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THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN (1972) Redemption Blu-ray: Reflections and Images

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Robert Monell's photo.
Candy colored lighting of erotic-grotesque experiments in the Castle of Barna.
Robert Monell's photo.
“Pleasure, blood and death”… it could be the name of a Death Metal group, but it’s just a typical line of dialogue from Jess Franco’s very atypical reconsideration of the Universal classic, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. What made the 1935 film cohere into greatness, along with the immortal presences of Boris Karloff and Elsa Lancaster, and the work of make-up wizard Jack Pierce, was that it exploded with the personality of its true auteur, not Mary Shelley, but James Whale. Jess Franco’s follow-up to his weird, equally iconoclastic 1971 Frankenstein epic, DRACULA, PRISONER OF FRANKENSTEIN, exists in that special parallel universe we call Jess Franco. It’s not just another Jess Franco film, it IS Jess Franco at the height of his subversive creative powers, making a warped, no-budget version of a beloved Hollywood classic.

After abducting the monster from the laboratory of Doctor Frankenstein (Dennis Price) Cagliostro (Howard Vernon) and his bird woman creation, Melissa (Anne Libert) work tirelessly within the chambers of Barna Castle  to create a female mate for the silver skinned creature created by Dr. Frankenstein.

A wild ride deep into Jess Franco terrain. This is an unhinged, no-budget attempt to redo the Universal horror motifs in the style of Italian Erotic Comics. It works, at least in the nude/uncovered version, simply because Franco and his cast immediately go way over-the-top and stay there: ratty looking lab props (Dr. Frankenstein’s equipment looks like battered, discarded factory junk), a silver skinned monster who looks like a confused survivor of a spray painting attack, the nude whipping scene, the mysterious sect led by the perverse, totalitarian Cagliostro, Melissa-the flesh eating human vulture who predicts pleasure and death, are typical “Jess Franco” elements, but this time he stages them with such Sadean glee that those who “get it” will be utterly transfixed while those don’t will cite it as another file in the case against the director. It’s a long way from James Whale…it’s 151 proof Jess Franco!

The version made for Spain contains additional scenes featuring Lina Romay, her first appearance in a Jess Franco film, as a gypsy and omits all of the outrageous nudity which is so essential to Franco’s aesthetic (or anti-aesthetic). The score, credited to Vladimir Cosma, H. Tical and Vincent Geminiani, is an iconoclastic collection of sonic blasts, jarring cues and odd sounds. Daniel J. White, who also appears in a minor role, also contributed cues. Jess Franco has one of his briefest cameos as lab assistant Morpho who gets knifed during the opening attack on Dr. Frankenstein’s lab by Caronte (Luis Barboo) and Melissa.

LA MALDICION DE FRANKENSTEIN [Les Experiences Erotiques des Frankenstein; THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN; Rites of Frankenstein] is even more impoverished than DRACULA, PRISONER OF FRANKENSTEIN, and more focused on Franco-branded Sadisterotica (Horror y Sexo) than the 1971 monster mash, which is pretty much an experimental enterprise disguised as a family friendly monster rally. Unlike the censored Spanish version, which is longer [82m] and “covered”, this one is the nude variant, the director’s cut, the one which Jess Franco termed “erotic” when I asked him which version he preferred during my 2004 interview with him. He hated doing one for the Spanish censors. Released in Spain in 1974 it was only seen by 133,000 viewers in it’s initial run there according to the IMDB, that version can be viewed on the 2005 IMAGE DVD. Much of the outre-satiric-erotic-Sadean impact is lost in that cut. With Howard Vernon on board as the evil scientist/necromancer Cagliostro (Franco told me it was Vernon who came up with the name “Pantos” for the evil sect) it’s like a mad atonal symphony conducted by a crazed sex freak who wants to transform the world into a vast S&M fantasy. We learn at the end that Cagliostro is actually a kind of zombie who will be reborn again in nine months, leaving room open for sequels. Thanks to Tim Lucas for citing myself and this blog in his information-rich commentary which also reveals a surprising literary source for the presentation of Franco’s outrageous monster, 1950s pulp novels written by future Jess Franco (CARTES SUR TABLE, MISS MUERTE) and Luis Bunuel (THE MILKY WAY) scenarist, Jean-Claude Carriere. Lucas also provides a helpful commentary on the trailer, although it’s not listed as an option on the menu. Toggle through the audio options on your remote to active this Easter egg.

The new REDEMPTION Blu-ray is a 1080p 2.35:1 transfer mastered in HD from original 35mm negative elements, running 74 minutes. There has been some color restoration done, as Lucas notes, especially noticeable in the red tinted lighting of the delirious Pantos conclaves. Some of the hues have a electric verve. Note the shafts of crimson on Britt Nichols legs in the above screen cap. Despite some stylish compositions by master DP Raoul Artigot (also the DP on the somewhat more upscale LES DEMONS-1972 and director of THE WITCHES MOUNTAIN) this is not a consistently well-composed effort, probably due to budget/schedule shortfalls, but the castles and architecture of Sintra and other Portuguese locations give the film period authenticity, at least in its exteriors.
Despite some minor speckling and print damage, this is the best this title has ever looked on any home video format and the first time the full, Jess Franco authorized version has appeared on Blu-ray or DVD, outside of bits on releases of the censored version. With sharpened focus, and remember Franco shot quickly so there are still some blurred images, seen in scope, via a clean print, this is like seeing this uncanny creation for the very first time. I first viewed this film in the mid 1980s on a grey market dupe with a sickly green tint covering the image, the result of a color spoiled transfer from a damaged interpositive, no doubt. It looked terrible, blurred and hideously discolored, and I remember the film buff watching it with me wondered aloud what I could have seen in the films of Jess Franco. The surprisingly luminous (with the previous incorrect day-for-night filtering corrected, as pointed out in the Tim Lucas commentary) 1080p transfer is a very welcome treat for Franco connoisseurs. The bonus features include the Tim Lucas audio commentary and 2 LPCM 2.0 audio options: the dubbed English track, which contains Howard Vernon’s voicing of Cagliostro, has its own tacky, camp value; the French track, with English subtitles, which is my preference and which properly places the film in the Fantastique category, with its demented poetry intact. All three are worthy of a separate listen and each informs the viewer with a different and rewarding experience. A good example of the differences in the two voice tracks: when the monster backs Cagliostro into a corner at the climax, the villain says “Don’t you dare!” in the English language dub, whereas he only says “Stop” in the French track. The difference between unintended camp and Surrealist dispatch. Both the feature and the 3m 30s trailer contain some images not seen before and the trailer also contains such outtakes as a crudely executed severed head prop (presumably the result of Dr. Frankenstein’s amusingly surreal acid decapitation-a favorite moment) which the viewer will enjoy discovering.

* The synopsis at the top is an updating of my 2005 IMDB review, which was unfortunately abducted by another “writer” and placed on a European website under his name with no mention of me. This situation has since been exposed and rectified. My copyright is now renewed, ROBERT MONELL, JUNE 2015.

Written by Robert Monell

5 julio 2015 a 5:51 PM

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