Pieced out over two separate nights, Paul Morrissey’s cult masterpieces Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood For Dracula, will play on the big screen at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, just ahead of Halloween. Much more than horror or exploitation films, these are socially-concerned commentaries on what Morrissey observed was the moral corruption of the times. One line delivered by the mad scientist Baron von Frankenstein (the amazing German actor Udo Kier) sums up the subversive layers of Flesh for Frankenstein best. He declares it with matter-of-fact passion to his assistant Otto (Arno Juerging, whose eyes and brow alone give a heck of a performance) after he has humped the corpse of his female “creation” while fingering her digestive system through an open wound: “To know death, Otto, you have to fuck life in the gall bladder!”
Crammed in with the mutilation of bodies, geysers of blood and depraved sex scenes, including everything from armpit sucking to incest, was a satirical sense of humor. “I was ridiculing all that stuff that was supposed to be sacred, and using it for a bigger picture,” said the now 74-year-old director speaking from his New York home. “My films weren’t very violent. My films were like the rest of the films. It was humorous.”
I spoke with Morrissey for close to 45 minutes a few weeks ago. Most of my interview appears in the “Miami New Times” art blog “Cultist.” Jump through the image below to read it:
Though the interview linked above contains some of the more exciting moments of my conversation with the extremely outspoken director, including a rant against Andy Warhol, there was much of my conversation that had to be cut back due to space. We started by talking about the two main actors in both films, Kier and Joe Dallesandro, who plays a sort of anti-hero to the anti-heroes of these two films. He was also a frequent featured star in much of Morrissey’s films.
Note: Morrissey hates method acting, a school of acting pioneered by Elia Kazan and Lee Strasberg and popularized by Marlon Brando and James Dean. When he talks about “acting class agony vomit” he means “the method.” As I did in my “Cultist” piece, I present these excerpts from the interview uncensored:
Hans Morgenstern: How did you find Joe Dallesandro?
Paul Morrissey: He came in by accident, while I was filming, to meet some girl, and I was doing a scene with two other people, and he knocked on the door. I stopped the camera. He said, “I’m waiting for the person who lives here”. I said, “Oh, she’s not here now. Wait back there.” He came in with two or three other people. And the scene was not good. It was not going anywhere, what I was doing for the first 35 minutes … and I said well, that’s a young guy. He seems interesting. He’s quiet. He’s a kind of strong person because he doesn’t talk. I said, “Come over here and be in this scene with this bi who was a very great talker (someone named Ondine).” And that was it. I said, Oh, he was very good in this scene. The movie was called Loves of Ondine. But I, as the distributor, only shown in one or two theaters. It wasn’t very good.
How did you find Udo Kier?
I met him on a plane going from New York to Berlin, or something like that. And I recognized from some magazines he’d been in, from a couple of English movies or something, and then a year or so went by, and he gave me some agent or something in Berlin. When I was going to do those films [Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood For Dracula] I thought he’d be perfect. He was the only real German actor I knew, and I thought he was very interesting. I’d never seen any of his films, but he turned out to be great in both of my films. I liked him a lot. Why do you want to know how I meet these people, by the way?! What do you think? I go out in the street and pick them up in the gutter?! Oh, my God! I hope you have better questions. Yeesh.
Well, he gives such a powerful performance.
Of course he does. He’s a very good actor, and he’s beyond a good actor. He’s a very good personality. He’s very unique, speaks English with an accent, which I like. I’ve used so many accented actors in movies, gives them an added dimension.
Dracula is a quiet film compared to Flesh For Frankenstein. He’s a sort of tragic figure in it.
It was quiet to go along with Frankenstein. Dracula is sort of a victim of his need to suck blood (laughs). Isn’t he? Most of the Draculas are just non-stop sucking blood, but my guy was having a little trouble doing it, so it made a different story, I think.
He meets a pretty harsh end …
… the ending of Dracula is quiet funny when you think about it. Joe cuts him all up into pieces (laughs). It doesn’t mean he ends the life of any Dracula. They come back in another movie, but whatever.
Flesh for Frankenstein was a big hit all over Europe and America, especially, and Australia. Dracula did very well, but nobody offered Udo a big part again. And then he came to Hollywood, and he’s never stopped working for the past 30 years, but mainly in European films, and in a second, third or fourth part. Nobody would give him a first part, and he was so unusual and different. But they don’t want that. They want the acting class, phony piece of shit who looks like everyone else.
He was so powerful, in Dracula too, when he gets poisoned by the blood of the non-virgins.
Yeah (laughs) that’s right. Oh, we were very good.
Did you do a lot of takes for those scenes?
No, no, never. You did two takes, just in case one had a problem, a scratch on it. But he’s been in a couple of other movies, and he said, every other movie he’d ever been in, they dubbed him, (laughs) so he’s never been speaking his own accent in other movies made in Europe.
Well, I don’t know, other movies are probably not good movies. They’re garbage. But I’m just saying the different attitude now that exists towards actors as a result of all these terrible reviews in New York newspapers. Those critical, crappy things they say still do mean something to the dopes who produce the movies. They do not respond to actors that entertain them or that they enjoy. They want this heavy-handed, acting class agony vomit, and I don’t sit through that. I would never go.
In the meantime you are still making movies.
I made a new movie [News From Nowhere], but I want to only show it on streaming. I don’t want to put it in the theater and have advertising. I’m not going to give it to a distributor. I’ve gone through that routine my whole life. I’m not going to do it at the end of my life (laughs). It’s a very likable movie. I like it. I think the people in it are wonderful. And the main person (Demian Gabriel) in it is very good. He’s unique in many ways. He’s from another country. When I get to go streaming, I’ll say, “You can go watch it on the streaming.”
So it won’t be released in theaters?
I showed it once at one film festival, which I shouldn’t have even done, at Venice. Because I’m just a one of a kind, I’m not a company, I don’t go there and give them money and give them parties and advertise shit, they showed it when the Film Festival had ended! And so the critics had all gone home. They don’t stay around.
But it’s been about 20 years since you made a feature?
Yeah, sure. I dropped out. I realized that the kind of films wanted by garbage film festivals and critics weren’t my kind of films. I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I retired to watching television (laughs).
What made you return, your last feature was in the 80s.
I was leaving a place in Long Island that I had lived in for almost 40 years. It was the most beautiful place, and I thought I’d make a movie there, and that’s all. I’m glad I made the movie. What can I say?
Trailer for Flesh For Frankenstein and Blood For Dracula:
Flesh For Frankenstein (95 min., NC-17) and Blood For Dracula (106 min., the unrated director’s cut) screen on Monday, Oct. 29, and Tuesday Oct. 30, respectively, at 8:30 p.m. at the Miami Beach Cinematheque.