When it comes to the classic movie monsters, Frankenstein is my favorite. I love the Universal series of films and am intrigued by the many other films inspired by the characters. When it comes to Frankenstein on film, they cover the whole range from masterpiece to garbage. Today we look at another member of the Frankenstein family. You know the Bride, the Son…but are you ready for 1971’s Lady Frankenstein?
As you would expect, Baron Frankenstein (Joseph Cotten) is doing his thing, trying to reanimate corpses. He is joined by an assistant, Dr. Marshall (Paul Muller). Returning from finishing her studies is the Baron’s daughter, Tania (Rosalba Neri, credited as Sara Bey). She is intrigued by her father’s work and knows that although he claims to be working in the field of animal transplants, that his work really involves bringing life to the dead. She is anxious to help.
The Baron has been employing a local scumball named Lynch (Herbert Fux) to bring him bodies. After a hanging, Lynch manages to get a hold of the freshly dead body, which is just what the Baron needs. He and Marshall then successfully manage to create their own creature (Peter Whiteman) which they bring to life. Problem is, the creature immediately kills the Baron and escapes. The creature then sets out on a local killing spree, mainly targeting people who are having sex.
Tania, though, can’t be bothered with all this. She is determined to see her father’s experiments through and create a better creature. What she has in mind, however, is a bit kinky. She gets Marshall to admit that he is in love with her and has been for many years. Unfortunately, Marshall may have a great mind but just isn’t hunky enough for her. The mentally challenged gardener Thomas (Mario Mase), on the other hand, is a much finer specimen. Tania plans to put Marshall’s brain into Thomas’ hunky body. Meanwhile, the local police, led by Capt Harris (Mickey Hargitay), are continuing to track down reports of a murderous monster around town.
This is a version of Frankenstein that definitely has sex on the brain. It’s kind of a unique twist on the whole mad scientist type of story. The more traditional mad scientist, the Baron, is eliminated a short way into the film. Tonia then jumps into the primary role and she’s more crazed than the Baron. Rather than being motivated by some sort of lofty idea of conquering death for the benefit of mankind, Tonia’s goals are much simpler. She wants some! She wants to make her ideal man…easy on the eyes and with brilliant mind. She’s not beneath stripping naked to seduce Thomas so Marshall can sneak up and smother him with a pillow. She’s arguably more deranged than many a movie mad scientist. Sara Bey does do a solid job pulling off both the evil and sexy aspects of her role.
The film does have some great atmosphere, taking many of it’s cues right out of the Hammer playbook. It doesn’t quite reach the bar that Hammer films set, but it’s a solid try. A big drawback, however, is a pretty weak monster. The makeup effect used for the creature is pretty meh. A big feature of the monster is a gross prosthetic eye. I understand that filmmakers were trying to make the creature terrifying (and not copy Universal’s classic design), but the eyes are, they say, the window to the soul. They pretty much remove one of the major ways to give a speechless hulk of a character any sort of depth. For many scenes, the monster is also bathed in shadow, so we never really get that good a look at him.
Lady Frankenstein is certainly not the top of the Frankenstein family tree, but the film still succeeds on a certain level. It falters here and there, but it has enough creepiness to be a worthy member of the Frankenstein family.