‘Lady Frankenstein’ is an Italian exploitation sci fi horror film that sets out to prove that woman are just as capable as being mad scientists as any man. Released in 1971, the film is so grotesque and titillating that perhaps you need to remind yourself repeatedly that there may be a feminist implication. Either way, the horror flick is today’s Throwback Thursday, a column where ScienceFiction.com delves into sci fi of the past.
‘Lady Frankenstein’ was directed by American actor and director, Mel Welles. Welles is probably best known as playing Gravis Mushnik in Roger Corman’s ‘The Little Shop of Horrors’ (the basis for the 1980’s musical, ‘Little Shop of Horrors’.) Welles found himself in Italy where he had the opportunity to direct this feature that was written by a handful of writers including Edward di Lorenzo, who wrote for ‘Space: 1999’ and ‘Miami Vice’.
In the midst of the UK’s Hammer Studios churning out a handful of Frankenstein features during the late 1950’s through the 1970’s, Corman’s New World Pictures funded this Italian imagining of Doctor Frankenstein, an established mad scientist with a highly intelligent daughter keen on following her father’s footsteps.
Baron Frankenstein (Joseph Cotten) and his assistant Dr. Charles Marshall (Paul Muller) recently obtain a fresh corpse to reanimate when Frankenstein’s daughter, Tania (Sara Bey) returns home from university where she studied to become a surgeon. Tania reveals to her father that she always knew he dedicated his life’s work to reanimating corpses and she wishes to do the same.
When Baron Frankenstein’s newest monster comes to life, he kills his maker by bear-hugging him to death with his Franken-strength. The monster escapes, terrorizing the town and seeking particular enjoyment catching people making love before murdering them. (Yes, more opportunity for naked ladies!) Tania theorizes that the only way to catch and kill this monster is by creating another monster. Ah, she uses the old tried and true philosophy where in order to correct the fatal mistake made in the beginning of the film, the main character just repeats the same mistake again.
However, we learn that Tania may have ulterior motives. She and Dr. Marshall reveal romantic feelings for one another, which kind of come out of nowhere given there’s absolutely no chemistry between in the beginning of the movie. Even though he’s as sharp as a tack, because of his age, Dr. Marshall is deteriorating. Tania desires a strong and virile lover, so she convinces Dr. Marshall to allow her to transplant his brain into the body of Thomas (Marino Mase), the brawny mentally handicapped servant.
‘Lady Frankenstein’ offers an interesting spin on the Frankenstein tale. I suppose there are feminist undertones in the film as Tania does seem to empower herself by taking charge of her sexuality. However, it’s tough to say. There are plenty of Italian exploitation films from the 1970’s that have a tendency to flaunt a feminist ideology when it’s really just an opportunity for the degenerate in all of us to engage in some good old scopophilia. (Don’t even get me started on the nunsploitation genre.) There’s a incredibly cynical side of me that finds these feeble attempts at female empowerment kind of enjoyable. Maybe you exhibit that side as well? Take a look at the trailer below!