Thursday, June 5, 2014

Lady Frankenstein (1971)

Lightning, angry mobs, grave robbing, and a criminal’s brain, like so many Frankenstein offshoots / spinoffs / parodies, Lady Frankenstein owes more to James Whale’s classic 1931 horror film than Mary Shelley’s 1818 literary masterpiece. Despite its many fitting references to, and retreading to an extent, some of the plot points to its trendsetting predecessor, Lady Frankenstein is far from feeling like a gory, colored remake, primarily thanks to the addition of Frankenstein’s biological daughter, Tania (Rosalba Neri), a little novelty with a lot of potential, like reimagining the classic 1931 movie with the doctor’s attractive but even more ambitious daughter written into the story.

In a time when females were grossly underrepresented in science, Tania Frankenstein shatters what must’ve been a prominent stereotype, enduring her pursuit as a surgeon, even when faced with sexist instructors at the University; as she puts it, “the professors have a lot of old fashioned ideas about a woman’s place.” When she returns home from the University after becoming a licensed surgeon, her father, Baron Frankenstein (Joseph Cotten), expresses admiration for her accomplishments, and yet he and his assistant, Dr. Charles Marshall (Paul Müller), still treat her as if their work involving cadavers is too much for her delicate senses to fathom. They seem to not want to involve her in their gruesome work, but, to their surprise, she’s all for it. They attempt to make her think they are working with animals, but she has been thinking along the same lines as her father the entire time, being more interested in human transplants; “I am my father’s daughter.” Not only does she thoroughly understand her father’s work, she ends up refining it.

The movie’s featured Creature (Peter Whiteman) is admittedly silly looking, one of the film’s few flaws, but still gross and gruesome to look at. It does not become a hostile killer on account of being abused, misunderstood, physically abhorred, or shunned by its creator, as the more traditional Frankenstein myths dictate. The Creature is instead pissed from the get go, killing onsite its creator, Baron Frankenstein, before fleeing the castle to wreak havoc on the countryside. The idea is that the Creature is out to destroy those who’ve had some involvement in its creation, but, because it has the brain of a killer, it does happen to kill anyone it comes across, slasher movie style, barring a familiar incident when it spares a helpless child, a type of reimagined reference to the memorable scene from Frankenstein (1931), involving the Creature and the little girl by the lake, suggesting the idea that the monster would not intentionally harm a child (it did purposely kill a child in the book, though).

The Creature Tanya’s father created is damaged, flawed, an out-of-control experiment that needs to be taken care of. She takes it upon herself to create the perfect “manmade” life form to stop her father’s creation, not only, in her mind, to right a wrong but to protect and honor her father’s good name, correct the defects in his work, salvage his credibility, procure him his due fame, and create for herself an exceptional lover.

In order to do this, she plans to create the perfect being with the brain and heart of her newlywed husband, Charles, and the body she desires from Thomas (Marino Masé), the moronic servant with a childlike innocence that’s easily corrupted by the dynamic curves of Rosalba Neri, in one of the movie’s more naughty murder scenes.

Knowing of his unconditional love for her, Tania is able to manipulate and corrupt her husband, Charles, in aiding her misdeeds. His voice of reason is crushed under the weight of his lust for Tania, twisting Charles into one of Müller’s best villainous roles since Nightmare Castle. Despite their tainted romance, his feelings for her do come off as very sincere: “I’d rather give my life to you than to the hangman.” I can’t say the same for her feelings towards him, which are more on the sociopathic side. It all culminates into the type of monster-meets-monster final battle in the vein of the Universal monster mash movies.

There are so many notable actors to mention here that it would result in an overly lengthy article to do them all justice.

Joseph Cotten and Paul Müller are exceptional as Dr. Frankenstein and his assistant Charles, respectively; their dramatic arguments work, their relation and acquaintanceship as colleagues is convincing, and their scientific jargon manages to avoid being corny, to an extent, and is actually believable; “the hypothalamus is damaged.” I’m not sure if I understood all of the technical details, but the surgical scenes are without a doubt terrific and some of the best any Frankenstein fans could ask for.

Other supporting characters include grave robber Lynch (Herbert Fux) and police captain Harris (Mickey Hargitay), who has it out for Lynch in what is an entertaining cat-and-mouse game between the two. The way Lynch is always taking swigs of booze is a little annoying, but he is supposed to be an obnoxious and vulgar man.

I loved him as a charismatic sadist in both Delirium and The Bloody Pit of Horror, and although this is not his most memorable role, Hargitay does carry over his usual charisma as the police captain, the only one able to make sense of the madness going on, talking in a humoring, condescending tone to those he knows are guilty and lying to him. He seems to always be just slightly shy of the evidence he needs to prove their guilt. Like many of the films Hargitay is in, Lady Frankenstein does feature The Balsorano Castle, a filming location featured in many European movies, and it makes a great Frankenstein castle, here. I am curious to know why Mickey Hargitay was in so many movies that featured the Balsorano Castle. Whenever I see this castle in any film, I think of Mickey Hargitay and whenever I see Mickey Hargitay, I think of Balsorano Castle. I came across a DVD of The Jane Mansfield Story the other day, and (Hargitay having been married to Mansfield) that castle was the first thing I thought of.

What’s most important is that the film is a lot of fun, watchable, and impressively gory for its time. Not a gory effect seems fake or unimpressive. The elaborate antique sets and era costumes that usually accompany the gothic horror piece are fabulous, especially Neri’s plethora of gothic maiden fashions, as well as her exquisite spiral curl hairdo.

(In this film, Rosalba Neri was dubbed by Linda Gary, of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe fame, who was a prominent voice actress. This is an interesting delight for me, being a MOU fan, especially since I recognize Evil-Lyn’s voice anytime Tania gets excitable or angry.)

Lady Frankenstein is not as campy as Elvira would have you believe, and it’s recommended to fans of Frankenstein movies in general, Hammer Horror, Universal monster movies, and ‘60s and ‘70s gothic Italian horror. Many have probably already seen it at one point or another, being that Lady Frankenstein was included in so many horror DVD bargain sets. There’s a great looking restored version of Lady Frankenstein that’s included in Roger Corman’s Cult Classics – All-Night Marathon: Vampires, Mummies & Monsters two-disc DVD set that also features The Velvet Vampire, Time Walker, and Grotesque. At first, I wasn’t too sure what connection Roger Corman had to Lady Frankenstein other than it was directed by Mel Welles, who starred in Roger Corman’s The Little Shop of Horrors, but apparently Corman’s company at the time, New World Pictures, provided the additional financial backing the film needed in order to be made.

© At the Mansion of Madness


  1. Excellent write up. I love this movie (and all things Rosalba...) and really enjoy all the wonderfully creepy & perverse little things lurking around in it. The scene at the end where Tania watches the two monsters fight and her upper lip starts twitching away as she seems to turn into some sort of feral animal is pretty amazing and of course her seduction of Thomas (complete with her leaning back and biting her wrist) is one of the highlights of Italian horror cinema. Cool stuff !


    1. Thanks, Alvin! I don’t know if it’s my associating her with her many villainous roles, such as LF, The Devil’s Wedding Night, and Top sensation, but I always thought that there was something sinister about Rosalba’s good looks that really seem to work for these kinds of roles. I agree with you about the scenes you mention. She’s most certainly classy but does have an admirable ability to become uninhibited and let out that disturbing, perverse side.

  2. Great movie and excellent review Giovanni. I really like Joseph Cotten as Dr. Frankenstein, but until your review I hadn't paid close enough attention to the fact that Mickey Hargitay is the detective. I agree that one of the few low points of this film (and really the main thing that gives it any camp) is the look of the monster.

    I've been looking to pick up that Corman 4-pack mainly for the remastered version of this and then The Velvet Vampire.

    1. Thanks a million, Jonny! Yes, some find it unfortunate that Joseph Cotton’s movie career spans between movies like Citizen Kane and Lady Frankenstein, but I thought he did just fine, here. Mickey Hargitay is a little out of type here as far as his character goes in this one, so it would be easy to miss him.

      I haven’t watched two out of the four movies in the set yet, but The Velvet Vampire was a nice surprise as well as another interesting variation of the Carmilla myth.

      By the way, Looking forward to the Gore-a-thon!

  3. I need to pick up that four movie set, too. Lady Frankenstein is definitely worth another watch, particularly if it's decently presented. I've only ever seen the sketchy bargain pack version, which I enjoyed anyway. Believe it or not, though, I'm more interested in that set for Time Walker. I'm pretty sure Time Walker would be heinous by my standards today, but it's one I actually saw during its theatrical release, and I haven't seen it a single time since. I dimly recall enjoying it as a youngster. I'm always drawn to movies - good or otherwise - that I simply haven't been able to lay my hands on. I've wanted a decent, non-vhs copy of The Fifth Floor (1978) ever since I first started collecting movies. I saw it as a second feature at a drive-in, and I liked it more than the main feature. Weirdly, though, I've not run across a disc release.

    As always, Giovanni, great post.

    1. Mille grazie, Brandon! I am looking forward to getting around to checking out Time Walker; you can never see enough mummy movies. So far the only reason I’m interested in Grotesque is that Linda Blair is in it. For the longest time, I’ve been meaning to explore Linda Blair’s filmography outside of the Exorcist, but, other than Witchery, I still haven’t gotten around to it. Hopefully Grotesque will push me to finally be interested enough.

      The Lady Frankenstein in the four-set includes an extended version in which a lot of cut scenes, about ten minutes worth, are put back into the movie, but because no complete version of this movie exists, these additional scenes are painfully obvious and are difficult to hear, and so I’m not sure if they help much. It’s still fortunate to get a complete version though.

      The Fifth Floor sounds interesting, especially with it having a pre-Freddy Robert Englund.

  4. It was a fun movie also check out Jesse James meets Frankenstein's Daughter.

  5. It was a fun movie also check out Jesse James meets Frankenstein's Daughter.

  6. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Rosalba Neri may have made film history with her "killer climax" in LADY FRANKENSTEIN.