Home Video Hovel: The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein, by David Bax
I owe most of my familiarity with the bizarre subgenre of cinema fantastique to Kino Lorber and their Redemption imprint. It was a few years ago that they released a series of films by Jean Rollin, one of the stalwarts of the form. More recently, they’ve been putting out work by another, Jess Franco. Now they give us The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein, a neat and compact little horror story at only 74 minutes that still manages to cram in plenty of the hedonistic indulgences of the form.
A twist on the classic Frankenstein story, this version begins with the mad doctor being killed by a cult leader named Cagliostro (Howard Vernon) mere moments after creating his famous monster (Fernando Bilbao). The monster is kidnapped along with Frankenstein’s daughter (Beatriz Savon). Cagliostro’s plan involves murdering a succession of beautiful women, piecing their parts together to create a new monster with whom the original can mate. His scheme also involves a blind half bird/half woman (Anne Libert) and an army of rotting and skeletal undead. Luckily, he left the doctor’s corpse near his machinery so the good guys can, whenever need be, pump him full of electricity and reanimate him long enough to gather the next necessary piece of exposition (seriously, this happens like three times).
That sounds like a lot of plot but mostly Franco sticks to the fantastique model of alternating self-conscious, meaninglessly artsy titillation with quiet stretches of moodiness. There’s a new age, psychedelic tone to Cagliostro’s whole milieu, the pairing of which with ritual murders has a distinctly post-Manson vibe. Most of the film’s raison d’etre can be boiled down to the uncomfortably stretched out scenes of violence, nudity or both (as in the case of the bit where a naked man and woman are lashed together and mercilessly whipped until they fall into the array of sharp, metal stakes protruding from the floor around them).
That’s not to say the movie isn’t fun, though. Franco might not have as deeply weird an imagination as Rollin but he possesses more mastery over cinematic technique. His widescreen frames showcase terrifically balanced sets and color schemes. And his use of wide-angle lenses in handheld shots are likely influences on later films by Wes Craven. With its blend of brilliant visual cues and good, schlocky fun, The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein might just be the ideal cinema fantastique starter kit.
The transfer, from 35mm negative, is up to Kino’s usual standards, vibrant and rich without over-saturation.
Special features include a commentary by Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog and an alternate English dubbed soundtrack (to which I did not submit myself).