Color, 1973, 73 mins. 51 secs. / 85 mins. 17 secs.
Directed by Jess Franco
Starring Dennis Price, Howard Vernon, Alberto Dalbés, Beatriz Savón, Anne Libert, Fernando Bilbao, Britt Nichols, Luis Barboo
Nucleus Films (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Kino Lorber (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Image Entertainment (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
In the early ‘70s, Jess Franco was making something of a cottage industry out of taking elements of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and/or Bram Stoker’s Dracula and tossing them into a cinematic blender. The results including such mind-twisting curiosities as Daughter of Dracula and the crazed Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein, but nothing else out there is quite like The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein, which carries over multiple actors from those other as well. This Spanish-French co-production was produced in two rather different versions, a tamer one for the Spanish market (including extra footage shot a bit later) and a spicier, naked-er one for everyone else; both variants are definitely worth checking out for Franco fans.
The infamous Dr. Frankenstein (Venus in Furs’ Price) dies brutally at the hands of maniacal bird woman Melissa (Libert), but his monstrous experiments still live on as his monster (Bilbao) and technological breakthroughs become the target of his rival and the man behind his slaying, the nefarious Cagliostro (Vernon). Now women are being targeted to provide the necessary parts for a new creature that will enable the megalomaniacal Cagliostro to breed a super race capable of taking over the world. Only Frankenstein’s daughter, Vera (Savón), has a chance of stopping the fiendish plot by reanimating her father to learn the terrible truth, but the consequences would be severe.
A lurid pulp novel brought to life and splashed all over the screen in vivid colors, this is Franco let loose on a monster playground with the director himself even popping up in a cameo at the beginning as Frankenstein’s ill-fated assistant. The actual plot isn’t terribly linear or even compelling for the most part, and the pleasure here really lies in the peculiar atmosphere including dank seaside castles, subterranean lairs, and fairytale-style Portuguese forests. Anyone expecting a traditional Universal-inspired creature feature will be taken aback by the silver-skinned monster, the bevy of new characters, and (depending on which version you see) the healthy dashes of nudity and perversity thrown in to keep you on your toes.
Never released theatrically in the U.S., Franco’s film did make the rounds in Canadian theaters as well as numerous European countries. Bootleg VHS copies back in the ‘80s became a hot property as collectors starting to awaken to the distinctive flavors of Franco cinema began to hear about its more outrageous highlights, such as a nude couple tied back to back and whipped by the monster over a spiked floor (a scene Franco repeated with less S&M but more explicitness in his revamped version of Countess Perverse). The film is indeed wild stuff, and when it became clear that there were two versions circulating around out there, confusion erupted over what people had seen and which one actually deserved the title of Erotic Rites of Frankenstein. The longer but tamer Spanish version (La maldición de Frankenstein) bowed on U.S. DVD in 2005 from Image Entertainment with English subtitles (as just The Rites of Frankenstein since there wasn't anything erotic left), plus the stronger naked version of the whipping scene added from an inferior VHS copy as an extra. The full-strength French version didn’t get an English-friendly official release until 2015 on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber, with both French and English language options as well as English subtitles. The quality’s quite strong if you know the history of the film, which looks like it was shot on short ends with lots of technical limitations and a less than pristine appearance during darker scenes. The colors are gorgeous throughout sometimes hit a level of intensity that could be mistaken for a Jean Rollin film. This release also comes with a Tim Lucas commentary, and as always he’s quite knowledgeable as he ties this film together with both Franco’s other output and the appropriation of previous monster movie tropes. The French trailer is also included.
In 2018, Nucleus Films gave the film its U.K. digital premiere as a Region B Blu-ray that showcases the French cut from the same scan and with identical language configurations. However, it also tosses in a very welcome presentation of the Spanish cut, which among other things includes footage of Lina Romay as a gypsy girl that appears nowhere else. Given the extensive amount of nudity in the French version, the differences between the two are considerable and far too lengthy to go into here in detail; suffice to say that the Spanish is a bit more coherent and traditional while the French is the sleazier, nuttier option. Both have comparable image quality with the Spanish one featuring a tad less element damage as well as dupier opening and closing credits. The French trailer is carried over here and a gallery (2m30s) features a bevy of international posters and lobby cards.
Most substantially, the always welcome Stephen Thrower offers another of his well-informed and perceptive analyses with "The Rites of Franco" (26m27s), noting how this sprang from Franco's divisive Count Dracula, reflected the sex and violent attitudes of fumetti, sported a soundtrack compiled from French library tracks, provided a strong showcase for Vernon, was shot nearly around the clock with a non-union crew, and wound up circulating under different titles (though none actually bearing Erotic Rites on any actual film prints). The featurette also includes a peek at some deleted footage of enshrouded figures wandering the same forest from Female Vampire. Bonus trailers are also included for Death Laid an Egg and Lady Frankenstein.
Reviewed on September 28, 2018