Screen Screams: Morrissey Double Feature
It’s that time of year again. October is upon us. So to celebrate, we at Full Circle Cinema have put together another month-long curated series with Screen Screams. This year, we’ll be checking our clocks as we eagerly await the forbidden fun we call “the midnight movie”. And with the Midnight Movies comes a variety of projects that are perhaps too specialized for the masses. A basic element of midnight film screenings is the “double feature”. With this review we will cover Blood for Dracula and Chair for Frankenstein, two transgressive and eccentric horror films by Paul Morrissey and Andy Warhol.
Paul Morrissey & Andy Warhol
Although both came from different backgrounds and ideologies, they had achieved great artistic merit during their respective careers. Morrissey, a political conservative, grew up in the Catholic faith and had served in the United States military. During this time, Warhol developed a career in influential and controversial art and was seen as primarily apolitical. Neither should have worked as best he could. Despite these differences, the two individuals managed to create a successful marriage of ideas and creativity. Morrissey used bold, avant-garde direction, and Warhol used his transgressive art style. Together we have achieved two of the most distinct interpretations of Dracula and Frankenstein.
Chair for Frankenstein
In Chair for Frankenstein, we follow a man driven by his own desire for power. Baron von Frankenstein and his assistant Otto seek to create perfect individuals who will follow all of the Baron’s orders. His idea would be to create a man and a woman. He believes he has succeeded with his feminine creation. But, his male creation is a dismal failure because he doesn’t have a strong libido.
He discovers two men leaving a nearby brothel and lures them both to his castle. One, a farm worker named Nicholas, and the other being Nicholas’ sexually repressed friend. Nicholas’ friend is captured and is used to replace Baron’s head of male creation. The baron would however be that this sexual repression would correct his problem with the sexual libido of the male creation. Meanwhile, Nicholas is tricked into feeding Baron’s (and sister’s) wife Katrin’s sexual appetite.
READ: Screen Screams: Review of “Outer Space Plan 9”
After Nicholas discovers his friend’s head on the body of another individual, he begins to investigate in which he learns of the Baron’s plan to create the perfect individual. Nicholas is betrayed by Katrin and is bound to the ceiling by his wrists. While all of this is going on, Baron is unhappy with the still low libido of male creation. The Baron decides that he will use Nicholas as a means to repair the libido of the male creation.
After all of this, a sequence of unfortunate events begins in which everyone begins to die one by one. The male creation kills Katrin, Otto accidentally kills the female creation, the baron kills Otto, the male creation kills the baron and the male creation kills itself. While Nicholas is tied to the ceiling. The final shot being the children of the Baron and Katrin entering the lab and examining the scalpel. Let the viewer decide if the children would free Nicholas or if they would continue the work of their parents.
Blood for Dracula
In Blood for Dracula, Count Dracula is ill and near death. In order to overcome sickness and death, he must consume the blood of a virgin. Dracula travels from Transylvania to Italy in a more religious region, believing that his accessibility to virgins will be higher. Upon his arrival, Dracula meets an Italian landowner named Il Marchese di Fiore (Vittorio de Sica [yes, the one that made Bicycle Thieves]) who would offer one of his daughters in marriage.
di Fiore has four daughters, the youngest and the eldest being both virgins and the youngest two not being virgins. Dracula is assured that the four daughters are virgins, although two of them are not virgins. The estate handyman, Mario (Joe Dallesandro), is said to have frequent sex with the two non-virgin girls. In response, Dracula attempts to drink the blood of the two who were not virgins as they were the friendliest of the four girls. The blood would eventually make Dracula even weaker. However, the two girls would eventually become Dracula’s telepathic slaves.
After learning of Dracula’s plan, Mario attempts to thwart any attempt to get him to drink the blood of the other two sisters. di Fiore leaves town to pay his debts, leaving the estate to Mario, the daughters and Dracula. Dracula successfully drinks the blood of the eldest daughter. But, Mario comes and proceeds to dismember Dracula with an ax.
Legacy of permissiveness
Although the two films come from two different sources, there is a notion that Morrissey seeks to communicate. “Permissiveness” and how societal changes affect us. Both films are outrageous and have a darker take on these characters. The dismemberment, gore, and sex as the central focus of both films are by design. Morrissey and Warhol understand how much society has changed since their youth and have pushed the boundaries with these films.
As society increasingly accepts things previously considered inappropriate, our tolerance changes. Something that might have repelled you a year ago could be tamed today. Blood for Dracula and Chair for Frankenstein create a modern reflection of what is “acceptable” and what is not. The two original novels did not contain the same level of gratuitous violence, sex, or just excess in general. But – one way or another – the inclusion of these ideas makes for a mind-blowing cinematic experience. An experience that does not tarnish the image of the original material while creating its own sense of identity.
READ: Screen Screams: ‘The Lure’ review
Due to the graphic display, the MPAA gave both films an “X” rating. In both films, there were no reservations about graphic nudity, sexual encounters, or blood and gore. To a point where if these movies were to come out today, there would always be some setback. Morrissey and Warhol both knew what they were doing and created one of the most wacky horror adaptations of all time.
Gothic horror inspired both films, but the retention of these Gothic ideas is not present. And if you’re looking for a riskier version of these stories, this is the way to go. Otherwise, these movies might not be for you. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The basis on which the original novels were exhibited is still there, and the boundaries broken by those films are important to filmmaking in a holistic way.
In the end, if no movie for you, I would totally understand. Both films are vulgar and do not hold back. However, neither of the two movies get boring in any way. Each will lock you in, from start to finish, with a sense of curiosity. Even if you are a fan of the original source material, Blood for Dracula and Chair for Frankenstein act as a great addition to their original material and create something totally new and beautiful. As for the midnight viewings, this is absolutely essential. – Jacob Mauceri
Blood for Dracula is available in 4K UHD / Blu-Ray with Severin Films. Chair for Frankenstein is available for pre-order on 4K UHD / Blu-Ray with Vinegar Syndrome.