PURE TERROR MONTH: Frankenstein ’80 (1972)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bill Van Ryn is the man behind the website Groovy Doom and the zine Drive-In Asylum. He’s the inspiration for me to write more about movies.

I’ve seen the movie Frankenstein ’80 a number of times already, and I still can’t point to any reason that it carries this title. If there is an explanation somewhere in the movie, then I missed it about seven times. It’s an Italian film originally released in 1972, and the sole directorial effort from Mario Mancini, better known as a camera operator and/or DP for a number of films, including Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace and Black Sabbath

Frankenstein ’80 shows us what we assume to be a descendant of the good doctor operating out of a secret laboratory in his clinic. A rival scientist, Professor Schwartz, has created a serum that prevents the rejection of transplants. Despite the life-changing implications of a substance like this, Schwartz has only made a single bottle of the stuff, which makes it rough when the bottle goes missing, resulting in the death of Schwartz’s latest transplant hopeful.

Of course the bottle has been stolen by Dr. Frankenstein, or rather, Frankenstein’s emissary, a hulking man that Frankenstein calls Mosaic, sewn together from stray body parts. Frankenstein is obsessed with the idea of perfecting Mosaic, and Schwartz’s formula will do nicely in helping achieve this. Dr. Frankie in this movie is played by American actor Gordon Mitchell, a former bodybuilding champ who followed the example of Steve Reeves and other muscleheads like Mickey Hargitay and Brad Harris in forging an acting career in European-lensed movies. He looks a little svelte in this movie for a bodybuilder, so this must have been after his lifting days. The beef in this movie is Mosaic, played by a hulking actor named Xiro Papas (who, rather ironically, died in the year….1980). Mosaic has the nasty habit of rampaging through the local village, murdering random women and making off with one of their internal organs, which he takes back to Frankenstein to use as his own. Frankenstein scolds the creature for these brutal murders the way a parent would scold a child for eating cookies before dinner (“Mosaic, you must stop this killing!”), but he does use the organs after all, which only reinforces Mosaic’s bad behavior. Although we see the monster kill men, we only see him steal organs from women, so there’s no explanation as to where Dr. Frankenstein gets the “gonad” transplant that he uses to increase Mosaic’s sexual potency. Maybe it’s better that way.

Dr. Frankenstein sure is a stupid dick, too, because -duh- this turns the monster into a sexual predator as well. In a movie full of disturbing murders, one of the hardest to watch is a scene where Mosaic rapes a prostitute who seems to be somewhat overwhelmed by the size of his “external organ”, then strangles her during the afterglow. Frankenstein has been trailing Mosaic during this episode, but arrives too late to prevent the murder, ushering Mosaic into his clothes and out of the apartment with barely more than a “naughty, naughty.”

By now you should understand that Frankenstein ‘80 is completely absurd. It actually predates Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein in its blending of broad comedy with visceral horror, and it comes close to matching that film’s gut-churning violence. Mosaic’s murders are sudden and brutal, and they often are prefaced by the victim being kind to him; a female butcher gives him some friendly customer service before he rudely follows her into the freezer and beats her to death with a large femur. Even the hooker is nice to him, sort of, until she gets a good look at him naked and sees that he’s all stitched together. I don’t know if I’d call it camp, it’s not easy to gauge the movie’s own self-awareness since the English audio track is one of those dodgy dub jobs, but some of the scenarios do seem intentionally over the top, such as the subplot of the local law enforcement vainly trying to keep up with Mosaic’s murders. 

What really could have helped Frankenstein ‘80 would have been at least a fraction of Paul Morrissey’s style or wit, not to mention his budget. There are no real serious moments in Frankenstein ‘80, no commentary on the decadence of the wealthy nobility, no pondering of the human condition by considering the liberties taken by these reckless practitioners of so-called medicine, and an almost total lack of suspense. What it does have is sleaze, in great gory buckets, and a disturbing partiality for the brutal murder of beautiful women, who are usually stripped of their clothing before being throttled or clobbered by the hulking monster. Lest we accuse the filmmakers of being sexist, I must point out that male victims suffer greatly as well, including one guy who is killed in a public men’s room. He’s just taking a piss, minding his own business, when Mosaic moves on him like a sex addict in a truck stop – except he doesn’t want to give the guy a quick blowjob in a stall, he takes the guy’s head and smashes it against the tile wall, resulting in an explosion of gore. Now that’s just plain rude.

1 thought on “PURE TERROR MONTH: Frankenstein ’80 (1972)”

  1. I’ll say this: Corman did a great job with Frankenstein Unbound. But that multi-colored “mosaic” iris/eyeball. Not sure why you have to stitch three different eyeballs together. But “junk science” is what these movies we love is all about.

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