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  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

Lady Frankenstein Blu-ray Review


Severin Films

Blu-ray Release: May 30, 2023

Video: 1.85:1/1080p/Color

Audio: Italian and English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono

Subtitles: English

Run Time: 99:07

Director: Mel Welles and Aureliano Luppi


Note: This Blu-ray is currently only available as part of Severin’s Danza Macabra: Italian Gothic Collection, Volume One four-movie set, which also includes: Renato Polselli’s The Monster of the Opera (1964), Garibaldi Serra Caracciolo’s The Seventh Grave (1965), and José Luis Merino’s Scream of the Demon Lover (1970).


Tania Frankenstein (Rosalba Neri) returns from medical school, eager to work alongside her famous father (Joseph Cotten), who she learns is experimenting on human subjects supplied by Burke & Hare-like graverobbers. When the Baron is murdered by his own creation, a police captain (Mickey Hargitay) starts an investigation, and Tania seduces her father’s assistant, Dr. Marshall (Paul Muller), into supplying his brain for another experiment.



If we’re measuring the movies in Severin Films’ Danza Macabra, Volume One collection based on popularity and notoriety alone, Mel Welles and Aureliano Luppi’s Lady Frankenstein (Italian: La figlia di Frankenstein, 1971) is the crown jewel and the unit shifter. However, that popularity comes with an asterisk, because Lady Frankenstein is as much, if not more of an American film as it is an Italian one. It was financed by apparent Vanderbilt heir Harry Cooke Cushing IV as a vehicle for Italian actress Rosalba Neri and produced/co-written with American-born Eurotrash mogul Dick Randall of The Mad Butcher (Italian: Lo strangolatore di Vienna, 1971) and Pieces (Spanish: Mil gritos tiene la noche, 1982) fame. B-movie luminary Roger Corman and American International Pictures were brought on to help with budget shortfalls and to secure fading Hollywood star Joseph Cotten, who had just begun moonlighting as an American expat in Italian films, followed by Mario Bava’s Baron Blood (Italian: Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga, 1972) and Umberto Lenzi’s Syndicate Sadists (Italian: Il giustiziere sfida la città, 1975).


Rather than matching the gloomy energy of Bava and Antonio Margheriti’s genre-defining Italio-Gothic classics, Lady Frankenstein belongs to a small, but influential subgroup of transgressive, purposefully campy, yet seriously Gothic US/Italian productions, alongside Paul Morrissey’s Flesh for Frankenstein (1973) and Blood for Dracula (1974). Lady Frankenstein even began life as Lady Dracula, but needed to change gears when a rights issue was discovered and its lab props were reused for Flesh for Frankenstein. The plotting and style also owe more to Hammer’s Frankenstein films and John Gilling’s off-brand 1960 thriller The Flesh and the Fiends (where Peter Cushing, as Dr. Robert Knox, interacts with Burke and Hare) than to the off-kilter Italian or even Spanish variations on the Gothic mad scientist trope*. That said, while Hammer’s series was known for its boundary-pushing gore, buxom women, and implied sexual violence, they weren’t as trashy or explicit as Lady Frankenstein, which includes full-frontal nudity and two mid-coitus suffocation murders.



Again, the kinky component draws comparisons to the two Morrissey films. The differences are found in Lady Frankenstein’s tempered playfulness, mostly serious tone, and cheesecake sexuality, as opposed to Flesh for Frankenstein’s full-bore satire and borderline softcore content. The gore effects were done by Carlo Rambaldi, who, the same year, had made eviscerated dogs for Lucio Fulci’s Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (Italian: Una Lucertola con la Pelle di Donna, 1971) that were deemed so realistic that it landed him and the director in court for animal cruelty. His work here isn’t nearly as convincing as that, but is mostly up to the standard of other Italian horror movies and even most Hammer films. The bloody highlights are the dissection and reanimation of body parts and the monster’s mangled face. Just try not to focus too hard on his glove-like hand appliances or the mannequin face of Tatiana’s boy-toy Tommy, post-full-brain lobotomy.


Co-director Mel Welles was, like Paul Morrissey, born in New York City and was known for his association with an artist collective. I suppose not many people would compare Andy Warhol’s Factory (Morrissey’s collective) to American International Pictures (Welles’ association), but both groups did end up in some capacity making horror movies in Italy. Welles was originally an actor who developed a working relationship with Corman. He appeared in Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), The Undead (1957), and Little Shop of Horrors (1960) and performed English language dubbing for the US releases of Kazui Nihonmatsu’s The X from Outer Space (1967) and Sergio Corbucci’s The Great Silence (Italian: Il grande silenzio, 1968), among many others. His directing career was multinational, taking him to Mexico for Code of Silence (1957), Switzerland/Italy for A Quiet Business (Italian: Un commerce tranquille, 1964), co-directed with Guido Franco, Spain for Hello Glen Ward, House Dick (Spanish: Llaman de Jamaica, Mr. Ward, 1968), co-directed with Julio Salvador, and, of course, Italy for Lady Frankenstein.



IMDb and this Blu-ray both claim that co-writer Aureliano Luppi was an uncredited co-director on the film. Luppi’s career was short, including only four writing credits and three second-unit directing credits, none of which are available on English-friendly home video, making it difficult to judge his skill level or guess his level of input. However, during an interview chronicled in Roberto Curti’s indispensable Italian Gothic Horror Films, 1957-1969 (McFarland & Company, 2015), Rosalba Neri claims that cinematographer Riccardo Pallottini was responsible for blocking, lighting, and solving technical problems. Pallottini was an important figure to ‘60s Italian Gothic, having shot Margheriti’s The Virgin of Nuremberg (Italian: La vergine di Norimberga, 1963), Castle of Blood (Italian: Danza macabra, 1964), and The Long Hair of Death (Italian: I lunghi capelli della morte, 1964), as well as Riccardo Freda’s The Witch’s Curse (Italian: Maciste all'inferno, 1962), which was one of the first full-color Italian horror movies, alongside Bava’s similar fantasy peplum, Hercules in the Haunted World (Italian: Ercole al centro della terra, 1961). Though he had no feature-length directorial credits to his name, the idea of him co-directing Lady Frankenstein with Welles and possibly Luppi makes a lot of sense.


As typically happened, the version overseen by Corman was heavily edited for US audiences, trimming a total of nearly 16 minutes of footage, some for sexual/violent content, but most to speed up the pacing. See a breakdown of the changes at movie-censorship.com.



* Directly comparing Lady Frankenstein to any of the Hammer films is a good case study in exactly how good Peter Cushing is in the role. Cotten is a little out of place and low-energy, but he’s genuinely trying here and still can’t hold a candle to Cushing’s sardonic charm.


If you are interested in further discussion of the year that brought audiences Black Sunday and House of Usher, please check out the two-part 25th episode of the Genre Grinder podcast, where Patrick Ripoll and I take a look at the Year in Horror: 1960:



Video

Lady Frankenstein is yet another Italian horror movie with a messy copyright history in the states, resulting in several official and grey market VHS and DVD releases. Almost all of these feature the Corman cut or a different shortened version. The extended theatrical cut was first made available via a series of European Blu-rays from Nucleus Films in 2018 (UK), Anolis in 2019 (Germany), and Le Chat qui Fume in 2022 (France). I assume, but do not know, that all of these releases and this US disc from Severin (available only as part of their Danza Macabra collection) are based on the same 2K restoration of the original negative. The good news is that the 1.85:1, 1080p transfer has tight details, deep black shadows that don’t eat up those details, and vivid, consistent colors. The not so good news is that whoever was responsible for the restoration cranked up the noise reduction, leaving grain and fine textures kind of flat and mushy. I checked a couple of sources, such as this DVDBeaver review of the Nucleus BD, and this seems to be an issue with every HD version of the film, meaning that Severin did the best they could with less than ideal material. Fortunately, the effect is mitigated in motion.


Audio

Lady Frankenstein is presented with English and Italian dub options, both in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono. The film was shot without sound in the Italian tradition, but, being an American co-production, most of the cast is speaking English and Cotten – who might have actually had some of his performance captured on set, based on the inconsistency of his performance quality – was dubbing himself, so I’d recommend sticking with the English track. Soundwise, the two tracks are almost identical in terms of music and effects, and feature pretty minor differences in performance clarity and volume. Alessandro Alessandroni’s score is sparingly used, but livens the mix a bit whenever it pops up.



Extras

  • Commentary with Kat Ellinger and Annie Rose Malamet – The author, critic, and cohost (with Samm Deighan) of the Daughters of Darkness podcast and host of the Girls, Guts, & Giallo podcast have a great time digging into the film’s Freudian implications and other psychological themes, the greater history of Gothic Eurotrash cinema, the careers of the cast & crew (with emphasis on Rosalba Neri), and comparisons between Italy’s and Hammer’s Gothic cinema.

  • Commentary with Alan Jones and Kim Newman – Jones, the author of Dario Argento: The Man, The Myths & The Magic (FAB Press 2012), and Newman, the author of Nightmare Movies (Harmony, 1989/Bloomberg, 2011), take their typical approach to the track with Jones talking about plot and themes, and Newman discussing the greater context of Frankenstein in cinema and literature. As always, their approaches pair well and they cover the production and the cast & crew’s careers between them. This track was originally recorded for the Nucleus Films disc.

  • Meet the Baroness (21:48, HD) – This is a two -art interview edited into one featurette with Professor of History of Italian Cinema at University for Foreigners of Perugia, journalist, and critic Fabio Melelli and lead actress Rosalba Neri. Melelli explores the making of the film, the major cast members, and Mel Welles’ other work, while Neri chats about her career in horror and her experiences on set as Lady Frankenstein (she reaffirms her story about Pallottini being in charge on set, though cannot recall his name this time).

  • Piecing Together Lady Frankenstein (35:18, HD) – This lengthy featurette on the making of the film with critic Julian Grainger also premiered on the Nucleus release and covers a lot of the same information already heard in the commentaries, but with greater focus and a little extra info about the pre-production.

  • The Lady and the Orgy (8:08, HD) – Another Nucleus extra, this one briefly covering the career of co-director Mel Welles and his connections to Australian film and television.

  • The Truth About Lady Frankenstein: A Factual Report (43:57, SD) – A 2007 German TV special with Welles and cast members Rosalba Neri, Paul Müller, and Herbert Fux.

  • Alternate clothed insert shots (2:56, HD)

  • BBFC Film Cuts (2:52, HD) – A look at the various censorship cuts enforced by the BBFC from the Nucleus Blu-ray.

  • Italian opening credits (2:41, HD)

  • Bigfilm Magazine’s 1975 Lady Frankenstein photo novel

  • Image gallery

  • Home video gallery

  • 60-second and 30-second radio spots

  • TV spot

  • English export and U.S. trailer

The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.

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