Originally screened in 1971, Lady Frankenstein is an Italian horror film (La Figlia di Frankenstein) inspired by Hammer’s Frankenstein cycle (from 1957 to 1972, which brought us Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing), although the film also mines the films made by Universal and even Mary Shelley’s novel. This movie was written by Edward di Lorenzo, who most recognized for his contributions to the television series Space: 1999.
Directed by Mel Welles, Lady Frankenstein begins with the usual bodysnatching sequence, with a trio of men delivering a corpse to Baron Frankenstein (Joseph Cotton) and his assistant Dr. Marshall (Paul Muller). Frankenstein’s end goal is to reanimate the dead using a combination of chemistry and electricity. The film then introduces its namesake, Frankenstein’s daughter Tania (Rosalba Neri, going under the name Sara Bay), who has recently graduated medical school and wishes to help her father with his reanimation experiments. However, the Baron refuses to involve her, fearing that there are too many immoral consequences that could ultimately harm her.
Days later, when Frankenstein and Marshall have assembled a final creature (with a “criminal” brain, naturally), they bicker about bringing the thing to life, as the creature could be evil (Marshall reminds Frankenstein that the creature’s brain came from a hanged man). At length, the men bring the creature to life, with dire consequences. The Monster bear-hugs Frankenstein, squeezing the blood out of him during a grisly sequence. The creature then tears its way out of the dead Baron’s castle, where it begins to terrify the local populace.
Marshall and Tania report Frankenstein’s death to the local constable, one Captain Harris (Mickey Hargitay), who is dubious that a mere burglar would squeeze a grown man to death. In the meantime, the Monster demonstrates that it has purpose, going after the trio of graverobbers and killing them systematically, with Harris trying to keep up.
Not dissuaded by her father’s death, Tania then hatches a plan of her own. She seduces Marshall (who has always harbored feelings for her) and convinces him that she can transplant his brain into a young, virile body. The body she has in mind is that of a strong but slightly retarded youth by the name of Thomas. Tania seduces Thomas and then has Marshall murder him by suffocating him with a pillow.
Another experiment sequence follows, with Tania transplanting Marshall’s brain into Thomas’s body. As she works on this latest reanimation, both the Monster and the villagers lay siege to the castle. The new monster (Thomas body/Marshall brain) wins the battle, killing the original Monster. However, when Thomas and Tania make love in the reanimation room to celebrate, the Thomas creature strangles Tania with his bare hands, thus ending the movie.
Lady Frankenstein is a pretty good film, one that fans of anything related to Frankenstein should take the time to experience. The movie has all the usual horror trapping of the genre, but thrown into the mix is the overt sexuality of Rosalba Neri, with both her seductive prowess and nudity on full display during the film. There is not much blood on display, but there is enough to keep the gore quotient good enough for fans of the genre.
What I found most interesting about Lady Frankenstein was the theme of obsession. There is of course the obsession of Baron Frankenstein to create life from the dead, and this obsession extends to his daughter also, but with a twist. Tania Frankenstein is a singularly morbid creation, a woman who will do anything to obtain the adoration of her father, including seducing, murdering, and using men to secure (or should that be “sexure”) her goal. And then there’s poor Marshall, whose love to Tania makes him entirely gullible to her whims. This theme is the source of much of the horror in Lady Frankenstein, and for that alone I wholeheartedly recommend this movie.
Be warned, however, that this movie does have its share of flaws. It spends too much time developing characters like Lynch (the lead graverobber) and Captain Harris with no payoff. Moreover, the special effects are mediocre, particularly the makeup effects. The titular monster, for example, is simply hilarious and is not scary in the least.
Lady Frankenstein can be purchased as a standalone item or on anthologies, such as Classic Drive-In Series Horror, one the DVDs from the Let the Nightmare Begin Horror ultimate collectors edition (50 movies).