Our pal Marvelous Mary once spent an evening round out our place watching Jesus Franco’s SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY, and came away with a healthy respect for any filmmaker who could centre a movie around a Crocheted Shawl of Death. Francophiles will recall that star Soledad Miranda dons this garment each time she goes out to shag and kill. A keen and expert knitter, Mary was smitten.
So when Jesus died at Easter, Mary popped round for second helpings. We tried to watch THE GIRL FROM RIO aka THE MILLION EYES OF SUMURU but a technical glitch forced us to resort to DRACULA PRISONER OF FRANKENSTEIN, which meant we had to trade Shirley Eaton and George Sanders for Jason Reitman’s mom and a visibly ailing Dennis Price. Too bad.
Genevieve Robert as the Gypsy Woman: arguably an advance on Maria Ouspenskaya. For the first time in my life I begin to think of Ivan Reitman as a man of taste.
I often feel that Jesus Franco’s name should be spelled with a comma after the first name and an exclamation mark after the second. This film inspired that feeling with renewed force. It doesn’t so much lack a plot as bodily reject one, like a transplant patient spitting his new heart across the room to watch it spatter in a pointillist nebula on the far wall. Scenes wend hopelessly on without purpose or meaning, the action attenuated and dubbed like porno without the sex.
Frankenstein Must be Debilitated. Or, “Not the pole dance, Dennis!”
Whilst in Dublin, I received from friend Paul Duane a copy of Dennis Price, A Tribute, by Elliot J. Huntley, a comprehensive, warm, fannish but erudite profile of the Great Actor. Huntley is generous to Franco, seeing the late films as noble rather than embarrassing, proof of Price’s devotion to his craft and desire to put on a good show however trying the circumstances. And DRACULA PRISONER OF FRANKENSTEIN is trying indeed. But Franco appreciated Price’s talents even if he couldn’t show them to their best advantage — “He was subtle and intelligent and quick. I found him magnificent. You could shoot eighteen hours with him” (never mind the quality, feel the width!) — and Price enjoyed Franco’s company.
Back seat Dracula.
On the plus side, the music, by Bruno Nicolai and Daniel White, is excellent. There are strange moments that seem straight out of a spaghetti western, which suggest a more bracing genre mash-up that might have been. This enhanced by the score and the constant antarctic whiteout wind effects, and the eerily human cries of a peacock add some indefinable unease to this already potent punch. Fiona pointed out a shot of a ringing church bell which had been apparently speeded-up, resulting in a queer, herky-jerk effect reminiscent of NOSFERATU’s phantom coach.
Franco makes great use of locations, though he doesn’t attempt to disguise that they’re Spanish and Portuguese rather than Transylvanian. (Nor does he, in JACK THE RIPPER, attempt to pretend his location is Victorian London: it’s Zurich. Honestly, the two things everybody knows about JTR is that he stalked the East End and was never caught. In the Franco film, Klaus Kinski stalks Zurich and GETS CAUGHT.)
Odd bit with a bat in a jar that’s being slowly filled with fake blood. The poor pipistrelle can’t decide whether to struggle for freedom as the unending trickle of raspberry juice spatters its shoulders, or to lap up the delicious fluid. It keeps switching from one course of action to the other. You can read its thoughts, poor thing: “Must get out — gotta think! — mmm, delicious! — maybe if I push upwards — how do they make this stuff? It’s so sweet!” (The scene is undoubtedly cruel, but it looks to me like Franco rescued the poor chiroptera as it went under for the third time, then probably ran it under the tap or something. So that’s OK, and we can get back to worrying about the cruelty being done to the human performers, though mercifully they aren’t tortured with much dialogue.)
The illusions in the film are all curiously naked: the rubber bats on wires are obviously rubber bats on wires, but then they always were, in Universal and Hammer films too. Franco also films a real bat in closeup while some offscreen bat-wrangler flaps its wings for it to pretend it’s in flight. That looks exactly like what it is too. The plastic skeletons are resplendently plastic, and just to be on the safe side Franco performs one of his trademark zooms into ECU on Howard Vernon’s joke-shop fangs, in case we had become concerned they might be genuine.
The Frankenstein monster appears to have had his makeup applied with a magic marker. And he has a false rubber glue-on chin, like Kenny Everett’s Marcel Wave.
When the angry mob of villagers hove into view, their torches are not quite ablaze — merely smoldering. This may be the most touching low-budget compromise I’ve ever seen. “They provide no illumination, but the smoke trails — cough, cough — allow us to see where we’ve been.”
And then, all at once and for no reason, the wolfman shows up (played by “Brandy”!). He has a papier mache nose. A well-known side-effect of lycanthropy.