, the full moon approaches and Talbot, unable to wait for Edlemann’s cure, tries to throw himself off the cliff but survives and inadvertently discovers the body of Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange) in a cave (where the creature died at the end of House of Frankenstein).

Dracula eventually falls for the doctor’s assistant, Miliza (Martha O’Driscoll), and bewitches her, an act Edlemann finds dangerous. During their last transfusion, Edlemann tries to destroy Dracula, only to get caught by the Count, who switches the procedure’s blood flow and transforms the doctor not only into a vampire, but a raving mad scientist.

Lacking the excitement of the earlier Frankenstein movies and the chilling atmosphere of the Lugosi Dracula, House of Dracula doesn’t utilize its famous monsters to their full potential. Instead of pitting the creatures against one another, the somewhat lifeless screenplay spends too much time trying to make them appear sympathetic, especially Talbot, who spends most of the film in a wheelchair with a bandage on his head. Carradine is a fine Lugosi replacement, but Frankenstein’s monster is completely wasted in a rushed climax that’s both confusing and frustrating. | Frankenhooker: AFlesh for Frankenstein: B+ House of Dracula: C

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