Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Monster Team-up Reflection #5: Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks

By popular demand (that is, a friend requested such in passing), I'm offering a review of the 1974's Italian epic, Dick Randall (aka, Robert Oliver)'s "Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks" ("Terror! Il castello delle donne maledette"): a period piece that may have otherwise have descended into the pit of obscurity, if not for Elvira hosting it in the '80s and that it co-stars the legendary Michael Dunn (Dr. Miguelito Loveless, to all those "Wild, Wild West" fans out there).

"Castle" is reminiscent of many such films during its release time: a crossover of Universal and Hammer styles, with the latter being slightly more influential in this instance, in that Hammer--via such entries as "Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde", "Vampire Lovers","Twins of Evil"--had begun injecting nudity into its story lines. (It should also be acknowledged that "Castle'"s plot mirrors Hammer's "Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell", which was made the year previous and depicts its monster as an apish, genetic throwback.)

"Castle" immediately commences with a towering caveman (Loren Ewing) fighting off angry villagers, in an ambiguous, seemingly out-of-time prologue. (It's later explained that Neanderthals may be secretly coexisting with "modern man", evidently ascending from their caves for occasional sojourns.) Nonetheless, the poor brute is bludgeoned to death by the myopic villagers, his body then seized by Count Frankenstein (Rossano Brazzi) and carted back to his lab.

Naturally, Frankenstein wishes to revive the caveman for further study, and with the help of his assistants, who include the mischievous Genz (Dunn), Hans (the Lorre-like, Luciano Pigozzi) and Igor (famed muscle-man/actor, Gordon Mitchell), he does just that, though not without altering the ape man's appearance with an impressively high forehead. The regenerated caveman also acquires the apt name, Goliath.

In the meantime, Frankenstein is visited by two Playmate-ish blondes, one his daughter (Simonetta Vitelli) and the other her friend (Laura De Benedittis), with whom the doctor soon swoons. This leads to an interlude that feels more like James Whale's "Old Dark House" than a traditional Frankenstein film, with hints of strange occurrences fluttering throughout the castle, but once Genz is cast from the premises, the story adapts a steadier pace, with the alienated assistant befriending yet another Neanderthal, named Ook (played by Salvatore Baccaro, who is otherwise labeled as Boris Lugosi, in the Americanized credits).

One can only assume that Ook is wandering about the countryside in hopes of locating Goliath, though this is never actually confirmed. Instead, we're treated to a heartwarming scene, where Genz teaches Ook the benefits of cooking his prey. Genz also has a murderous side and begins to demonstrate it to the otherwise innocent caveman, from which one ghastly deed leads the police to question Count Frankenstein, who is already under suspicion by the edgy villagers.

In the end, Goliath escapes and in his muddled state combats Ook, making the Neanderthal vs modified-Neanderthal melee the movie's most memorable moment.

Though the villagers claim to have seen other strange creatures lurking around Castle Frankenstein, one can only assume such appeared in the past, for the only "freaks" who otherwise populate in the film are Frankenstein's eccentric entourage. (Perhaps, in this regard, "Castle" may have benefited from, for the sake of its more generally known title, a brief procession of monsters in the vein of Richard Raaphorst's "found-footage" epic, "Frankenstein's Army".)

"Castle" is not typically embraced by Frankenstein aficionados as a stand-out, and to the "Mystery Science Theater" crowd, the film seems suitably ripe for ridicule; however, casual viewers may find it more offbeat than substandard. Also, to those who know Frankenstein '70s reinterpreted lore, any cringing the film might invoke will probably spring from those scenes where "Castle" tries too hard to imitate its cinematic contemporaries.

Though a far cry from a classic, "Castle" has ironically stood the test of time and certainly tends to be frequently rediscovered: indication enough that, for better or worse, this one's not likely to disappear any time soon.

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