Monday, 13 March 2017

Kier's Fears: Frankenstein, Dracula and Hyde (1973-1981)

The German cinema over the last four or five decades has produced many great Teutonic titans of terror: Ulli Lommel, Udo Kier and Uwe Boll to name just three.  Spot the deliberate mistake?
The beguilingly handsome and charismatic Udo Kier has starred in a great number of genre movies over the years, from Michael Armstrong and Adrian Hoven's 'The Mark of the Devil' (1970), through James Kenelm Clarke's controversial 'video nasty' 'Expose' (aka 'Trauma', 1976), Dario Argento's masterful sepuchral fearfest 'Suspiria' (1977) and Stephen Norrington's 'Blade' (1998) to Timo Vuorensola's 2012 space-Nazi SF romp 'Iron Sky'.  He will always be synonomous to many, though, for his gruesome twosome of 1973's 'Flesh for Frankenstein' and 1974's 'Blood for Dracula', a twin-spin (if you'll pardon the John Peel invocation) of ghoulish delights decried by Alan Frank in his '77 tome 'Horror Films' as "an appalling mixture of sex, sadism, silliness and quite awful acting and direction"1.
Released under the titles of 'Andy Warhol's Frankenstein' and 'Andy Warhol's Dracula' respectively, the actual auteur-ship of the movies was in doubt for a while, not only due to the famed Pop Artist's name being attached to the titles but also due to the fact that there has been a great deal of dispute about how much of the movies was the handicraft of credited director Paul Morrissey ('Chelsea Girls', 1966, 'Flesh', 1968, 'Trash', 1970), and how much was the input of Italian exploitation maven Antonio Margheriti ('Castle of Blood' aka 'Danza Macabra', 1963, 'Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye', 1973), the second unit director attached to the features by producer Carlo Ponti - though the very idea of Mr Sophia Loren, producer behind King Vidor's 'War and Peace' (1956) and Michelangelo Antonini's 'Blow Up' (1966) being the emininence grise behind this kind of ghoulish nonsense is slightly more hysterical (in the humourous sense) than the films themselves (more in the uterine sense, especially viz: 'Flesh for Frankenstein').
This internecine web of confusion contnued to the actual credits, with Morrissey being given directorial credit in the English-language prints, but Margheriti being credited on the versions that, like Bananarama, were 'talking Italian'.  Margheriti is grudgingly, at least , given acknowledgement of one scene of 'Flesh for Frankenstein' by Morrisey: "Carlo Ponti required an entire Italian crew to be eligible for tax write-offs.  Margheriti, whose sole scene was the murder of the housekeeper in 'Flesh for Frankenstein', was given the director's credit by Ponti.  The Italian taxmen were not so easily fooled and these modifications led to Ponti and wife Sophia Loren being charged with tax evasion"2, though his role as supervisory / second unit director is sorely undersold.
The non-participation of Warhol himself on the movies has never been in any doubt, with Morrissey stating "not only did Andy Warhol not make [them], he couldn't have made [them]", and that "Bryanston [the movie's US distributor, who had released not only Bruce Lee's 1972 spaghetti kung fu epic 'The Way of the Dragon', but also the, uh... seminal porn classic 'Deep Throat'] thought it would help bring in an audience [to have Warhol's name attached], which is ludicrous since his name was on plenty of movies that nobody went to see"3.
'Flesh for Frankenstein' (its very name redolent of the '68 Warhol / Morrissey collaroration 'Flesh', which also starred the Noo Yoik actor / mannequin Joe Dallesandro [Dallesandro... Dalle-Dalle-sandro...]) is an intriguing movie, released in 3-D (which explains the roving, circular camera movements when watched today) and filmed at the famed Cinecitta studios and has a fascinatintg pretty bit of flesh in Dallesandro himself, doubtless a bit out of place amongst the cognoscenti and trying to fuck everything that moves.  Hey, if all else fails, revert to stereotype..  And yet 'Flesh for Frankenstein' actually displays some themes of interest, such as Kier's Baron's quest for the "perfect" Serbian nose for his incipient male "zombie" (or rather "zahmbi" as he pronounces it) and his insistence to his assistant Otto (Arno Juerging) that "the Serbian race comes in direct descent of the glory from the Ancient Greeks!" [sic] lends a Hitlerian-Aryan 'creation of the perfect pure-blooded master race' undertone to Frankenstein's experiments - the sight of naked and scarred bodies piled against the stark white tiles of his laboratory and the the barbaric butchery performed upon bare-breasted beauties reminiscent of the tales of the hideous 'experimentation' (torture) of Dr Josef Mengele, the Angel of Death of Auschwitz, given added emphasis by Udo Kier's nationality and accent.
The preservation of the purity of the bloodline extends to the incestuous marriage between Victor Frankenstein and his sister-wife, the Baroness Katrin (Monique van Vooren, the striking Belgian actress who had appeared is everything from her titular role as the Lord of the Apes' nemesis in 'Tarzan and the She-Devil' [1953], camping it up alongside Adam West's Caped Crusader and Burgess Meredith's Penguin in TV's 'Batman' [1966] to Pier Paolo Pasolin's 'Decameron' [1971]).  With their arguments about their parents - who were also obviously siblings - to the casting of a dark-haired boy and a red-headed girl as their two children boubling Kier and van Vooren, the Frankenstein dynasty is set up as the Eastern European equivalent of the Egypian Pharaonic dynasties such as the Ptolemies and Cleopatras, brothers and sisters marrying in succession to sire siblings to do the same.  The purity of the blood of course gives way to congenital deficiencies of all kinds to be found at the shallow end of the gene pool, including the inbred madness all too evident in this chaotic clan.
Filmed in 3-D (the process being made obvious by the roving, circulat camera moves around objects and the delibearate waving of viscera towards the camera), the movie has generally been seen by audiences in possibly more palatable for those who've just eaten 2-D version.  Still, the ironic and satirical overkill of guts 'n' gore piled into the film by Morrissey (including of course the infamous scene of the Baron lying atop his newly sewn-together female creation [Dalila Di Lazzaro] on the operating slab in a sequence reminiscent of Jorg Buttgereit's graphic 1987 shocker 'Nekromantik' and pawing her scars whilst whispering sensually "Soon i will give you life... would you like that?") earned 'Flesh for Frankenstein' a place on the Director of Public Prosecutions' list of 69 (what a serendipitous number for such a reactionary and censorious piece of legislation!) banned 'Video Nasties', ensuring that it went unseen in the United Kingdom for decades until a cut by almost a minute VHS release in 1996, and -finally - being cleared for a fully uncut DVD release a decade later.  The 1974 companion piece 'Blood for Dracula', Udo Kier's next film with Paul Morrissey, would thankfully suffer a less scissor-happy fate...

Following their 1973 'Flesh for Frankenstein' collaboration, American director Paul Morrissey ('Women in Revolt' [1971], 'Heat' [1972]) and German actor Udo Kier reunited for another exploration of exploitation in the unholy and sepulchral form of 1974's nest of nosferatu nastiness 'Blood for Dracula'.  Wheras Kier's frail, translucent beauty had proven a stark contrast to the grindhouse gore and evisceral human disjecta membra of the Frankenstein film, his ethereal waifishness was absolutely perfect for the role of the vampire Count wandering the Earth in search of a nourishment constantly denied him, like sanguineous fruits in the eternal punishment of an undead Tantalus.
Already hardly a man of any great bulk, Kier went on a strict diet to lose weight for the part.  "Paul Morrissey came in and said 'Well, I guess we have a German Dracula'", said Kier in an interview with Dazed and Confused.  "I said, 'Who?'  He said 'You!  But you have to lose 10 kilos.'  I didn't eat any more.  I just had salad leaves and water."4  Kier's crash diet of nothing but rabbit food and council juice led to a drastic weight loss that gave him the perfect gaunt and emaciated appearance but left him severely debilitated, to the extent that he was rendered so weak that the Count's use of a wheelchair for mobility was given emphasis in the film.  "That's why i was in a wheelchair for so many of my scenes", Kier continued.  "I had no power to stand up any more.  It's not only Robert De Niro who prepares himself in this way."5
The lingering question as to the authorship (or auteur-ship) of the Warhol-produced Frankenstein film has been extended to the second picture, but Kier himself was adamant this, this time round, Italian genre director Antonio Margheriti had nothing to do with the hands-on direcing of the movie.  "Morrissey directed the film from the beginning to the end.  Margheriti was on the set, he came to the studio from time to time, but he never directed the actors.  Never!"6, he stated in a Video Watchdog interview with David Del Valle, adding that "Morrissey directed the pictures... certainly all the scenes with myself, that's all i know."7  Margheriti himself is happy to acknowledge much less involvement in the second film, saying of 'Blood for Dracula': "that was much more organised because, after 'Frankenstein', Carlo Ponti convinced Paul Morrissey to write a real screenplay and not just a treatment."8
Beginning with a spectacularly haunting sequence, over which the blood-red credits roll, that sees the thin white Count - a spectral albino - assiduously applying make-up to give his translucent features the sembance of life, the film creates a superb atmosphere conveying the crushing weariness of unending life.  Dracula goes through this routine, the endless ablutions of eternity, with mechanistic motions as he paints his pale lips red and his white hair black - the red of blood and black of ebony contrasting against his ice-pale skin in a haunting faerie (in the dangerous, daemonic sense) inversion of the Snow White - Rose Red of fairytale.  This evocative opening was a contribution (the film's sole one, it seems, apart from the name in the US release title) from Andy Warhol.  "The scene [...] was actually Andy Warhol's idea, which goes very much to his silkscreens", Kier told Movieline.9  "'Just paint your face', the shadows smile", Robert Smith of The Cure sang in Burn, as Dracula shades his cheekbones and darkens around his spellbinding blue-green eyes, 'painting on his sadness', and creating "a painted shell" of himself, as film historian Maurice Yacowar phrases it, to present to the world.10  Claudio Gizzi provides an absolutely sublime, heart-wrenchingly melancholic and spellbinding score that draws us into this sad yet beguiling world of languorous longing.
The Count and his manservant Anton (Arno Juerging, another returnee from 'Flesh for Frankenstein'), find themselves having to leave a Transylvania which is now thoroughly depleted of the blood of "wirgins" [sic], which in this mythology the vampire needs to continue his phantasmagorical existence.  The subtext of the aristocracy feeding off the lower classes, Dracula having preyed upon the peons and peasantry of Romania, is hammered hom like the proverbial hawthorn stake - Dracula's decaying family home  (and the family who have retreated still further from the real world into their coffins in the family crypt) are left behind as he and Anton leave their used-up homeland in their hearse, complete with the Count's coffin on the roof rack, to head to fresh pastures and suck the lifeblood of another country.
Travelling to Italy, in the belief that a Roman Catholic country will provide an endless supply of pure of heart, virtuous virgins, choosing as their prey the once-powerful and important but now in decline Di Fiore family, and especially their daughters ('fiore' being Italian for 'flower', the Count has arrived with the intent of a through plucking).  The Titian-haired and beautiful Di Fiore sisters Perla (Silvia Dionisio), Saphiria (Dominique Darel) and Rubinia (Stefania Casini, later to star in Dario Argento's 'Suspiria') work their family's land doing the work of peasants, while the camera tracks back to show them being idly watched from the veranda of their grand but going to seed home by their virtuous sister Esmeralda (Milena Vutokotic).  The aging Marquis Di Fiore, played by former screen idol Vittorio De Sica, is an ailing relic lost in his own comfortable world of poetry and family history, his own retreat from the realities of the world beyonfd the cloistered confines of his comfortable home leaving his wife and daughters vulnerable to the preyings of the vampire, as one ailing brnch of aristocracy literally feeds off another for its own parasitic continuance. "That [Count's] really got it sussed", to paraphrase Luke haines of the Auteurs in The Upper Classes.
As an antidote to the incestuousness of the ossified upper echelons we have the revolutionary force of Joe Dallesandro's gardener Mario - his New York accent a stark contrast to the Teutonic cadences of Dracula and Anton, the Italian of the Marquis and his daughters and the clipped English of the Marquesa - bringing a revolutionary fire burning upward from his proletarian stratum through the worn and rotting painted veil of the Di Fiores and Dracula, with his exhortations of Marxism and the righteousness of the Russian Revolution in between his regular carnal threesomes with the less-than-pure Saphiria and Rubinia leading to the iconic (in both the filmic and religious sense) of the Count's gaunt form, stripped to the waist, his thin ivory skin daubed in crimson blood as he vomits the rejected blood of the sisters into the bath and cries to Anton, "The blood of these whores is killing me!"
'Blood for Dracula' is a biting (arf!) satire of the snobery and elitism of the defunct and decrepit upper classes, wrapped in the horror genre's night-black cloak and bedecked with blood and gore.  Morrissey and Kier crafted a quintessential Count Dracula to fit this film, ending as he does sans arms and sans legs, like the Pythin's Black Knight, but still snapping and hungry to continue his predatory existence.
Kier had finished his devilish diptych with Paul Morrissey, but would later incarnate another legendary horror character for another enfant terrible of cinema...
Dr Jekyll et les Femmes', or - as it's more usually known to the Anglophone world - 'Dr Jekyll and the Women', 'The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne' (the director's preferred title) or 'Bloodbath of Dr Jekyll' is a foray into the wild, weird and whacked out world of Walerian Borowczyk.  Described variously as "a genius who also happened to be a pornographer" and a "Master craftsman, Dadaist prankster and unrepentant sensualist"11, Borowczyk - like Werner Herzog - began his filmic career with a number of short (less than ten minute) pieces, ranging from animations like the 1958 'Requited Feelings'  and 'Les Astronautes' (1959, a collaboration with French auteur Chris Marker, who would later go on to helm 'Le Jetee' [the 1962 short that would inspire Terry Gilliam's 1995 'Twelve Monkeys'] and 'Sans Soleil' [1983]) to 1964's concentration camp allegory (a perhaps unsurprising theme given Borowczyk's Polish background) 'The Games of Angels', named as one of the best animated films of all time12.
Borowczyk graduated to full length features with the dreamlike and allegorical 'Goto, Island of Love' (1968), a dystopian fantasy set in a Mervyn Peake-like enclosed and entropic society in which the Steerpike stand-in of Grozo climbs his way up the social strata from lowly fly-catcher to ruler of the island; his Machiavellian manoeuvres fuelled by an all-consuming lust for the beautiful but unreachable wife of the realm's despot.  The theme of unrequited lust was revisited in the director's 1971 tragedy 'Blanche', in which a mediaeval castle becomes a pressure cooker environment of hatred borne of frustration as three men compete for the affections of a fair lady who remains steadfastly loyal to her husband.  Sex and sensuality are never far from the surface in these movies, but they would come out roaring unbridled and unbound like animalistic passion - like the warm jets of lust - in the deviant diptych of 'Immoral Tales' (1973) and 'The Beast' (1975), leaving viewers and reviewers rattled by the rush of the gush of their wake.  The former picture consists of four vignettes of sexual exploration and deviancy, including Paloma Picasso as the Bloody Countess Erzsebet Bathory and Florence Bellamy as the incestuous and murderous Lucrezia Borgia, and the latter evolved from a mooted fifth instalment of the same movie ('The True Story of the Beast of Gevaudan') into its own perversely lyrical exploration of sexuality, sensuality and bestiality that presented the unwitting world with a confrontational depiction of the raw animal instinct.
The theme of the repressed primaeval passions of the unfettered id would be revisited in Borowczyk's 1981 take on Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 classic novella of split personality shenanigans 'The Strange Tale of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde', a tale already interwoven with the darkest undercurrents of the human psyche and the evil that humans are capable of doing that grew out of Stevenson's interest in the dual life of the notorious Edinburgh figure Deacon Brodie13.  Cast as the urbane Dr Henry Jekyll was Udo Kier, adding another classic horror character to his CV after his turns as Baron Frankesntein and Count Dracula in the duology of produced by Andy Warhol and directed by Paul Morrissey (and a bit by Antonio Margheriti, probably) films of the '70s, as well as having already portrayed another dark spectre of Victorian England as Jack the Ripper in Borowczyk's 'Lulu' the previous year (an adaptation of the Frank Wedekind plays that had been adapted in 1929 by G. W. Pabst as 'Pandora's Box', starring the luminous Louise Brooks in the titular role).
The movie deals with the theme of dualism from the outset, the credits rolling over a photographic negative image of London's Palace of Westminster - suggestive of the darker sides of the 'great and good' of the moral authoritarianism of the 19th century.  The aforesaid bastions of Victorian rectitude are well represented in the film as the array of guests in the home of Kier's Jekyll, attending the celebration of his engagement to Miss Fanny Osbourne (Marina Pierro, who had starred in Borwczyk's 1979 'Immoral Women', and would go on to play the lead role in Jean Rollin's 'The Living Dead Girl' in 1982).  The name of Jekyll's fiancee is an interesting addition to the original tale by Borowczyk's screenplay, utilising the real life pre-marital name of Robert Louis Stevenson's wife - who  played a key role in the novella's creation - and giving her prominent co-lead billing in the original title.  The party guests include Jekyll's more conventional scientific rival Dr Lanyon (played by genre stalwart Howard Vernon, star of many Jess Franco films including 'The Awful Dr Orlof' [1962], 'The Bloody Judge' [1970] and 'A Virgin Among the Living Dead' [1973] among many others) who scoffs at Jekyll's professions of transcendental medicine, and the seemingly starched and upright military man General Danvers Carew (Patrick Magee, who had featured in Francis Ford Coppola's 1963 debut 'Dementia 13', Fredie Francis' 1965 'The Skull and the Steve Roberts-directed, Viv Stanshall-scripted 1980 oddity 'Sir Henry at Rawlinson End'), whose patrician veneer barely covers his behind-closed-doors debauchery as he makes lecherous advances towards Fanny on the day of her engagement, and sadistically whips his nubile young daughter seconds after giving his "word of honour" not to raise his hand to her - the living embodiment of the hypocrisy entrenched in 'Victorian values'.
The night of the engagement is swiftly invaded by violence and horror as Jekyll's oncoming wedding is overtaken by his chemical wedding to his dark side, unleashed by his alchemical experimentation.  In a twist on the usual adaptation of the tale Hyde is achieved not through Jekyll drinking a potion, but by filling a bath and infusing the bathwater with his formula - the powder turning the water a blood red - before immersing himself in it Bathory-style (one wonders if, after the Warhol 'Dracula', Kier felt an affinity wit white tiled bathrooms filled with blood...).  Another innovation unique to this iteration is that it eschews the tradition of Jekyll and Hyde being played by the same actor, as Kier's handsome Jekyll goes benath the surface of the crimson waters to emerge in the form of Gerard Zalcberg's ugly, brutish Hyde.  This uncaged and unhinged inner self is not only supercharged with all of Henry Jekyll's manifold unfulfilled desires, but also bestowed with a barbed penis 6 centimetres in diameter and 35 centimetres in length - measurements pronounced by a startled Dr Lanyon as he examines the body of a young ballerina whose brutal rape by Hyde and his monstrous organ have resulted in her death from massive internal injuries.  Hyde's rampage of lust does not draw a line at the females of the house (including General Carew's daughter, whom he takes savagely from behind in front of her father, forced to watch apoplectic from the chair Hyde has lashed him to), but also the handsome houseguest Mr Maw.  "I've never seen anything like it," wails the Reverend Guest, "another sexual crime - this time a homosexual assault!" - the perpetrator being described as "an individual of no morality, only an overwhelming capacity for evil".
Fascinatingly, Kier's Jekyll is played against the usual Hollywood and television portrayals in that instead of feeling angst and remorse about his alter ego's actions, he is actively using Hyde as a persona under which he can revel in all of his inner carnality without any recompense or retribution; knowing that the actions of his animal animus will never be ascribed to the suave and gentlemanly doctor of medicine taking a respectable bride from high society.  More than any other version of the story, this film shows Hyde as his true self, the real man over which Jekyll is the disguise - a painted and pretty veneer over the beast within.  "Both of my faces are me," he confesses to his fiancee, "and each of them is perfectly sincere [...] I throw off pretence and leap, wallowing in an ocean of freedom and pleasure!".  Jekyll says this as he prepares his final transformative blood bath, knowing that his next chanhe into Hyde will be final, and suddenly his bride to be throws herself into the fluid and gives herself over - in the words of richard O' Brien - to absolute pleasure and release her own unbridled anima, Pierro's performance managing an instant sexual switch from reserved English rose to a carnal creature of sensuality and passion.
This fascinating film is a perfect admixture of Udo Kier and Marina Pierro's performances and Walerian Borowczyk's by turns surreal and dreamlike, yet biting and sexual direction.  The enigmatic ending is perfect, as Hyde and his Bride burn the worldly possessions of their past selves and ride off together in a horse drawn carriage, thier limbs intertwineed in an erotic frenzy of locking lips, biting teeth, blood and lust and sex and death as they leave Victorian London behind for a new life in the realm of the senses.

Bibliography / References for all three pieces:
1. Alan Frank, 'Horror Films' (Methuen, 1977)
2. Paul Morrissey interview by Tom Rainone, 'Fangoria' Magazine.
3. Ibid.
4. 'Dazed & Confused' 20th Anniversary issue, interviewed by Caroline Ryder.
5. Ibid.
6. Udo Kier interviewed by David Del Valle in 'Video Watchdog'.
7. Kier to Rainone, 'Fangoria'.
8. Interviewed by Peter Blumenstock, 'Video Watchdog' #28.
9. Kier interviewed by Seth Abramovitch, movieline.com December 28th 2009.
10. Kier and Maurice Yacovar, on the Criterion Collection DVD commentary.
11. Film Society Lincoln Center, on 'Obscure Pleasures, the Films of Walerian Borowczyk'.
12. Terry Gilliam, 'The Best 10 Animated Films Of All Time', The Guardian 27th April 2001.
13. Roger G. Swearingen, 'The Prose Writings of Robert Louis Stevenson' (Macmillan, 1980).

This was originally published in three pieces at We Are Cult, in a slightly redacted version.

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