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 player 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, for TITANIC FILMS.

REVIEWED BY ROBERT MONELL (C) renewed 2017

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