Video Nasties with John Lees: Flesh for Frankenstein

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Vault Team
Video Nasties with John Lees: Flesh for Frankenstein
Photo: Compagnia Cinematografica Champion & Gold Film

Is Flesh for Frankenstein a good movie? Heck no. But it's the kind of movie miracle that rarely works out if you try to recreate it on purpose.

Flesh for Frankenstein is totally dumb and ridiculous. The plot plays like someone watched the Hammer Horror Curse of Frankenstein without awareness of the source material and decided to do a much hornier remake. So much of what happens makes no sense. For me, it started to become a running gag how often the film employs the same “someone is spying through a peephole” trick, including in supposedly super secure and inaccessible areas. The special effects are cheesy as heck. The accents and performances are laughably atrocious. The dialogue is packed with hilariously awful clangers. Udo Kier’s pure camp Baron Frankenstein must enter the all-time canon of utterly bonkers performances, genuinely one of the most unhinged things I've ever seen committed to film. I had a great time and would watch it again.

Really, that could be my full review. But to emphasize the sheer magnitude of oddity that this film is, allow me to hone in on a couple of case studies of specific scenes so incredible that, while watching the film, I had to pause, rewind, record them poorly on my phone and post them to Twitter, just so other people could see them. Just so I could be sure this was real, not a mad fever dream.

The first scene works as a magnificent microcosm of Udo Kier's performance as a whole. In the sequence, he takes a break from chopping up body parts to talk with his assistant about his experience visiting a brothel. On paper, I imagine this scene was supposed to be two heterosexual dudes hanging out, shooting the shit about the fairer sex. In execution, it is just about the most homosexual thing I've ever seen. Udo Kier's mad accent luxuriates over every contemptuous exclamation, culminating in his appalled reaction to finally seeing a naked woman - "It was terrible. All these over-developed women, with their large breasts... and shameless!"

But then there is the absolute best scene in the movie: 30 seconds of cinematic nirvana. I swear, if I was intentionally writing a comedy scene, I doubt I could match the cascading layers of gags in this sequence, which is ostensibly supposed to be serious and scary. Allow me to attempt to button down my awe and explain this as dispassionately as possible. Frankenstein descends upon his chosen victim, the handsome man who will unwillingly donate his head and brain to the body of Frankenstein's Monster. He attacks him with what appears to be a pair of garden shears, comically extended like something out of a cartoon, wrapping them around the victim's neck. As the victim gasps, gurgles, and blood sprays from his neck, we get reaction shots of Frankenstein and his assistant looking... I can only describe it as aroused. We then gracefully cut to what is clearly a rubber head as the decapitation is complete, eyes rolling around as blood squirts copiously from both the severed head and the neck stump below. The headless body, however, seems to keep on living. It staggers around, hands flailing, as the dramatic music swells. The assistant responds by battering the body with a club until it eventually dies. The club makes impact with a benign "BONK!" sound effect, which makes me laugh every time. Every. Time. Udo Kier then picks up the rubber head and gives an earnest, impassioned monologue while casually swinging it around, ending with the immortal sign-off, "MY MAAAAALE ZOMBIE!" To me, that's cinema.

Is Flesh for Frankenstein a good movie? Heck no. But it's the kind of movie miracle that rarely works out if you try to recreate it on purpose. It is a genuinely terrible movie, yet also a blast to watch and not a chore to sit through. These days, not even well enough known to have a cult following, but maybe it should be.

John Lees is an award-winning comic book writer from Glasgow, Scotland. He
is best known for his work on acclaimed horror series AND THEN EMILY
WAS GONE, with artist Iain Laurie, and hard-boiled Glasgow crime saga
SINK, drawn by frequent collaborator Alex Cormack. John's other credits include superhero drama THE STANDARD, serial killer thriller OXYMORON: THE LOVELIEST NIGHTMARE, psychedelic nightmare quest QUILTE, and a story for TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES UNIVERSE. His latest projects are MOUNTAINHEAD, a snow-swept thriller from IDW Publishing, working with artist Ryan Lee, and HOTELL, a horror anthology series from AWA Upshot featuring artist Dalibor Talajic and THE NASTY from Vault Comics.

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