29 March, 2007

"Touch" Connors in Jess Franco Collection Vol. 2?



Jess Franco Collection Vol. 2

our price: £23.99 Delivered
availability: Due for release on 21/05/2007

RRP: £29.99 You save: £6.00 (20%)
Review

Anchor Bay presents The Jess Franco Collection 2, a selection of his best works now available together with digitally re-mastered picture and sound. Experience Downtown Heat, Down Town, Macumba Sexual, The Story Of O, Inconfessible Orgies of Emmanuelle and The Mansion Of The Living Dead as never before, with brilliant colours, clear sounds and technical perfection surpassing the originals by far.
Technical Details

Certificate 18 years and over

Screen Widescreen 16:9

Languages Dolby Digital (2.0) Stereo

Region Region 2 - Will only play on European Region 2 or multi-region DVD players.


The above is from play.com re: The Jess Franco Collection Vol. 2, reportedly coming from Anchor Bay UK. I'm trying to dig up some more specific info on this set. Titles include MACUMBA SEXUAL, MANSION OF THE LIVING DEAD, ...ORGIES OF EMMANUELLE, SEXUAL STORY OF O, DOWNTOWN, DOWNTOWN HEAT. A mixed bunch of Severin releases along with the 1975 Erwin Dietrich produced crime film. Surprised to see the 1990 French-Spanish coproduction DOWNTOWN HEAT in there. There is also the separate Severin Films US DVD release of SEXUAL STORY OF O and ORGIES OF EMMANUELLE scheduled in April. Looks like another busy year on the Jess Franco DVD front already.

A rather glossy production, DOWNTOWN HEAT is a gritty and pretty interesting crime flick. Mike "Touch" Connors is featured as a special agent out to bust Eurocrime Lord Radeck (Craig Hill). Connors, who started his career in such Roger Corman B film entries as the WIP SWAMP WOMEN, is his usual hard edged self and gives everybody hell.

"Touch" may be pissed if it all turns out to be a mistake. And you don't want to deal with a pissed off "Touch" Connors.

Any additional information or updates on this release will be much appreciated.

(c) Robert Monell, 2007

28 March, 2007

Jess Franco's MACBETH



"I've also got this Macbeth in mind, in which an amateur theatrical troupe are reherarsing the play in a theatre until the power of the tragedy starts to take over and they begin to act for real."

A quote from a recent interview with Jess Franco published in the Barcelona leisure guide "Guia Del Ocio" [n.158]*

Interesting that Franco also mentions making a new version of the classic "Medea" set in the present era. He also has been working on his Nathaniel Hawthorne project, THE HOUSE ON TOP OF THE CEMETERY. He described this last project (not to be confused with Lucio Fulci's 1982 Lovecraftian HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY) to me in some detail during a phone conversation in 2005. His ideas sounded pretty exciting. I hope it works out. I'm still not sure, though, on WHICH Hawthorne story he has based this project!

Why is Jess Franco taking on such heavy duty literary projects at this stage in his long career? I think it has something to do with his relationship to his favorite director, Orson Welles. Welles directed his own low budget MACBETH in 1948. Maybe even more to the point is the fact that Jess Franco was second unit diretor on Welles' CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT (1965), and helped stage the famous battle sequence, often praised as one of the best ever filmed. I find that CHIMES... only gets better over the years and strikes me as the best-ever Shakespeare adaptation simply because of the creative risks it takes with the Bard's works, compositing several major plays with bits of Holinshed's Chronicles. Welles' gives his most moving performance as the tragi-comic Falstaff, the role he was born to play. Welles' interpretation stresses the relationship between age and play. Falstaff is the eternal child, who despite his advanced age leads Prince Hal astray until the young man has to assume the role of King. Childhood's end is perhaps the great Welles' theme, or one of them. It also may be one of Jess Franco's less examined preoccupations, playing a large role in EUGENIE (1970), AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO (1973) and BROKEN DOLLS, three of his best films. The adventure (and terror) of growing up is in all of his films from WE ARE 18 to SNAKEWOMAN.

Let's all pray that the complex rights issues can be cleared so we get a decent R1 DVD of CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT sooner than later. The Spanish DVD is simply unacceptable in terms of video quality and sound.

"Macbeth" may have been a primary source of inspiration for the Santiago Moncada scripted LA ESCLAVA BLANCA, a microbudgeted jungle yarn Franco made in 1985. And, of course, the sometimes magnificent BROKEN DOLLS is shot through with elements from KING LEAR and THE TEMPEST. In any case, Franco's MACBETH, with the play taking over the actors, has a Rivette-like** resonance, also evoking Ronald Coleman in George Cukor's A DOUBLE LIFE. "Macbeth" has been filmed an unlucky 13 times since 1916.

We'll have much more to say about the complex relationship between Shakespeare, Orson Welles and Jess Franco in future blogs.

**Image at the top of the blog from Jacques Rivette's OUT ONE (1970).

Thanks to Nzoog Wahrlfhehen for providing the reference and translation.

(c) Robert Monell, 2007

23 March, 2007

BLACK EMANUELLE'S BOX: Continued



Just to clarify my comments concerning the runtime of EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD. The soft version included in the boxset is a legitimate release version and complete in that regard. I'll be covering Severin's DVD of the XXX Euro version but it must be noted that, as with Jess Franco's LA COMTESSE NOIRE, a non hardcore version was shot for some markets and a XXX cut prepared for other territories. I should note that these are the only versions I have seen to date, there may be more out there.

As illustrated by the above collage the two D'Amato directed features are presented with the original US release adverts on the covers, while the CD is illustrated with the original vinyl EMANUELLE NERA cover. Giuseppe Vari's SISTER EMANUELLE is presented with a promo still of Laura Gemser in her shocking white nunsploitation gear with Euro-hottie Monica Zanchi (EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS) kneeling before her in birthday suit. I wish the film itself were as provocative as the DVD cover.

Shot entirely in Italia, SUOR EMANUELLE suffers from the loss of D'Amato as its director/cinematographer and especially from the lack of another deliciously quirky Nico Fidenco soundtrack. This DVD has the same specs as the other two and is a nice transfer from almost pristine elements. It's nowhere near as deliriously colorful as the other two, but that's because DP Gugliemo Mancori had mostly dreary castle interiors to light. This one is best watched in Italian with the English subtitles on since all the action takes place either in Venice or the castello doubling as a school for wayward girls. Note that the castello is the same location used in BLOODY PIT OF HORROR and numerous other Italian horror films of the 1960s and 70s. The real problem with this film starts with Mario Onorati's script which has Emanuelle suffering for her past "sins" under the watchful eye of the stern mother superior, who chides her for such "blasphemies" as not wearing her "chastity" undergarments. You don't want to have Emanuelle stuck in this situation for the entire runtime, although they do come up with a DEAD OF NIGHT style twist to liberate her at the end.

With the exception of some erotic flashbacks, showing how Monica Zanchi got there (for seducing her stepmom), everything which occurs is rather dull and predictable. Ms. Zanchi does heat up the proceedings by having close encounters with everyone in sight, including an escaped convict (a very welcome Gabriele Tinti), but one longs for the wilder international adventures and exotic tone of the D'Amato Emanuelle entries. It's all shot from absolutely static camera positions which leave one wondering why Vari and Mancori didn't bother to compose an occasional inventive image to create some visual interest. The energetic wind and percussion cues of maestro Stelvio Cipriani try hard but just can't make up for the absence of one of Fidenco's infectious Emanuelle themes. His work is craftsmanlike but it's not one of Cipriani's more memorable scores. This one is all by the numbers.

Four deleted scenes in Italian language only, featuring brief glimpses of hardcore action performed by body doubles for Gemser and Zanchi, are included. But even if they were inserted into the feature it wouldn't help much. One is appreciative that they are available here even if the very soft picture quality (are they sourced from an Italian vhs?) is way below the quality of the feature print. The English language theatrical trailer, letterboxed and in good quality, is also included. All told, this is an excellent presentation of one of the lesser Black Emanuelle titles. It just confirms that Bitto Albertini and D'Amato were really the prime movers of this series.

Also included as an extra are an array of postcard sized Italian adverts for the features. They're colorful and fun to look at. It's all packageed in an appropriately black box which features a glossy image of the sultry Ms Gemser staring out from a window cut out of the gatefold cover. The cover opens up to reveal her svelte torso, nude from the waist up. It's a great cover and a terrific boxset. I await Vol. 2 with high hopes. By my count, Gemser made at least eight Black Emanuelle films between 1976 and 1983 so there's a lot of material to choose from out there.

As stated before Severin's separate disc,the XXX Euroversion of EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD,contains several scenes of hardcore action. They involve scenes of group sex and two instances of bestiality. I'm not going to describe them in detail, you'll have to discover them for yourself. The do appear to have been shot at the same time as the feature as altenate footage for a version intended for select adult markets. They are just XXX extensions of scenes already in the soft version and they really don't add much to the film except for 4 or 5 extra minutes. It will be of some value to Eurocult collectors and D'Amato completists. Laura Gemser wasn't directly involved in any of the hardcore footage. In any case, she always had a body double for hardcore scenes where her presence was implied. Any information or comments on the variances between these two versions of EATW is very welcome in the comment section below. This is my first exposure to both versions. It might be interesting to come up with some suggestions for a Vol. 2 BLACK EMANUELLE Box.

(c) Robert Monell, 2007

22 March, 2007

Review: BLACK EMANUELLE'S BOX, Vol.1




"I was looking for happiness, but I got lost." Laura Gemser in EMANUELLE PERCHE' VIOLENZA ALLE DONNE?

"Come...with Emanuelle," invites the heavy-breathing male narrator on the vintage Jerry Gross Organization US trailer for Joe D'Amato's EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD. It's just one of the delightful and pertinent bonus materials on Severin Films BLACK EMANUELLE'S BOX Vol. 1. It's especially eye opening when considering the splice-ridden, blurry trailer vs. the gorgeous new transfer that Severin has given the original EMANUELLE PERCHE' VIOLENZA ALLE DONNE? (1977). After viewing two of the discs and listening to the CD compilation containing three Nico Fidenco "Black Emanuelle" scores, GETTING DOWN WITH BLACK EMANUELLE, my immediate reaction is that this 4000 Unit Limited Collector's Edition box is already a candidate for one of the 10 Best Eurocult DVD's presentations of 2007...and if you are as much of a Joe D'Amato/Nico Fidenco/Laura Gemser fan as myself then it's Christmas in March.

Given the amount of material included on the four discs, along with my preference for shorter to medium blogs rather than epic-length ones, I'm going to split my look at this LE boxset into two separate blogs. First of all, I do appreciate someone at SEVERIN having the wit to call it BLACK EMANUELLE'S BOX, given what we all "think" these films are about. Excellent transfers have become expected from Severin and they continue to dazzle at least myself with these revealing transfers of EMANUELLE IN BANGKOK (1976) and EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD (1977). They present convincing new evidence of the multifaceted talents of both the late, prolific and always underestimated Joe D'Amato (rn: Aristide Massaccesi, which he uses in both of these features as his DP credit, more about that later) and the Prince of eccentric Italiano cult music, singer-composer Nico Fidenco.

First, some history: my introduction to Joe D'Amato and the "Black Emanuelle" series came during a 1977 theatrical showing of EMANUELLE IN BANGKOK (US title) which I attended at the Hollywood Theater in Syracuse, NY, one of those old brick and mortars which specialized in showing cult films like George Romero's MARTIN and the ISLA films at Midnight on Saturdays. I paid my one dollar [!...those were the days] admission and expected a repeat performance of the 1974 French film EMMANUELLE, which I had seen and reviewed in a local newspaper a year or two before. What I hadn't realized was that Italian director Bitto Albertini has created the "Black Emanuelle" character of Mae Jordan/Emanuelle in EMANUELLE NERA, his 1975 exploitation of the French film, which became a surprise hit in the US, playing in much more mainstream venues than dollar Midnight movie houses. I found the French EMMANUELLE to be a rather pretty (in terms of cinematography and locations) bore. In other words a pretty stupid X rated film to which I took my girlfriend after we had a few too many one rainy Sunday afternoon. I can't even remember why on earth we went to see EIB a few years later except that it WAS Saturday Night and there had probably been more liquid persuasion. EIB seemed gritty, grungy and much more disgusting (the mongoose and cobra scene sent my girlfriend out of the theater). And, of course, this Emanuelle was a person of color whom I somehow found much more real and appealing than Sylvia Kristel. Of course, the Italian Emanuelle films aren't really related to the French, Spanish (some by Jess Franco), Asian and US films with the name Emanuelle in the title. Joe D'Amato himself makes clear in the Eurofest interview included as an extra on this set that Albertini, himself and Italian colleagues made sure the character's name always was spelled with one M rather than two, like the French heroine's in the competing series based on the novel by Emmanuele Arsan.


In EMANUELLE IN BANGKOK the globe trotting, sexually available photojournalist has somewhat evolved from the kinder, gentler mold in EMANUELLE NERA of the previous year. D'Amato was a much more innovative and daring director than Albertini and gave the character and action a harder edge, including sequences of graphic sex, rape and violence. This would reach its apex in the notorious entry EMANUELLE IN AMERICA (already out in a deluxe DVD ed from BLUE UNDERGROUND). EIB (onscreen title: BLACK EMANUELLE EN ORIENT) is much milder, almost a lighthearted international sex romp compared to ...AMERICA or the other D'Amato directed Black Emanuelle flick in this set, EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD. Set in the sprawling Thai metropolis D'Amato doesn't shrink from presenting the crushing poverty of most of the residents seen in the background, and sometimes foreground. There is a lot of handheld, strikingly framed cinematogrphy, none of it is pretty but all of it is extremely effective in efficently setting the tone and atmosphere of its exotic locations without ever relying on "tourist shots" of easy, photogenic targets. D'Amato always admitted that he was a DP first and foremost who just happened to get into producing and directing. The fact that he was the DP on his best films is what often gives them their only distinguised quality.

Voyaging to Bangkok from her New York City base with an achaeologist friend (the late Gabriele Tinti, who was married to Gemser from 1976 to his death in 1991) the credits detail their oceanliner trip by amusingly intercutting them having sex with the movements of the giant pistons driving the ship's engine. There are a lot of canted camera angles of the local architectural wonders and a general sense of fun as a swinging Republican US Senator (are there any other kind?) and his bimbo wife (FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON's Ely Galleani) join into the sexual hijinx in between encounters of the sleazy kind with local strippers who get into dripping hot candle wax and projecting ping-pong balls from unlikely places... you get the idea.

A strong supporting cast includes the late Ivan Rassimov (charmingly saturnine as always) as the mysterious local politician who gets Emanuelle involved in a plot for a coup, making her the target of a group of thugs who try to change her mind by raping her and then being nice! This, of course, would all be wildly politcally incorrect in today's pop culture and maybe that's part of its fascination. The fact that corrupt US officials are played by such prolific Italian Eurocult regulars as Giacomo-Rossi Stuart (the hero of Bava's KILL BABY KILL!) and Venantino Venantini somehow keeps reminding us that this is after all mid 1970s European Trash Cinema. The action moves to Morocco, where Emanuelle gets involved with more group sex and near rape scenarios. Toward the end Chris Avram (BAY OF BLOOD) shows up as a writer who tries to impose a philosophy on the entire affair.

Severin has given EMANUELLE IN BANGKOK another of its impecabbly detailed and colorful transfers which one has to only compare in terms of resolution and luminousity to the original vintage theatrical trailer to see how much work has gone into this restoration. The 1:85.1/16X9 transfer from generally very good elements (excluding a somewhat lower resolution opening credits sequence and a few fleetingly visible scratches) would probably surprise even its late director. It's the absolute best this feature has ever looked or will look.

As with the other two Emanuelle features in the set, both the Italian and English language tracks are available, along with removable English subtitles. The Dolby Digital presentation of the Mono tracks has remarkable presence and gives the wonderful Nico Fidenco score a chance to assume its primary place over the admittedly risible dialogues. I would recommend watching both of the D'Amato Emanuelles in English with the Italian subs on. It's nice to have the Italian track there but since these films are set initially in the US and have an American main character who interacts with English speaking Europeans and Asians the Italian track sounds strained and artificial in comparison

Along with the original trailer a 12m video interview camcorded at the 1995 Eurofest Convention is included wherein the modest D'Amato is questioned by Mark Ashworth and Adrian Smith. A very genial and laid back D'Amato answers questions about his work. The credits list this as his only English language interview. The video/sound quality is admittedly substandard but watchable, providing some insight into the character of this often misunderstood auteur. Interestingly, the opening and closing credits for EIB and EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD are in French, obviously indicating these elements originated in France.

EMANUELLE PERCHE' VIOLENZA ALLE DONNE? (onscreen title: LE VICE DANS LA PEAU) is another D'Amato-directed Black Emanuelle item from 1977, and is more along the lines of the same year's EMANUELLE IN AMERICA in terms of its presentation of scenes of extreme sexuality and violence against women. EIB has its rape scene but this entire feature is built around the concept of rape and sexual slavery as a shameful underside of a societal perversion which thrives on the sexual exploitation and control of women, especially "liberated" women who dress provactively, are intelligent and travel without escort. Once again, top US government officals along with various underclass rapists are part of a worldwide plot involving the abduction of female tourists who are then sent to work in brothels in the Middle East and Asia.

Emanuelle arrives in San Francisco (after having a go with a truck driver in the back of his rig) to investigate and expose the operation. She is greeted by a local journalist (international sex sensation Karin Schubert) who wants "the most famous photo-journalist in America" to help her indict the white slavers. Schubert is brutally raped by the ring's enforcers which only makes Emanuelle more determined. Stopping over in Bombay she meets a world famous Indian guru (frequent D'Amato actor and sometimes screenwriter "George Eastman" rn: Luigi Montefiori), whom she quickly beds and just as quickly exposes as a philosophical and sexual fraud. Moving onto Rome, the Far East and back to New York D'Amato unleashes one gorgeous long lensed impression after another of the exotic locales while allowing Fidenco's increasingly odd musical cues to provide audio counterpoint. The repeated use of Fidenco's song "A Picture of Love" performed in High Bubble Gum style by FIRE FLY has to be heard to be believed, and once you hear it there'll be no forgetting it! I mean that in the most fun sense. But EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD is serious stuff when it comes to sexual violence. The sequence involving the sexual humiliation and gang rape of "Miss Ohio", orchestrated by a group of powerful US Senators as "punishment" for her gambling debt, is truly jaw-dropping and takes on a prescient quality in light of high profile news stories of the last few years. D'Amato seems both appalled and a bit amused that the liberal press, with the New York City based Emanuelle as its representative, is ultimately unable to change the system of representation, although she does get some of those responsible (including, in an amusing cameo, D'Amato himself) busted.

The transfer of EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD is also 1:85.1/16X9; DD, Mono; English and Italian tracks available, with optional English subtitles. It seems a bit soft during the opening credits before exploding into the most breathtakingly colorful transfer of the set. Resolution and detail are just amazing throughout and the original French elements couldn't be more luminously beautiful. Check out the glowing emeralds, deep ocean blues and hot crimsons of the Bombay guru's palace interiors and tell me if the color and definition isn't as good as any contemporary big budget Hollywood feature film showing at any theater in the US.

Curiously, the EATW disc clocks in at just over 97m, about five minutes short of the 102m listed on the back of the box. I'm sure we'll read more about this elsewhere. Also, I haven't yet seen the XXX Euroversion, but I'll attempt to report any variations after I see it later. It's also has a 102m runtime listed on the back of its box. Remember, this disc is NOT going to be included as part of the boxset. I'm not an expert on this particular title, so if someone can clear up the correct original runtime of the non XXX version please feel free to to do in the comment section below.

The inclusion of a CD compilation of 25 Fidenco tracks from three separate Black Emanuelle features mark the EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD double disc as the motherlode of the boxset and worth the price of admission. There are nine cues from EMANUELLE NERA (although the film itself is not in the set), eight from EMANUELLE NERA ORIENT REPORTAGE along with another eight from EMANUELLE PERCHE' VIOLENZA ALLE DONNE? The outre lyrics ans music is all composed and orchestrated by Fidenco and conducted by Giacomo Dell'Orso. The singers BULLDOG perform track 5 "Off Your Body" while SILKY SOUND SINGERS perform "Sweet Living Thing" and "Like a Sailing Ship" is tones that can best be termed...silky.

The coup de grace for me on this double disc, though, is the bonus feature BLACK EMANUELLE'S GROOVE: Interview with Composer Nico Fidenco. For a Euro music collector like myself this is a jam packed 13 minutes of pure joy. Fidenco appears as a impeccably dressed lounge master who, vinyls of the three scores in hand, rapidly and hypnotically takes us through his 40 year and still going career as a songwriter, composer and performer. He's a compulsive talker, charming, self effacing, insightful about his peers. He brackets his work between "technical" assignments like his first score (at the behest of RCA) for the mid 60s Spaghetti Western IN A COLT'S SHADOW and his crazier cues for the 1980s gorefest ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST. He also manages to detail his approach to composing soundtracks for sex films, citing his attempts to present a romantic leit-motif or theme which is then repeated to soften the eroticism and violence. He underlines his basic philosphy as a kind of anti-orchestral minimalism, noting: "When an erotic scene plays to a very sweet, romantic soundtrack, it loses its morbid character." Viva Fidenco! GETTING DOWN WITH BLACK EMANUELLE also comes with a very informative and helpful program insert listing the tracks and their timings. It's illustrated with the original vinyl covers. Fidenco also finds time to squeeze in discussion of his personal memories of D'Amato, Gemser, Ennio Morricone among others. This guy can really TALK!

If all the above weren't enough there is still the fourth disc on this set to consider, the very different in tone SISTER EMANUELLE, also featuring Laura Gemser in the title role. This is directed by Giuseppe Vari and scored by Stelvio Cipriani, a fact which, as we shall see in our next blog, makes a crucial difference. We'll also be considering more of the special bonus features included in the set along with the separately released Severin disc, the XXX European version of EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD. Stay tuned...

(c) Robert Monell, 2007

18 March, 2007

Godard's Magnum Opus on R2 DVD






Even Bela Lugosi can be found in Jean Luc Godard's epic collage, HISTORIE(S) DU CINEMA...

"Godard, Bunuel, Fritz Lang, they're not outmoded..." actress in SUCCUBUS discussing trends with Jack Taylor.

Jean Luc Godard is identified as a primary influence by Jess Franco not only in the dialogue of NECRONOMICON/SUCCUBUS but also in his recent interviews. Godard's massive "documentary" HISTORIE(S)DU CINEMA (1989-2004) will be available on FR PAL R2 DVD [with English subtitles] March 20, 2007 from Gaumont. It is a 4 disc boxset containing the documentary and three major featurettes.

Layered with images from films of all genres from all over the world, HISTORIE(S)... represents a cinephile's paradise. A challenging intellectual and sensual matrix which signals something of a paradigm shift in the art of categorization and commentary. It's been called Godard's testament on the evolution of cinema from the silent era onward in his unique personal essay format.

It will be interesting to see if this surfaces on R1 DVD anytime soon.

We'll be rotating screenshots from this amazing work at the top of this blog as a slideshow for the next few days...

www.dvdbeaver.com/ Amazon Fr HISTORIE (S) DU CINEMA

(c) Robert Monell, 2007

17 March, 2007

LA BRUJA: DVD



We've discussed the influence of the films of the prolific Mexican director Chano Urueta (1895-1979) on the career of Jess Franco in a previous blog. Urueta made over 100 films in many genres between 1928 and 1974 and is probably best known in the US for his ultra-bizarre THE BRAINIAC [EL BARON DEL TERROR-1962], which is now out in a superior CasaNegra DVD presentation along with his 1960 THE WITCH'S MIRROR. We also look forward to a future CasaNegra edition of THE LIVING HEAD (1961). Urueta was also an actor who appeared as bandidos in Sam Peckinpah's THE WILD BUNCH (1969) and BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA (1977). One assumes that Chano and Sam got along famously. Urueta's 1954 THE WITCH (LA BRUJA) is also out on DVD from Phoenix: Cine Mexicano Collections. This 2005 disc is in Spanish language only and not as impressive as the CasaNegra DVDs. The image is fullframe and not exactly in High Definition in terms of sharpness, detail and contrast. It is quite watchable but makes one wish this fascinating item will be considered as a future CasaNegra release.

Urueta hasn't quite achieved the kind of critical reputation of his colleague Fernando Mendez (EL VAMPIRO-1957) but at his best this reliable journeyman can conujure up a delirious Primitivism. Just as THE WITCH'S MIRROR has many parallels with Franco's GRITOS EN LA NOCHE (1961), probably coincidentally since it wasn't released until after GRITOS was produced, LA BRUJA uncannily anticipates the surgical horrors of MISS MUERTE (THE DIABIOLICAL DR. Z-1965). Dr. Boerner (Julio Villarreal) transforms a facially deformed woman (Lilia Del Valle) into a beautiful seductress who lures several men responsible for the death of the Doctor's daughter to their doom. The character of La Bruja is a kind of composite of the disfigured female scientist (Mabel Karr) and the seductive nightclub perfomer (Estella Blain) in MISS MUERTE.

The basic idea of a sexy enchantress murdering a group of scientists whose intolerance resulted in the death of a mad doctor's loved one also resonates in Franco's later Soledad Miranda vehicle SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY (1970). Urueta's film is in some ways even wilder as he includes a cult of black robed beggars, drawfs and assorted freaks who aid in the elaborate vengeance scheme from their subterranean temple dressed with human skulls, stuffed animals, occult symbols, along with numerous macabre details in Urueta's outlandish mise en scene. The Tribunal of the Night sequence is a surreal highlight with elements from Fritz Lang's M and the 30s Lugosi serial RETURN OF CHANDU woven into the plot and visual design. The scientifically manipulated "ugly woman" would be a recurrent feature in other Mexican films (the markedly inferior John Carradine Mexican excursion LA SENORA MUERTE-1968) as well as many 50s and 60s Eurohorrors (notably the fumetti inspired SATANIK).

LA BRUJA really deserves the kind of deluxe DVD treatment, complete with English subtitles, that other Mexican fantasy films are finally realizing.

(c) Robert Monell, 2007

13 March, 2007

Jess Franco makes IMBD Bottom 100 list...


For a film which he provided the original story and was set to direct before French Erotic-Vampire-Movie specialist Jean Rollin was called in to helm when Jess didn't show on the first day of shooting. Yes, it's the immortal ZOMBIE LAKE [LE LAC DES MORTS VIVANTS] the 1980 Nazi-Zombie stomp which is so bad that it's... well, not good but kinda fun.

The IMBD poll places it at #98 out of 100. These are the worst films of all time according the the IMBD reader's poll. They also have a top 250 list which places THE GODFATHER at #1.

BTW, I noticed in my last screening of this that film historian, Jess Franco actor {MIDNIGHT PARTY, TENDER FLESH), screenwriter (PLAISIR A TROIS) and author of the essential Franco study THE MANACOA FILES Alain Petit can be glimpsed at the film's climax as an angry villager who is standing next to the guy who is turning the flame thrower on the zombies.

Other Eurogenre/cult films in the bottom 100 listing include the Joe D'Amato produced TROLL 2 (a personal favorite) while D'Amato's ATOR THE INVINCIBLE 2 is #100.

Interesting that Franco's name is listed in the IMBD writing credits for the film but not on the film itself. Maybe Eurocine was mad at him for not showing up at the last minute!

(c) Robert Monell, 2007

09 March, 2007

LA BELLE CAPTIVE DVD:



Sara and co. have prepared an unpleasant surprise for Walter in Alain Robbe-Grillet's LA BELLE CAPTIVE.

Finally, Robbe-Grillet's 1983 fusion of Rene Magritte, Film Noir and female vampires arrives on R1 DVD 3/13/07. I can't vouch for the transfer but at least it's here with Eng subs. From Koch Lorber. The only extra is the original French trailer.

Not to boast but check out my August 2000 review of LA BELLE CAPTIVE under its IMBD listing. I believe that dates me as the first critic to point out the visual and thematic qualities which link it to Stanley Kubrick's 1999 EYES WIDE SHUT. Not to impley that SK saw or was influenced by the earlier Robbe Grillet film but now one can consider them together on DVD. I'm a supporter of EYS and still chafe at the digital altering of Kubrick's elegantly ominous swansong. Both films certainly link Eros and Thanatos within the format of the Erotic Thriller genre. They also both seem to employ the mythic structure of Orpheus in the underworld and that's probably a conscious decision on ARG's part. I can't speak to what Kubrick had exactly in mind.

LBC is probably ARG's most accomplished color film. Lensed by the legendary Henri Alekan it's certainly his most visually sensuous cinematic enterprise, and one of his most difficult. I must admit that I fell asleep the first time I attempted to watch this, via a poor video dub. It may improve with repeat viewings. This is the kind of film which respects and rewards the adventurous viewer but demands full attention. It's a very high performance vehicle and probably the most erotic of his films. Robbe-Grillet makes literary arthouse events with softcore porn surfaces which are often criticized as exotic S&M. But LA BELLE CAPTIVE is something else again with a specific density which will put off the casual consumer.

"La Belle Captive" is also a novel by Robbe-Grillet, in "collaboration" with the late surrealist painter Rene Magritte. It is like few other "novels" and, in fact, redefines the genre as do his other literary collaborations with visual artists.

(c) Robert Monell, 2007

08 March, 2007

VAMPIROS AND MONSTRUOS


Check out Mirek Lipinski's newly revamped Mexican Fantastique blog, VAMPIROS AND MONSTRUOS. Mirek is a world class expert on Mexican horror/fantastic cinema.

The colorfully illustrated blog has accurate information on new Mexican horror DVDs along with compelling reflections on the films themselves.

Mirek has written a book of the same title which will be a comprehensive study of 20th Century Mexican Fantastic cinema. I am proud to be a contributor to this eagerly awaited and much needed tome. Other contributors include Mark Barnard, Gary L. Prange and Richard Harland Smith. And, of course, Mexican horror cinema has a fascinating, interactive relationship with the career and films of Jess Franco, a relationship we shall explore in future blogs. In the meantime, try a double bill of the CasaNegra DVD THE WITCH'S MIRROR and THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF.

VAMPIROS AND MONSTRUOS: THE MEXICAN HORROR FILM OF THE 20TH CENTURY should be published sometime this summer according to the update.

It will be a must-have for all fans of Mexi-horror and those who want to learn more about the subject.

www.vampirosandmonstruos.blogspot.com/

THE EUROSPY FILES



In answer to our quiz question in the previous EUROSPY FILES entry: It's Roger Browne in Osvaldo Civriani's OPERAZIONE POKER (1965), a rather lavish affair, moving from the dangerous backstreets of Casablance to a Scandanavian brewery which is the cover for the usual worldclass villainy. Colorful stuff scored by Piero Umiliani, who provided more catchy, frenetic Eurogenre soundtracks during the 1960s than anyone else (my favorite are his happy-to-be-crazy cues for Mario Bava's minimalist madcap FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON).

Roger Browne acted in a bunch of subsequent Eurospy adventures including the underrated and oddly titled RIFIFI IN AMSTERDAM, returned in KILL AGENT GORDON when not taking time out to embody the masked supervillain in ARGOMAN, all stylishly directed by the talented Sergio Greico (as Terence Hathaway). Reportedly, Roger later retired and worked as a chiropractor. Roger could be considered the King of the mid budgeted 1960s Eurospy film. I'll take him over any and all of the post Sean Connery Bonds.

Above is an image, also from OPERAZIONE POKER, of an actress who could be considered the Queen of the 60's Eurospy genre. Can anyone ID her?

BTW, after looking at the filmography I calculate that our subject Jess Franco may be the most prolific director of Eurospy films. He seems to have made more than any other single director from 077: OPERATION JAMAICA (1962) up to IS COBRA THE SPY? in the mid 1980s. My favorite is the satire LUCKY, THE INSCRUTABLE (1967).

(c) Robert Monell, 2007

05 March, 2007

Douglas Sirk vs Jess Franco



"Melodrama means music plus drama..." Douglas Sirk

Way back in the days before cable TV, videotape, DVD, I once travelled 500 miles to see a Douglas Sirk film. There are not many films I would do that for. It was THE FIRST LEGION, his film about Jesuits. Not exactly a key film in his oeuvre or something I could discuss here at length. But, like all of Sirk's films, I was hypnotized by the emotional honesty of it amidst its unique plastic aesthetic. It was worth the trip.

I finally caught up with the CRITERION COLLECTION DVD of Sirk's WRITTEN ON THE WIND (1956), a late masterwork and one of the 20 plus films he made for Universal International after signing with them in 1950. It's Sirk's most beautiful film in terms of pure form and that has a lot to due with DP Russell Metty, who would shoot Orson Welles' Hollywood swansong TOUCH OF EVIL (see Jess Franco's 1963 RIFIFI EN LA CIUDAD for a virtual remake, which may have prompted Orson to hire him to direct second unit for CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT) the next year. Universal was persuaded by producer Albert Zugsmith to let Sirk, and later Welles, work as they pleased. A DP able to give a film an auteur's style and a studio look Metty is one of my favorite Hollywood cinematographers and he enabled Sirk to do breathtaking things with color, framing and camera movement. The gorgeous hues pulsate in depth of field and seem to have a life of their own. It's beyond the kind of Expression which Sirk practiced in his early UFA films before he fled the Nazis. It's a kind of eye drugging American Surrealism, bold, delicious and somehow morbid. How can one describe in words a canary yellow sportscar speeding past a pumping oil derrick and tanks emblazoned with a red family business seal? You have to see it. It's like Metty is painting with Technicolor heated up to the max. The plot is lurid and ulitmately unimportant. It's a film about sex and class and its images are its true story and themes. By classification it's a melodrama, a "woman's picture" which Douglas Sirk mastered in his final decade of filmmaking. But Jess Franco, througout his career, has also made the woman's picture HIS genre.

Franco's most interesting and personal films are women's pictures: women and their emotional turmoils are at the center of THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z, NECRONOMICON, 99 WOMEN, NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT, EUGENIE DE SADE, VAMPYROS LESBOS, SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY, LA FILLE DE DRACULA, LA COMTESSE NOIRE, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MIRROR (a perfect Douglas Sirk title), LORNA-THE EXORCIST, A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD, MACUMBA SEXUAL, right up to the recent SNAKEWOMAN. Women have absolute power over men (and not just sexual) in these films and even in his male centered neo-noirs like BOTAS NEGRAS, LATIGO DE CUERO. The women at the center of these titles search for meaning and identity, usually finding neither.

In WRITTEN ON THE WIND the pathetic nymphomaniac played by Dorothy Malone holds the life and death of her dysfunctional family in her quivering hands througout. On impulse I immediately put on Franco's 1973 MAIS QUI DONC A VIOLE LINDA? (BUT WHO RAPED LINDA?)and completed a fascinating double bill. Franco also made early films in the style of German Expressionism (1961's GRITOS EN LA NOCHE/THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF), moved to a kind of Surrealism in films like NECRONOMICON, VAMPYROS LESBOS, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, but settled into the impoverished minimalism or subrealism of his these mid 1970s French backed features. He didn't have Russell Metty, or even his favorite DP, Manuel Merino. He had little money, so it's an imposed style, and he seems to have preferred working in relative freedom, although he had to eventually turn even the best of these films into hardcore versions at their producer's insistence. LINDA presents the precognitive dream of Marie-France (Alice Arno) who is about to go to an island where she will interact with the bizarre Radeck/Steiner family. The fact that the "story" of the film is presented as she dozes off reading a book (by "David Khunne*) recalls the formal structure of EUGENIE...THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION (1970), but that was a big budget film compared to this.

Like Sirk's film LINDA is also about sex and class, the pressures they place on the family unit, which ultimate fragments under the strain. The Orloff's family secrets as the ones of the title character in SNAKEWOMAN are kept hidden from the outside world and are investigated at the risks of those who do the probing. Paul Muller's neurotic father is wealthy and remote, he warns Marie-France about the nymphomania of daughter Olivia (Lina Romay). As in most of Franco's key films, this is about watching various performances and he uses mirrors to open the action into symbolic dimensions of time and space. The mirror is the central object in Franco's mise en scene and his filmography as it is with Sirk. The progression into madness and murder is thus a reflection on what life should be, something to be experienced within a happy family. But there are no really happy families in the films of Douglas Sirk or Jess Franco, only the Self to be contemplated by the camera and in the mirror.

"The mirror is the imitation of life. What is interesting about a mirror is that it does not show yourself as you are, it shows you your own opposite." Douglas Sirk


*MAIS QUI DONC A VIOLE LINDA? is also known as LES NUITS BRULANTES DE LINDA [Hardcore version], EROTIC DREAMS [the rare non hardcore English language version], among other titles. The film must be seen in it's origina 2.35:1 OAR to appreciate Franco's complex use of framing, space and objects. Thanks to Francesco Cesari for helping me to see three significantly different edits of this underappreciated JF title.

**The title of the book is MAIS QUI DONC A VIOLE LINDA? Now that we know that there were no actual "David Khunne" novels, this is a double in-joke on JF's part.

"Sirk on Sirk".

(c) Robert Monell, 2007

01 March, 2007

Happy Birthday, Paul Muller!


Born in Switzerland 84 years ago today, Paul Muller is the King of Eurogenre character actors with 100's of roles to his credit. An exceptionally fine actor and very nice man. I thank him for patiently attempting to answer all my annoying questions.

Here he is as the drug addicted stalker, strikingy framed by Mario Bava, in the template for all following Italian and Euro-horror, I VAMPIRI (1956). Note the similarity between this set-up and the scenes of Morpho abducting victims in Franco's 1961 GRITOS EN LA NOCHE. No wonder Mario Bava is one of the few Italian directors JF speaks well of.

Muller portrayed Dr. Seward in Jess Franco's COUNT DRACULA, but my favorite of his numerous roles for the director is the depraved and desperate Radeck, the father of Soledad Miranda's Eugenie in the 1970 film EUGENIE DE SADE.

Today he lives quietly in Italy and is still available for work.

(c) Robert Monell 2007

THE EUROSPY FILES



You can have the new James Bond and all the ones since 1970. I prefer the Eurospy guys and girls of the 1960s vintage. As a regular feature here I conjure up images from that era. Here we have one of my favorite Eurospy actors in one of the several he made in Europe during that Golden Age.

Can you name the actor and the film shown above?

Or at least appreciate the threads and hairstyle circa 1965 (that's a hint).