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Our Blogcritic looks at half of one of Shout Factory's "Elvira's Movie Macabre" double features.

DVD Review: Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks

Most Americans away from the West Coast only have a modest sense of Elvira® , Mistress of the Dark™ – from her appearances in an occasional Halloween beer commercial or her role in a pair of low-budget horror comedies, perhaps – but her longest running gig has been as the hostess of Elvira's Movie Macabre, a somewhat syndicated (though it's never aired anywhere near this writer) horror movie showcase featuring the busty actress making commercial-break quips about the cheapies on display.

This year, Shout Factory released three DVD sets of her show for Halloween, each featuring two movies. Of the offerings, the one that looked most promising to this cheesehead was the two-disc package featuring Count Dracula's Great Love and Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks. The first is a 1972 Spanish horror flick featuring South of the Border horror megastar Paul Naschy, while the second stars South Pacific lead Rossano Brazzi as "Count" Frankenstein in a '73 Italian bare breasts showcase. Guess which one I watched first?

Freaks is an engaging piece of nonsense centering around Frankenstein's experiments with the body of a Neanderthal man who has inexplicably been found roaming around the countryside. Holed up in his castle, the good doctor is assisted by a quartet of assistants – most notably Michael Dunn, playing the sinister dwarf Genz.

Every other one of Frankenstein’s assistants loathes Genz, for reasons that aren't entirely made clear, so when the group of 'em go out a-grave robbin' one night, major-domo Hans ("Alan Collins") makes sure that one of Genz's footprints is not erased in the dirt. This catches the keen eye of the investigating Prefect Ewing (a clearly slumming Edmund Purdom), who at one point brings a wax copy of the print to Castle Frankenstein to show to the Count. "The resemblance is perfect," Frankenstein sez, but by then Genz has already been kicked out of the castle to hook up with a second Neanderthal man named Ook (the movie's American distributors actually gave this Italian actor the name "Boris Lugosi"!) hiding in the caves nearby. There, Genz has been instructing Ook in the gentle art of kidnapping and raping village girls.

Also ensnared in this web of horrifying events: Frankenstein's beautiful daughter Maria ("Simone Blondell") and her even sexier friend Krista ("Christine Royce"), who spend their days skinny-dipping in a cave hot spring – much to the peeping Genz's delight. Krista, unbelievably, turns out to be a medical student with an interest in the Count's experiments. He shows off his revived and strapped down specimen, a hulking creature unimaginatively named Goliath (Loren Ewing), and, in a strange attempt at "civilizing” the creature, openly kisses Krista in front of the jealous Neanderthal. Naturally, Goliath beats the tar out of Frankenstein when he finally breaks free.

All in all, a fairly typical early seventies exploitation horror flick: there are plenty of topless shots (including an early bit where Genz gets his hand slapped for fondling the breasts of a recently excavated dead girl who we never get to see again), a small amount of blood in the flimsy lab scenes and lotsa amusingly cheap moments. (Were the breast shots shown when this flick aired on syndicated television? Somehow, I doubt it.) The English dubbing is particularly comical when it comes to the minor characters, many of whom sound like they're heavily dosed on valium. Good fodder for our snarky Mistress of the Dark™, right?

Shout's small-frills discs offer two ways to view the "Movie Macabre" features: with or without Elvira's taped interstitial appearances. I watched Frankenstein about half-way per format: as fun as Elvira (a.k.a. Cassandra Peterson) is to watch, delivering her combo Mae West/Valley Girl sinnuendo shtick, the videotape format is distractingly fuzzy. Makes you appreciate the work that went into Mystery Science Theater 3000, which also blended videotape with movie film, only much more smoothly. The non-Elvira version looks a trace less jagged, though occasionally you can see the movie blacken longer than necessary to accommodate a commercial cut. Still, Shout's two-disc sets are pretty inexpensive (running in the range of $14.95), so I can't much complain.

Would've been nicer to get some crisper footage of the Mistress with the Mostest, though.

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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