Sunday, December 13, 2009

Jess Franco's La maldición de Frankenstein (1972)

Dr. Frankenstein (Dennis Price) and his assistant (Jess Franco) have just brought life into their creation, a silver-skinned hulking monster (Fernando Bilbao). Almost immediately after the beastly creation has breathed its first breath, Melisa (Anne Libert) and Caronte (Luis Barboo) murder Dr. Frankenstein and his assistant and take the creature back to their master, Cagliostro (Howard Vernon), an evil guru with the power of mind control. Doctor Seward (Alberto Dalbés) and Inspector Tanner (Daniel White) are hunting for clues for Dr. Frankenstein's murderer, and the dead man's daughter, Dr. Vera Frankenstein (Beatriz Savón), has returned. She will avenge her father's death.
This is a bare-bones set-up for Jess Franco's tale of the Modern Prometheus, La maldición de Frankenstein (1972), which was, according to the authors of Obsession: The Films of Jess Franco, "idiotically retitled 'Erotic Rites of Frankenstein' by Robert de Nesle," the film's French co-producer. The authors of Obsession continue, "Shot in a number of versions more erotic than the last "Frankenstein's Curse" a literal adaptation of Italian erotic comic-strips (which are not known for their intelligence). Obviously shot too quickly, the film soon sinks into the picturesque and cannot be taken seriously. It contains Lina Romay's first appearance, in a single scene of the Spanish version." Franco's simple narrative of La maldición de Frankenstein allows him to "sink into the picturesque," where the film holds its primary power in its visuals.
La maldición de Frankenstein is one of a handful of films that Franco collaborated with French producer, Robert de Nesle, who according to the authors of Bizarre Sinema: Jess Franco El sexo del horror, after meeting Franco, "immediately organized the shooting of a set of sexy fantasy-horror movies" inspired by "the world's most successful comic-books of the time, from the stories featured in American magazines like Creepy and Eerie to Italian adult comic strips such as Jacula and Oltretomba." In addition to La maldición de Frankenstein, some of the other Franco/de Nesle collaborations are the sublime A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1971), Dracula contra Frankenstein (1971), the sensuous La fille de Dracula (1972), and Sinner (1972). Many of the films of this period were shot within Portugal with Lisbonian production house Interfilm (fact from Bizarre Sinema) and had many of the same participants with the roster of La maldición de Frankenstein being representative.
"Veteran British actor Dennis Price weighs in as Doctor Frankenstein," writes the authors of Immoral Tales: European Sex & Horror Movies, 1956-1984. "As the amoral cad in Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), Price had displayed his cool English savoir-faire. The Erotic Rites caught him at the end of a career slide; bloated and booze-raddled, he staggered around hazily as Doctor Frankenstein." Price has few scenes in La maldición, and the observations of the authors of Immoral Tales are astutely and painfully correct. Beautiful Britt Nichols has few scenes, as well, primarily as the victim-cum-reanimated-captive of Vernon's Cagliostro, who intends to make her the mate of Dr. Frankenstein's monster (who in turn will seed a race of superpeople who will conquer the world!). Lina Romay, opposed to the Obsession authors' description, has several scenes (shot presumably in one location as one sequence and cut into several scenes) in the Spanish-language version that I saw via the region-one DVD from Image Entertainment; and her role could be cut completely from the narrative as non-essential (but the opportunity to view her essential presence through Franco's camera eye would have been lost). Howard Vernon "turned in one of his best performances as the wizard Cagliostro," writes the authors of Immoral Tales. "Rising above the drawbacks of a cheap goatee, he managed to deliver half-baked lines with wide-eyed compulsion. No matter how gonzoid the action, Vernon was always believable (Immoral Tales)."
Anne Libert (who was the lover of Robert de Nesle according to Bizarre Sinema) is the true highlight of La maldición de Frankenstein as Melisa, Cagliostro's henchwoman. Libert's Melisa is a blind, half-woman/half-bird siren who has telepathic ability. Libert is a gorgeous actress and brings an amazing amount of energy to her role, frequently nude save a sparse covering of well-placed bright-green feathers and a dark cape (Libert is seen sans cape in the "alternate scenes" included on the Image DVD. Like a lot of Spanish cinema during the period, scenes were shot "clothed" and "unclothed" for different markets. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall during some of these productions to see directors like Franco or Klimovsky or de Ossorio give direction like, "Okay, let's do it again. Same scene. This time butt-naked." However, I digress.) Libert brings almost all of the eroticism to La maldición, and virtually all of her attacks upon unsuspecting victims are imbued with her sexuality. Her character is vampiric, mysterious, sensuous, and surreal.
The simple narrative of La maldición, while the film doesn't possess the strong, dark, and provocative thematic elements of Franco's other work, allows Franco to focus on the comic-book imagery to excellent effect. The color scheme is brilliant and runs the spectrum, and the artificial colors are often focal and bright, offset by the sombre colors of the genuine Portuguese locations. The light reflected upon the characters or reflected off their elaborate costumes makes them look like comic characters straight off of a paper panel. Hulking Bilbao, as Frankenstein's monster, is stunning visually with his massive frame and silver-painted skin. He looks like a giant toy action figure come to life. Franco's camera takes his characters as its focus, and with wide-angle lenses and jarring compositions, the characters look like monsters. La maldición looks artificial and feels superficial and is a tremendous amount of Franco fun.
All objective facts and quotes are from their sources as cited within.

1 comment:

Mr.LargePackage said...

Great review, Hans. A lot of people tell me that I remind them of Frankenstein. I guess they mean I'm really sexy. And that is large and in charge.