Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger wonders if DVD players have the ability to vomit.
"A pathetic waste of time."—John Turley, IMDb denizen
Let's say you fed your VCR a steady diet of scummy porn and Headbanger's Ball reruns, then gave it a tab of bad acid and sent it to a Genitorturers concert. If it stumbled back to the hotel room and vomited a regurgitated tangle of tape onto a pair of blank DVDs, and you digitally fused the scattered contents of its electromagnetic spew, it would resemble Lust for Frankenstein/Tender Flesh.
Facts of the Case
In Lust for Frankenstein, cult actresses Michelle Bauer, Lina Romay, and newcomer Amber Newman wander naked through cheap sets in an orgy of sleaze and horror. In Tender Flesh, cult actresses Monique Parent, Lina Romay, and newcomer Amber Newman wander naked through cheap sets in an orgy of sleaze and horror.
When I praised Jesus Franco after watching the flawed-yet-compelling Eugenie, I was warned by Eurocult and horror aficionados to temper my enthusiasm. 99 Women gave me a taste for pedestrian Franco; it was less cohesive and less compelling, but still contained high-caliber nudity and surprising artistry given the low budget and short filming schedule. But this pair of movies will forever rid me of the urge to argue with the "Jess Franco is a hack" sentiment. Indeed, these are among the poorest efforts I've ever seen committed to DVD.
The set kicks off with Lust for Frankenstein, which is a bad choice: Lust for Frankenstein is by far (well, relatively, anyway) the worse of the two. It starts with cheesy, 80s-era heavy metal titles (I was a metalhead, so I can say that) and a lengthy voiceover about Moira Frankenstein, the unfortunate daughter of the good doctor. Her mother died, her stepmother was cruel and subjected her to the sodomies of a thousand lovers, blah, blah, blah. If you have to establish your movie with paragraphs of expository text, then you're essentially admitting your own inability to tell a story.
We suddenly find ourselves in a labyrinth of nondescript hotel rooms, where people in T-shirts converse in the most ludicrous, affected Eurotrash accents about "the old country." It is perhaps a blessing that all dialogue in this film is obliterated by abject recording quality and overbearing riffs of generic metal. I literally could not tell what was being said, which had the blessed effect of disconnecting me from the plot. We're soon "treated" to solarization filters, overexposed video, triple-overlays, and other nifty digital effects. This is all transferred to DVD from a warped video master prone to bleeding, jitter, combing, and poor detail resolution. The detail is so poor that Franco's "shocking" shots of shaved vaginas are indistinguishable from the bedspread. Between the lackluster plot, unlistenable audio, blurred detail, and freaky digital effects, Lust for Frankenstein is a muted lava lamp.
Because of this dissociative effect, it is difficult (but not impossible) to judge the acting performances. Siskel's truism works well in this case: I'd rather watch the actors having lunch. The few intelligible snippets of dialogue in this tale were uninspiring.
Tender Flesh is also sourced from a questionable video master, but is handled better than Lust for Frankenstein. Contrast is at least present, if not deep, and the detail is sufficient to make out the actors. Audio is barely better overall, and in some scenes is actually worse.
This modest improvement extends to the movie itself, which has a discernable plot, an identifiable protagonist, and enough cohesion to get a vague idea of Franco's intended theme. Now that I could clearly see her, I found Amber Newman striking and charismatic. She isn't a gifted actress, but she's far from bad. Some otherwise worthless scenes are watchable because she summons a smidge of pathos. Monique Parent has one expression throughout the movie, which is a haughty, lecherous sneer.
Unfortunately, the upgrades only serve to reveal the lifeless core of Tender Flesh. A woman urinates into a bowl, which is served at dinner. She then gets on all fours and gives oral sex under the tablecloth to each guest like a trained dog. People are beaten and hunted. These things have been done before to shocking or erotic effect; in Tender Flesh they are puerile and scummy. I don't mean scummy in the way that some art films make you an accomplice to the plot, invoking your guilt as they degrade characters. No, Tender Flesh just caused me to gawk in embarrassment for Jess Franco, and forced me to reconsider my past enthusiasm for his works.
Shock-O-Rama Cinema has done due diligence with the set. The DVD package is awkward, with one single-sided disc and one flipper. The liner notes have no home, but rattle around inside the case. But they've provided a healthy slate of extras.
It isn't Shock-O-Rama's fault that the behind-the-scenes featurettes are among the longest, lamest, most autoerotic featurettes ever produced. Somehow, watching these featurettes made the movies worse. The liner notes do a good job of working up enthusiasm for the movies and trying to cover for obvious flaws, but Scooter McCrae cannot fully endorse such poor material. I watched about 41 minutes of the "European Cut" of Lust for Frankenstein until I simply couldn't stand another second. In that time, I noticed no distinct difference between the two cuts.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There are two moments worth watching out of the three "sides" contained in this 2-disc set. One is a Shock-O-Rama promo with a striking naked woman covered in fake blood. This literal shower of blood is more compelling than any scene in either movie.
The second item of note is an interview with Michelle Bauer. She is flirty and easygoing, endearing herself to fans while she waxes positive about the long hours necessary to make a film. She emphasizes fun over money and projects a healthy attitude towards her cult status. It is absolutely not worth buying the set to see this brief interview, but if you somehow find yourself in close proximity to Lust for Frankenstein/Tender Flesh and have a DVD player handy, pop in this interview.
Few movies have invoked in me such loathing, apathy, and embarrassment for the people onscreen and behind the camera. If Jess Franco doesn't hate women and doesn't have the mind of a thirteen-year-old obsessed with dumb sex jokes, he sure pulls a convincing act. If you want to be revolted or disgusted, check out one of those Nazi dominatrix flicks. If you enjoy the work of a quirky independent horror director, pick up a Larry Cohen film. If you want to waste your time and money and get a mild headache in the process, watch Lust for Frankenstein/Tender Flesh.
Lust for Frankenstein/Tender Flesh shall be subjected to the sodomies of a thousand cruel lovers.
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Scales of Justice, Lust For Frankenstein
Perp Profile, Lust For Frankenstein
Studio: Shock-O-Rama Cinema
Distinguishing Marks, Lust For Frankenstein
• Liner Notes
Scales of Justice, Tender Flesh
Perp Profile, Tender Flesh
Studio: Shock-O-Rama Cinema
Distinguishing Marks, Tender Flesh
• Liner Notes
Review content copyright © 2006 Rob Lineberger; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.