LADY FRANKENSTEIN (1971) Region B Blu-ray
Director: Mel Welles
Nucleus Films

LADY FRANKENSTEIN, the film that asks and answers the question "Who is this irresistible creature who has an insatiable love for the dead?" comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Nucleus Films.

Baron Frankenstein (Joseph Cotten, CITIZEN KANE) has long toiled with his crippled partner Charles Marshall (Paul Muller, A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD) over the challenge of human organ transplantation and has spent the last three years building a human in order to create life artificially. When he makes a special request of grave robber Lynch (Herbert Fux, MARK OF THE DEVIL) for a corpse less than six hours old in order to give the creature a brain, he and his buddies set up rival Jack Morgan (Petar Martinovitch, AMUCK) for murder and public execution by hanging. Just returned from college as a licensed surgeon, Frankenstein's daughter Tanya (Rosalba Neri, THE DEVIL'S WEDDING NIGHT) has radical ideas about human organ transplantation while under the impression that her father is still working with animals until she creeps into his lab one night. Before he and the baron are about to transplant the brain into their creation, Charles notices a lesion which has damaged the hypothalamus which regulates pleasure and anger. He implores the baron to get a new brain or repair the damage, but the baron is impatient and proceeds with the transplant. When the lightning needed to jump start the body strikes the creature's face, it wakes up disfigured and angry, killing the baron before escaping into the night. Although Charles fears that the creature will harm others, Tania wants to protect her father's reputation and uses the older man's attraction to her to convince him to go with her story that a robber murdered her father. The village's police captain Harris (Mickey Hargitay, BLOODY PIT OF HORROR) is disinclined to believe their story of a seven-foot assailant until more killings occur. As Harris connects the killings to Morgan's vengeance on the men who set him up, Tania has convinced Charles to help her create a second creature strong enough to destroy the first; however, that appears to be her secondary goal as she wants to transplant Charles' brain into the body of studly but simpleminded servant Thomas (Marino Mase, NIGHTMARE CASTLE).

With Italian exploitation's move towards the more sexually explicit in the 1970s, it was just a matter of time before the Frankenstein story got sexed up; and LADY FRANKENSTEIN – the "brainchild" of producer/director Mel Welles (THE MANEATER OF HYDRA) – is in some ways not only a better film than Paul Morrissey's subsequent FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN but just as much a black comedy in which the American ballyhoo tagline "Only the monster she made could satisfy her strange desires" is not that far off. It is as much a pastiche of visual and narrative elements as diverse as Hammer – particularly FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN – and even FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER and JESSE JAMES MEETS FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGTHER in which children or descendants of the baron revive his experiments and ultimately turn them towards self-interest or outright evil. Indeed, Cotten is presented as arrogant ("Here on Earth, man is God") and out to show up those in the academic community who laughed at his ideas, but he tells Tania that he plans to share his discoveries freely. Tania, on the other hand, seems to have been warped as much by her obsession since childhood with her father's work as much as the treatment she endured as a woman studying science, is more concerned with her father's reputation than innocent lives, uses Charles' desire for her to commit murder, and even begs him to consider the possibilities for money and fame if they catch the creature alive; and both underestimate the cunning and intelligence of the common man be it Lynch, Harris, or Thomas' inquisitive sister Julia (Renate Kasché, A BLACK VEIL FOR LISA). Charles' fear of what trouble Lynch could cause or whether Harris suspects their involvement in the killings is not a weakness but part of his basic human decency, which is also demonstrated in his concern for the what the effect the damaged brain may have on the creature (he is the one who actually gets to utter the line "It's alive, it's alive!") but also others who will get hurt or killed while Tania pores over her father's work in search of a solution. The investigation of Harris is as incidental as the appearance by Thomas' sister, but what actually seems tacked onto the narrative is part of the film's reason for being: the attack scenes of the monster, which almost seem like second unit work recklessly shot and looking like a zoom-happy American regional horror flick with a man in a monster mask. These bits are so devoid of atmosphere in contrast to the location work at Castello Balsorano – seen in films as diverse as CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD and CRYPT OF HORROR or THE LICKERISH QUARTET and MALABIMBA – and the studio work (on sets that would be recycled for FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN with some repurposed effects by E.T.'s Carlo Rambaldi including mechanical bats) as photographed by Antonio Margheriti's go-to cinematographer Riccardo Pallotini (THE VIRGIN OF NUREMBERG). The score of Alessandro Alessandroni (THE DEVIL'S NIGHTMARE) – as important a collaborator with Ennio Morricone as Bruno Nicolai – contributes a score that favors fuzz guitar over the gothic. The credits for the American version of the film cite Dick Randall (SLAUGHTER HIGH) with the film's story, and he would do his own Italian-produced softcore take on the Frankenstein story with FRANKENSTEIN'S CASTLE OF FREAKS in 1974, while the theme of a Frankenstein creating a being for their own pleasure would get a lesbian twist from Jess Franco with the 1998 DTV film LUST FOR FRANKENSTEIN (known as LADY FRANKENSTEIN in Spain).

Released theatrically in the United States by Roger Corman's New World Pictures in a double-billing-friendly eighty-four minute version and in the UK by Scotia Barber in that version with additional cuts, LADY FRANKENSTEIN was most accessible through Embassy Entertainment's fullscreen VHS. Unauthorized digitized copies of that transfer made the rounds on public domain DVD from the likes of Brentwood while DVD Drive-in themselves put out their own (and only) special edition DVD featuring a 16mm transfer matted to widescreen featuring short interviews with Welles and Neri, along with Italian VHS-sourced scenes from the longer version as an extra. Concurrently making the gray market rounds were fair-to-poor copies of a Swedish VHS release that was fairly complete and in English, and more recently a letterboxed German broadcast that was longer but not quite uncut (along with more complete DVD-R composites). When Scream Factory released the film on DVD as part of their two-disc, four-film horror packs with THE VELVET VAMPIRE, GROTESQUE, and TIME WALKER, LADY FRANKENSTEIN turned out to be an anamorphic transfer of the New World cut with a branching option for the longer version utilizing VHS sources of varying quality.

Mastered from the uncut original camera negatives, LADY FRANKENSTEIN cannot help but look better than what has come before in its 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray transfer. The murk is cleared away, while the difference between location and studio work is as texturally apparent as Rambaldi's prosthetics are with their live counterparts, and the restored 1.85:1 framing is far more elegant than the sometimes harsh lighting (although that is the fault of Pallotini's approach to the gothic as evidenced in his Margheriti productions). All of the bits missing from the Corman cut are beautifully rendered here with no evidence of damage throughout the presentation. The LPCM 2.0 mono English and Italian dubs are much cleaner than before, with the stings of Alessandroni's score have more umph than the sound design, and the subtitles reveal that the English dub is actually superior in scripting if not always in delivery (when Harris finds Lynch dead, he says "you cheated me" on the English track while the Italian has him say "you fooled me"). The English dub specifies no specific location while the English subtitles give the currency Lynch demands in British pounds.

Extras start off with an audio commentary by film writer Alan Jones and critic Kim Newman who cite the film as an uncredited adaptation of "For the Love of Frankenstein" by Bill Warren (published in VAMPIRELLA magazine) as pointed out by Donald F. Glut, and the rumor that Warren was paid afterward not to bring suit. They discuss Frankenstein on film, the Hammer antecedents and other Frankenstein films of the seventies, noting that the trend may have been sparked by actual stories of breakthroughs in organ transplants (with the film's portraying the scientists as being ahead of their time rather than bounded by now outdated beliefs), as well as the film being a forerunner for FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN. It is a typically lively talk with the two, who also point out not only the differences between the original cut and the Corman cut, but the effect of the deletions on the story, while also amusingly noting how the film's final shot sums up the film's central theme. As with Nucleus' previous Blu-rays of Jess Franco's THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN and THE DEMONS, a major extra is an HD presentation of an alternate version of the film; in this case, the American New World Pictures cut of the film (83:38). The cut is reconstructed from the HD master of the longer version and is probably the best that cut has ever looked even if the bitrate is about half that of the main feature (it was one of the titles Shout did not upgrade to Blu-ray for their website exclusive line among the other multipack films that had been remastered in HD). The LPCM 2.0 mono English track also sounds a bit boxier, but it is nonetheless a nice inclusion.

“The Truth About Lady Frankenstein: A Factual Report” (43:57) is a 2007 documentary that is a testament to the film's popularity in Germany, featuring on-camera interviews with director Welles, and actors Fux and Neri. Welles reveals that he was approached by associate producer Harry Cushing with a script titled "Lady Dracula" and given creative freedom and funding to do it so long as Neri starred (Neri having previously appeared in THE DEVIL'S LOVER produced by Cushing and TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE's Ralph Zucker and directed by star Robert Woods even though it was credited to Paolo Lombardo). He rented the De Paolis studio space and started work only to discover that Cushing did not own the rights to the script which was written by actor Brad Harris (THE GIRL IN ROOM 2A) and he was disinclined to sell (Harris would sell it to Germany and star in the film with THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN's Evelyne Kraft) so Welles teamed up with THE IDOLMAKER's Edward Di Lorenzo and wrote LADY FRANKENSTEIN. While Welles covers the production and reception, Neri discusses the film in the context of her work (and her embracing her horror films later as she realized they had fans), and Fux also speaks of his experiences on this and other B-movies (noting his preference for such formulaic horror over more realism-based genre works). “Piecing Together Lady Frankenstein” (35:18) has critic Julian Grainger offering up a more concise and focused overview of the origins of LADY FRANKENSTEIN, its production, cast, and Corman's cutting – noting that Corman came in with additional funding when Welles original deal with Heritage fell through – while Welles appears in different archival interview footage discussing his casting based on who could speak English (and noting as a dubbing director and performer that he eventually let some performers speak Italian since their rhythms in English were wrong for post-synching), as well as making points about his views on capital punishment and that the film is pro-feminist. Grainger also notes that Cushing was also behind Neri headlining the giallo SMILE BEFORE DEATH from AMUCK's Silvio Amadio).

“The Lady and the Orgy” (8:07) is a featurette on Welles move to Australia shortly after completion of LADY FRANKENSTEIN and his attempt to distribute it as part of a Spook Show titled "Orgy of Evil" showcasing Grand Guignol-esque magic acts, choreography, and music; and how it's premiere delayed by national power cuts and sunk by protest from religious groups. The “BBFC Film Cuts” featurette (2:52) does not show the scenes as cut but excerpts the uncut scenes with text from the BBFC's notes about the reasons for the cutting, including the combinations of sex and violence in two scenes and the hacking off of an arm, while a prefatory note for the clothed scenes (2:55) tells us they know of no version in which these bits were actually utilized whether in more censorious territories or in television versions. The disc also includes virtually identical English, German, and Italian theatrical trailers (2:51 + 2:51 + 2:57), and the very different and entertaining U.S. trailers (2:56 and 0:55) – the first showcasing the lines Rob Zombie sampled for his song "Living Dead Girl" – along with a TV spot (0:31) and two U.S. radio spots (1:01 + 0:32), a promotional gallery (5:38), home video gallery (1:07), and the Italian photo novel "Bigfilm Magazine: Lady Frankenstein" (2:39) in which much of what is seen appears to be what was filmed, apart from a sequence with Fux and a nude partner that looks like it starts out as a rape scene (in the final cut, the monster burst in on them already in bed), and a thanks (1:15) for the crowdfunders. The standard version lacks the Kickstarter-funded editions extras of a slipcase, four reproduction lobby cards, and a reproduction poster card. (Eric Cotenas)