Get a double dose of Joe Dallesandro and Udo Kier as Anthology Film Archives presents a weeklong run of the digitally restored films, “Flesh for Frankenstein” — in 3D no less! — and “Blood for Dracula.” Made back-to-back at Cinecittà Studios in Rome, Italy, by director Paul Morrissey, both films are campy, bloody, and sexy variations on the oft-told legends.
“Flesh” + “Blood” offer plenty of both for viewers of this terrific double bill.
“Flesh for Frankenstein” (1973) has the Baron Frankenstein (Udo Keir) searching for the perfect Serbian “nasum” (profile) for his monster. He sets his sights on Sacha (Srdjan Zelenovic), whom he spies coming out of a bordello with Nicholas (Joe Dallesandro). Using a head-cutting tool, the Baron and his wide-eyed assistant Otto (Arno Jürging) decapitate Sacha and go back to the lab to finish creating the monster whom he hopes will procreate with a female monster (Dalilia Di Lazzaro). (The Baron’s ideas of creating and controlling a master race are pure evil.)
What Frankenstein doesn’t expect is that Baroness Katrin Frankenstein (Monique van Vooren) has hired Nicholas to work in the house (and satisfy her in the bedroom). Nicholas realizes what has transpired when he sees Sacha, and plans to rescue him and stop Frankenstein’s mad plans.
“Flesh for Frankenstein” obviously doesn’t follow Mary Shelley’s source novel very closely, but Morrissey enjoys making up and playing by his own rules. The 3-D gimmick allows for various objects from internal organs to a lizard that crawls across Dallesandro’s naked ass to the head-cutting tool to come at the viewer. And instead of “It’s Alive!” Kier’s Frankenstein gets to exclaim, “To know death, Otto, you have to f*** life in the gall bladder!” after having an erotic experience fondling the internal organs of the female monster.
The laboratory scenes are risible, perhaps, and the film does get pretty visceral in its climax as blood spews, organs are removed, and bodies pile up, but “Flesh for Frankenstein” is not without humor — as when the Baroness slurps at Nicholas’ armpit in one of their many sex scenes. Monique van Vooren plays the Baroness as if she was making high art, while Kier performs his role as high camp. In contrast, Dallesandro just performs for the camera, which adores him.
“Flesh for Frankenstein” is a lurid but enjoyable film.
Even better is “Blood for Dracula” (1974), which opens with Count Dracula (Udo Kier) being informed by his faithful servant, Anton (Arno Jürging), that they must leave Romania and find some “were-gin” blood if he is to stay alive. Anton suggests Catholic Italy, because it’s supposedly deeply religious — there must be virgins aplenty!
Anton soon learns about the penniless aristocratic Di Fiore family and hopes that Dracula will be able to marry one their four “pure” daughters. But the Count did not count on Mario Balato (Joe Dallesandro), the Di Fiore’s handyman, secretly deflowering the eligible Saphiria (Dominque Darel) and Rubinia (Stefania Casini) at night.
“Blood for Dracula” has Mario suspecting something is hinky with the Count. Dracula craves his coffin, which Mario insists feels too light to contain a dead body. Mario is arguably the smartest character in the film, talking about socialism and class warfare with Saphiria and Rubinia, and he knows a thing or two about vampires. There is also great pleasure in watching Mario seduce the Di Fiore daughters, and Morrissey certainly captures Dallesandro’s hunky appeal.
Meanwhile, the fragile Dracula meets with Saphiria and probes her with questions about men, getting the (wrong) impression that she is a virgin. Alas, after he sucks her blood, he has a bad reaction, turning green. Kier goes all out in both of the film’s magnificent vomit scenes. (He also has a fun bit sniffing some blood-soaked bread and licking blood off the floor.) His convulsions in a bed, a bathroom, and on a staircase are fabulously over-the-top.
Morrissey’s film is bloody, as the title indicates, but the attacks are more campy than scary. (A sequence late in the film involving an axe was surely studied by Monty Python.) And this may be why “Blood for Dracula” charms. Sure, the acting and accents are all over the place, but Kier’s deathly pale Dracula and Dallesandro’s strapping Mario are pitch perfect. The nudity is gratuitous, the politics are topical, and the bloodletting is excessive. The film leans into these elements and viewers should too. (And catch an uncredited Roman Polanski in a tavern scene!)
“FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN + BLOOD FOR DRACULA” | Directed by Paul Morrissey | April 15-21 at Anthology Film Archives.