31 October, 2007

CORMAN-FRANCO-POE-USHER

Roger Corman, the most dangerous director alive, takes aim at Edgar Allan Poe's classic tale in his 1960 AIP production, HOUSE OF USHER.

It's Halloween evening and I'm watching Roger Corman's HOUSE OF USHER on TCM with a recent viewing of Jess Franco's 1983 version of the same story fresh in mind. It must have been quite a shock for Corman's fans, if he had any back in those days, who were familiar with such B minus fantasy entries as NOT OF THIS EARTH, THE UNDEAD, BUCKET OF BLOOD and ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS, all b&w no budget wonders filled with compelling images and ideas. They were unusually inventive trash, delicious exploitation. But HOUSE OF USHER is almost Art, with an emphasis on the "almost."

I don't think this film, or his subsequent Poe titles, would be as fondly remembered without the spectral presence of Vincent Price, who seemed to have been waiting his entire life to fit into the haunted shoes of Corman's Poe protagonists. He certainly dominates and finally obliterates the rest of the cast in HOUSE OF USHER.

Beside the intelligent, bold use of color, which may have influenced such later horror directors as Mario Bava, Riccardo Freda and Dario Argento, the element I like the best about HOUSE.. are the cracks in the house. Small cracks suddenly apparent, and a huge fissure revealed by shock cuts to the looming exterior of the mansion.

Jess Franco's USHER has more stones and rocks than cracks and replaces the final conflagration with a earthquake represented by shaking the camera (Jess operated his own system) and showing a few said rocks tumbling. Hmmm.... Well, it's Jess Franco.

And I must admit that I prefer Antonio Mayans to pretty boy Mark Damon as the young intruder, named Dr. Alan "Hacker" in the English language export! I guess they meant Harker, and there's a "Dr. Seward" [Daniel J. White] involved, a frequent name in many Franco horror films. Damon's hair is done up in a lavish wave slicked by the lights of Floyd Crosby. Mayans looks ready to burn out. Speaking of Floyd Crosby, Franco wanted to make an Expressionist homage to F.W. Murnau but Corman actually had Murnau's cameraman onset, a distinct advantage. And, as is often quoted, Corman understood that the house was the monster, something that Franco also comprehends. The Spanish castle in the Franco film seems to absorb Hacker like a giant, stone amoeba, only to spit him out at the end.

Roderick Usher (Vincent Price) suffers from a "...morbid acuteness..." to just about everything, but especially sound. "I can hear the scratch of rat claws within a stone wall." Reminds me of a stay in a very shaky hotel in Saltillo, Mexico over thirty years ago. In any case, Howard Vernon can be considered the Euro counterpart of Price, especially in terms of physique and vocal recognition. Compare the opening of Corman's version with Franco's. Both consider, in long shot, the lonely ride of the protagonist through blasted landscapes toward Usher. Corman emphasizes dead trees (New England, Hollywood style) while Franco makes no attempt to disguise or alter the desolate terrain of southern Spain. Both directors use color and camera movement as an equivalent of Poe's interior prose.

Franco's self proclaimed Expressionist experiment, EL HUNDIMIENTO DE LA CASA USHER exists in at least three different versions. Usher (Howard Vernon) drinks fresh blood (or rather licks it fresh off knives) compared to Vincent Prince, whose Roderick Usher resembles a drink of blood, tall, thin and glimmering in his crimson smoking jacket.

The Spanish version of this project is radically different than the export version, known as REVENGE IN THE HOUSE OF USHER on US video and DVD [NEVROSE, from IMAGE].
Try to avoid watching it in English language, the voice casting is painfully poor. In fact, see this alternate version if you can. I know of no English language version but it runs under 80 minutes, a definite bonus considering the tedium of the overlong export version [made worse by Eurocine added sequences featuring Francoise Blanchard as Usher's daughter and Olivier Mathot as a new Morpho and the use of stock shots from GRITOS EN LA NOCHE-1961). The stock footage goes on and on but illustrates an interesting contrast and demonstrates how Franco's cine-Expressionism developed over several decades. And Howard Vernon is an even more chilling obsessive 20 years on.
I must admit, seen in Spanish, I can't make much of Franco's USHER. I don't know what the hell is going on outside of the fact that Vernon is a blood drinking, murdering fiend. It's overwrought, but in a way I really appreciate, like Roderick Usher in Corman's HOUSE OF USHER.
And Jess Franco's Spanish USHER really does need an R1 OAR DVD presentation in decent video quality, with English subtitles available. Produced by Madrid's Elite Films, it doesn't appear to be owned by Eurocine. The DVD-R I have doesn't have a main title and is in pretty poor condition in terms of image and sound. Alain Petit notes that there was an earlier version, never released, which Franco had to change (adding several violent murder scenes) at the request of the Spanish producer.
Thanks to Francesco Cesari.
(C) Robert Monell, 2007







29 October, 2007

THE CORRUPTION OF CHRIS MILLER



Unacknowledged masterwork, deservedly obscure Spanish slasher flick or something in between? Don't plan to pick it up at your local Best Buy to check it out, it won't be there for some time.

The lovely, talented, troubled Jean Seberg plays Ruth Miller in Juan Antonio Bardem's underrated Spanish giallo.

I'm looking forward to picking up the recent Criterion edition of Jean Luc Godard's Nouvelle Vague classic, A BOUT DE SOUFFLE/BREATHLESS. One of the more significant extras is Mark Rappaport's 1995 film FROM THE JOURNALS OF JEAN SEBERG, a memoir of the actress who became an instant international star, along with Jean Paul Belmondo, with the 1960 release of Godard's film. One reading of Seberg's subsequent career is that it was a long downward spiral from there until the day in 1979 when she was found dead in Paris from a barbiturate overdose. To die in Paris, the same city which Godard followed her through with his hand held cameras in A BOUT DE SOUFFLE two decades earlier... there's something poetic in that. And, of course, tragic. But we're not here to go into the details of her demise, but rather to take a look at an often misunderstood and underrated mid 1970's Spanish psycho-thriller which some say she did only for the money.




LA CORRUPCION DE CHRIS MILLER is almost impossible to see today in its scope shooting ratio and in its uncut 107m form. Here's hoping for an uncut OAR DVD release of this film, which remains ripe for reevaluation. As it stands today even Spanish horror fans who gather on the internet either don't know about it or don't have access to it in proper format.



Reading the usually discerning Vincent Canby struggling to find some value in it and coming up empty in his 1976 NYTIMES review, when it was finally released here some three years after it was made, gives some insight into the problem. He finds a possible allegory of General Franco's Spain but can't believe anyone would bother. Some reviews incorrectly file it away as Jean Seberg's last film, it wasn't, but it does feature one of her most interesting performances as the frustrated matron, Ruth Miller. At times one gets the feeling that she may be doing something beyond method acting. But there's a lot more to this film than a snapshot of Seberg on her way to oblivion.



As written by Santiago Moncada, the dynamo who is credited with the scripts for two key Spanish horror films of the 1970's, Claudio Guerin Hill's LA COMPANA DEL INFIERNO (1973) and Joaquin Romero Marchent CONDENADOS A VIVIR (1971). The prolific writer also worked with Manuel Cano (THE SWAMP OF THE RAVENS), Mario Bava (A HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON) and wrote two of Jess Franco's most compelling 1980's films JUEGO SUCIO EN CASABLANCA (1984) and LA ESCLAVA BLANCA (1985). Both Franco films have never had a North American theatrical release or video presentation on any format. Picking through Moncada's busy career (try to spot his name in Tarantino's DEATHPROOF) one might detect a casual nihilist with a taste for irony and a penchant for self destructive characters. CHRIS MILLER may be his most ambitious, and conflicted, work, combining numerous elements from previous horror films and thrillers: PSYCHO, THE NIGHT DIGGER, PERSONA, to name but a few.



During a rainy 1970's Spanish summer, a remote region is terrorized by a serial killer who slaughters his victims with extreme prejudice before robbing them. But the rain is something more than a freak weather pattern and the killings illustrate a kind of brutality born of pain. It's a bit disconcerting that the most sympathetic character is a serial killer whose motive turns out to be a quietly devastating comment on the banality of evil. The two central relationships in the film, between Ruth and Chris Miller (Marisol), and Barney (Barry Stokes) and Ruth, are based on power games which endlessly ping-pong until they flame out in spasms of ultra-violence. The kind done with common kitchen knives, blunt instruments and whatever is at hand. As with Hitchcock's PSYCHO (heavily quoted throughout the film), explaining the plot is not enough and finally unfair. One finds patterns: the dysfunctional family unit formed by Ruth, her stepdaughter, and drifter Barney finds ironic counterpoint in another family. They become known as the Farmhouse Family in the national media when they are massacred in the film's central sequence, which is staged with the chilling precision of Hitchcock at his best. The fact that the fatal intruder appears as a "monk" with a scythe evokes another 1970's Spanish horror memory, Amando de Ossorio's "Blind Dead." The victims are a "healthy" functional family, with the mother and father relaxing in front of the fire as the children sleep upstairs. One really feels a sense of violation as they are efficiently slashed to death. The random nature of violent crime has rarely been illustrated with such clarity.



When the killer is caught, Ruth and Chris go to work to hide another crime, their own. In the film's final images a cycle of secrets uncovered and regenerated leaves the two women in a kind of suspended animation, somewhere between guilt and denial. Director Bardem resists every temptation to turn this into an erotic film, although the lesbian undertones of Ruth and Chris's relationship are obvious, if never exploited.



Lavishly shot on location by Juan Gelpi with a haunting score by Waldo de los Rios, THE CORRUPTION OF CHRIS MILLER is not an auteur film in the strictest sense. Directed by early Jess Franco employer, the late Juan Antonio Bardem (COMICOS), it can be seen as an elaboration on the Bardem's DEATH OF CYCLIST (1955), on which Franco worked as an assistant director and was critically noticed at that time for a depiction of the Spanish class system hiding something criminally deceptive. CHRIS MILLER seems designed as an exploitation film which allows itself a series of gory epiphanies, given the Spanish censors displeasure with too much sex. But the film is not as gory as it might seem on first viewing. While Bardem seems definitely more at home with violence than sex he also understands violence has something of a sexual component and, perhaps with Moncada's templates in mind, locates the trigger for crime in childhood trauma and adult resentments.



THE CORRUPTION OF CHRIS MILLER may or may not be a masterwork of its form, but it is a film which will make you think. Over the years I have made a number of 10 Best Spanish Horror Films lists and it always makes the final cut. What I like the most about it is that there are no happy endings or tidy explanations for what has happened. We are left feeling drenched in ambiguity.


And you won't forget the rain...



(C) Robert Monell, 2007










26 October, 2007

FAVORITE HALLOWEEN FILMS

The Wolf Man (Brandy) attacks Dr. Exorcio in Jess Franco's Die Nacht der offenen Särge [DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN].

The above image, from one of my digital films, is a trick. But what is a Halloween treat?


DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN is definitely a Halloween favorite simply because the Dracula and Frankenstein monsters are so patently false, they look like actors dressed up as classic Universal monsters, and that's the charm of it. Halloween is all about dress up and make believe and so are Jess Franco's essential films. He's influenced by NOSFERATU, fumetti neri, popular comic strips and Hollywood B minus cinema where the wires on the vampire bats are visible.

Sticking with JF, another favorite is his BLOODY MOON (1980), simply because it begins as a Costa del Sol version of John Carpenter's original HALLOWEEN... and you get to see Jess himself as your friendly mental institution director (THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI anyone?)

Other favorite films I tend to watch around Halloween:

DANSE MACABRE (1964), Antonio Margerhiti
THE CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980), Lucio Fulci
NECROMANIA (1971) Ed Wood
THE WIZARD OF GORE (1970) Herschell Gordon Lewis
THE MONSTER HUNTER (1981) Joe D'Amato [Another HALLOWEEN rip-off]
KILL, BABY, KILL! (1966) Mario Bava
ZOMBIE LAKE (1980) Jean Rollin [Even a kid could do a better make-up job!]
THE VOODOO MAN (1944) William Beaudine [Actually, I watch it every day of the year!]


[Forget all the HALLOWEEN follow-ups, especially the recent Rob Zombie fiasco]

I'll add some more later...

What are your favorite Halloween films?






23 October, 2007

JESS FRANCO'S CUBIST DE SADE

Cubism: n. An early 20th century school of painting and sculpture tending through geometrical reduction of natural forms to establish independence of all imitative intention. [THE AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE]

I have about 20 dictionaries in various languages on hand at any time and that was the nearest. So I grabbed it and got the above paperback dictionary defintion of CUBISM, one of my favorite styles of painting, sculpture and architecture. Maybe that's why I've always had a special appreciation for the films of Fritz Lang, Edgar G. Ulmer and Jess Franco. Their films almost always have a cubist infrastructure. I've been discussing Franco's Sade adaptations and his much criticized use of the telezoom in previous blogs, but allow me to submit for your approval a brief examination the way cubism has influenced his style . Or at least in the period from 1970 to the early 1980's, wherein he discovered the architectural structures of Ricardo Bofill [SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY; THE PERVERSE COUNTESS: EUGENIE, UNA HISTORIA DE UNA PERVERSION] and purified his earlier Expressionism (see GRITOS EN LA NOCHE) into a kind of personal rough-hewn cubism. Also see Godard's LE MEPRIS, featuring Lang himself, as an extended excursion into cine-cubism. But Franco spent more than a decade delivering cubist canvases on film.

A good example of this is the above image from PLAISIR A TROIS [can you name the actors?], which I think is my second favorite Franco Sade adaptation. The action and actors are always crowded into a tightly formed triangulation within the box of the frame: the mental institution, the villa, the basement of horrors and even the garden seen above, although an exterior, is a trap. Everything in Sade is a kind of trap, especially Language, and Jess Franco's language is the cinema and in this film he reaches a new level of visual sophistication in composing an image, or series of images, of the Sadean trap. There are two separate plots summed up in this image, two of the characters are plotting the demise of the other while a third assumes a solution to the mystery. Only one of the three assumptions is correct. But which one?

This is actually the best quality image I have ever seen from this very painterly film, my own VSOM antique is poor quality at best. I have since been able to speak with the director, author and a a lead actor in the film and have learned a lot about its making. But it's the finished product which I find fascinating, cubism in motion. Franco would develop his cine-cubism throughout the 1970s and 80s until the point of GEMIDOS DE PLACER (1982) a remake of this film, in which dialogue and plot exposition are almost entirely dispensed with in favor of extended plan sequences/pure cinema.

Does that make is Art? Perhaps not. But it's something to consider the next time you see a Jess Franco film.

(C) Robert Monell, 2007



21 October, 2007

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JACK TAYLOR!

Jack Taylor, in what is perhaps his signature role, as Baron Von Rathony in Jess Franco's LA COMTESSE NOIRE (1973).

Born October 21, 1936 as George Brown, this American actor has played roles in over 100 films in a career spanning four decades; including eleven major parts in Jess Franco films, from NECRONOMICON/SUCCUBUS (1967), as the suave club owner who betrays Lorna Green (Janine Reyaud), to the Soviet spy Jack Haus in VOODOO PASSION (1977).

After working in Mexico in the late 1950's, including a role in the Mexi-horror classic THE CURSE OF NOSTRADAMUS (as Grek Martin), he then emigrated to Spain, appearing in numerous genre titles, including the Amando de Ossorio Spanish western, LA TUMBA DEL PISTOLERO, where he changed his name to Jack Taylor. He would later appear in the director's 1970's horror classics, THE NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS and GHOST GALLEON (1973) and work with Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy in such films as DR. JEKYLL AND THE WOLFMAN and THE MUMMY'S REVENGE (1973). More roles would follow in Spanish horror films, making him one of the most familiar faces of the 1970's Spanish horror boom.

I particularly appreciate him in NECRONOMICON, where he creates a mood of nuanced menace, and LA COMTESSE NOIRE, my favorite of his performances, as the melancholy Austrian writer, stranded on the island of Maderia, fated to fall in love with the deadly Countess Irina Von Karlstein.

He has also appeared in more mainstream productions, such as Roman Polanski's THE NINTH GATE and worked as Art Director on several films, including Franco's THE BLOODY JUDGE.

I look forward to seeing him in the upcoming Jose Sanchez documentary, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JESS FRANCO, which is now reportedly in the post production phase.



20 October, 2007

15 October, 2007

What's Your Favorite Franco-Marquis de Sade Film?

The image above is one of the surreal structures designed by Ricardo Bofill where the action of Jess Franco's 1980 version of EUGENIE is set. This labryrinthe structure boggles the eye and teases our sense of perspective. This interior can be seen, shot from a radically different angle, in 1973's THE PERVERSE COUNTESS. This 1980 production is a very loose remake of EUGENIE...THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION (1970), but done in a totally different visual style and has a uncanny, dreamlike atmosphere. I have the old fullscreen CALIENTE video of this rather hard to see film.

Above is another vintage advert for a Jess Franco Sade film, PLAISIR A TROIS (1973) adapted by Alain Petit. Alice Arno is a twisted artist who kills her models and makes them part of her basement chamber of horrors. Odd, cubist camera angles and a demented score are Franco's signature touches here.

PLAISIR A TROIS is one of the mid 1970's Robert De Nesle productions which have never had a US video release on any format. I was told by featured actor Robert Woods that it did have a UK theatrical release, but there was no theatrical play of this in the US. Jess Franco has had a lifelong obsession with the visionary writings of the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814). The films he has made from them include some of his most personal and best works. I thought it would be interesting to take a reader's poll ranking Jess Franco's Marquis de Sade films. Would your favorite be the lavish period adaptation of the famous 1791 novel, JUSTINE (1968)? Or would it be his lower budgeted, yet very personal, contemporary updating of the 1788 novel "Eugenie de Franval", EUGENIE DE SADE, the 1970 Soledad Miranda vehicle? Perhaps it would be EUGENIE...THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION, his elegant, modern day adaptation of the 1795 text, "Philosophy in the Bedroom". Filmed in 1969 but released in 1970, with Marie Liljedahl as Eugenie as Christopher Lee as the Sadean master of ceremonies, Dolmance, the Bruno Nicolai score defines an epoch.



Other Jess Franco Marquis de Sade film adaptations include 1973's PLAISIR A TROIS, a very rare title featuring Alice Arno and American actor Robert Woods. 1982's GEMIDOS DE PLACER is yet another version of that story in which Franco experimented by filming the action in a limited number of plan sequences/very long takes. In between he made two even more difficult to see Sade films, a hardcore remake of "Philosphy in the Bedroom" COCKTAIL SPECIAL (1978), with Touxa Beni as Eugenie, and SINFONIA EROTICA (1979), a sort of unofficial remake of PLAISIR A TROIS. Then there is the visually surreal EUGENIE, HISTORIA DE UNA PERVERSION, the 1980 rarity featuring Katja Bienert in the title role. Then there are such unclassifiable oddities as DE SADE'S JULIETTE, the 1975 film which no one seems to have seen and was reedited by Joe D'Amato in 1980 as JUSTINE. It's quite an accomplishment just to have seen all of Jess Franco's Sade related films.



You can just name your favorite or rank them all in descending order.



Of course, only two of these important Franco films are out on quality R1 DVD presentations, JUSTINE and EUGENIE...THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION, both from Blue Underground. EUGENIE DE SADE is reportedly on the way. But the rest are in dire need of rediscovery, restoration and proper R1 DVD presentations.



My own favorite would be EUGENIE DE SADE, mainly for the searing performances of Soledad Miranda and Paul Muller, not to mention Jess Franco's own ambiguous presence. And I love the Bruno Nicolai score, which is partially recycled from the Marie Liljedahl EUGENIE... .



I will return with the rest of my ranked list.




Since I originally posted this blog we have had several suggested additions from readers: THE SEXUAL STORY OF O (1982), which does seem to have some imagery and plot which evokes EUGENIE...HER JOURNEY... ( which Franco himself says was Sade influenced in the Severin DVD documentary) and HELTER SKELTER, the more recent shot on video One Shot production which has Sade's writings read on its soundtrack. BTW, I have seen HELTER SKELTER and wondered exactly what book those passages come from. Anyone know?


Ecom throws TENDER FLESH into the flaming pot of our consideration here as a possible Sadean film.


Thanks for the participation, everyone. It looks like EUGENIE DE SADE has the most votes so far.


For a fascinating look at the man behind the EUGENIE DE SADE poster at the top of this blog check out David Z's TOMB WHO IT MAY CONCERN blog:http://david-z.blogspot.com/







(C) Robert Monell, 2007













14 October, 2007

Leon Klimovsky & Paul Naschy on Blu-ray!


A Leon Klimovsky film on Blu-ray?! A Paul Naschy film on Blu-ray!? When I first heard of this HD format I never dared imagine this longtime favorite but relatively obscure Spanish horror director would end up with one of his films getting this treatment. And I never really thought that any of the fascinating directorial efforts of Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy would ever appear on HD or Blu-ray. Current Mainstream Hollywood films? Yes. Family Entertainment? Yes. Leon Klimovsky and Paul Naschy? NO! But it looks like it's going to happen in January 2008.
http://www.fangoria.com/news_article.php?id=5172 ... Could the above image, taken from the recent BCI/DEIMOS DVD presentation of VENGEANCE... look any better on Blu-ray? And how about the Paul Naschy self-directed NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF? This 1980 entry in Naschy's long running werewolf cycle never did much for me until I saw it on BCI's uncut, HD-quality presentation in OAR and which allowed for the possiblity of watching it with its Spanish language track. Seeing it this way caused me to upgrade the film to one of Naschy's top directorial efforts. Watching VENGEANCE again last night in the wake of this welcome news had me wondering just how much more detail, color and atmosphere can be revealed by a Blu-ray presentation. I did notice some possible motion blurring for the first time, but that can no doubt be totally eliminated. The question for this blog: Can the films of Jess Franco be far behind?


Hopefully these will do well enough so that DEIMOS can see the way to release even more Klimovsky/Naschy/Spanish horror on this format. I've encountered references to an No Adult fare Blu-ray policy, but these films hardly qualify as that. In the case of Jess Franco a myriad of problems loom. We must remember that JF had a sort of student-menter relationship with Klimovsky, who came to Spain in 1955 from Argentina where he worked as a dentist, film club organizer, critic, radio commentator (CINEMA DIARY) and finally, film director (EL JUGADOR-1947). Settling in Spain he worked continuously for three decades in many popular genres: crime, musicals, comedies, westerns, and finally horror films. His first, 1970's WEREWOLF SHADOW is regarded as the film which ignited the 1970s Spanish horror boom and its success established Paul Naschy as a bankable horror star.
Jess Franco worked as Klimovsky's scriptwriter/assistant on such projects as MEIDO (1955) and AMA ROSA (1960). Franco and Klimovsky hit it off and the eager young man absorbed much valuable experience in writing and directing under the guidance of the older journeyman. But Klimovsky never got into hardcore erotica and his sexy 1970's horror films now seem quite tame beside such JF titles as PLAISIR A TROIS, FEMALE VAMPIRE and LORNA, THE EXORCIST. Franco quickly became a director of Adult Films in the early 1970s and has never looked back. That makes some of his best films a big IF for Blu-ray, if they do indeed strictly enforce a no Adult Material policy. Would the S&M soaked SUCCUBUS be considered Adult? How about VAMPYROS LESBOS? The title alone may be problematic. But it's still too early to tell. One thing is for sure, times are changing and new formats will be hungry for product.

I called a friend in LA after watching VENGEANCE and stayed up late discussing the possibilities of Eurotrash/genre titles on Blu-ray and HD. We talked about the good old days in the 1980s and early 1990s when these things were only available as fullscreen, dubbed, and often censored old VHS prerecords, if you could find them. He reminded me of some industry insider's wisdom he had read that predicted whatever medium [Blu-ray or HD] that the Adult Film Industry adopts as a standard will be the one to prevail and will be followed by the Majors as it seems that the Adult Industry makes and sells more movies on all formats than all the Hollywood mainstreamers put together.
In the meantime, guarded congratulations to the late Leon Klimovsky and the very much alive Paul Naschy...



Thanks to Eric Cotenas.
(C) Robert Monell, 2007








11 October, 2007

1970: THE YEAR OF THE TELEZOOM


Jess Franco orders a telezoom into the shocked visage of Fernando Bilbao, the Spanish Frankenstein monster! Why do a new set up when you can zoom? And it's so much fun to watch. Some don't understand why I stopped worrying and learned to love the zoom shot, especially in DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN.

Another early 1970's film which is composed almost exclusively with the zoom lens is Mario Bava's 5 DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON. I keep watching these two films over and over and over and over BECAUSE of the obsessive use of the zoom lens. They are anti-Film School films.
I went to film school in 1970 and they didn't understand. I wish I could show you my 1971 zoom epic. I flunked out. Never, ever, zoom in on a stationary object or figure!







08 October, 2007

Jess Franco Quiz: Who Is This Person?


Can you ID him and name the functions he performed on numerous 1970's Jess Franco films?



07 October, 2007

EUROCINE/THE INVISIBLE DEAD

The French production house Eurocine was instrumental in funding, promoting and distributing Jess Franco films from 1960 to 1990. His two colorful 1960 musical comedies LA REINA DEL TABARIN, VAMPIRESAS 1930, along with the seminal GRITOS EN LA NOCHE (THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF) were Spanish-French coproductions with Eurocine putting up the French side of the capital while Sergio Newman's Hispamer Films were the Spanish backers. Given their budgets these films are rather lavish affairs with bustling mise en scene, detailed sets and, in the case of GRITOS... Expressionist style set-ups and lighting that looked back to the classics of Fritz Lang (DR. MABUSE, THE GAMBLER) and forward to the gialli of Mario Bava. And there are virtually NO zoom shots in any of these films. The key was that they looked much more expensive than they actually were.

A decade later Eurocine was still making international coproductions but the world had drastically changed. This is illustrated by the 1970 Eurocine French-Spanish horror-sleaze item ORLOFF ET L'HOMME INVISIBLE, a sort of Jess Franco film without Jess Franco. Helmed by Pierre Chevalier, this modest project, a not really erotic or horrific mad doctor film with Franco icon Howard Vernon as Professor Orloff, a reclusive scientist who creates an insivible ape! That's right, an invisible ape! It's a kind of ape-man which is revealed to be a man in an ape suit very much like the ones seen in William Beaudine's B minus enterprises THE APE MAN and BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA . Actually, Beaudine's ape suits were more convincing, the one here looks pretty ratty in comparison and we only see it for a few seconds when someone throws a bag of flour on it making the invisible ape momentarily visible. The "special effects" of future Eurocine director Juan Fortuny (CRIMSON) feature shots of objects levitating and Orloff's housekeeper writhing in the hay as she is sexually assaulted by our titular ape-creature. The period costumes and settings are almost convincing, but not quite. It's not BARRY LYNDON.
The mood of absurd minimalism is enhanced by the scattered direction of Pierre Chavalier and the always entertaining presence of the prolific Spanish genre actor Fernando Sancho, who gives his usual con brio performance as a shifty servant who incurs the mad Professor's wrath by stabbing his daughter while robbing her tomb. You see, the daughter suffers from these cataleptic episodes.... Sancho found regular work in numerous 1960's Spaghetti Westerns as an archetypal Mexican bandit. One of my favorite Fernando Sancho Spaghetti bandits can be seen in the compellingly strange DUEL IN THE ECLIPSE. The best parts of ORLOFF AND THE INVISIBLE MAN are the opening credits sequence of atmospheric shots of the rural location during a rainstorm (accompanied by Camille Sauvage's very odd music cues) and the daughter's funeral procession seen reflected in a lake. There are also some rather delirious deleted scenes (which can be seen on the 2001 IMAGE DVD) of F. Valladares travelling toward the Orloff estate and Sancho attempting to escape the climactic inferno. Chevalier aka "Peter Knight" was an uninspired director, to say the least, but he made the kind of entertaining Eurotrash (HOUSE OF THE LOST DOLLS) which somehow demands multiple after-midnight viewings. And any film which features Howard Vernon and Fernando Sancho running amok is worthwhile as far as I'm concerned.
I first became acquainted with this via the 1980s era Wizard Video, THE INVISIBLE DEAD, which is English dubbed and features a mediocre fullframe print. The nicely colorful 1.66:1 IMAGE transfer, with a selection of English, French, German language tracks is preferable.

Jess Franco would return to the waiting arms of Eurocine in the mid 1970s for the essential LA COMTESSE NOIRE (FEMALE VAMPIRE), EXCORISME, along with such microbudgeted erotica as SHINING SEX, MIDNIGHT PARTY, MAIS QUI DONC A VIOLE LINDA. After some sporadic 1980's collaborations (including the still unavailable AIDS, THE 20TH CENTURY PLAGUE (1986), the Franco-Eurocine connection would be terminated after the disastrous World War II epic, LA CHUTE DES AIGLES (1990). Howard Vernon would return as Dr. Orloff in Franco's THE SINISTER DR. ORLOFF (1982) and FACELESS (1988).
(C) Robert Monell, 2007

06 October, 2007

Jess Franco Artwork: LES CAUCHEMARS....


Here's a rare vintage advert for Jess Franco's 1970 thriller LES CAUCHEMARS NAISSENT LA NUIT (NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT). I believe this poster was intended for the Belgian theatrical release. According to OBSESSION: THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO, this film was "Only released in Belgium."
But I believe there may also have been a brief theatrical release at the time in French Canada. Can any of our French Canadian readers confirm or deny that. If so, has anyone seen or have access to images of any adverts?


03 October, 2007

THE EUROSPY FILES: OPERATION WHITE SHARK


Eye catching vintage Yugoslav poster for the 1966 Eurospy obscurity A.D. 3 OPERAZIONE SQUALO BIANCO, featuring the legendary Jess Franco actress Janine Reynaud (SUCCUBUS/NECRONOMICON; SADISTEROTICA; KISS ME, MONSTER) and Rodd Dana.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Rodd a few years ago about his very interesting career as an actor and, more recently, a writer. He has published several books on his evolution from Eurogenre actor to metaphysical searcher. I would like to publish some of his comments here. But I would first like to see OPERATION WHITE SHARK to review along with his remarks on its making, the director Filippo Walter Ratti and the elusive Ms. Reynaud. If anyone has a copy they can dupe I will be glad to trade anything from my very eclectic cult movie collection on tape and DVD. Please contact me via my email at the top of the blog.
(C) Robert Monell, 2007

01 October, 2007

Quiz: A Jess Franco Hero

Who is this actor and what Jess Franco-related film is this screenshot from?


Note that it's a Franco-related film. He wrote the original story and was set to direct but someone else took over. Bonus points if you can name the actual director.
Hint: It was a Eurocine production.