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.