The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein review
Jess Franco is mostly known for his erotic films about vampires, but he also had a penchant for creating films about another Victorian monster – Frankenstein’s monster, to be exact. In 1972 he directed Dracula vs. Frankenstein (or Dracula contra Frankenstein), the first of his Frankenstein films, and shortly after that he released the follow-up The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein (or just The Rites of Frankenstein, or La maldicion de Frankenstein). Both Alberto Dalbes and Dennis Price reprise their roles as Dr. Seward and Frankenstein respectively, but this time, the focus is on a crazed man named Cagliostro (Howard Vernon) who steals Frankenstein’s monster Monstruo (Fernando Bilbao) and devises a plan to create the perfect female companion and create a race of perfect humans known as the Panthos.
In Jess Franco fashion, there are a lot of boobs, butts, and bushes in The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein and an iconic ’70s arthouse/free jazz soundtrack. And, much like a lot of his other films, the plot wavers significantly from its original intent. First and foremost, Franco fashions Erotic Rites into a revenge story, with Vera Frankenstein (Beatriz Savon) seeking justice from Cagliostro after he murders her father and steals his most prized possession. But over the course of the film, Franco embeds a number of different ideas into the plot that often feel erratic and unfocused.
There’s the bird-lady Melisa (Anne Libert), Cagliostro’s plaything and initial experiment, that is most reminiscent of Franco’s other vampire works. In truth, she’s basically a vampire, and Erotic Rites spends an exorbitant amount of time on her specifically. One of the final scenes focuses on her feasting on a man, lasting for minutes; it smacks of Franco simply getting mileage out of Libert’s constant nudity rather than a thematic use of time.
It takes quite a while for Franco to get to the real meat of the film’s plot, which is Cagliostro’s attempts to build a perfect female for Monstruo. Erotic Rites is filled with expository dialogues from Cagliostro and Vera attempting to explain exactly what it is they’re doing, leaving little room for the rites or the eroticism the title suggests. There are few actual victims; instead, Franco alternates between Vera’s attempts to revive her father long enough to gather who stole his monster, to Cagliostro’s mind manipulation of Melisa, to Dr. Seward’s quest to stop Cagliostro before he completes his necromantic rites.
It leaves a film that rarely capitalizes on much of anything. The usual themes of mad science are here, especially with Cagliostro’s weird experiments with animal-human mating, but the motivation behind it is significantly lacking. Cagliostro as a character is poorly developed, and because of this, the meaning behind the mating ritual between Monstruo and the “perfect woman” Cagliostro creates is lost, or at least less interesting than it should be – Franco even fails to depict this act.
The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein is certainly not one of Franco’s best films, but it does have a few signs of life. There’s a great scene where both Vera and Cagliostro’s assistant are stripped naked and whipped by Frankenstein’s monster, forced to decide who lives and who dies by using the other as a cushion from spikes. And Franco has taken cues from a number of different historical and fictional figures; Seward is pulled from Dracula, Cagliostro from the real occultist Giuseppe Balsamo, and perhaps even Esmeralda (Lina Romay, real quick) is derived from Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame in some ways.
Other than that, though, Franco’s film is difficult to recommend solely for the fact that it rarely finds any coherency in its approach to plot. The sporadic and often disconnected plots do finally come together in the end, but the results are unsatisfactory and lacking the kind of depth that Franco is able to find in some of his better works. Most will probably see the film as uncompromisingly slow, and for little reason. Unlike his antagonist Cagliostro, Franco is unable to stitch together the disparate parts of The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein into a perfect body.
Click next for the Blu-Ray review.