Sunday, November 11, 2012

El Professore Movie Reviews: Lady Frankenstein

Director: Mel Welles
Starring: Joseph Cotton, Rosalba Neri
* * *
Mel Welles has been one of my favorite character actors ever since I first saw him as the unforgettable flower store owner (and English language mangler), Gravis Mushnik in Roger Corman's immortal 'Little Shop of Horrors'. O.K. admittedly he's done nothing else before or since that comes close, but that one portrayal was enough to make me a lifelong fan. It wasn't until many years later that I discovered what a cinema entrepreneur he actually was. As it turns out, 'Little Shop...' was his last in the U.S. He decided to take his show on the road and headed to Europe where his ubiquitous skills (he could write, direct and produce as well as act) served him well. While in Italy, he directed things like the horror film, 'Island of the Dead' (aka 'Maneater of Hydra') and the violent spy sendup, 'Our Man in Jamaica'. Eventually, Welles returned to the States where he achieved immortality among Kaiju fans by scripting and dubbing the English language version of the Japanese superhero show, 'Spectreman' (yes, not only did he write the loopy dialogue, but that's his voice you hear in several main characters). Before departing Italy, he directed the feature he's perhaps best known for, the erotic horror 'Lady Frankenstein'.

Full review after the jump.
In his final role, the great actor Joseph Cotton stars as the good Dr. who true to his heritage, creates a monster from dead cadavers that were snatched from graves. He is immediately killed by his creation (Cotton apparently was only rented for a day or two) which promptly eescapes and begins terrorizing the countryside. Dr. Frank's promiscuous and sexually liberated daughter (Rosalba Neri aka Sara Bay) along with the doc's lab assisstant, Marshall continue in the er, experiments. The two fall in love (well, he does anyway) and decide to attempt to transplant Marshall's brain into the body of muscular but retarded hulk servant, Stephen in order to combat the rampaging monster... and to better satisfy doc's daughter's insatiable sexual desires.

'Lady Frankenstein' was met in the U.S. with mostly poor reviews (I distinctly remember Leonard Maltin giving it his 'BOMB' rating; he probably never saw it) which I never really understood as I always thought this was a mostly fun and well made little pic. Welles as a director seemed careful with both camera placement and scene buildup (there's a wonderful interview with him in an issue of Video Watchdog magazine in which he discusses in detail about this film in particular). There are some genuinely tense moments on display and a surprising amount of sexual frankness. Rosalba Neri is wonderful as Cotton's cold, conniving daughter and puts forth a memorable and completely convincing perf (the sequence where Marshall smothers Stephen while the latter is engaging in sex with Neri, causing her to bite her wrist in orgasm is easily the film's most unforgettable moment). If the movie stumbles at all, it is in it's portrayal of the monster. I was fine with the idea of a souless creature, but the actor didn't seem to understand that he had to look menacing (his expression in most scenes is merely passive). Worse, he is subject to suuden and jarring outbursts often in mid sequence as if he were being directed by two different people with two very different ideas about the portrayal (surprising, given Welles' attention to detail in nearly every other department). Nevertheless, the finale where the doc's monster battles the lab enhanced Stephen is ineteresting and pretty cool to watch.

Overall despite it's flaws and occasional slow pacing, 'Lady Frankenstein' adds up to good, sleazy entertainment. Definately recommended.

As a footnote, I had read that Mel Welles ran his own website where he would post anicdotes and sell autographed memorabilia. He passed away mere months before I purchased my computer and his website was shut down. That made me feel very sad.

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