Monday, April 17, 2017

#2,340. Lady Frankenstein (1971)

Directed By: Mel Welles

Starring: Joseph Cotten, Rosalba Neri, Paul Muller

Tag line: "Only The Monster She Made Could Satisfy Her Strange Desires!"

Trivia: Rob Zombie sampled a line from this film for his song "Living Dead Girl"

After years of medical training, Tania Frankenstein (Rosalba Neri) returns to her ancestral home, eager to assist her father, the Baron (Joseph Cotten), in his most recent experiment. With the help of his crippled friend (and longtime lab assistant) Charles (Paul Muller), the Baron is ready to show the world that, under the right circumstances, dead tissue can be reanimated. Using cadavers that he purchased from Lynch (Herbert Fux), a professional grave robber, the Baron does, indeed, build a man out of spare parts and bring him to life. Unfortunately, his creation is a hideous monster (Peter Whiteman) that, after murdering the Baron, escapes into the nearby woods.

Distraught over the death of her father, yet at the same time anxious to prove his theories were correct, Nadia sets to work creating a “man” of her own. Learning from the Baron’s mistakes, she intends to use the body of a handsome, backward farm boy named Thomas (Marino Masé) and the brain of her father’s longtime assistant, Charles! But as Nadia toils in the laboratory, The Baron’s monster is busy roaming the countryside, killing villagers and capturing the attention of Constable Harris (Mickey Hargitay). As Harris probes into this very strange case, Nadia draws closer to finishing her grand experiment, but will she actually succeed where her father failed, or is her “man” destined to be as unstable as the monster that is now terrorizing the locals?

In the handful of films I’ve seen her in (Jess Franco’s 99 Women, Fernando DiLeo’s Slaughter Hotel), Italian-born actress Rosalba Neri was relegated to supporting roles. In 1971’s Lady Frankenstein, however, she plays Nadia, the lead, and is quite believable as a woman of science hoping to follow in her father’s footsteps. Along with Ms. Neri, Lady Frankenstein co-stars Mickey Hargitay, who, with appearances in Bloody Pit of Horror and Black Magic Rites, was himself no stranger to the cinema’s seedier side, while Joseph Cotten plays the Baron with plenty of gusto, portraying a man of science whose research sets the entire story in motion. Despite an impressive Hollywood track record, which includes Citizen Kane, The Third Man, and Shadow of a Doubt, Mr. Cotten was also an integral part of the Vincent Price vehicle The Abominable Dr. Phibes, and was effective as a scientist (and Barbara Bach’s father) in 1979’s Island of the Fishmen

With a cast like this, you might expect Lady Frankenstein to be just another sleazy European flick, and while it does have a smattering of nudity and a few genuine shocks, this 1971 movie has more in common with Hammer Studio’s classic horror films (Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula) than it does the standard ‘70s exploitation fare.

For one, the set pieces are superb; the lab in which both of the Frankensteins perform their experiments looks as if it was lifted straight out of a 1930’s Universal film, while the castle that serves as their ancestral home is as eerie as it is extravagant. In addition to its sets, Lady Frankenstein relied on several actual locations to move its story along (its exterior scenes reminded me, in a way, of Jean Rollin, who was himself a master at incorporating real locales into his movies).

Lady Frankenstein does have its weaknesses, chief among them the make-up effects (the Baron’s monster, with its protruding eye and scarred face, isn’t as creepy as it could have been). But with its gothic sensibilities, better-than-average production design, and unique approach to the time-honored story of man acting as God, Lady Frankenstein is a step or two above the typical Eurosleaze flick.

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