This Mel Welles directed, Italian-produced horror film (“La figlia di Frankenstein”) stars film stalwart Joseph Cotten in the midst of his Euro-slumming phase, Italian actress Rosalba Neri (billed here as Sara Bay), familiar Euro-thriller faces Paul Muller and Herbert Fux along with Jayne Mansfield’s ex Mickey Hargitay in a tale of generational like-father-like-daughter scientific method without motive. It’s the Mary Shelley model all over again but without the any depth of the philosophic duality of creator-monster/father-son, nor even a practical consideration as to why the experiments are taking place in the first place? This is a familiar story with the cinematic versions of the classic novel which shortchange on the mindset of Dr. Frankenstein except to depict him as a driven (more often than not more than slightly insane) scientist who is generally obsessed with (as he is in this film) the opportunity to “show the world” his genius, without ever considering a practical medical application for his research. Within the ranks of the Frankenstein film, the template is entirely the same: the scientist will create the creature which will then run amok, killing as many extras or supporting characters as possible before itself being destroyed in the end. (Though the 1930’s-40’s Universal series introduced the concept of invulnerability, in which the creature would be forever revived as long as the box-office returns were substantial enough to merit further sequels; a process which would prefigure the burgeoning ‘slasher’ market with the emergence of similarly unstoppable characters as Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and Freddy Kruger.) However, the adherence of dozens of films following a strict narrative pattern is bound to elicit a staleness almost immediately within this sub-genre. After all, if part of the appeal of the horror film is the presentation of material which will shock, thrill and frighten it is probably good form if that material is of a nature in which predictability has not become a general state of condition.
Clearly the makers of “Lady Frankenstein” have determined to enliven the stasis which the Frankenstein story has fallen into by way of a gender switch; which in the case of the modern cinema, as exampled by a similar evolution of Hammer Films, seems to be the way to go especially since, as depicted, the transitioned women seemed to be of a particularly randy temperament which is probably excused as a insightful portrait of the modern sexually liberated feminine model, when in reality it becomes merely an excuse for more prominent exhibitions of the actress to scamper about in Rubenesque splendor as if the way to explaining the stitching of dead flesh is by way of the Biblical flesh. In this, “Lady Frankenstein” brings new meaning to the phrase “raising the dead” by finally defining the motivation of the resurrective experimentation (which has never been emboldened with anything as ignoble as helping humanity) as the satisfaction of carnal cravings. The film gives us not one but two Frankensteins, the Baron (Joseph Cotten) and his devoted daughter Tania (Sara Bay), whose equal dedication to science easily unravels into craven lustful urges the minute her father’s neck is broken by his typically facially challenged creation. Since there seems to be no purpose to the experiments indicated in the murdered Baron’s journals, except perhaps to provide an excuse for another Frankenstein film, Tania undertakes a natural course of action by using her father’s discoveries, not to direct his research into areas which might prove fruitfully beneficial to Mankind and thus secure his legacy, but to scratch an unnatural itch and to create the world’s first build-your-own-ideal-man dating service, complete with obvious but unaddressed necrophilic overtones. (Considering that his experiments brought the dead back to life, it seems to occur to no one to revive the Baron himself, but such are the thoughtless, self-absorbed roads often traveled by the spoiled children of mad scientists.) It appears that although she is enamored of the keen mind of Dr. Charles Marshall (Paul Muller), the Baron’s associate, this attraction is less important to Tania than the sturdy physique and youthful looks of the servant simpleton Thomas (Marino Masé), though this being a situation where brain transplantation seems as common as changing a light bulb, a minor inconvenient juxtaposition of desirable elements fails to slow down the plans for our heroine’s nocturnal ecstasy Thus the opportunity to introduce a feminist perspective (which when introduced appears to be the direction the film might interestingly travel) is jettisoned to reveal that, according to this film, mad lady scientists are simply as indistinguishably shallow (not to mention randy) as the endless anonymous patrons populating Eastern European taverns in horror films, who drunkenly grab at the most attractive, bosomy barmaids.
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