Saturday, 31 October 2009

Rites of Frankenstein (1972)

Rites of Frankenstein (La maldición de Frankenstein) is a classic piece of Jess Franco madness from the early 70s.

Doctor Frankenstein has managed to create an artificial man, but he has a powerful enemy in the form of the magician Cagliostro. Cagliostro has been dead for centuries, but then hasn’t stopped him. Accompanied by his fearsome henchwoman Melisa he breaks into Frankenstein’s castle to steal his creature and his secrets. Melisa is blind and is a kind of birdwoman, with the gift of second sight. And a taste for human flesh. Cagliostro has also set himself up as the leader of a cult, the cult of Panthos, which appears to be mostly composed of dead people.

Frankenstein and his assistant are murdered, but that’s not the end of Frankenstein either. His daughter Vera arrives to continue his work, and is able to revive her father for short periods. She not only wants to continue her father’s experiments, she also wants to avenge his death. There is clearly going to be a major power struggle between Cagliostro and Vera Frankenstein. Also involved, caught in the middle so to speak, is another eminent scientist, Dr Seward. Seward admired Frankenstein without approving of his work.

The plot becomes very convoluted, Vera falls into the clutches of Cagliostro, and there’s lots of trademark Franco weirdness. This is Franco in a fairly playful mood and I don’t think we’re meant to take any of the goings-on all that seriously. But it’s all great fun.

Howard Vernon was often under-utilised in Franco’s movies but this time he has a role he can really sink his teeth into as the diabolical Cagliostro. Dennis Price as Frankenstein is deceased for most of the movie but he still gets to overact even when dead! Anne Libert is very creepy as Melisa. As good as Howard Vernon is in this movie (and he’s very good indeedd) Anne Libert pretty much steals the picture. The movie is also notable for marking the first appearance of Lina Romay in a Jess Franco movie (although it depends which cut of the movie see whether she actually appears or not).

The Image DVD was taken from the Spanish cut which was a “clothed” cut with all the nude scenes reshot with the actors clothed. Image have included all the excised nude scenes as an extra. There are some scenes that don’t really work without the nudity, such as the scene where the painter tells his model she can put her clothes on now when she’s already fully clothed. In the hotter version intended for markets outside of Spain she is of course naked.

The plot is so outrageous that it works. It’s one of those cases where it’s better to go completely over-the-top rather than adopt half-measures, and Franco goes for broke. Having the creature covered in silver paint is an odd touch but it also works.

This is a silly but highly entertaining movie. It probably won’t appeal to you unless you’re a fan of the weirder varieties of eurohorror but if you enjoy horror with lots of strangeness, a dash of surrealism and done with tongue planted firmly in cheek then this one should deliver the goods for you.

Like quite a few of Franco's movies from this era this one exists in several different versions with various titles.

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