2015 has been a pretty great year for fans of Jess Franco, with HD discs of Vampyros Lesbos and She Killed in Ecstasy from Severin as well as The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus and this release, The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein, through Kino. And that’s not even to mention the very recently released tome of a book from Franco biographer Stephen Thrower, “Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jesus Franco”. There has been no shortage of adoration paid to Franco since his death in 2013, but this year has seen the most lavish physical media editions and an attempt to leave no stone unturned. And that is most obvious in Kino’s release of The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein.
Franco’s film came at a weird time, following Hammer’s attempt at eroticizing Mary Shelley’s story with Frankenstein Created Woman and and preceding Paul Morrissey’s all out exploitation fest of Flesh for Frankenstein. Except that Franco’s film would be decidedly different from either of those. It is naturally more experimental than anything Hammer would produce and, despite its sensational title, is nowhere near as explicit as Morrissey’s film would be. Yet it manages to be fascinating albeit almost always confusing and never as “polished” as Franco’s best work.
The story here is really inconsequential and barely influenced by Shelley. But, what you should really be coming for is the batshit eccentricities of 70s Franco. According to the commentary track by Tim Lucas, Franco made a whopping nine films in 1972, the year he made this one. And as much as that is apparent on screen, it’s all ultimately sincere, calling to mind the bargain visionary talents of Andy Milligan and the Kuchar brothers. The source material may make viewers expect higher production values and a more Gothic aesthetic (this feels like a homegrown haunted house that just happens to be set up in the neighborhood castle that’s been abandoned), but Franco is clearly having fun. Frankenstein’s monster is shiny silver here, there’s a fucking bird woman who has feathers glued to her, Britt Nichols plays a woman with the last name Orloff (go figure), Franco plays Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant, and Howard Vernon appears as some sort of zombie wizard. Or something. There’s some tame sexual happenings, including what may be an orgy, a potential monster mating scene and requisite torture. It’s 100% Franco.
Kino bring this to Blu-ray in its French version from the 35mm negative. The only differences between the French and Spanish (which unfortunately isn’t included here and would’ve made this a great release) is some added nudity which doesn’t really make it any better and some weird gypsy subplot that didn’t really make sense. This is apparently the cut that Franco preferred. For what it is, the transfer looks good. Definitely the best that I’ve seen it look at home. The colors can be dull at times and there is definitely some minor debris and scratching, but this is solid work and should please Franco fans. Audio is in the form of 2.0 French and English tracks with both sounding good and void of any popping or hissing.
The only major extra here is the aforementioned commentary by Tim Lucas. It’s a really great track for longtime fans of Franco and newcomers alike. It has a lot of technical information about the film’s history, Franco’s career, and covers the differences in the French and Spanish versions. Lucas is a casual speaker and there are rarely lulls in his talking. I’d welcome more from him on future releases. A theatrical trailer is also included.
The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein is far from being one of Franco’s most well known or revered works but it’s a fun, strange take on Shelley’s story that should please fans of Franco as well as those willing to accept its budget limitations and eccentricities. It may not be as excessive as some would hope or as polished as some of his other work, but it deserves an audience and is a fun way to spend 74 minutes. Kino’s Blu-ray looks and sounds solid and the commentary by Tim Lucas is well worth a listen. Recommended.