Andy Warhol: Avant-garde Horror Genius?

Whether you agree with it or not (art is arguable) – Andy Warhol has been immortalized as one of the great American Artists. To this day his pop art portraits and personal and professional eccentricities continue to generate buzz with hipsters and art-fiends alike.

Many people could probably name a famous work on canvas of his, but very few know much about his horror films. That’s right – Mr. Warhol spent some time dabbling in the genre which resulted in two fabulously overlooked and underrated flicks – Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula.

Years ago, because of my thing for Udo Kier, I stumbled accidentally upon these gems on his IMDB page. Intrigued – I called around local indie video stores and finally scored copies of each.  Post viewing?

I was shocked.  I didn’t know much about Mr. Warhol’s films and perhaps had I – I may have been better equipped for the sheer oddity, sexuality, and vulgarity of what I was to witness. But being shocked was not my only initial reaction. I was too entertained. A new spin on classic tales gave renewed life to aging classics. But mostly? I was amused. I highly doubt humor was the director’s intent – but it was there. In spades.

Flesh for Frankenstein:

Deeper Meaning: From afar this 1973 film by Warhol and Paul Morrissey is a masterpiece of beauty. Its undertones, it’s setting, and it’s sense of detachment from reality. Up close – you can see that all the greater details are intentionally put in place to not only homage and romanticize the attractive and almost sensual qualities of horror movies – but to create a perfect setting for a satirical stab at society. With the 1960’s and 1970’s came a wave of over-sexuality; free love was readily available and pornography with plots were rapidly being developed. Both Warhol and Morrisey designed a film in order to expose citizens indulging in the loose-times to the idea that by caving to societal pressures, they were nothing more than meat. Destroying society and destroying themselves. Bodies. Creating, breeding, and moving along without a deeper purpose.

Basic Plot: Without giving much away, Flesh for Frankenstein, revolves around the sordid life and relational downfall of Dr. Baron von Frankenstein, his sister (and wife), and their two children. Unhappy with circumstance the Baron becomes focused – obsessed – with creating a Serbian race of perfect people. With the aid of his side kick man-servant, Otto, Frankenstein creates his first creature (a woman) – and embarks on the task of creating the second, a man, who will breed with his female creation and produce a child zombie. The first of the aforementioned perfect race to obey all of his commands.

Finding a body is easy – but a brain? Stumbling upon a peasant (who doubles as a household servant of the Baron’s) at a local whore house, Dr. Frankenstein believes he has finally found the perfect brain for his man zombie. One ruled by lust – and very little else. Through a series of mishaps, the peasant’s brain is replaced with the peasant’s best friend (a celibate priest) and chaos ensues.

Sexual deviance, nudity, blood, violence, necrophilia, and madness (all also witnessed by the children) run rampant in this movie. Every character represents what the directors believe a societal sexual flaw. Be it the “hero” peasant – who would make love to anything with a warm spot within the nearest mile. Or the under-sexualized, over-controlling Baron who cannot find pleasure in anything sexual if not created, maintained, and completely molded by his own hands.

Funnies:  As I mentioned before I highly doubt this movie made a serious attempt at humor. But between the endless close-up shots of heavy-set women’s bosoms and the fantastically morbid one-liners, one can’t help but at times simply laugh.

–          This was a period piece. The clothing, the accents – well, except for the peasant hero. He was from New York and made no attempt at even trying to quell his “HEY YOUS GUYS” accent. Every time he speaks, you cringe. And he speaks. A lot.

–          Ludicrous dialogue such as, “To know death, Otto, you have to fuck life… in the gall bladder.”

–          Unbelievable and overly dramatic death and dismemberment scenes. Ones you just HAVE to watch the believe.

Blood for Dracula:

Deeper Meaning: 1974’s Blood for Dracula was filmed immediately after Flesh for Frankenstein was finished and featured the same director and the same three main actors. However instead of focusing solely on the rampant sexuality of the time, Blood for Dracula moved from satirically mocking social pitfalls to those of a more political and economic nature. Count Dracula is a wealthy vampire that like many creatures of the night feeds off the lives of others to sustain his own – but also metaphorically feeds off the lower class to sustain his position. Warhol and Morrissey’s version of Dracula is portrayed as weak and fallible – therefore easily overcome by those he “consumes” with enough effort and determination.

Basic Plot: Again, without giving much away – the movie opens up on an ill and fragile Count Dracula, who is painting black color in his hair and rose on his cheeks. Feigning life – where life is obviously dwindling. Count Dracula must feast of the blood of well-bred virgins to survive and it seems that there is a severe lack of those in his home of Transylvania. Escaping to Italy – Dracula and his man-servant discovers (in a bar no less) a notable family with three daughters. All virgins. Or are they?

In sync with its predecessor, Flesh for Frankenstein is filled with vulgar dialogue, rampant nudity, and plenty of violence.

Funnies: Yes, this one has a ton of unintentional laughable moments too.

– When Dracula feeds on the sisters who aren’t virgins and thus becomes violently sick off their blood he proclaims, “THE BLOOD OF THESE WHORES IS KILLING ME!

– Same New Yorker. Same horrible accent.

– End scene. Ever see Dracula chase someone via stumps? You have now.

By definition, “avant-garde” is used in reference to works or people who are innovative, experimental, and pushing boundaries of normalcy.  In the title of this article I posed the question of is Andy Warhol indeed an avant-garde horror genius?

Based on Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula – I would argue yes. Yes, he is.

What do you think?

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About Meg

Blond, bold and brainy. Already scared aren’tcha? When Meg’s not book learnin’ or arguing the anatomy of zombies – shes probably in the ocean, watching star trek, or forcing everyone around her to endure horror moviethons. Bruce Campbell? Her personal demi-God. Costuming, comics, charity work, college and a kidlet take up most of her time. But seriously, who needs sleep when you’re training the future generation of nerd? With great power comes great responsibility…..or something.