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.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Attack of the Robots / Cartes sur table (1966)

I became interested in Jess Franco while studying film at university. That may be a sentence that’s never been written before. Let me explain… I did not study Jess Franco, or his films, at university.  I’m quite sure that none of my professors would have considered Jess Franco’s films to be worthy of study. They may have been wrong about that, but that’s beside the point. Franco was not taught alongside Fellini, Truffaut, Antonioni, and Scorsese. However, I did write a major essay for one of my classes that focussed on the Women In Prison genre – not exactly a typical FIlm Studies topic, either, but that’s what attracted me to it – and that’s how I became aware of Jess Franco and his strange oeuvre.

The story of my relationship with the Women In Prison genre is one I will have to save for another day. Suffice it to say that I randomly rented a Jess Franco movie called Hellhole Women (1981), and then later read about it in what would become one of my favourite books, Video Trash & Treasures Volume II by L.A. Morse. It was, in fact, part of a mini section called Jess’s Jungle Frolics. The overarching chapter was called HOT CAGES, NAKED CHAINS: A Cell Block of Women Behind Bars. One of my fellow film students, and a connoisseur of cinematic trash, had recommended that I buy the book and read this chapter when he found out my major essay was about the WIP genre.

In the mini-section, Morse first reviews Women In Cell Bloc 9 (1978), noting that it contains “what is probably the only all nude jailbreak on film”. Then, in his review of Hellhole Women, Morse says:

“While it must have been a challenge to top the all nude jailbreak, old Jess was not daunted, and here provides us with an all topless prison camp — inmates, guards, and dragon-lady warden included.”

When my friend Ian and I first watched Hellhole Women, we recognized it as a crazy, over-the-top sleaze fest that had a lot of camp humour value. We did not know anything about the makers of the film. Thanks to L.A. Morse, I now knew that the genius behind it was Jess Franco, and that he had made other must see cinematic atrocities. In fact, Morse would comment throughout the book every time that Jess Franco was involved in a movie. Admittedly, the comments were most often negative. Morse was not a fan of Franco. He would say things like “old Jess has reached the point where he can effortlessly make nudity and violence seem boring.” But I was intrigued. And the worse the review, the more I wanted to see the movie. I started to rent, and later buy, any movie that I came across that had the name Jess Franco on it (or Jesús Franco as he is sometimes called). Some of them were, by any normal means of evaluation, bad – but there was always something interesting about them. And some of them were downright delightful. One of my favourite surprise discoveries was Kiss Me Monster (1969).

Those were the days of VHS and no internet, so unearthing a rare Franco film did not happen very often. He made over 200 hundred movies in his lifetime, and to this day I still haven’t seen anywhere near all of them. With the right online connections, it’s not as hard to locate the movies now – but it’s also not as special. I haven’t made it a mission to relentlessly download or stream every title in his filmography. I’m old school, so I still get excited when I find a physical copy of one of his movies – and if it’s a reasonable enough deal, I buy it. Of course, if I’m really lucky, someone will give me a nice edition of one of his films on DVD or Blu-ray for my birthday (or some other event for which gifts are appropriate). This is how I came to be the owner of a nice, shiny new Blu-ray of Attack of the Robots AKA Cartes sur table (1966).

This is an early Jess Franco movie, and as such, does not contain the kind of over-the-top sleaze that a movie like Hellhole Women does. However, it does contain a lot of the elements that Franco would remain obsessed with over the course of his 60 (!) year career as a filmmaker. There are scenes in nightclubs, featuring sexy dancers. There are women in chains. Franco appears in the film, as he often did. And this is the first of seven films that Franco made about a private detective character named Al Pereira. In this one, Pereira is played by Eddie Constantine, who was famous for playing a hard-hitting private detective named Lemmy Caution in a series of films. His portrayal of Al Pereira in Attack of the Robots could be seen as more comedic send up of his image from the Lemmy Caution films. Or maybe it was just simple exploitation of a well known actor in a similar role. Who knows? Whatever the case, Constantine is great in this movie – and it’s a shame that it’s the only time he ever got to play Al Pereira. The next time Pereira was seen, he was played by Howard Vernon in Les ebranlées in 1972. 

Attack of the Robots is a delightfully fun movie. It’s a post James Bond spy spoof that contains elements of science fiction, as a mad scientist finds a way to essentially turn people into robots if they have Type O blood. It’s beautifully shot and feels like a lush production compared to some of Franco’s later films. Sure, it’s light on sleaze and violence, but it’s played for laughs and for the most part it gets them. If you’re in the mood for  something light and fun, with the kind of stylistic flourishes that only a filmmaker like Jess Franco could provide, Attack of the Robots might just be the kind of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that you’re looking for. It’s not too far removed from another Franco film I wrote about a while back, Dr. Orloff’s Monster AKA The Mistresses of Dr. Jekyll (1964). That one is more of a monster movie, and less of a comedy, but it’s also an early, more restrained version of Franco. Each of them, in their own way, make for a mighty fine #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Double Face (1969)

I’m not sure when I first saw Klaus Kinski in a movie. It could well have been Jess Franco’s Count Dracula (1970). I saw several versions of Dracula on TV when I was young, and I’m sure that it would have been one of them. But my memories of that are, to say the least, hazy. I remember seeing the movie box of Jack the Ripper (1976), also by Jess Franco, every time I went to my local video store. It intrigued me, but somehow I didn’t rent it until I was an adult. I did take notice of the name Klaus Kinski, and the images of him on the box. I think I had already heard of him, through reviews of movies like Fitzcarraldo (1982) on Siskel & Ebert’s TV show. I also remember seeing the box for Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), which I think I had likewise seen reviewed by Siskel & Ebert. But much like Jack the Ripper, I did not see the movie itself until years later. 

For some reason, I distinctly remember seeing (part of?) a movie called Buddy Buddy (1981) on TV when it was first aired. My mom has always been a fan of Jack Lemmon (and Walter Matthau, I suppose), so she was watching the movie. I think I just wandered into the room at some point and got pulled into it. It was the story of a suicidal man (Jack Lemmon) who stumbles into a awkward friendship with a professional killer (Walter Matthau). Lemmon’s wife is leaving him for a crazy, cult-leader-like doctor named Zuckerbrot – played by Klaus Kinski. I really enjoyed this offbeat movie, and Klaus Kinski made an impression on me as the crazy doctor. 

Later, I rented movies like Schizoid (1980), in which Kinski plays a psychiatrist who may or may not be murdering his patients, and Crawlspace (1986), which presents Kinski as the demented son of a Nazi surgeon, who may be killing people in his apartment building. I was starting to recognize a possible pattern in Klaus Kinski’s performances…

I should also note that I saw him in movies like The Soldier (1982) and Creature (1985), which I rented in my junior high school days. I also saw him in Marquis de Sade’s Justine (1969) on late night TV. It is yet another film directed by Jess Franco, and Kinski plays the titular Marquis (a role that seems to fit nicely with the mad doctor type characters I had come to expect from him). 

David Schmoeller, the director of Crawlspace, made a short (9 minute) film about the making of that movie called Please Kill Mr. Kinski (1999). It’s quite an amazing personal account of what it was like to work with Klaus Kinski – and somehow also fits perfectly with the kind of characters Kinski would create on screen. If you have not seen it, seek it out and give it a shot.

Double Face (1969) is a movie that I had never even heard of, prior to finding the (relatively) brand new Blu-ray from Arrow Video. I have always enjoyed Klaus Kinski’s performances – plus this movie had the look of a giallo, which is always a good sign to me – so I decided to take a chance on it. 

It’s not a hard core giallo, as it lacks many of the typical tropes of that genre. It’s almost more like a classic film noir, or crime story. I’m not terribly familiar with the krimi genre, but as Double Face is a German co-production (with Italy) it may well be an example of that. It should perhaps be noted that Lucio Fulci is one of the credited writers on this film, and he made a couple of my favourite giallos: Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) and A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971). Perhaps if he had directed Double Face, it would have been more giallo-like. 

In any case, I enjoyed Double Face quite a bit. I’m just as big a fan of old fashioned film noir as I am of giallos, so it’s no problem if this film falls a little more on the noir-ish side of the spectrum. Klaus Kinski is great in this film, but he is not playing a crazy mad doctor. In fact, he is much more the leading man hero type (although slightly on edge due to circumstances). He is perfect as the (relatively) normal man caught up in extraordinary and mysterious circumstances. His sanity will be called into question before the movie is done, and you may find yourself wondering (as is so often the case in a Klaus Kinski film) if he is in fact a murderer.

The music, the production design, the atmosphere of swinging London in 1969 are all reasons to enjoy this movie – at least they were for me. I am very pleased to add it to my #NotQuiteClassicCinema library. And I find myself wondering what other obscure films starring Klaus Kinski I shall one day discover on a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday night at the home drive-in: Dr. Orloff’s Monster AKA The Mistresses of Dr. Jekyll (1964)

Jess Franco directed over 200 movies in his lifetime. Most of them are considered to be bad by mainstream critics. I first took an interest in him when reading bad reviews of his movies in Video Trash and Treasures by L.A. Morse. Continue reading