You’ve got to fight for your rites.
Reverb flutters from the coattails of Dracula, Prisoner Of Frankenstein and there lies The Rites Of Frankenstein. A direct-yet-indirect follow up to the supreme Dracula, Rites paints a portrait of director-writer Jess Franco at home. Relaxing. Enjoying a pipe. Taking in a good novel. With the living room as his oyster, J.F. lays his abilities (and obsessions) bare and lets ’em breathe. This film curbs all traditional monster thematics. In lieu, it lets us float by on a whispery cloud, aghast at the sight of a silver-skinned Frankenstein monster whipping a half-naked couple into submission. Unorthodox? Certainly. And naturally.
Cagliostro. The Sect Of Panthos. The Night Of The Dead. Are the trivial details important? Not really. In a nutshell, ancient mystic Cagliostro (Howard Vernon) and his bird-woman Melisa (Anne Libert) kill Dr. Frankenstein (Dennis Price), steal his monster, and plan to make Mr. C “the master of the world!” through forceful sex and violence. It’s a good plan. Dr. Seward and Vera, Frankenstein’s daughter, make separate attempts to stop them. Esmeralda (Lina Romay), a gypsy, wanders through a forest under Cagliostro’s mind control. Rubber-masked zombies hang out at the castle. Whips, wool sweaters, modeling, and impossible decapitation — all this and a triumphant bad guy, too!
When Cagliostro bellows “You must combine beauty and submission!”, you’ll buy it. Utilizing the same cast of Franco regulars as Dracula, Prisoner Of Frankenstein, Rites spreads out and roguishly switches gears. There’s no classic monster checklist. The film places emphasis on a flowing experience, mandating its audience to spellbound visuals and intimate, chincy strangeness. It’s gutter-poetry in motion. Beauty and submission.
Photography is stunning. The camera focuses less on Franco’s erratic swerving and more on cinematographer Raúl Artigot’s (The Witches Mountain) rich compositions. A preference for red spotlights helps. Dialogue and free form music crack up together, mixing statements about “throbbing flesh” with dense bursts of piano, recorder, and organs. Abstract noises clutter the soundtrack when the music cues can’t cut it. Hints of sex and terrible make-up hang around the endless exotic landscapes, and the laughably fake gore trails behind. Obviously, Rites is one of the more peculiar examples of 1970s monster-trash you’re likely to find. So what’s the catch?
There’s a limit to repetitive roaming, no matter how pretty the ride. Rites starts to skim that edge around the fifty minute mark. Talk is cheap and Franco knows it. Your eyelids will most likely droop accordingly. But isn’t that what usually happens towards the end of a cozy night at home? Sounds rite to me.
The Rites Of Frankenstein is a whispery ballad to Jess Franco’s movie-monster perversions. I really like it. A lot. However, this is not a film for “norms.” But if you’re into Dracula, Prisoner Of Frankenstein, Rites is a natural extension. Submit!