22 December, 2016

NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND DESIRES [MIL SEXOS TIENE LA NOCHE]: Mondo Macabro Blu-ray


A delirious exercise in horror y sexo, this pitch black Film Noir is one of Jess Franco’s most visually arresting entries from his early 1980s Spanish period. NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND DESIRES aka MIL SEXOS TIENE LA NOCHE is one of the series of films he made for producer Emilio Larraga’s GOLDEN FILMS INTERNACIONAL S.A., based in Barcelona. These productions were low budget films covering a variety of genres, including an outstanding follow up to GRITOS EN LA NOCHE (1961), EL SINIESTRO DR. ORLOFF, softcore romps like LAS ORGIAS INCONFESABLES DE EMMANUELLE, erotic crime-thrillers, BOTAS NEGRAS, LATIGO DE CUERO, and Sade adaptations, GEMIDOS DE PLACER (all 1982). There were also Poe adaptations EN BUSCA DEL DRAGON DORADO and even martial arts adventures LA SOMBRA DEL JUDOKA CONTRA EL DOCTOR WONG (both 1983). From Clasificasa S softcores to Kung Fu to children’s adventures, what locks all these films together, good, bad, or not completed, was that they are all 100 percent undiluted Jess Franco in terms of style, tone, music and content. They were not just simple jobs for hire, hack work done to pay the bills with little evidence of the director’s signature. They were films he wanted to make and he made them the way he wanted.
MIL SEXOS TIENE LA NOCHE is one of the high points of this series. Rich in oneiric atmosphere, an erotic Film Noir suffused with exotic imagery, enhanced by an eerie, resonant soundscape, it resonates in the mind long after a viewing. The plot may seem familiar to those who have seen Franco’s 1970 erotic thriller NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT. Irina, an emotionally vulnerable psychic (Lina Romay) murders a group of guests at a luxury hotel* while under the mental control of a ruthless criminal. The villain of this piece is Fabian (Daniel Katz, very ably voiced by long running Franco actor-collaborator, Antonio Mayans), the gigolo manager of Irina who travels from hotel to hotel with her, performing mind reading acts in nightclubs.
The action of the film is set over several days in a coastal resort (it was filmed on Spain’s Costa Del Sol and in Las Palmas, Canary Islands) during which Irina is mentally programmed by Fabian to seduce and murder a number of the hotel’s guests, all of whom are owed money by Fabian for assisting him in a criminal operation. It sounds like a pulp fiction set-up but is transformed into a weird psychodrama by focusing on the dysfunctional emotional ties between the co-dependent Irina (one of Lina Romay’s most intense and unpredictable performances) and the manipulative Fabian, who has much to hide from her and the rest of the world.
Irina is also being treated by a psychiatrist, played in a reserved manner by Franco himself, who will play a pivotal role in the twisting narrative.  The plot is sketchy and interrupted by regular stalk, seduce and kill interludes as Irina, commanded by the disembodied voice (which sounds a lot like Jess Franco) of Fabian to isolate, seduce and eliminate his former partners. She uses an elaborate, curved blade with arcane imagery sculpted into the handle. The details of the setting are carefully studied by the director’s slowly tracking camera while the slow zoom shots into bright pools of  blood oranges, lush emeralds and canary  yellows immerse the viewer in the exotica by heightening the normal hues into sensuous eruptions of pure color. This is a gorgeous film.
There’s very little dialogue, the plot is illustrated by disorienting camera set-ups, frequent Dutch angles, and third degree lighting of the tropical settings which creates a series of shimmering hallucinations, an approximation of the environment as experienced by the mentally compelled Irina. Franco’s 1967 masterpiece NECRONOMICON/SUCCUBUS is also referenced in the character of Irina and the story of the Prince killed by Satan’s daughter, which is repeated here by Fabian. The viewer is given extended visits into Irina’s hermetically sealed consciousness, which is repeatedly invaded by Fabian’s commands.  Encounters with mirrors and Irina’s ability in teleportation give the overall sense of a sinister alternate dimension in which she is trapped.  At times the film recalls Hitchcock’s psychoanalytic thriller SPELLBOUND (1946), in which the imagery of surrealist painter Salvador Dali was used to unravel a murder mystery. Dali would also be directly referenced in Franco’s 1980 EUGENIE, HISTORIA DE UNA PERVERSION.
I had a chance to talk about this film with Jess Franco when I interviewed him in 2004, during the making of one of his digital films.* He remembered it as one of what he called his “black films”, by which he meant Film Noir, a genre which he loved perhaps more than any other. Especially the ones made in the  1940s by Robert Siodmak (THE KILLERS, PHANTOM LADY). He was surprised when I praised the film’s dense, toxic atmosphere and told me it was a very rushed and micro-budgeted film, made with little money but in complete freedom from producer interference. He noted that he was influenced by John Farrow’s 1948 similarly titled THE NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES, which featured Edward G. Robinson and Gail Russell in the lead roles. He also acknowledged the strong influence of  the crime fiction of Cornell Woolrich, on which the 1948 film was based. Franco was quite surprised that I singled MIL SEXOS TIENE LA NOCHE out for praise, thanking me and mentioning that it was one of many projects completed during a time of constant filming in absolute freedom. Ironically, the film did not make much of an impact on the Clasificada S market when released in March 1984. Hardcore had been legalized in Spain by that time and that drew the "S" clientele away from that previously reliable market. 
Credited to Pablo Villa, the musical choices add another layer of fascination to the film. Irina’s sensual interludes are sometimes scored with Daniel J. White’s lovely melancholy main theme from Franco’s 1973 FEMALE VAMPIRE, while the murder sequences are scored with the jungle-voodoo cues heard in DEVIL HUNTER and MACUMBA SEXUAL (1980).  The feverish drumming and native chanting (again sounding voiced  by a synthesized Jess Franco) are very effective here. Bird calls, industrial sounds, electronica and the sounds of the nearby sea are always in the background, an almost subliminal presence lulling the viewing into a vaguely menacing audio environment. As in NECRONOMICON and  EXORCISM and many other Franco films it opens with a performance which is not what it seems to be, acts which slowly or suddenly reveal hidden agendas. Performance and the role of the audience/viewer is the key matrix in Jess Franco’s best and most personal films.
MONDO MACABRO has given this entrancing film a deliciously detailed 2.35:1, 1080p transfer from the 35mm negative with Dolby Digital PCD 24fps mono audio which really provides overwhelming soundscapes to this 94 minute fever dream. At times the film has an almost 3D quality with the vivid hues, heated up sets and layered soundscapes reaching out to pull the viewer into this unique, disturbing world.  Special features include newly created optional English subtitles (this is the film’s English friendly, as well as HD debut), a 30 minute interview about the film with Jess Franco author Steven Thrower, a vintage Eurotika! documentary on the director and a Mondo Macabro preview reel.
An overpowering visual and audio experience, this dreamlike thriller is in the style of classic Hitchcock and David Lynch. One of Jess Franco’s most delirious and sought after films finally makes its world Blu-ray debut from Mondo Macabro. Highly recommended
Thanks to Kris J. Nygaard-Gavin for making it possible for me to interview Jess Franco.
  • Thanks to Nzoog for additional information used in this review.
  • *The Arabic style villa which is the main setting, with its fantastic indoor decoration and elaborate fountain, is actually Bil-Bil Castle in Benalmádena, Málaga. This exotic structure also looks a lot like the villa of character played by Boris Karloff in the 1967 Spanish horror film, CAULDRON OF BLOOD. 
(C) 2016 Robert Monell

21 December, 2016

THE MIDNIGHT PARTY (1975, Spanish version)

THE MIDNIGHT PARTY (1975- versions)

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ABOVE: Ramon Ardid and Monica Swinn prepare Lina Romay for torture under the careful direction of Jess Franco,.

aka La Coccolona (Italian release), Heisse Beruhrungen (German version). LADY PORNO (Spanish version) Directed by Tawer Nero (Julio Perez Tabernero) for Titanic Films. This is a sexy spy film once directed by Jess Franco in just a few days at Le Grande Motte,  a hotel in Southern France. A typical Franco strategy. Around the same time, he shot two other films there using the same notel rooms, casts and crews (DE SADE’S JULIETTE, SHINING SEX).
The version under consideration here has the onscreen title LADY PORNO [Porno Dama], a Spanish variant of Franco’s original MIDNIGHT PARTY. Julio Perez Tabernero, an actor turned producer-director (he can be seen in Franco’s own SADISTEROTICA/Two Undercover Angels)acquired it for his Titanic Films (Julio, your company needs a new handle!) and reconstructed it as an “American-Belgian” co-production. It’s very amusingly redubbed and rescored with lewd comments, bawdy music and direct-to-the-viewer takes. –Sylvia is a very hot stripper who is introduced dancing in a glittering silver costume. Off stage she carries on an affair with a cheap detective, Al Pereira (Olivier Mathot) behind the back of her longtime squeeze Red Nicholas, a communist musician frenetically embodied by Franch film historian and Jess Franco friend, Alain Petit . This is not really another of Franco’s Al Pereira episodes, as he is mainly a player in Sylvia’s story.

This is kind of like a live action cartoon (cf LUCKY, THE INSCRUTABLE) with Lina Romay giving it all she has as the resourceful Sylvia. This might actually be my personal favorite of her performances, she mercilessly teases the viewer directly as the interactive approach allows her to pose, stick her tongue out, and make alluring remarks to the audience before turning back to the scene and players at hand, resuming in the traditional fourth wall mode. It’s all a lot of good natured fun. Except that the subject is torture. Torture that doesn’t draw blood but really hurts!
Sylvia is taken by Radeck/Agent 008 (Jess Franco himself), a spymaster and professional torture mogul who takes his business very seriously indeed. Look at the way he abuses poor Sylvia: after being stripped and sexually abused by henchmen Monica Swinn and Ramon, she’s poked, punched and cigarette burned by the ingrates under the very close supervision of Radeck. They take her to the “torture clinic” which, this being a Jess Franco shoot, merely means another hotel room (or the same hotel room slightly redressed and shot from a different angle). Choosing pliers they try pulling out her toenails, as Radeck is beginning to lose his patience. At this point one of my favorite moments in Franco’s monumental filmography occurs, and it only last a few seconds–Radeck simply puts a cigarette in his mouth and lights it. That’s it! The exact way which actor Jess Franco suddenly jabs the cigarette into his mouth and fires it up has to be experienced first hand. It’s a grand bit a business, something small made into something very special by a seasoned professional. It will bring a smile to the face of all Franco enthusiasts.
Franco drops the Radeck pose at the end, as Sylvia and Al are escaping he faces the camera and admits to us that it was all an illusion, only a movie. It is Jess Franco talking to us now. We have been spectators. But what are we doing at this venue? Of course, that question is implied rather than asked. Alain Petit is very droll as the Marxist jazz singer. Billed as “Charlie Christian” (cf JUSTINE, the 1979-80 Joe D’Amato composite where he is likewise billed. His footage in that and MIDNIGHT PARTY is rolled over with scenes from SHINING SEX into a unique reedit) he performs his infamous “La Vie est une Merde”, also heard in a blues rendition during Franco’s 1982 EMMANUELLE EXPOSED and in Petit’s documentary THE MAKING OF TENDER FLESH (1997).

The Spanish language version which was screened for this review (subtitled in English) is very much in keeping with the joker/trickster impulses which frequently bubble to the surface of Franco’s work. The finale, a shootout with the cops (a minimalist debacle) followed by shots of birds flying in the distance as our couple floats away on a pleasure craft, is post-ironic in the sense that it delivers on expectations which Franco obviously considers bogus while gleefully curving past the generic demands of representational, grade B sexploitation production methodology. In other words: don’t worry, be happy, it’s only a movie.
Tabernero seems to have simply reedited, cut down, dubbed/ rescored the director’s cut. Ther is also the 90m THE MIDNIGHT PARTY, in English, which may be the best way to ascertain the director’s intent since it includes the interactive opening in which Lina Romay frolics on a queen size bed while she lasciviously addresses the viewer. The longer version does stretch the very broad humor to its absolute limits. But at least it never crosses over into hardcore terrain.
The gangling Tabernero can be seeAn as a supporting plalyer in such 1960s Eurowesterns as FURY OF THE APACHES (1964), SEVEN GUNS FOR THE  MACKENNAS(1965) and in Eurospy titles such as RIFIFI IN AMSTERDAM (1966) as well as in his own SEXY CAT (1972), his best film as a director , a highly entertaining  Spanish giallo done in the style of cine-comic strip complete with a black clad villain who kills with long, razor ship fingernails a la Franco’s MISS MUERTE (1965). Private Investigator Al Pereira would appear in more Jess Franco directed features, including his final completed film, AL PEREIRA VS. THE ALLIGATOR LADIES, his ultimate interactive experiment, with the director himself placed at the center of the action.
The Spanish version discussed here seems to have had a 1981 release date.
REVIEWED BY ROBERT MONELL (C) renewed 2016

18 December, 2016

FALL OF THE ANGELS (1989) New Review...

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LA CHUTE DES AIGLES aka LILLI, UNE CHANSON POUR BERLIN/FALL OF THE EAGLES/UNA CANCION PARA BERLIN (Spanish video title): Working titles: WAR SONG/WAR ZONE
France-Eurocine, Paris

It opens with documentary footage of Adolf Hitler emoting and reviewing marching Nazi troops, but if you are expecting a traditional, action oriented war film you are going to be disappointed by Jess Franco's FALL OF THE EAGLES (1989). You may also be surprised, this a Jess Franco film, after all, that it contains absolutely no erotic scenes, no gore and not a hint of sleaze. It was a set-up for a hack to step in and deliver a typical Eurocine genre film, cheaply and quickly. But Jess Franco delivered something more than that. Despite the inclusion of a generous amount of stock footage from previous Eurocine war films (including EAST OF BERLIN-1978, the closing credits read "Pre-recorded footage by LES [Lesoeur?] Company"*) this maintains a sober focus on a group of Germans who live through, and are profoundly changed by, the tragedy of World War II. 

The scenario, by veteran Eurocine founder Marius Lesoeur, writer-director Georges Freedland and Franco, covers the crucial years of 1939-1945. The main story opens with the birthday party of Lillian Strauss (Alexandra Erlich), the daughter of wealthy banker Walter Strauss (Christopher Lee), who is making a fortune selling war bonds. Lilli is a talented singer and a young woman who also supports Germany's political/military aspirations. Her goal is to sing for wounded Wehrmacht soldiers in hospital. Lilli is in love with Peter Frohlich (Ramon Sheen), a young idealistic musician who does not share her enthusiasm for Hitler's political and military plans. She is pursued by Nazi supporter Peter Froelich (Mark Hamill), who already wears a German uniform. Lilli and Peter also join the Army. Peter is sent to the North African theater, where he becomes cynical and refuses to answer Lilli's letters. He is seriously wounded in battle and hospitalized while Lilli is sent to the Russian front where her train comes under attack. She survives, falls in love with a young Russian folk singer who is killed while trying to sabotage a Nazi meeting place. She makes friends with a secretly gay Nazi officer (Daniel Grimm), who is also killed. Lilli finally reaches the bedside of the mortally injured Peter and agrees to marry him and deliver a last kiss before he dies before her eyes. Finally reunited with first love Karl,  But her downward spiral is completed when he is shot down by American forces as they try to escape the carnage. Hitler is dead and Germany is defeated. The last scene takes place in a crowded pub as Lilli now sings tawdry songs for the Allied victors as her now destitute father, ruined by the economic collapse of Nazi Germany, looks on disapprovingly. 

There's a lot of plot here, most of it telegraphing the theme of the futility of war in the fashion of high melodrama. Given that the war scenes occur via either stock footage, reported by radio broadcasts or are talked about after the fact, it is left up to the actors to engage interest. With the exception of an pathetically unprepared Ramon Sheen, they do a pretty credible job, especially the aging but still towering Christopher Lee as the slowly deflating banker and Alexandra Erlich who performs her musical numbers and love scenes with equal verve. Her cabaret scenes are accompanied by frequent Franco composer Daniel J. White, who plays piano in front of a Nazi flag toward the beginning and in front of a large American flag in the final scene. The dialogue, adapted by Franco and veteran Eurocine scribe Georges Freedland, is sincere in a 1980s television miniseries mode, "People hate us, They should realize it's for their own good. We're bringing them a new order for a better world." The final shot of Lilli's emotionally ravaged, hardened, coarsened face telegraphs the theme more effectively. 

There are little "Jess Franco" touches throughout, such as the elegant music box topped with waltzing ballerinas which is used as a transitional device and the "last kiss" between Erlich and Hamill. The most interesting character, the gay Nazi officer, delivers a line which is pure Jess Franco, "Nobody respects a nice guy," before expiring. This does not look or play like any other Jess Franco film, it's played straight and serious from beginning to end. It probably won't please fans looking for scenes of the director's trademark "horror y sexo" nor will it satisfy war movie enthusiasts. But given the material and conditions it's obviously that Franco took it seriously and did the best job he could. It's not as unwatchable as most Eurocine World War II exploitation (HELLTRAIN, ELSA FRAULEIN DEVIL SS), has a number of effective dramatic scenes and delivers its admittedly unoriginal message that "No one wins wars, everyone loses" in a fairly resonant manner. The use of music, a wedding march played like a dirge by a Nazi, the war songs given a sexy twirl by Lilli and some familiar Daniel J. White cues are sometimes the only indicator that this is a Jess Franco film. Also, the inclusion of "good Nazis" in the sweeping scenario may cause some to feel this is a morally ambiguous, agathokakological war film. 

The end scroll includes a lyrics credit for "Clif Brown" and the final Ultra Stereo mix by Eric Lardy (who would co-produce Franco's next project, LA PUNTA DE LAS VIBORAS/DOWNTOWN HEAT--1990) has stability and resonance in the English language version screened for this review, which thankfully includes the real voices of Christopher Lee and the other actors, recorded in what appears to have been in direct sound. Other versions are reportedly more problematic. Franco had considerable difficulty with the system during post-production, prompting him to walk away, severing his longtime ties with Eurocine.  For comparison sake, a viewing or reviewing of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's LILI MARLEEN (1981) or Bob Fosse's CABARET (1972) is recommended. 

Thanks to Nzoog.

*There also appears to be some additional footage from Patrice Rhomm's 1977 ELSA FRAULIEN SS and Alain Payet's TRAIN SPECIAL POUR SS here and there.  Footage from Alfredo Rizzo's Spaghetti War epic I GIARDINI DEL DIAVOLO (1971) was also acquired and is extensively used, as it was in Franco's previous Eurocine Nazi-related co-production LA TUMBA DE LOS MUERTOS VIVIENTE/OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES (1981), and as in that project the grading, formatting and style of that Italian war movie obviously clashes with the Franco shot footage. This Italian produced footage was also used in RETURN OF THE BLOODSUCKING NAZI ZOMBIES, a 2103 horror-war web series by Mathis Vogel and Robert Monell, available on Blu-ray and DVD from Spain's CAMEO MEDIA S.L., as a supplemental feature to Jess Franco's last completed film, AL PEREIRA VS. THE ALLIGATOR LADIES (2012).

(C) Robert Monell, 2013

16 November, 2016

LA VENGANZA DEL ZORRO (Joaquin Romero Marchent, 1962)

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LA VENGANZA DEL ZORRO; ZORRO LE VENGEUR (French release); ZORRO, THE AVENGER (US DVD title); ZORRO, DER SCWARZE RACHER (West Germany)/LA MARQUE DE ZORRO (French re-release version, credited to "James Gardner")*: L'OMBRA DI ZORRO (Italian title): LA SOMBRA DEL ZORRO (Spanish alternate title).
Copercines [Madrid]
Eurocine [Paris],
PEA-Rome, Explorer Films-Rome[OBSESSION: THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO]
Presents

Frank Latimore (Don Jose de la Torre/Zorro)
in

ZORRO, THE AVENGER (1962)


Directed by J.R. Marchent [Joaquin Luis Romero Marchent]
Sc: Jess Franco, JR Hernandez, Jose Mallorqui Figueroa
[US Version 76m]
With Maria Luz [Galicia], Ralph March [Rafael Romero Marchent], Mary Silvers [Maria Silva], Paul Piaget, Maria Anderson and Howard Vernon (Colonel Clarence), [Marco Tulli, Antonio Molino Rojo, Fernando Sancho (Sargento), Jose Marco Davo, Diana Lorys.
DP: Rafael Pacheco
[Music: Manuel Parada]
Asst. D: Daniel Lesoeur
[Scr: Joaquin Romero Hernandez, Jesus Franco, Jose Mallorqui Figueroa]
Laboratory-Madrid
Copy: C.T.M.-Paris
English Version: Record Film
Production Supervisor: Gerard Cohen
Film Editor: C.H. Nobel
Screenplay: G. Rhuis
Associated Producers: E. Manzanos, M. Lesoeur

Spanish version/VHS
[Credits]
1hr 23m 2s
Frank Latimore and María Luz Galicia in
LA VENGANZA DEL ZORRO
With José Marco Davó, Howard Vernon, Jesús Tordesillas
Paul Piaget; Fernando Sancho; Antonio Molino Rojo, Emilio RodrÍguez
Rafael Romero Marchent with a whole screen to himself
Music by Manuel Parada
DP: Rafael Pacheco
A COPERCINES production in EASTMANCOLOR
Director: Joaquín L. Romero Marchent

[This version has a completely different opening than the Eurocine French/English language release version. This one opens in a modern day [1962] setting, on the front porch of a home. An old man wearing a white, broad brimmed "peon" hat, but otherwise in modern dress, relates a story to a group of children, also in modern dress. Since the film's music and credits are the only things heard and seen we can assume he is telling the children the legend of Zorro. The film then cuts to a scene in 1800s California, Don Jose walks through an open market in the village square, greeting merchants while being watched by Union soldiers. This goes on for several minutes. None of this footage appears in the approx. 76m English langauge ZORRO, THE AVENGER, or at least not on the PLATINUM DVD. The copy on the back of the DVD mistakenly references it as an "Italian-produced opus" when actually it was a French [Eurocine] Spanish [Copercines] co-production. The next Marchent directed Zorro title, CABALGANDO HACIA LA MUERTE (1962), is sometimes confused with LA VENGANZA... or incorrectly given as an alternate version/title of LA VENGANZA.... . Jess Franco was not involved in that follow-up, which was filmed in the soon to be famous FISTFUL OF DOLLARS western town at Hoyo de Manzanares, near Madrid.]


The mysterious masked rider, Zorro, protects the natives of California from corrupt Union officials, especially the arrogant Colonel Clarence (Howard Vernon), a swaggering sword fighting enthusiast who oppresses the local Hispanic population and sets up a dissenting  innkeeper (Rafael Marchent, the brother of the director) on charges of murdering the beloved Father Francisco, who was actually killed during a robbery by Union soldiers. Zorro will set the record straight and right the injustice, but not before many innocent people will die. Ironically the obsession the Colonel has with sword duels will prove to be his ultimate undoing.....

"Be careful of that man...he is not what he appears to be," Colonel Clarence is warned by his fencing partner. Just as Don Jose survives and triumphs through subterfuge, Jess Franco at this time was forging a career of a Spanish film director who is a kind of Trickster. A director in Spain during the earlyu 1950s had to be a con man/trickster to survive, avoid the strict censorship and not be politically too radical.  Here he gives us a Zorro film which is really a Coyote film and possibly an allegory of his own methodology of giving the powers that be (producers) what they want while remaining "Jess Franco." When Don Jose is described as an "idiot" who is used by Colonel Clarence one thinks of the slug like characters Jess Franco the actor played in VAMPYROS LESBOS and VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD, a mentally defective henchman of the powerful. Franco often has said his films are only entertainments and has a reputation as a careless hack from the point of view of most casual observers of European exploitation. The man who finished off the FU MANCHU and DR. MABUSE cinematic franchises in less than stylish fashion. The man who made hardcore porn and attempted to assemble his own version of Orson Welles' legendary DON QUIJOTE.

Who is the real Jess Franco? Like ZORRO here he wears an [existential] mask and seems an isolated silhouette on the horizon of the Spanish mainstream. But Zorro was a Hollywood icon who fought Spanish officials while here the character kills U.S. soldiers and kidnaps the Governor's daughter. In today's world he would be a terrorist. He is closer to the nihilistic El Coyote than the dashing Zorro played by Tyrone Power. El Coyote is a subversive while Zorro is a Hero. It's notable that he wears a kerchief which covers his lower face rather than mask over  his eyes, as in the more traditional Zorro films and serial, making his somewhat less elegant and sinister. 

This would be the final collaboration between Mallorqui, the creator of the El Coyote character, Franco and director Marchent, who would go on to be the most prolific maker of Spanish westerns (notably the violent, nihilistic CONDENADOS A VIVIR (1971). The next Zorro outing would exclude Franco as co-writer but include most of the original cast, DP Pacheco, Manuel Parada as composer, while adding Alberto Grimadli's PEA as an Italian partner, influsing the production with a healthier budget than LA VENGANZA....

"At the time when Old California became part of the Union..."

The Platinum DVD cover adds: "Mexican Zorro is given another go-round in this Italian-produced opus. American actor Frank Latimore, a 1940s leading man who bears a dim resemblance to Tyrone Power, stars in the dual role of foppish Don Jose and his dashing, Z carving alter-ego Zorro [Latimore's  kerchief around his lower face in the film, rather than the famous mask with the eye-holes worn on the DVD cover image, may disappoint those expecting the classic Zorro mask on the character]. In this feature-length episode of the popular comic-strip saga, the dashing Spanish avenger and his father are tossed into jail after they discover a political conspiracy."  The writers of this promo must not have consulted the actual film in which Zorro does not get thrown into jail and does not have a father who appears anywhere in the action.

The run-time of the DVD is incorrectly listed as 84m, which is actually the approximate run-time of the Spanish version. A 95 minute run-time is listed for the Spanish version in JOAQUIN ROMERO MARCHENT: la firemza del profesional, 1999, Carlos Aguilar. Other sources list a 90 minute runtime.

During the 1940s Frank Latimore was sometimes a leading man in such Hollywood films as 13 RUE MADELINE (1945). He began his acting career at 20th Century-Fox. From 1949 to 1974 he lived and worked in Rome, appearing in Eurowesterns and swashbucklers, among other genre items. He eventually appeared in such high profile American films as PATTON (1970) and ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (1976). He's perfectly cast in LA VENGANZA DEL ZORRO, being able to lithely move from light comedy moments to physical action such as sword fighting to more dramatic scenes. Alain Petit's review of GRITOS EN LA NOCHE in THE MANACOA FILES also notes that F. Latimore is listed on a poster as conductor of the spurious Meyerbeer FAUST opera/ballet in which Wanda Bronsky performs in Franco's first horror film..

Although he is listed as a performer playing a Sergeant in most published credits of this film, I have not been able to spot frequent Spaghetti Western bandit Fernando Sancho after numerous close viewings.

Jess Franco would return to a Zorro style adventure with the 1974 comedy THE CRAZY NUNS, which featured a female Zorro (a forthcoming Blu-ray release of this rarely seen title would be welcome in 2017).

LA VENGANZA DEL ZORRO was retitled and rereleased by Eurocine in 1975 with a Marius Leseour directed pre-credit sequence featuring Monica Swinn (as another female Zorro) and film critic-actor (FEMALE VAMPIRE)-director Jean-Pierre Bouyxou.**  This version used to be distributed in the US by some gray marketeers under various titles. The IMDB also lists Jess Franco as a co-director of this alternate version, but he didn't do any directing on the added pre-credit sequence or on the original LA VENGANZA DEL ZORRO.

*OBSESSION: THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO, review of LA VENGANZA DEL ZORRO by LB, p. 42
**THE MANACOA FILES, review of LA VENGANZA DEL ZORRO by Alain Petit





(C) Robert Monell, 2016

contact the author of this post @ monell579@hotmail.com

03 November, 2016

Jess Franco aspect ratios

Here are two aspect ratios, on two Jess Franco related films ,which I've never encountered. The Kinoscope ratio is, I assume, a 2.35:1 format. The top film LLEGARON LOS FRANCESES, was directed by Leon Klimovsky. I'm not sure what Panorvision indicates on the VAMPIRESAS 1930 credit card on the bottom. Being a Eurocine co-production, I doubt that it was shot in a scope format, but would like confirmation on that. It should also be noted that I have seen numerous Jess Franco films on Spanish VHS and DVD, which are presented at the wrong aspect ratio. This usually happens when films shot in 2.35:1 scope (Techniscope, etc) are presented in non scope formats such as 1.85:1 or thereabouts. This is the case with the 2003 DIVISA DVD of DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN, which crops the Techniscope format to 1.85:1, ruining the director's carefully calibrated 2.35:1 framing. I spoke with Jess about his use of the scope ratio and he insisted this kind of cropping was unacceptable.

Llegaron los Franceses is a 1959 historical film set in 1808, during the Napoleon war. It was written by Jess Franco and stars Elisa Montes (DER TODESRACHER VON SOHO-1972) and Isana Medel (LABIOS ROJOS-1960)




















Below: the incorrectly framed Divisa DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN DVD. Unacceptable, according to Jess Franco. This film really needs a restored HD release. It's one of Franco's most stylish and deliberate uses of Scope and the telezoom as aesthetic tools. It's also a highly amusing monster rally, Universal by way of Jess Franco.

Image result for dracula contra frankenstein Divisa DVD 

More images and information related to Spanish aspect ratios on the Hispanoscope site, link below;

hispanoscope.blogspot.com site

24 October, 2016

Goodbye to Video Watchdog (1990-2016)

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Goodbye to Video Watchdog (1990-2016): I vividly recall purchasing this very first edition at the now defunct Twilight Games and Video store a quarter century ago. Tim's article HOW TO READ A FRANCO FILM was a seminal influence on my own career as a film journalist in numerous zines and books from that date onward and a key inspiration for this long running Jess Franco blog.

This was a publication dedicated to the films I loved and collected. Today's announcement that no more print copies will be published marks the end of an era just as the demise of Craig Ledbetter's European Trash Cinema did in the 1990s. The white hot cauldron of the INTERNET has consumed yet another artifact of the print era. I will post any links if a digital version of the magazine is planned.


17 October, 2016

DAUGHTER OF DRACULA: Blu-ray Review

GUEST REVIEW by Scott Allen


Disc:
Region: 'A' (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)
Runtime: 1:22:07.500
Disc Size: 23,108,077,697 bytes
Feature Size: 20,974,374,912 bytes
Video Bitrate: 28.99 Mbps
Chapters: 9
Case: Standard Blu-ray case
Release date: October 4th, 2016
Video:
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video
Audio:
LPCM Audio French 1536 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1536 kbps / 16-bit
Commentary:
LPCM Audio English 1536 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1536 kbps / 16-bit
Subtitles:
English, None
Extras:
• Audio commentary by film historian Tim Lucas
• Alternate safe footage (less sexually explicit) (3:19)
• Original theatrical trailer (4:38) 


Jess Franco's LA FILLE DE DRACULA was released on Blu-ray by Redemption earlier this month. It had been speculated for some time this release, especially after Redemption released a DVD version of it in PAL/Region 2 back in 2014. Redemption, a long champion of Jess' work has spent recent years reissuing old titles on Blu-ray and making announcements for films that never yet surfaced like on DVD or Blu-ray, "Les Chatouilleuses". Redemption's silence on the matter seemingly gave way to very impressive Blu-ray releases of "Erotic Rites of Frankenstein" and "The Demons". These releases  were staggeringly good especially after the misfire of the Blu-ray release of "A Virgin Among The Living Dead" that used a very bad print.
This particular film was one of the few from his early 70s films with a monster emphasis, including "Dracula Contra Frankenstein" (aka THE SCREAMING DEAD as it was known in U.S. on videotape)  and "The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein". Dracula Contra Frankenstein played it most safe in the trappings of horror only and didn't seem to push the limits of the erotic that Jess used so well in his films with Soledad Miranda. "The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein" Spanish variant played almost like a companion film with the Spanish version having a horror only focus. In 2015, Redemption unearthed the long delayed French variant and reportedly Jess's preferred film - complete with what seemed like longer takes than the Spanish version and more sexual content. Until seeing the French version, the Spanish one always felt disjointed and less coherent so it appeared like a revelation to be seeing this in a better form at last.LA FILLE DE DRACULA appears the slightest and fastest made of this bunch with beautiful Britt Nichols as the protagonist but like her role in THE DEMONS she doesn't get enough screen time.     
 The release of LA FILLE DE DRACULA seems to use a similar print that X-Rated Kult used for the German release in terms of visual quality. If you view the Redemption Blu-ray up close you do see more of the flaws of dirt and grain and at some points what looks like white dust. This mainly was noticeable when making screenshots with phone from the disc as I needed to be closer to the screen. Normally the print looks really good from a regular watching distance, perhaps not to the high levels of Erotic Rites of Frankenstein or The Demons; but still enjoyable enough. The film's draw is for Tio Jess' audience and to have more of Britt Nichols in HD. You can see Jess having a good time with a film that uses the Dracula backdrop in a very mild way to sell a film that could be more categorized as a thriller or lite-giallo.

There are a few instances where Jess visual poetry really shines through - particularly a scene where a stripper is killed by vampire bite and her body zoom leads to Nichols playing piano for a conversation scene with Anne Libert, it's these kind of scenes that have kept my interest in Jess cinema for years. The story itself seems a minor one, tossed off while Jess presumably worked on bigger projects and this was done in down time using the same Portugal castle as many films he made during that period. It falls firmly in not being his best nor his worst, but very much worthy of the personal upgrade in my collection. 

 The Blu-ray comes with a few extras include some alternate partially clothed seduction scene with Libert and Nichols and an informative commentary by Franco-authority Tim Lucas. Lucas shares some insight regarding locations and parallels of the characters in this and Jess earlier outing The Sadistic Baron von Klaus. His commentary, although consistently enjoyable, featured one small gaffe, he stated that Jess was engaged to actress Ana Castor, but he actually was engaged to Isana Medel. Both actresses appeared in his second feature film, LABIOS ROJOS (1960).

Overall, a very fine Blu-ray release from Redemption.... Bring on LES EBRANLEES already, dammit! :)     

(C) Scott Allen, 2016

11 October, 2016

Dorado Blu-ray JESS FRANCO'S FORGOTTEN FILMS Vol. 1: Special Features

 Here's a list of the Special Features which will be on the Ultimate Edition of Dorado's upcoming double feature Blu-ray JESS FRANCO'S FORGOTTEN FILMS Vol. 1. Dorado informs me the HD screencaps will be posted on Wednesday, along with HD video clips
1. Dual layered Blu-Ray containing two feature films:
    a)  THE SILENCE OF THE TOMB
    b)   THE SINISTER EYES OF DR. ORLOFF

2. BOOKLET     
    c)  THE MANACOA EXPERIENCE 
         by Francesco Cesari and Roberto Curti
         
This will be illustrated by us, with poster art of some of the films mentioned which are ours. 
        
      
         "Revenge of the Alligator Ladies"
          "Al Otro lado del Espacio" 
          "La Noche de los Asesinos"
          "Botas Negras Latigo"
          "Venus in Furs"
          "The Hot nights of Linda"
          "The Green Eyes of the Devil"
          "99 Women
          "Count Dracula"
          "LA Noche de los Asesinos"

3.  TRAILERS:
     Six or more

4. ROBERT WOODS  CHAT

5. FULL HD

6. NEWLY CREATED SUB-TITLES IN ENGLISH, SPANISH & ITALIAN

7. INTERVIEW WITH MONTSERRAT  PROUS

8. SPECIAL COVER WITH LIMITED NUMBERS


 

05 October, 2016

EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN: French Secam VHS images

Thanks to Midnight Video's BILL KNIGHT for posting this on FACEBOOK. I thought readers here would appreciate this vintage VHS box image. I have numerous vintage VHS copies of this, including the English langauge EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN, Dutch VHS versions, but I don't think I have this one. The image of the monster on the cover is really strange because it looks nothing like the silver skinned creature, played by Fernando Bilbao, seen in the film.

EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN
French Secam VHS on Budget Video
Uncut original French nude, Robert de Nesle version
1972 - Dir: Jess Franco
15 seconds longer than the Dutch Sunrise release

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22 September, 2016

EL SADICO DE NOTRE DAME: FRANCO, THE EXORCIST

I recently watched the Spanish DVD of Jess Franco's EL SADICO DE NOTRE DAME, which features the director's  The stone cold medieval statuary of Notre Dame seem to look down upon the self proclaimed high priest of the Inquisition, Mathis Vogel who walks the streets of Paris in search human sacrifices to his dark vision of God.



It's very effective that Franco's voice is on the soundtrack dubbing Vogel, the mad writer-killer who stalks the Notre Dame section of Paris in search of female victims, fallen women/prostitutes/loose women, whom he will murder in order to cleanse them of their sins. The director voices himself in the hardcore variant, SEXOCISM, also. There are numerous versions of these films and the film they are based upon, the 1974 EXORCISM/EXORCISM AND BLACK MASSES/EXORCISME, a grim, artless creation which is further intensified when incorporated into the even more personal, confessional EL SADICO DE NOTRE DAME. None of these are easy to watch but they all are crucial to the understanding of the massive filmography of their creator. This is the first part of a multi part series on the films. Partially updated and expanded from my previously published articles on the film in various publications. The Blu ray release of EXORCISM, future HD release of EL SADICO and some VHS versions will be discussed in further blogs.

Exorcism
1974 93 MINUTES Video Search of Miami, European Trash Cinema, and others (U.S. imports) DIRECTED BY J.P. JOHNSON ("JESS FRANCO ") WITH: LINA ROMAY, "JESS FRANK," PIERRE TAYLOU, "LYNN MONTEIL" (NADINE PASCAL), MONICA SWINN, OLIVIER MATHOT, ROGER GERMANES, CLAUDE SENDRON, RICHARD DeCONNICK, CLAUDE BOISSON, DANIEL J. WHITE, CHRISTINE CHIREIX, DAVID ATTA, FRANCE NICOLAS, SAM MAREE, CAROLE RIVERE, PHILLIPPE LEBRUN, RAMON ARDID, ALBERT LERNER, CATHERINE LAFERRIERE, FRANCOISE GOUSSARD

(a.k.a. LA SADIQUE DE NOTRE-DAME, THE SADIST OF NOTRE-DAME, and EL SADICO DE NOTRE-DAME [expanded versions from 1979]; DEMONIAC [cut U.S. Wizard video of the expanded 1979 version]; CHAINS AND LEATHER; EXORCISME ET MESSES NOIRES; SEXORCISMES; EXORCISME; EXPERIENCES SEXUELLES AU CHATEAU DES JOUISSEUESS; LE VIZIOSE)
This outrageous project exists in so many variants, at so many different running times it would be impossible to view them all (since some are not even available on home video) much less detail the differences. Of the versions now available on tape, the softest is undoubtedly the cut Wizard Video version, DEMONIAC, released in the late 1980s. A running time of 87 minutes is listed on the Wizard video box, which also sports stills of scenes not included in this particular cut. They released a recut version of LA SADIQUE DE NOTRE-DAME a 1979 Spanish-French co-production that mixes footage from Franco's 1974 EXORCIME ET MESSES NOIRES and scenes shot five years later on Parisian locations. This film has a softcore sex and violence, English-language variant, titled EXORCISM, which was the film which started it all.

The 1975 hardcore version of this film, retitled SEXORCISME, can be had in two slightly different cuts available from U.S. mail order companies. These include an 71-minute English-subtitled version, taken from a French-language video; and a longer 82-minute variation which also has a slightly different scene arrangement. The latter is available in French language only.
Both of these version drop much narrative material and several major characters to include several lengthy and over-the-top XXX sequences, some of which show Franco himself participating in hardcore action! The gory, English-language EXORCISM was unavailable for many years and in some ways it is the most disturbing of all the versions.

The protagonist, Mathis Vogel/Laforgue (Franco), is a sexually twisted, religion-obsessed psychopath who murders Paris women. The film represents Franco's most severe vision of madness and evil. The thematic questions are, what constitutes madness and evil? Though these are familiar themes in Franco's works, the director never posed them so powerfully as here.
Note the wrought iron cross/crucifix in the foreground as Vogel abuses a victim (Lina Romay), framing the scene as iconic Catholic horror made by a filmmaker once condemned by the Vatican.

The XXX versions were desperate attempts to make an unpleasant film more commercial, at least on the adult movie market, and the hardcore situations only enhance the film's sense of sexual delirium and blasphemy. The fact that all these version have scenes which later found their way into the 1979 remake SADIST OF NOTRE DAME indicates that Franco was attempting to more bucks out of burnt-out material.
The hardcore versions look so cheap and shoddy, though, that one guesses they had difficulty even on the "money-back guaranteed" sex circuit of the mid 70s, which probably explains why he recycled the scenes.

The English language EXORCISM anticipates in tone and style such slasher fare as HENRY PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER and SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, and Franco's character is in some ways even more sinister than Hannibal Lector. However, EXORCISM and the later SADIST OF NOTRE DAME are very somber. The gore scenes are repugnant, and include the torturing of both Carole Riviere and Lina Romay with a knife. As they are being cut up, the killer chants sections of the Roman Catholic mass in Latin.

The most grotesque addition is a scene which shows him murdering The Countess (France Nicholas) on a hotel bed. This is accomplished by shots of him slashing her open and ripping out some of her internal organs. Also, this version also makes clear the Black Masses Vogel witnesses are staged events, the human "sacrifices" are not harmed but are willing participants, the knives they are "stabbed" with have retractable blades, and the blood is fake. with the notable exception of a dove which is decapitated in the opening credit sequence of  EXORCISM/SEXORCISMES

As these explanatory scenes are missing from all other versions, Vogel's mania and the Satanist's agenda are a lot clearer -- Vogel is a deluded fanatic and the Satanists are just harmless hedonists, even though their dedication to evil is total. Another aspect this version restores is a conversation between the various police inspectors and an Interpol investigator, in which Vogel's murders are linked to rituals from the Inquisition. Connect this with Vogel's description of himself in SADIST OF NOTRE DAME as an agent of the Inquisition.

EXORCISM has the same story-line as all the other versions, minus the 1979 footage in THE SADIST OF NOTRE DAME showing Vogel repeated visiting the Notre-Dame cathedral, and confessing his murders to a priest (Antonio De Cabo, the villain in DEVIL HUNTER) who was a friend in the seminary that Vogel left. Without these scenes, EXORCISM and the hardcore SEXORCIMES are much more nihilistic. Vogel seems much more monstrous and, ironically, slightly more sympathetic. SADIST... also has a different opening, in which Vogel appears in a scene set in which he escapes from an insane asylum by hiding in the dumpster of a garbage truck. The symbolism has a very dark humor to it, which is typical of Franco.

Some of Vogel's background and motives are not explained, which colors him as a mysterious, almost abstract, icon of insanity. He is insane, but perhaps not evil in the same sense as the Satanists, who are upper-middle class dilettantes and choose evil as a way of life. Vogel's self-proclaimed holy war upon them and the loose women of Paris is his philosophical statement on the amorality of the modern world, but he sees his sick actions as totally moral.

EXORCISM and its many variants are not conventionally well-made films. The minimalist visual style, under lit cinematography, ragged editing (exacerbated by the XXX inserts of some versions), and painfully slow pacing contribute to a viewing experience which is hard on the viewer's eyes and patience.

Perhaps this reaction is precisely what Franco was looking for, as the theme of the film is the nature of "viewing." Vogel sees the sadomasochistic rituals, which he misinterprets, and we are the viewers of Franco's sado-thriller. Where does Franco's responsibility end and ours start? Sadism and pornography were not created by Jess Franco. They have been constant throughout the human and Art history.

EXORCISM's opening credits are printed over an eerie, satanic S&M ritual (missing from THE SADIST OF NOTRE DAME), in which a nude Lina Romay, writhing and bound to a martyr's cross, is whipped, caressed, and then smeared with the fresh blood of a beheaded dove (we actually see this appalling animal mutilation as the credit "Directed by J.P. Johnson" appears onscreen).

The camera obsessively follows the movement of a leather-clad torturer (Lynn Monteil), as the unholy and Gothic atmosphere intensifies with Andre Benichou's funereal, haunting score (THE SADIST OF NOTRE DAME version was re-scored by Franco regular Daniel J. White). Seen in its uncut form, this scene echoes the sado-performance rituals which open one of Franco's best earlier works, NECRONOMICON (1967).

It is also instructive to note that Vogel's occupation, a writer. His soda-masochistic tales are actually first-hand accounts of his own murders. They are published by "The Dagger and Garter," a sleazy magazine operated by one of the organizers of the satanic masses. Vogel may be a demented visionary, but the Satanists are shown as seemingly normal citizens who are able to hide their perverted activities from the authorities, something Vogel cannot do.

The publishing offices and the rococo castle in which the orgies are held are facades to fool the outside world. Franco expresses this theme of deceptive appearances by the way he shoots these locations, panning and zooming into the architectural details whose aesthetic qualities ironically contrast with the blood orgies executed within.

These visual tidbits may also underscore the ancient or Medieval nature of Vogel's obsessions. The casting of beady-eyed Pierre Taylou and Lina Romay, as the arrogant publisher and his airhead secretary, works in perfect contrast to Franco's performance as the seedy Vogel. Taylou, in his tacky mid-70s leisure suit, and Romay, in her then-fashionable maxi-coat, represent common complacency and hypocrisy. In contrast, Vogel appears at least honest about his crusade. "One must know evil in order to fight it" he tells them. This battle between Vogel's mania and the cult's more socially acceptable depravity is the film's main trumpet call. The endings of EXORCISM and SADIST OF NOTRE DAME are quite different. In EXORCISM, Taylou jumps into the pursuing police car after Vogel has murdered a cult member (an interesting touch reminding one of Fritz Lang's M, in which the police and the underworld both pursue a killer). In SADIST OF NOTRE DAME, the chase is abruptly cut off when Vogel is taken into custody at Notre-Dame. In EXORCISM, Vogel is tracked to his suburban house where the lead inspector takes him out with a DIRTY HARRY-style shot that just misses Lina Romay, who is being held hostage. As Vogel falls dead into the front seat of his car, a dog howls mournfully in the distance. This effective touch can only be heard in the French-language version.

The film ends as the camera quickly pans up to the roof of Vogel's house as the police absurdly speed away, leaving the dead Vogel and his traumatized hostage unattended! Even with all these rough edges, EXORCISM and its many variants haunt the memory as an uncompromising version into the center of madness and depravity. SADIST's ending suggests Vogel will live to suffer another day.

Franco's own performance here is brave and affecting, the total opposite of his usual tongue-in-check cameo appearances in his own movies. The voyeuristic scenes where he spies on Romay and her lesbian lover are especially chilling, due to the subdued way Franco moves his eyes and body as he peers through the window. Although he doesn't utter a word, his emotions are clear. The fact that Franco's acting here is superior to the direction indicates that the role itself was more important to him the final resulting film, something that he has confirmed in interviews. It should also be noted that Franco voiced himself in French on the French language tracks of EXORCISM, SEXORCISM and that he voiced himself in Spanish on the Spanish track of THE SADIST OF NOTRE DAME>

Completest collectors will probably want all these alternate versions and make up their own mind about which is the most effective as both a psycho-sexual thriller and modern morality play.

Robert Monell upated and expanded 2016

EL SADICO DE NOTRE DAME/EXORCISME/SEXORCISME


The protagonist of EL SADICO DE NOTRE DAME, Jess Franco's 1979 composite film, Mathis Vogel/Laforgue, is a sexually twisted, religion-obsessed psychopath who murders Parisian women. The film represents Franco's most severe vision of madness and evil. The fact that the obsessed killer is played by Jess Franco himself only intensifies the atmosphere, giving the film a razor sharp personal edge. The thematic questions are numerous.What responsibility does religion have in the consequences of its doctrine when applied by a disturbed individual? What is the relationship between art and crime. What constitutes evil? Is the film an allegory, spiritual autobiography or just a hacked together sexploitation "roughie"? These are familiar themes in Franco's works, but he rarely posed them so clearly and powerfully as here.



I recently watched the Spanish DVD of Jess Franco's EL SADICO DE NOTRE DAME, which features the director's own voice on the soundtrack as Vogel, the mad writer-killer who stalks the Notre Dame section of Paris in search of female victims, fallen women/prostitutes/loose women, whom he will murder in order to cleanse them of their sins. The director voices himself in the hardcore variant, SEXOCISM, also. There are numerous versions of these films and the film they are based upon, the 1974 EXORCISM/EXORCISM AND BLACK MASSES/EXORCISME, a grim, artless creation which is further intensified when incorporate into the even more personal, confessional EL SADICO DE NOTRE DAME. None of these are easy to watch but they all are crucial to the understanding of the massive filmography of their creator. This is the first part of a multi part series on the films. Partially updated and expanded from my previously published articles on the film in various publications. The Blu ray release of EXORCISM, future HD release of EL SADICO and some VHS versions will be discussed in further blogs.

Exorcism
1974 93 MINUTES Video Search of Miami, European Trash Cinema, and others (U.S. imports) DIRECTED BY J.P. JOHNSON ("JESS FRANCO ") WITH: LINA ROMAY, "JESS FRANK," PIERRE TAYLOU, "LYNN MONTEIL" (NADINE PASCAL), MONICA SWINN, OLIVIER MATHOT, ROGER GERMANES, CLAUDE SENDRON, RICHARD DeCONNICK, CLAUDE BOISSON, DANIEL J. WHITE, CHRISTINE CHIREIX, DAVID ATTA, FRANCE NICOLAS, SAM MAREE, CAROLE RIVERE, PHILLIPPE LEBRUN, RAMON ARDID, ALBERT LERNER, CATHERINE LAFERRIERE, FRANCOISE GOUSSARD

(a.k.a. LA SADIQUE DE NOTRE-DAME, THE SADIST OF NOTRE-DAME, and EL SADICO DE NOTRE-DAME [expanded versions from 1979]; DEMONIAC [cut U.S. Wizard video of the expanded 1979 version]; CHAINS AND LEATHER; EXORCISME ET MESSES NOIRES; SEXORCISMES; EXORCISME; EXPERIENCES SEXUELLES AU CHATEAU DES JOUISSEUESS; LE VIZIOSE)
This outrageous project exists in so many variants, at so many different running times it would be impossible to view them all (since some are not even available on home video) much less detail the differences. Of the versions now available on tape, the softest is undoubtedly the cut Wizard Video version, DEMONIAC, released in the late 1980s. A running time of 87 minutes is listed on the Wizard video box, which also sports stills of scenes not included in this particular cut. They released a recut version of LA SADIQUE DE NOTRE-DAME a 1979 Spanish-French co-production that mixes footage from Franco's 1974 EXORCIME ET MESSES NOIRES and scenes shot five years later on Parisian locations. This film has a softcore sex and violence, English-language variant, titled EXORCISM, which was the film which started it all. This would eventually be released on Bluray.

The 1975 hardcore version of this film, retitled SEXORCISME, can be had in two slightly different cuts available from U.S. mail order companies. These include an 71-minute English-subtitled version, taken from a French-language video; and a longer 82-minute variation which also has a slightly different scene arrangement. The latter is available in French language only.. Both of these version drop much narrative material and several major characters to include several lengthy and over-the-top XXX sequences, some of which show Franco himself participating in hardcore action! The gory, English-language EXORCISM was unavailable for many years and in some ways it is the most disturbing of all the versions.
 


The XXX hardcore sex versions were desperate attempts to make an unpleasant film more commercial, at least on the adult movie market, and the hardcore situations only enhance the film's sense of sexual delirium and blasphemy. The fact that all these version have scenes which later found their way into the 1979 remake SADIST OF NOTRE DAME indicates that Franco was attempting to more bucks out of burnt-out material.
The hardcore versions look so cheap and shoddy, though, that one guesses they had difficulty even on the "money-back guaranteed" sex circuit of the mid 70s, which probably explains why he recycled the scenes.

The English language EXORCISM anticipates in tone and style such slasher fare as THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, and Franco's character is in some ways even more sinister than Hannibal Lector. However, EXORCISM and the later SADIST OF NOTRE DAME are very somber. The gore scenes are repugnant, and include the torturing of both Carole Riviere and Lina Romay with a knife. As they are being cut up, the killer chants sections of the Roman Catholic mass in Latin.

The most grotesque addition is a scene which shows him murdering The Countess (France Nicholas) on a hotel bed. This is accomplished by shots of him slashing her open and ripping out some of her internal organs. Also, this version also makes clear the Black Masses Vogel witnesses are staged events, the human "sacrifices" are not harmed but are willing participants, the knives they are "stabbed" with have retractable blades, and the blood is fake. with the notable exception of a dove which is decapitated in the opening credit sequence of  EXORCISM/SEXORCISMES. This time the director is the audience and the scenes he witnesses, his own creations, become a substituted reality. As in NECRONOMICON and many other Jess Franco titles the theme of appearances rears its head, as well as his career long examination of performance art and the audiences who watch it.

As these explanatory scenes are missing from all other versions, Vogel's mania and the Satanist's agenda are a lot clearer -- Vogel is a deluded fanatic and the Satanists are just harmless hedonists, even though their dedication to evil is total. Another aspect this version restores is a conversation between the various police inspectors (Olivier Mathot and Roger Germanes) and an Interpol investigator, in which Vogel's murders are linked to rituals from the Inquisition. Connect this with Vogel's description of himself in SADIST OF NOTRE DAME as an agent of the Inquisition.

EXORCISM has the same storyline as all the other versions, minus the 1979 footage of Vogel repeated visiting the Notre-Dame cathedral, and confessing his murders to a priest who was a friend in the seminary that Vogel left. Without these scenes, EXORCISM and the hardcore SEXORCIMES are much more nihilistic. Vogel seems much more monstrous and, ironically, slightly more sympathetic.
Some of Vogel's background and motives are not explained, which colors him as a mysterious, almost abstract, icon of insanity. He is insane, but perhaps not evil in the same sense as the Satanists, who are upper-middle class dilettantes and choose evil as a way of life. Vogel's self-proclaimed holy war upon them and the loose women of Paris is his philosophical statement on the amorality of the modern world, but he sees his sick actions as totally moral, a necessity in the face of perceived evil.

EXORCISM and its many variants are not conventionally well-made films. The minimalist visual style, underlit cinematography, ragged editing (exacerbated by the XXX inserts of some versions), and painfully slow pacing contribute to a viewing experience which is hard on the viewer's eyes and patience.
Perhaps this reaction is precisely what Franco was looking for, as the theme of the film is the nature of "viewing." Vogel sees the sadomasochistic rituals, which he misinterprets, and we are the viewers of Franco's sado-thriller. Where does Franco's responsibility end and ours start? Sadism and pornography were not created by Jess Franco. They have been constant throughout the human and Art history.
EXORCISM's opening credits are printed over an eerie, satanic S&M ritual (missing from SADIST OF NOTRE DAME and DEMONIAC), in which a nude Lina Romay, writhing and bound to a martyr's cross, is whipped, caressed, and then smeared with the fresh blood of a beheaded dove (we actually see this appalling animal violence as the credit "Directed by J.P. Johnson" appears onscreen).

The camera obsessively follows the movement of a leather-clad torturer (Lynn Monteil), as the unholy and gothic atmosphere intensifies with Andre Benichou's funereal, haunting score (the SADIST OF NOTRE DAME version was re-scored by Franco regular Daniel J. White). Seen in its uncut form, this scene echoes the sado-performance rituals which open one of Franco's best earlier works, NECRONOMICON (1967).
It is also instructive to note that Vogel's occupation, a writer. His soda-masochistic tales are actually first-hand accounts of his own murders. They are published by "The Dagger and Garter," a sleazy magazine operated by one of the organizers of the satanic masses. Vogel may be a demented visionary, but the Satanists are shown as seemingly normal citizens who are able to hide their perverted activities from the authorities, something Vogel cannot do.

The publishing offices and the rococo castle in which the orgies are held are facades which exclude the outside world. Franco expresses this theme of deceptive appearances by the way he shoots these locations, panning and zooming into the architectural details whose aesthetic qualities ironically contrast with the blood orgies executed within.

These visual tidbits may also underscore the ancient or Medieval nature of Vogel's obsessions. The casting of beady-eyed Pierre Taylou and Lina Romay, as the arrogant publisher and his airhead secretary, works in perfect contrast to Franco's performance as the seedy Vogel. Taylou, in his tacky mid-70s leisure suit, and Romay, in her then-fashionable maxi-coat, represent common complacency and hypocrisy. In contrast, Vogel appears at least honest about his crusade. "One must know evil in order to fight it" he tells them. This battle between Vogel's mania and the cult's more socially acceptable depravity is the film's main trumpet call. The endings of EXORCISM and SADIST OF NOTRE DAME are quite different. In EXORCISM, Taylou jumps into the pursuing police car after Vogel has murdered a cult member (an interesting touch reminding one of Fritz Lang's M, in which the police and the underworld both pursue a killer). In SADIST OF NOTRE DAME, the chase is abruptly cut off when Vogel is taken into custody at Notre-Dame. In EXORCISM, Vogel is tracked to his suburban house where the lead inspector takes him out with a DIRTY HARRY-style shot that just misses Lina Romay, who is being held hostage. As Vogel falls dead into the front seat of his car, a dog howls mournfully in the distance. This effective touch can only be heard in the French-language version.

The film ends as the camera quickly pans up to the roof of Vogel's house as the police absurdly speed away, leaving the dead Vogel and his traumatized hostage unattended! Even with all these rough edges, EXORCISM and its many variants haunt the memory as an uncompromising version into the center of madness and depravity.

Franco's own performance here is brave and affecting, the total opposite of his usual tongue-in-check cameo appearances in his own movies. The voyeuristic scenes where he spies on Romay and her lesbian lover are especially chilling, due to the subdued way Franco moves his eyes and body as he peers through the window. Although he doesn't utter a word, his emotions are clear. The fact that Franco's acting here is superior to the direction indicates that the role itself was more important to him than the resulting film.
Completest collectors will probably want all these alternate versions and make up their own mind about which is the most effective as both a psycho-sexual thriller and modern morality play. Or maybe it's just another chapter in Jess Franco's 200 title filmed autobiography.

Robert Monell updated and expanded 2016

21 September, 2016

Pre order Jess Franco double bill from Dorado Films

www.doradofilms.video/


 

The HD Jess Franco double bill of UN SILENCIO DE TUMBA and THE SINISTER EYES OF DR. ORLOFF are now available for preorder.

31 August, 2016

LA NOCHE DE LOS SEXOS ABIERTOS music

http://tunes.zone/artist-carloto-perla-soundtracks-41188

30 August, 2016

COMING FROM MONDO MACABRO!





MIL SEXOS TIENE LA NOCHE: Jess Franco's delirious erotic thriller is finally getting the HD release it deserves from MONDO MACABRO. Look for a Fall/Winter date. One of Franco's most intense, visually accomplished films.