It’s that time of the year again. The month of October is upon us. So to celebrate, we at Full Circle Cinema put together another curated, month-long series with Screen Screams. This year, we will be checking our clocks as we wait in anticipation for the forbidden delight we call “the midnight movie”. And with midnight movies comes a variety of projects that are perhaps too niche for the masses. A main staple of midnight movie screenings is the “double feature”. With this review, we will cover Blood for Dracula and Flesh for Frankenstein, two transgressive and eccentric horror films from Paul Morrissey and Andy Warhol.
Paul Morrissey & Andy Warhol
While both came from different backgrounds and ideologies, they had accomplished a great worth of art through their respective careers. Morrissey, a political conservative, grew up Catholic and had served in the United States Army. Meanwhile, Warhol developed a career in influential and controversial art and was believed to be primarily apolitical. Neither individual should have worked in the way they were able to. Despite these differences, both individuals were able to create a successful marriage of ideas and creativity. Morrissey employed a bold, avant-garde direction, and Warhol employed his transgressive artistic style. Combined, we got two of the most distinct interpretations of Dracula and Frankenstein.
Flesh for Frankenstein
In Flesh for Frankenstein, we follow a man driven by his own desire for power. Baron von Frankenstein and his assistant Otto are seeking to create perfect individuals who will follow the Baron’s every command. His idea would be to create one man and one woman. He believes he succeeded with his female creation. But, his male creation is an abject failure as he fails to have a strong libido.
He discovers two men leaving a brothel nearby and lures them both to his castle. One, a farmhand named Nicholas, and the other being Nicholas’s sexually repressed friend. Nicholas’s friend is captured and is used to replace the head of Baron’s male creation. The Baron’s though would be this sexual repression would correct his issue with the male creation’s sexual libido. Meanwhile, Nicholas is brought ‘in to feed the Baron’s wife (and sister) Katrin’s sexual appetite.
After Nicholas discovers his friend’s head on another individual’s body he begins to investigate in which he learns of the Baron’s plan to create the perfect individual. Nicholas is betrayed by Katrin and is bound to the ceiling by his wrists. While all of this is happening Baron is dissatisfied with the male creation’s still weak libido. The Baron decides he will use Nicholas as a way to fix the male creation’s libido.
Following all of this, a sequence of unfortunate events begins in which everyone begins to die one by one. The male creation kills Katrin, Otto accidentally kills the female creation, the Baron kills Otto, the male creation kills the Baron, and the male creation kills himself. All while Nicholas is tied to the ceiling. The final shot being the Baron and Katrin’s kids walking into the lab and examining the scalpel. Leaving the viewer to decide if the kids would release Nicholas or if they will continue their parents’ work.
Blood for Dracula
In Blood for Dracula, Count Dracula is sick and near death. In order to overcome sickness and death, he must consume the blood from a virgin. Dracula travels from Transylvania to Italy in a more religious area believing his accessibility to virgins will be higher. As he arrives, Dracula meets an Italian landowner named Il Marchese di Fiore (Vittorio de Sica [yes, the one that made Bicycle Thieves]) who would offer one of his daughters for marriage.
di Fiore has four daughters, the youngest and oldest daughters both being virgins and the two youngest not being virgins. Dracula is assured all four daughters are virgins, despite two of them not being virgins. The estate’s handyman, Mario (Joe Dallesandro), would have frequent sexual encounters with the two none virgin daughters. In response, Dracula attempts to drink the blood of the two that were not virgins as they were the friendliest of the four daughters. The blood would end up causing more Dracula to become even weaker. However, both of the daughters would end up becoming telepathic slaves to Dracula.
After learning of Dracula’s plan, Mario attempts to thwart any attempts at him drinking the blood of the two other sisters. di Fiore leaves town to go pay off his debts leaving the estate to Mario, the daughters, and Dracula. Dracula successfully drinks the blood of the oldest daughter. But, Mario comes and proceeds to dismember Dracula with an axe.
Legacy of Permissiveness
While both movies originate from two different source materials there is a notion that Morrissey is seeking to communicate. “Permissiveness” and how societal changes affect us. Both movies are outrageous and possess a darker idea to these characters. Dismemberment, gore, and sex as the central focus of both films are by design. Morrissey and Warhol understand how much society has changed since their younger years and pushed the envelope forward with these movies.
When society becomes more accepting of things previously seen as inappropriate our tolerance changes. Something that may have repulsed you a year ago might be tame today. Blood for Dracula and Flesh for Frankenstein create a modern reflection of what is “acceptable” and what is not. Both original novels did not contain the same level of gratuitous violence, sex, or just excess in general. But – somehow – the inclusion of these ideas makes for a mind-bending cinematic experience. An experience that doesn’t taint the image of the original material while creating its own sense of identity.
Due to the graphic display, the MPAA awarded both movies with the “X” rating. In both movies, there was no reservation when it came to graphic nudity, sexual encounters, or blood and gore. To a point where if these movies came out today there would still be a level of pushback. Both Morrissey and Warhol knew what they were doing, and created one of the zaniest horror adaptations ever.
Gothic horror inspired both movies, but the retention of these gothic ideas is not present. Which if you’re seeking a more risqué version of these stories this is the way to go. Otherwise, these movies may not be for you. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The foundation of which the original novels laid out is still there, and the boundaries broken by these movies are important to cinema holistically.
In the end, if neither movie for you I would completely understand. Both movies are vulgar and do not hold back. However, neither movie grows boring in any way. Each will lock you in, from start to finish, with a sense of curiosity. Even if you’re a fan of the original source material, Blood for Dracula and Flesh for Frankenstein act as a great supplement to their original material and create something wholly new and beautiful. As far as midnight viewings go, this is absolutely essential. – Jacob Mauceri