I’ll have a lot more scary movie reviews in October, but I couldn’t wait that long to test out a movie from a new DVD I received for my birthday with a dozen or so public domain horror films on it. I started with Lady Frankenstein, an Italian-produced horror film, though it has mostly American and British actors, including Joseph Cotten (!) as the Doctor himself. It’s not rated, but it should be pointed out this is a movie for adults, with several scenes with nudity and sexual situations.
In this version of the story, Dr. Frankenstein has been conducting his experiments on recreating life in the lab for 20 years along with his faithful assistant Dr. Marshall. His daughter, Tania, has recently returned from college, where she became a surgeon. Dr. Frankenstein tries to keep from Tania what he is working on, indeed, that his life’s work has almost reached its culmination, with a stitched-together body ready to be brought to life. However, Tania reveals that she’s long known what he has been working on, and has in fact become a surgeon so she could assist him in his great experiments.
On the fateful stormy night, Dr. Frankenstein, Marshall, and Tania bring the monster to life with a well-timed bolt of lightning. The monster, however, is quite murderous and bloodthirsty (no sympathetic Boris Karloff here!) and kills Dr. Frankenstein almost immediately upon awakening, after which he escapes and commences a killing spree in the countryside.
Tania believes the only way to defeat the electrically-powered monster, who has massive strength and is impervious to bullets, is by creating another monster. Dr. Marshall objects that there is no way for them to gather the necessary body parts, which he and Dr. Frankenstein had been collecting for years. Ah, but Tania has an idea: they shall use Dr. Marshall’s brain, and put it in the freshly murdered body of Thomas, the mentally retarded but physically imposing houseboy. Dr. Marshall does not want to commit the murder, but Tania reveals she knows he has always loved her, and she could love him in return if he were in a young, vigorous body like Thomas’s, rather than his own aging body.
Dr. Marshall agrees. Tania seduces Thomas, and Dr. Marshall sneaks in and commits the deed. Tania then performs the brain transplant and brings the new monster to life, with Thomas’s body and Dr. Marshall’s mind. The procedure works, and the new monster soon battles the old monster, defeating and killing it. However, the castle is set on fire during the fight. Before they can flee, the new monster demands Tania consummate their love, but alas, it seems the new monster is as evil as the old, for the new monster strangles Tania during their lovemaking before both of them are consumed by the flames.
As you can tell, this is something of a feminist take on the Frankenstein story. It seems rather historically implausible–I think it would be simply impossible for a woman to become a surgeon in the 19th century. Still, if one is willing to accept that, it certainly gives a lot of power to Tania. She is the main driver of the action in this story, especially after her father is killed by the monster, and she is shown as being an intelligent, passionate woman who knows what she wants and goes after it, able to operate in the man’s world of science better than the men who surround her. It also depicts her as utterly without scruple or morality, but I suppose in that she takes after her father.
I actually enjoyed this movie more than its score below is going to indicate. It was fast-paced, fairly exciting, low-budget but with no glaring deficiencies. With plenty of nudity and rawer violence than usually seen in a Frankenstein movie, its pleasures were more of the lurid kind than the purely artistic. For those who don’t object to that sort of thing, I could recommend this as a fun way to pass 90 minutes.
LADY FRANKENSTEIN (1971)
Story/Plot/Characters–Acting is decent though not great, the story is coherent and presents a fresh spin on an oft-told tale. Characters have believable motivations, although except for Tania they were still two-dimensional. (2 points)
Special Effects–The Frankenstein’s monster is quite gruesome–you can really believe he’s stitched together from corpses. The all-important laboratory is fairly lackluster though, the coming-to-life scene is dull, and there are few other effects to speak of other than copious blood. (1 point)
Scariness–More campy than scary. (1/2 point)
Atmosphere/Freakiness–Some atmosphere, the cynically wisecracking graverobbers in the cemetery are a nice touch. I think some of the outdoor and village scenes were filmed on location rather than in a studio, which added a little something, Does not live up to its Universal or Hammer predecessors, however. (1 point)
Total=4.5 points (Okay)