Fear with Udo Kier – Part One: ‘Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein’

❉ Guts and gore galore in the first part of our series on cult icon Udo Kier’s Euroslash triptych.

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The German cinema over the last four or five decades has produced many great Teutonic titans of terror: Ulli Lommel, Udo Kier and Uwe Boll to name just three.  Spot the deliberate mistake?

The beguilingly handsome and charismatic Udo Kier has starred in a great number of genre movies over the years, from Michael Armstrong and Adrian Hoven’s ‘The Mark of the Devil’ (1970), through James Kenelm Clarke’s controversial ‘video nasty’ ‘Expose’ (aka ‘Trauma’, 1976), Dario Argento’s masterful sepuchral fearfest ‘Suspiria’ (1977) and Stephen Norrington’s ‘Blade’ (1998) to Timo Vuorensola’s 2012 space-Nazi SF romp ‘Iron Sky’.  He will always be synonomous to many, though, for his gruesome twosome of 1973’s ‘Flesh for Frankenstein’ and 1974’s ‘Blood for Dracula’, a twin-spin (if you’ll pardon the John Peel invocation) of ghoulish delights decried by Alan Frank in his ’77 tome ‘Horror Films’ as “an appalling mixture of sex, sadism, silliness and quite awful acting and direction”.

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Released under the titles of ‘Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein’ and ‘Andy Warhol’s Dracula’ respectively, the actual auteur-ship of the movies was in doubt for a while, not only due to the famed Pop Artist’s name being attached to the titles but also due to the fact that there has been a great deal of dispute about how much of the movies was the handicraft of credited director Paul Morrissey (‘Chelsea Girls’, 1966, ‘Flesh’, 1968, ‘Trash’, 1970), and how much was the input of Italian exploitation maven Antonio Margheriti (‘Castle of Blood’ aka ‘Danza Macabra’, 1963, ‘Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye’, 1973), the second unit director attached to the features by producer Carlo Ponti – though the very idea of Mr Sophia Loren, producer behind King Vidor’s ‘War and Peace’ (1956) and Michelangelo Antonini’s ‘Blow Up’ (1966) being the eminence grise behind this kind of ghoulish nonsense is slightly more hysterical (in the humourous sense) than the films themselves (more in the uterine sense, especially viz: ‘Flesh for Frankenstein’).

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This internecine web of confusion contnued to the actual credits, with Morrissey being given directorial credit in the English-language prints, but Margheriti being credited on the versions that, like Bananarama, were ‘talking Italian’.  Margheriti is grudgingly, at least, given acknowledgement of one scene of ‘Flesh for Frankenstein’ by Morrisey: “Carlo Ponti required an entire Italian crew to be eligible for tax write-offs.  Margheriti, whose sole scene was the murder of the housekeeper in ‘Flesh for Frankenstein’, was given the director’s credit by Ponti.  The Italian taxmen were not so easily fooled and these modifications led to Ponti and wife Sophia Loren being charged with tax evasion”, though his role as supervisory / second unit director is sorely undersold.

The non-participation of Warhol himself on the movies has never been in any doubt, with Morrissey stating “not only did Andy Warhol not make [them], he couldn’t have made [them]”, and that “Bryanston [the movie’s US distributor, who had released not only Bruce Lee’s 1972 spaghetti kung fu epic ‘The Way of the Dragon’, but also the, uh… seminal porn classic ‘Deep Throat’] thought it would help bring in an audience [to have Warhol’s name attached], which is ludicrous since his name was on plenty of movies that nobody went to see”.

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‘Flesh for Frankenstein’ (its very name redolent of the ’68 Warhol / Morrissey collaroration ‘Flesh’, which also starred the Noo Yoik actor / mannequin Joe Dallesandro [Dallesandro… Dalle-Dalle-sandro…]) is an intriguing movie, released in 3-D (which explains the roving, circular camera movements when watched today) and filmed at the famed Cinecitta studios and has a fascinatintg pretty bit of flesh in Dallesandro himself, doubtless a bit out of place amongst the cognoscenti and trying to fuck everything that moves.  Hey, if all else fails, revert to stereotype..  And yet ‘Flesh for Frankenstein’ actually displays some themes of interest, such as Kier’s Baron’s quest for the “perfect” Serbian nose for his incipient male “zombie” (or rather “zahmbi” as he pronounces it) and his insistence to his assistant Otto (Arno Juerging) that “the Serbian race comes in direct descent of the glory from the Ancient Greeks!” [sic] lends a Hitlerian-Aryan ‘creation of the perfect pure-blooded master race’ undertone to Frankenstein’s experiments – the sight of naked and scarred bodies piled against the stark white tiles of his laboratory and the the barbaric butchery performed upon bare-breasted beauties reminiscent of the tales of the hideous ‘experimentation’ (torture) of Dr Josef Mengele, the Angel of Death of Auschwitz, given added emphasis by Udo Kier’s nationality and accent.

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The preservation of the purity of the bloodline extends to the incestuous marriage between Victor Frankenstein and his sister-wife, the Baroness Katrin (Monique van Vooren, the striking Belgian actress who had appeared is everything from her titular role as the Lord of the Apes’ nemesis in ‘Tarzan and the She-Devil’ [1953], camping it up alongside Adam West’s Caped Crusader and Burgess Meredith’s Penguin in TV’s ‘Batman’ [1966] to Pier Paolo Pasolin’s ‘Decameron’ [1971]).  With their arguments about their parents – who were also obviously siblings – to the casting of a dark-haired boy and a red-headed girl as their two children boubling Kier and van Vooren, the Frankenstein dynasty is set up as the Eastern European equivalent of the Egypian Pharaonic dynasties such as the Ptolemies and Cleopatras, brothers and sisters marrying in succession to sire siblings to do the same.  The purity of the blood of course gives way to congenital deficiencies of all kinds to be found at the shallow end of the gene pool, including the inbred madness all too evident in this chaotic clan.

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Filmed in 3-D (the process being made obvious by the roving, circular camera moves around objects and the deliberate waving of viscera towards the camera), the movie has generally been seen by audiences in possibly more palatable for those who’ve just eaten 2-D version.  Still, the ironic and satirical overkill of guts ‘n’ gore piled into the film by Morrissey (including of course the infamous scene of the Baron lying atop his newly sewn-together female creation [Dalila Di Lazzaro] on the operating slab in a sequence reminiscent of Jorg Buttgereit’s graphic 1987 shocker ‘Nekromantik’ and pawing her scars whilst whispering sensually “Soon I will give you life… would you like that?”) earned ‘Flesh for Frankenstein’ a place on the Director of Public Prosecutions’ list of 69 (what a serendipitous number for such a reactionary and censorious piece of legislation!) banned ‘Video Nasties’, ensuring that it went unseen in the United Kingdom for decades until a cut by almost a minute VHS release in 1996, and -finally – being cleared for a fully uncut DVD release a decade later.  The 1974 companion piece ‘Blood for Dracula’, Udo Kier’s next film with Paul Morrissey, would thankfully suffer a less scissor-happy fate…


❉ Glen McCulla has had a lifetime-long interest in film, history and film history – especially the genres of science fiction, fantasy and horror. He sometimes airs his maunderings on his blog at http://psychtronickinematograph.blogspot.co.uk/ and skulks moodily on Twitter at @ColdLazarou

 

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