Color, 1971, 99 mins. / 83 mins. 38 secs..
Directed by Mel Welles
Starring Joseph Cotten, Rosalba Neri, Paul Muller, Mickey Hargitay, Paul Whiteman Nucleus Films (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Shout Factory (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
An Italian acquisition by Roger Corman that’s been shuffled around on countless video labels in absolutely miserable-looking editions, Lady Frankenstein is a film that still hasn't quite gotten its due. The film itself is a fun piece of Gothic horror hokum with ‘70s horror starlet Rosalba Neri (The Devil’s Wedding Night) as Tania, a surgeon who returns home to the castle of her father, Baron Frankenstein (Cotten). As anyone who’s seen more than one Frankenstein-themed film could already guess, dad has been up to no good doing unholy experiments on the dead with the help of his medical assistant, Charles (Muller). When one fateful experiment trying to revive a dead body with a new brain goes awry, Tania decides to continue her father’s work despite the suspicions of a local police inspector (Hargitay). However, the misbegotten result of that first experiment is now running loose and threatening to blow the lid off the family’s dark scientific secrets.
Lady Frankenstein belongs to the peculiar subgenre of monster movies made in countries like Italy and Spain in the wake of Hammer’s successful run in the ‘60s with Dracula and Frankenstein. Paul Naschy was the most prolific practitioner here, of course, with other oddball titles like Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks and Saga of the Draculas offering their own takes on shopworn material. This particular one proved to be more marketable than most thanks to its ingenious central gimmick of focusing on the Baron’s buxom daughter as one of its mad scientists, providing a story justification for dollops of ‘70s-style nudity and gore. The film gets off to a bit of a pokey start, but once the mayhem kicks in, it’s pure drive-in bliss for horror buffs with a surprising cast of characters both in front of and behind the camera. For example, would you believe this was directed by Mel Welles, best remembered as Mr. Mushnick in the original The Little Shop of Horrors? On top of that the film is downright kinky at times, including some sequences that predate the even more depraved antics of Flesh of Frankenstein a couple of years later.
As mentioned before, this film has made the rounds in countless DVD editions with terrible image quality including a heavily censored version hosted by Elvira and a special edition DVD release from DVD Drive-In authorized by Welles, severely matted down from an already cropped 4x3 master; that said, it does include interviews with Welles and Neri, so die-hards might want it all the same. Nothing from the actual New World vaults was used for home video until the 2011 four-film Vampires, Mummies & Monsters DVD set from Shout Factory (along with The Velvet Vampire, Time Walker, and Grotesque), whose American cut looks much better than before. The rarely seen (at the time) extended European version of the film is included using seamless branching to tie together the longest version released in America; it's obviously a patchwork affair but interesting for completists. The additional material contains some filler (extra pauses coming in and out of rooms in particular), but some of the added plot and character bits are nice to have and make far more sense out of a crucial decision during the film's climax. It's not the best way to watch this film for the first time, however. Extras include a dupey-looking theatrical trailer, TV spots, and a stills gallery.
In 2018, U.K. label Nucleus Films released its own Blu-ray edition of Lady Frankenstein that easily obliterates all predecessors. Offering full-scale restorations of both the uncut and New World versions, it looks terrific with a far more consistently detailed and visually rich presentation that really brings out the full, sumptuous flavor of the art direction. It definitely doesn't look like a grubby drive-in movie anymore. The release was crowdfunded along with Death Laid an Egg in an ambitious effort to bring both films uncut in prime quality to audiences for the first time, and the results are laudable to say the least. (It's available as both a standard retail version and a limited slipcase one with five postcard lobby card prints.) The LPCM mono options include the English and Italian tracks (though largely dubbed, the English will probably be the go-to choice for many viewers) with optional, properly translated English subtitles. That crazy score by Alessandro Alessandroni sounds great, too. An audio commentary on the uncut version with the stalwart pairing of Alan Jones and Kim Newman is right up their alley as they have great fun chatting about Frankenstein movie conventions, the mysterious similarity to a story by Bill Warren, the material cut for the U.S., the increase in gore demanded in monster movies at the time (as Hammer demonstrated), the backgrounds of all the key players, and the identities of the dubbing artists, among a flood of other topics.
A retrospective 2007 German TV special, "The Truth About Lady Frankenstein" (43:58), is structured around an interview with Welles explaining his love of monster movies, with contributions from Neri and actor Herbert Fux sprinkled throughout for a look at how the film came about and reflected such themes as feminism and capital punishment, with a discussion of how the credits were heavily anglicized to disguise its origins (with Neri becoming "Sarah Bay"). The new " Piecing Together Lady Frankenstein" (35m18s) features author Julian Grainger taking a fascinating in-depth look at the financial genesis of the film (it's crazy) and excerpts from different, multiple Welles interviews giving another angle on aspects like the casting of Cotten and having to bail out a German fraud arrest during the ramp up to the aborted Hotheads project in Europe. In "The Lady and The Orgy" (8m8s), you get a deeper look at one of the crazier corners of Welles' career courtesy of his temporary relocation to Australia in the early '70s, where his attempt to modernize the spookshow approach Down Under with a Grand Guignol spin, "Orgy of Evil," with some fairly heavy hitters involved in getting it off the ground with Lady Frankenstein integrated as part of the experience. Other goodies include an extensive international gallery (5m39s) of international (and frequently gorgeous) promotional material, a Bigfilm Magazine Italian photo novel (2m39s), a recap of the scenes that ran afoul of the BBFC (2m52s), some alternate clothed scenes (2m55s), New World TV and radio spots, the U.S. trailer, and European trailers in their English, Italian and German variants.