Movie Diary, 2/15.
First of all, let me just say--what a bizarre movie. I expected no less, and my initial expectations of an art film disguised as a horror film were definitely met. What surprised me was just how lavishly produced the whole thing was. Being a product of Warhol's Factory, I expected it to be made on the cheap and thrown together loosely, but it wasn't at all. Of course, Andy Warhol had about as much to do with making the actual movie as he did with the production of the first Velvet Underground LP, but it was written and directed by Paul Morrissey, so I guess I was expecting something like "Flesh" (in fact, the version of the movie that I saw was actually titled "Flesh For Frankenstein"). Instead, I got a seemingly lavish production that reminded me of Roger Corman's 60s-era Poe pictures crossed with some of the more ornate Italian horror films of the same era. The score consists of ornate classical flourishes, and the setting and scenery is all old, vaguely decaying castles and rolling emerald countrysides. But then the actual storyline is perverse and decadent. Baron von Frankenstein lives in a castle with his wife, who is also his sister, and their two children. The children are creepy as hell; the opening scene of the movie shows the two of them, a boy and a girl, both seemingly around 10 years old, going through elaborate preparations in a well-stocked dungeon full of sharp objects and instruments of torture, the culmination of which is the decapitation of a doll. Both children are completely silent throughout this scene and through almost the entire movie. The girl has no actual lines, only a couple of wordless screams, and as I remember, the boy only ever says "No, papa" a couple of times. Baron von Frankenstein (played by Udo Kier, with a scenery-masticating fervor that makes William Shatner seem restrained) is already well into his preparations to create his zombies, both male and female, when the movie begins. He just needs a head for his male zombie (this is the word that he uses throughout the film), and he's obsessed with finding one that has a perfect Serbian nose ("nasum"). Meanwhile, Joe Dallesandro, the only American in the film (who is completely unable to summon up the overdone German accents in which the rest of the cast speaks their dialogue, instead giving us a barely-disguised Noo Yawk dialect that makes him sound like a refugee from a Martin Scorsese movie), plays a sex-obsessed local farmboy who is trying to convince his best friend not to become a monk by dragging him to a whorehouse. Von Frankenstein and his creepy assistant, Otto, stake out the whorehouse, seeking the head of a horny dude to complete their male zombie, whom they're hoping will have wild and constant sex with the female zombie in order to create a race of zombies that will do von Frankenstein's bidding (yes, the plot to this movie is ridiculous). Von Frankenstein, assuming that both Dallesandro and his monastically-minded friend are equally sex-crazed, decides to take the friend's head, thereby ensuring that he won't get what he wants from his male zombie. Meanwhile, his wife/sister, who is frustrated that her husband/brother won't sleep with her anymore now that they have children, and who has busted Joe Dallesandro fucking a peasant girl once already, hires Dallesandro to be her new houseboy as a pretense to have constant sex with him. Dallesandro is therefore in the house when von Frankenstein reveals the zombies he's created, one of which bears the head of his now-dead friend.
OK, a bunch of other stuff happens, and you can probably predict at least some elements of the ending, though really, a lot of the plot choices are so bizarre that you'd have to see them to believe them. But in the end, plot is not the point of this movie. Nor is any sort of horror. Instead, this movie is all about being bizarre, artsy, and super super gory. The sorts of disembowelments that occur are like something out of a Herschell Gordon Lewis movie, though if anything I'd say that Morrissey and company are more successful in making them seem real. There's one scene, in which Kier, as von Frankenstein, is cutting open the female zombie (Dalila Di Lazzaro) in order to make adjustments to her internal organs, that did an incredible job of convincing me that Kier was up to his elbows in Di Lazzaro's guts. I'm still not sure how they faked it. The best part of that scene, though, was that von Frankenstein proceeded to mount the operating table and simulate sex with the female zombie's open surgical incision. His assistant, Otto, being just as perverse as von Frankenstein himself, got way too turned on by the whole thing, and then later managed to disembowel multiple female characters on his own. At the end of the scene, von Frankenstein turned to him and said, "To know life, Otto, you must fuck death. In the gallbladder."
This was one of several points where this movie pushed things over the line from ridiculously dramatic B-grade horror into laughable absurdity. Everyone in the movie plays the entire thing totally straight from beginning to end, so I have no idea how seriously I'm intended to take it, but based on at least a few different moments of the movie, I found myself wondering whether the whole thing wasn't some huge inside joke perpetrated by Andy Warhol, or at least by Paul Morrissey, on the entire B movie industry. I'm sure plenty of the people who went to see this movie at the time loved it for its ridiculous amounts of gore and gratuitous skin (you can even see Joe Dallesandro's cock for about 15 seconds in one scene, which surprised the hell out of me). But I can't help but wonder whether there isn't another level on which this movie was intended to be taken, one that reveals itself for viewers willing to analyze it deeply enough.
Or maybe I'm just overthinking a low-budget B movie. Sure wouldn't be the first time.