The Rites of Frankenstein (1972)

Maldicion de Frankenstein, La (Spain)
The Curse of Frankenstein
The Erotic Adventures of Frankenstein (Canada: English title) (dubbed version)
The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein (UK)
Experiences erotiques de Frankenstein, Les

I so wanted to let you know that tonight I'm reviewing Jesus Franco's The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein. What a fantastic title, eh? Unfortunately, I'm going to have to let go of that, as we're looking at the clean-cut Spanish version called La Maldicion (Rites) de Frankenstein. Nonetheless, the Image DVD I bought and watched contained the naughty stuff as extra bonus scenes, and their lack in Maldicion doesn't really damage the film at all. I'll get to that later though, as we progress through some plot. Now, I'll not hear a word of Jesus Franco being a talentless hack who just throws films together. When he's firing on all cylinders he can create a work of unique art, and Rites is just such a work. It's delirious, beautiful and often makes not a jot of sense, but I guarantee you'll remember it's imaginative images.

Doctor Frankenstein (Franco semi-regular Dennis Price) is working on his hulking, silver-skinned monster (Fernando Bilbao) with his assistant, Morpho (Franco himself). What Franco film would be without a character called Morpho, or cameoing Franco as a snivelling bit part, for that matter? Frankenstein gains a moment of triumph as his monster lurches to howling, painful life. No sooner does he experience success than he receives two unusual visitors to his laboratory. A carriage has pulled up at his castle, and a middle-aged man, Caronte (Luis Barboo) leads a beautiful, blind woman into Frankenstein's abode. This woman is Melisa (the stunning Anne Libert) who has patches of feathers on her naked-but-for-a-cape body, sharp talons and makes bird noises as she enters the castle. Caronte and Melisa burst in on the shocked Frankenstein and Morpho. Melisa attacks Frankenstein and tears his throat out. Morpho is stabbed to death by Caronte. And we're all of five minutes in!

Melisa and Caronte return to the castle at Varna, where their master, the sinister Cagliostro, lives. Cagliostro, played by seminal Franco performer Howard Vernon, who's always watchable, wants control of Frankenstein's monster for his own purposes. He and Melisa hypnotise the monster and dominate his will. The creature is told to kidnap and rape virgins for Cagliostro's dastardly projects, and we can assume he'll do it, too. Meanwhile, Doctor Jonathan Seward (Alberto Dalbés) speaks to Frankenstein in his last few seconds in this world. He tries to tell Seward that he creation was stolen but expires before he can say who did it. Frankenstein's attractive daughter Vera (Beatriz Savón) shows up and attends her father's funeral. She rebuffs any friendship extended to her by Seward.

In a gypsy camp nearby, the young Esmerelda (Lina Romay in an early Franco role) feels the influence of Cagliostro, his voice calling her, in her head. There's a curse on this family, and Cagliostro dominates them all. She prays to the virgin of the lake to be spared of the curse. Secretly, Vera takes Frankenstein's body and brings it to temporary life with her father's equipment. The re-animated cadaver tells her that someone stole his creature, then slumps back into dormancy. Seward turns up again and intrigues Vera slightly more with his knowledge of her father, then leaves. The monster, under Melisa's guidance, breaks into a young woman's house and attacks her. This is no slow-moving monster, he really jumps on her on her bed!

White-robed, skeletal figures move slowly through the misty forest. Franco stages quite an atmospheric scene here. This is the sect of Panthos, as we're soon to hear. The spectral figures enter the castle and are greeted by Cagliostro and Melisa. Some are skeletons in white robes, some are almost normal-looking, but one fellow has pointed ears! As they all watch transfixed, Caronte cuts the kidnapped woman's throat and as ordered by Cagliostro, cuts her head off. The woman's head is to become the head of his future, perfect female creation, who'll be mated with the Frankenstein monster to create a new super-race to embody the sect of Panthos.

Vera revives her father again with the 'fixation ray', and this time he tells her about Cagliostro before subsiding into death again. Frankenstein tells her Cagliostro's in the castle at Varna. Vera swears to avenge her father and continue her work. Another woman is almost kidnapped in the foggy night by the silver-skinned creature, but Vera intervenes and asks the addled monster to take her to Cagliostro. He complies and carries her off. Caronte leaves Melisa behind on one of her murder-hunts, and Vera's female assistant spots Melisa savaging someone. She passes into shock and faints. Cagliostro is furious at finding Vera Frankenstein - who he seems to know and hate - in his clutches, rather than his intended victim. He's also furious at Caronte at leaving Melisa behind. To torture both Caronte and Vera, he ties them together and has the monster whip them both over a pit of poisoned spikes. As soon as one victim falls to their death, the other will be spared. Lauging maniacally, Cagliostro and Melisa watch in a sadistic rapture, and the sect of Panthos join them to look on. After a long whipping scene, Caronte finally falls, and Vera is spared - for now. This is a pretty amazing scene - the silver monster aggressively flogging the couple lashed together over the spikes. Now, in the extra 'naughty' footage, Caronte and Vera are nude as well! It just gains that extra something for some reason ... Franco certainly stages a memorable image here, and it's probably one of the standout scenes of the film.

Vera is brought to Cagliostro's quarters and Melisa instructs her that Cagliostro is now her master - she transmits his thoughts to her in Melisa's voice. Caught in Cagliostro's mesmeric thrall, Vera agrees to serve her captor without question. Meanwhile, Esmeralda gives in to Cagliostro's influence and visits the castle, drinking from it's fountain. Seward questions Vera's assistant and she's finally able to tell him that Cagliostro's the culprit behind Frankenstein's death and Vera's disappearance. Seward visits Frankenstein's lab and finds the Doctor's corpse. Starting the fixation ray, the corpse returns to an even jerkier life, and tells Seward to stay out of it and let Vera handle it. It seems to die again, only to revive as some sort of zombie and attack him. A policeman assisting him throws acid on the zombie, which promptly leaves nothing but a disembodied hand. Pretty strong stuff!

Vera, Melisa and Cagliostro bring Cagliostro's assembled 'perfect' woman to screaming life. Whatever life-bringing process these scientists use, it causes their subjects a lot of pain to bring them into the world. Cagliostro rewards Melisa for her help by giving her a chained-up male victim in a dark cell to savage. Melisa is exultant and in ecstasy at the thought, and goes off to kill her prey. We see more of her un-caped form, patches of feathers all over her as she screeches weirdly for the attack. Panthos members crep towards the castle for the final rite, as Vera brings the silver monster back to life again. Seward and the policeman sneak in and when Vera's not in the room, tell the creature how Cagliostro killed it's 'father' and brought it here. It seems to understand, but they hide as Vera returns and leads the monster downstairs.

Melisa, Cagliostro - who is named as the reincarnation of Panthos - and the undead Panthos cult preside over the final rite to mate the Monster and the newly-animated woman, who lies un-moving on a stone slab. In the 'erotic' version, the woman is nude, of course. Melisa explains how Cagliostro created her to be a perfect woman from a bird's egg, but she is not perfect due to being blind. Now the perfect race will be created. As Vera watches in a trance, the monster enters to begin the mating. The creature hesitates though, and Seward calls out for it to attack Cagliostro and his minions. As the Monster becomes confused, Melisa attacks it and is killed. The Monster kills a few other Panthos members but is subdued by the hypnosis of Cagliostro as it tries to kill him. It carries off Vera instead and is shot dead by Seward and the policeman as they rescue Vera from it's clutches. Cagliostro tries to escape in a carriage, and we see that the gypsy girl Esmerelda is inside it, as he drives it at an lunatic pace around the cliffside, laughing insanely. Will he survive to plague humanity with his evil? What will become of Vera and Seward after Panthos has been destroyed?

Even without the smattering of nudity from the 'Erotic' version, The Rites of Frankenstein is still an enjoyable experience. Though obviously low-budget, writer-director Franco has enough castles, costumes and humble laboratory sets to make it a lush view for us. I enjoy Vernon as Cagliostro, who is having a blast as the main villian of the piece. He's all hypnotic eyes and demonic laughter as the fiendish scientist-sorcerer. Anne Libert's the revelation though, playing Melisa the bird-woman as a creature devoted to pleasure, even if that means biting people's throats out. Her looks of ecstasy as people are tortured or killed say more about the character than all the makeup in the world. Cagliostro obviously loves her and we can understand why, given he's such a sadist as well. It doesn't hurt that she's ravishingly beautiful as well. Dennis Price as Frankenstein has a strange role - being a twitching reanimated corpse through most of his scenes! He seems to put his all into his moaning and gesticulations nonetheless. Fernando Bilbao as the silver monster - not exactly sure why this creature is silver, but he looks fantastic - is also enthusiastic in his monstrousness. It must have been a pretty happy, creative set! The rest of the cast are fairly nondescript but Beatriz Savón as Vera is quite nice-looking when being whipped in the nude! Romay's role is tiny, and so darkly filmed you can barely see her. These sequences could probably have been cribbed without much impact, although it's implied Esmerelda is the means through which Cagliostro will be reborn into the world.

If you enjoy horror in all it's surreal forms, please give The Rites of Frankenstein a look. Franco's really let his imagination run wild with this one, providing us with several memorable characters and set-pieces that extend his pantheon even further. Beholding Cagliostro, Melisa and our silver Frankenstein monster in all their glory will erase any bad experiences you may have had with the Spanish Maestro.

© Boris Lugosi, 2007.

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Review written: 07/03/2007 22:45:51