Release Date(s)1973 (November 26, 2021)
Studio(s)Bryanston Distributing (Vinegar Syndrome)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: See Below
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: A
- Overall Grade: A+
[Editor’s Note: An encoding error on the Ultra HD disc in this release affects certain players and displays by making the image appear oversaturated. Vinegar Syndrome is aware of the problem and has issued corrected discs. Customers who purchased the film directly through their website will receive a replacement disc automatically, but those who purchased it elsewhere must provide proof of purchase. We now have the corrected disc in our hands, and our review has been updated to reflect this. See below for more details.]
Flesh for Frankenstein was the first of two retellings of classic horror stories that Paul Morrissey directed back-to-back for producers Andrew Braunsberg and Carlo Ponti, using many of the same cast and crew members, on location and at Cinecitta Studios in Rome. The films were released in some countries as Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein and Andy Warhol’s Dracula, but the famed artist had little to do with either production, even though Morrissey had been previously associated with him. Warhol seemed happy to lend his name to projects with which he had scant involvement (witness his producer credit on the Velvet Underground’s first album despite the fact that he wasn’t even present when it was recorded). Both films initially received “X” ratings, and while they may seem relatively tame by contemporary standards, needless to say they still aren’t for all tastes. The fact that Frankenstein was shot in 3D, and it takes full advantage of that process, makes that statement even more true—you’ve been warned.
Morrissey wrote the script along with an uncredited Tonino Guerra and Pat Hackett, diving deeply into the body horror elements of Mary Shelley’s novel, but otherwise telling his own peculiar tale. Typically for one of his projects, the script formed only a basic narrative outline, with the dialogue being improvised daily on set. In this version, Baron Frankenstein (the inimitable Udo Kier) is obsessed with creating the ideal Serbian male and female creations so that they can produce offspring to form a master race under his control. While he works in his laboratory with his crazed assistant Otto (Arno Jurging), his nominal wife Katrin (Monique van Vooren) pursues her own goals in their bedroom with the farmhand Nicholas (Joe Dallesandro). Everything starts to spiral out of control when the Baron makes a fateful mistake with his male creation, but his real children are waiting in the wings, and both Nicholas and the audience will be left hanging at the end.
Both Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula have the gloss of serious Euro-horror, but with deliberately absurdist hearts. All of the ridiculousness is played straight (though Jurging pushes the edge of the envelope in a couple of scenes for Frankenstein). Even when the Baron tells his assistant that “To know death, Otto, you have to fuck life—in the gallbladder,” Kier manages to deliver the line with perfect sincerity. That line actually sums up Frankenstein quite well, because while blood may be the life for Dracula, the Baron finds life (and death) in the viscera.
Thanks to shooting in 3D, Morrissey found the beating heart of the film in the same place. Flesh for Frankenstein utilizes its cavernous sets and props to create a remarkable sense of depth—even the angular faces of the actors display impressive dimensionality during closeups. Morrissey generally reserved pop-out effects for dramatic moments, and they’re dramatic indeed—copious amounts of blood and guts fly directly into the camera. Frankenstein contains one of the single greatest death scenes in the history of cinema, and the actor involved has a field day with it, but the catch is that it’s only great when viewed in 3D. If you haven’t seen Flesh for Frankenstein in 3D, then you haven’t really seen Flesh for Frankenstein.
Cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller shot Flesh for Frankenstein on 35 mm film using the Space-Vision 3-D process. Space-Vision was a single camera system which utilized its Trioptiscope lens to split the left and right images and record them onto a single frame of film in the over/under format. Splitting the 35 mm frame in half horizontally like that necessitated the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, which was common for all Space-Vision films. For this Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, and Ultra HD release of Flesh for Frankenstein, Vinegar Syndrome used a 4K scan of the original camera negative, with the 3-D Film Archive providing the restoration work for the 3D versions, and an HDR color grade for the UHD version (HDR10 is available).
According to the 3-D Film Archive, Trioptiscope lens designer Robert V. Bernier was on set in 1973 to serve as a technical advisor, but Morrissey generally ignored him, so the resulting 3D images were often out of alignment. If that’s the case, then they were able to do heroic work here, because there are no such alignment issues with this edition. Everything is perfectly stable, and there’s an incredible amount of depth in both the foreground and background elements, with facial closeups displaying as much dimensionality as the format can possibly offer. Even the hairstyles stand out; at one point, Monique van Vooren turns her face toward the left side of the screen, and the individual curls in her flowing tresses are layered with extraordinary depth. The infrequent pop-out effects also work well—the larger the screen, the more effective that they are. (There are a few brief 2D shots during the climactic scene, but it’s unclear if they’ve always been that way, or if there were issues with the elements that couldn’t be resolved.) The grain seems reduced compared to the 2D versions, so it’s possible that a bit of noise reduction has been applied, but not in a way that obscures any of the detail. There are a few fleeting scratches and speckles, as well as minor blemishes along the top edge of the screen, but nothing very distracting. Interestingly, there are also hairs visible along the bottom edge of the screen, such as during the pony cart ride starting at 02:26, which don’t appear in any of the 2D versions. That’s because those were derived from the left eye element, while the hairs only appear in the right eye. Again, they’re minor, and they don’t take away from the beauty of the 3D image as a whole.
The anaglyph version uses the 3-D Film Archive’s proprietary Adaptive Multi-Band Anaglyphic Encoding process, which offers a significant improvement over older anaglyph home video releases. It does a credible job of replicating the full depth of the image, though the colors inevitably suffer, coming across as nearly monochromatic. There’s also a bit of ghosting which is not visible in the Blu-ray 3D presentation. Still, with most manufacturers no longer supporting the 3D format, it’s nice to have the option.
The 4K Ultra HD version offers the maximum amount of detail, with grain that’s more prominent, but still very even. The HDR grade increases the contrast range, with brighter highlights and deeper black levels. Unfortunately, there’s an encoding error affecting certain players and displays. When viewed using an Oppo UDP-205 on a JVC RS2000 projector, the colors appear wildly oversaturated, with flesh tones turning bright red in many scenes. After using the player to strip the HDR layer and output SDR instead, the overall color balance looks natural, and very similar to the timing on the 2D Blu-ray. (See our update about the corrected disc below.)
The Blu-ray version features grain and fine detail that is a touch less well-resolved than on the UHD, as well as slightly less contrast, but those differences are subtle. The color balance does look natural, especially when compared to the oversaturated look of the UHD.
FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN (Polarized 3D/Anaglyph 3D/UHD/BD) A-/C/A-/A-
The audio for all versions is offered in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles. The track has distortion at its peaks as well as a bit of excessive sibilance in the dialogue, but it’s otherwise clear, and the lush, romantic score from Claudio Gizzi sounds good.
Vinegar Syndrome’s long-awaited release of Flesh for Frankenstein is a 3-Disc set that includes two Blu-rays and a UHD. Most of the extras are included on the standard Blu-ray only, in order to maximize the bit rates for the 3D and Ultra HD versions of the film. There are no extras on Blu-ray 3D disc. All three discs are contained in two separate amaray cases with individual slip covers and reversible inserts, both of which are housed in a rigid box featuring simple but effective flesh-colored artwork (which replicates the original US poster artwork). The 3D disc is in one case, and has two pair of red/green anaglyph glasses tucked inside. The UHD and the standard Blu-ray are in the second case. The following extras are included:
DISC TWO: UHD
- Audio Commentary with Samm Deighan, Heather Drain, and Kat Ellinger
DISC THREE: BD
- Audio Commentary with Samm Deighan, Heather Drain, and Kat Ellinger
- Trans-Human Flesh & Blood (HD – 50:05)
- The Ecstasy of Frankenstein (HD – 17:50)
- In the Flesh (HD – 12:48)
- Dimension in Fear (HD – 11:15)
- Andy's Shadow (HD – 15:31)
- Building the World of Frankenstein (HD – 28:31)
- Don't Say a Word (HD – 13:00)
- Feed My Frankenstein (HD – 16:26)
- Original Theatrical Trailer (HD – 3:21)
- Radio Spots (HD – 1:06)
- Promotional Still Gallery (HD – 7:26)
- Audio Recollections with Paul Morrissey (SD – 23:45)
- Screen Test Footage with Paul Morrissey (SD – 4:12)
- Raw Q&A Footage with Paul Morrissey (SD – 33:36)
Film historians and authors Sam Deighan, Heather Drain, and Kat Ellinger are clearly walking on Cloud Nine for this commentary track—in fact, they open by saying that they should be setting off fireworks and having a ticker-tape parade in honor of having the opportunity. They discuss the contradiction between Morrissey’s conservative Catholic background and the nature of the films that he directed, with Ellinger noting that Flesh for Frankenstein is a film that shouldn’t be, but is, and is somehow more perfect because of that fact. They examine how the film fits into Italian Gothic cinema, and how it arguably fits into the Italian sex comedy genre as well. They observe that the film is subversive in unexpected ways, and has more in common with Pasolini’s Salo than with the classic Universal version of Frankenstein. They spend some time talking about Udo Kier’s career, and rightfully call B.S. on the fact that Stephen Dorff was able to wipe him out so easily in Blade (something that has justifiably bothered Kier fans for many years now!). They also give some love to Arno Jurging as Otto, relating Udo Kier’s story that Jurging killed himself after his mother died. (Most sources online claim that he’s still alive, yet there’s no information available about him after 1984, which lends credence to Kier’s version.) It’s a great commentary track, featuring a trio who can easily convey their enthusiasm for the film—they don’t merely love Flesh for Frankenstein; they love being able to tell people how much that they love it.
Trans-Human Flesh & Blood shares its title and archival interview with Paul Morrisey with the featurette on the Severin Films release of Blood for Dracula, but this version runs fifteen minutes longer (much of the material regarding Frankenstein was omitted from the Severin version). Paul Morrissey has grown bitter over the decades, and he spends a lot of time decrying modern society and popular culture. He discusses a few of his early films, then explains how he became involved with Frankenstein and Dracula, giving an overview of the productions. He explains his own process, admitting that he basically made up everything as he went along. He’s quite open about his contempt for Warhol, who Morrisey doesn’t consider to be an artist. (He also frequently digresses to show equal contempt for the Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, and Dudley Moore.) He closes by covering some of his later films like Mixed Blood and Spike of Bensonhurst.
The Ecstasy of Frankenstein features Udo Kier recounting how a chance encounter with Morrissey got him the lead roles in both films. He also describes how his lack of English at the time informed his performance, as well as what it was like working with the rest of the cast. (He does tell the story about Jurging’s suicide.) He’s in much better behavior here than he was for the interview on the Severin Blood for Dracula disc, where he kept tormenting the interviewer and camera crew. In the Flesh begins with Joe Dallesandro recounting his story about how he became a member of Andy Warhol’s group with The Loves of Ondine. He describes the difference between working directly for Warhol and working for Morrissey, and tells his own version of what it was like making Dracula and Frankenstein. He humbly admits that “the only thing that Joe can play is Joe.”
Dimension in Fear features producer Andrew Braunsberg explaining how he became interested in making a 3D production, initially planning to work with Roman Polanski on it. He also talks about the difficulty in getting distribution for the films, with even Joseph E. Levine turning him down. That’s why he ended up using Bryanston Films, the shady distributor who had released The Devil in Miss Jones. Braunsberg is charming and gentlemanly, so his stories are always enjoyable. Andy's Shadow has film historian and author Stephen Thrower discussing the controversy over who directed Andy Warhol’s early films, noting that 1968’s Flesh was the first title that can be considered an uncontested Morrissey film. He talks about Morrissey’s process, and notes that Pat Hackett was of underestimated importance to Warhol and Morrissey’s worlds. He offers some fascinating tidbits, such as the fact that Morrissey was once attached to an adaptation of Gerald Walker’s novel Cruising, and that the infamous gallbladder line was a deliberate parody of Marlon Brando’s pretentious speeches in Last Tango in Paris.
Building the World of Frankenstein features art director Gianni Giovagnoni speaking at length about his experiences making both films, including the 3D format, the locations, the sets, and even the process of securing the piranhas for the children’s bedroom. Giovagnoni’s memory is sharp, and he offers plenty of interesting details. The aptly titled Don't Say a Word has actress Liu Bosisio explaining how she insisted on playing a mute character since she couldn’t speak a word of English. She admits that she’s never seen Flesh for Frankenstein, as she doesn’t enjoy horror films. Feed My Frankenstein has assistant director Paolo Pietrangeli offering his own but somewhat looser recollections about making both films. He spends some time explaining his role as Assistant Director, and also talks about working with Carlo Rambaldi, who isn’t mentioned much in the rest of the extras.
The Audio Recollections include Morrissey narrating a collection of production stills that were shot by Paolo Pettini. The fact that’s he’s describing photographs means that he spends a bit more time covering technical details than he did during Trans-Human Flesh & Blood. He constantly emphasizes his use of comedy in the film, which is fair enough, but he does seem to be doing so because he holds his own work in contempt. The Screen Test Footage of Srdjan Zelenovic is a little counterintuitive because it was shot after the actor had already been cast in the film; Morrissey had never used 35 mm film before, so that’s what was really being tested. The Raw Q&A Footage is a panel from a convention in 2012, moderated by Louis Paul and Art Ettinger. Morrissey is as prickly as ever, and doesn’t waste the opportunity to knock the Velvet Underground when asked about them. He also displays his contempt for modern movies and popular culture, declaring his preference for what Turner Classic Movies has to offer.
It’s worth noting that the long out-of-print Criterion Collection LaserDisc and DVD releases included an audio commentary with Paul Morrissey, Udo Kier, and film historian Maurice Yacowar, which hasn’t carried over here.
Sales of physical media may continue to decline, but 2021 has been an absolute banner year for Blu-ray and UHD releases. The fact that Blood for Dracula and Flesh for Frankenstein finally made their High Definition debuts would have been cause enough for celebration, but to get both of them in 4K as well, and with Frankenstein in fully restored 3D, is truly extraordinary. Severin Films and Vinegar Syndrome pulled out all the stops for their respective releases, and both sets belong in the library of any serious film fan. Since Frankenstein helpfully includes a workable anaglyph version of the film, anyone can view the film with its intended depth, but if you don’t have a 3D capable display, it’s worth seeking out a friend who has a projector or an older display instead. You won’t regret it.
- Stephen Bjork