Color, 1972, 89 mins 43 secs.
Directed by Mario Mancini
Starring John Richardson, Gordon Mitchell, Dalila Di Lazzaro, Renato Romano, Xiro Papas, Roberto Fizz
Cauldron Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), '84 Entertainment (DVD) (Germany R2 PAL)
For some reason, Italy developed a bit of a Frankenstein fixation in the '70s around the same time other trends like gialli, cop films, and nunsploitation epics were captivating moviegoers. Between Lady Frankenstein, Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks, and most famously Flesh for Frankenstein, Mary Shelley's legendary novel got overhauled, sexed up, and modernized in ways that boggled the mind. Smack in the middle we have Frankenstein '80 (not to be confused with the earlier Frankenstein 1970 with Boris Karloff or the 1984 Alain Jessua comedy Frankenstein '90), a shaggy exploitation shocker that marks the only credited directorial effort for Mario Mancini (also the cinematographer on Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks and one of its purported uncredited directors). A camera operator on films like Black Sabbath and Blood and Black Lace, Mancini didn't seem to pick up much of Bava's stylistic influence based on his work as a filmmaker; ridiculous and grubby, Frankenstein '80 is a lot closer in appearance and tone to Mancini's work around the same time as a cinematographer on titles like The French Sex Murders complete with bare walls everywhere and nothing looking like it's shot from the right angle. On the other hand, this is an outrageously entertaining film with so much gore, nudity, and utter absurdity you often can't believe what you're watching.
Grisly things are afoot at a German hospital where a revolutionary new serum is being used to treat post-surgery recoveries. The unscrupulous Dr. Otto Frankenstein (Mitchell) is using any supplies at hand, especially the body parts of deceased women, to assemble a creature named Mosaic (Papas) out of sight, and his project has a tendency to go out wandering at night and killing any ladies it encounters. The police inspector in charge (Romano) is clueless and falls way behind the efforts of reporter Karl Schein (Black Sunday's Richardson), whose sister is one of Frankenstein's casualties. Complicating things is Karl's budding romance with Frankenstein's niece, Sonia (Flesh for Frankenstein's Di Lazzaro), which could put both of them in the cross-hairs of the mad doctor and his rampaging creation.
Set in a world filled with prostitutes, strip clubs, and clueless cops, Frankenstein '80 is unabashed in its fixation with bare flesh and shots of Mitchell's hands playing with slimy guts and other Carlo Rambaldi concoctions. As usual Richardson is an almost complete blank, while Mitchell picks up the slack with a fanatical Frankenstein performance and Papas going way over the top in his bloody attack scenes. One of the film's strongest elements is its catchy score by Daniele Patucchi (Man from Deep River, Sex of the Witch), which is pure '70s Italian soundtrack bliss. As usual for the time, the film was shot without live sound and prepared in both English and Italian dubs, neither of which sound even remotely convincing. Richardson and Mitchell at least spoke their lines in English though, so you're fine watching that version which first turned up on VHS in the U.S. from Gorgon Video. That ancient transfer was later ported over for unauthorized DVD editions from Cheezy Flicks and Mill Creek (as part of its Pure Terror 50-movie pack), which you can easily skip. to Wikipedia, the film has never been in the public domain in the U.S.; it was just widely bootlegged.
In 2023, Cauldron Films released Frankenstein '80 on Blu-ray in a greatly improved, uncensored presentation from a 2K restoration created in Rome by licensor Variety Films. To call this an upgrade would be an understatement; it looks ridiculously good, even if the film itself will never be visually classy. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 English and Italian mono tracks are both in excellent condition, featuring optional English-translated or English SDH subtitles. An enthusiastic new audio commentary by Heather Drain explores the joys of being a monster kid, the fate of public domain films, the role of Frankenstein in horror culture, her love of all things disreputable and transgressive, the milquetoast quality of our hero, and the backgrounds of the significant actors. "Dalila Forever: The Recorded Memories of Dalila Di Lazzaro" (27m46s) is a fascinating new audio interview with the actress covering her career origins, her young introduction to motherhood, her thoughts on working with Richardson and Mitchell, the other actresses she was vying against at the time like Ornella Muti, and especially a number of reminiscences about the making of Flesh for Frankenstein and the numerous celebrities in the area she encountered at the time. Finally "Little Frankensteins" (38m20s) features film critic Domenico Monetti covering the sometimes bizarre history of the creature in Italian cinema along with relevant connections like Paul Naschy films, Paul Morrissey's epic contribution, censorship issues in Italy, oddball tangents into comedy films, and lots more. An illustrated booklet is also included featuring a slew of artwork and lobby cards from the film's release.
Reviewed on July 27, 2023.