02 December, 2017

NEW POLL: BEST JESS FRANCO BLU-RAY OF 2017

My yearly blog poll on the best/favorite Jess Franco Blu-ray is now up. Look to the far left top and you will see the selections. You can pick more than one. There might be a few missing or a few overlaps with late 2016 but you can also write in titles in the comments section. The results will be posted early next year. Thanks for voting.


07 November, 2017

LES GLOUTONNES (Clifford Brown, 1973) Synopsis, in French

Terence Ng “On the way to Atlantis, Maciste arrives at a pond of running water. There, a voice is heard. Through a wave, he discovers a nude young woman, by the name of Alba, who signals him to join her. Without hesitation, Maciste removes his clothes and dives into the pond to join her. The young girl surfaces and asks Maciste to follow her. They head to the cave entrance. Alba gets out of the water and starts running to the entrance of a strange palace.

Alba has led Maciste to Queen Rose, a woman of startling beauty. She explains that he must be the savior of Atlantis from two diabolical beings. Caronte and his wife Parque have blocked the way to the fountain of love and by doing so, paradise no longer exists for Rose and her people. Maciste must help to free them from the tyrants’ bondage.

The following evening, Maciste is bathed, anointed in perfumes, by Alba and her sister Purpure. He is drunk with pleasure. Rose and Alba make love with him, but they are spied upon by Purpure who, jealous of Queen Rose, wishes for the downfall of Maciste. She flees and warns Caronte of Maciste’s arrival. She proposes that she and her sister will offer themselves to Maciste on the hill of pleasure and leave him exhausted. Caronte can then attack.

The next day, Alba and her sister make love to Maciste until he’s exhausted, but Alba catches wind of her sister’s betrayal and calls for Rose and her guard who save Maciste.

Caronte and Purpure* were able to escape. With the exception of Maciste, nothing will stop them from seizing Queen Rose, who will be sacrificed with a sadisto-erotic ritual, in hopes that peace will reign in Atlantis. But Maciste continues to fight with Alba’s help in particular. The struggle is real with Caronte, and Maciste starts to fall deep into a chasm. Maciste launches himself at his enemies and, like a hurricane, he annihilates them.

The tyrants are now dead. Maciste can return home. Atlantis can live in peace once again.”
Thanks to Terence Ng for the translation.

01 November, 2017

THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z on Blu-ray: Coming Feb., 2018!

Coming on Blu-ray from REDEMPTION, February 2018.
If you look at the right of the cover image, above the Z, there's an image from a long elusive scene depicting the murder of one of three scientists by Miss Muerte (Estella Blain), the main character.
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It was apparently filmed but has never surfaced on any video or digital release version which I'm aware. It would be an interesting inclusion in this release, if it has indeed been located.

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Previously released on DVD by MONDO MACARBO in 2003, this was an excellent release, with both French and English language options. The French audio track is markedly superior in terms of dialogue and voice casting. It also has an alternative credits sequence, theatrical trailers, audio clips, rare still and poster galleries, production notes, bios, and a documentary of Jess Franco.

I acquired the Mondo Macabro release around the time when I first started collecting DVDs. I was a very late convert to the format, not getting my first DVD player until 2002! I've since collected well over 100 DVDs and Blu-rays of Jess Franco films, with no end in sight.

LE DIABOLIQUE DR Z/MISS MUERTE is one of Franco's better early to mid 1960's horror thrillers, it plays like an installment of his famous Dr. Orloff series and is, in fact, a superior medical horror film when compared to the previous EL SECRETO DEL DR. ORLOFF. It has a healthier budget, more compelling scripting and a female serial killer portrayed by the breathtaking beauty Estella Blain. It still remains superior to the director's next official 1973 Dr. Orloff thriller, LOS OJOS DEL DR. ORLOFF.

In THE DIABLOLICAL DR. Z  Jess  Franco himself has an amusing role as the investigating police officer who solves the case with the help of his assistant, played by longtime Franco soundtrack composer Daniel J. White. The sado-erotic performances of Miss Muerte, filmed in bewitching, high contrast back and white by the great Alejandro Ulloa, should look stunning in HD.

Thanks to Daniel P. Simon for the above image.

(C) Robert Monell, 2017

31 October, 2017

HORROR RISES FROM SPAIN HALLOWEEN PODCAST: Jess Franco Blu-rays and Films discussed by Elena and myself...



Join Elena, myself and others discussing monsters, Dracula, Jess Franco, the Spanish Frankenstein and more in this Halloween Horrors podcast...

HORROR RISES FROM SPAIN: PRE-HALLOWEEN SPECIAL!!! by Elena · 10/15/2017 This is a special episode of HORROR RISES FROM SPAIN as it is….…
SPANISHFEAR.COM

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11 October, 2017

KILLER BARBYS (Jess Franco, 1996) REDEMPTION Blu-ray review



After a high-energy appearance in a crowded nightclub, Spanish punk band Killer Barbies take off through the Spanish countryside in their van. Soon they have a breakdown and are greeted by a strange man, Arkan (Spaghtetti Western veteran Aldo Sambrell) who invites them to spend the night within the walls of the mist enshrouded Gothic castle of the Countess Von Fleidermaus (Mariangela Giordano), who is actually a centuries old vampire who stays young, like Elizabeth Bathory, by bathing in the blood of the young. She depends on Arkan to deliver the band member’s body fluids as her next skin treatment.
Essentially an extended promo/music video for the Spanish punk/hard/garage rock band, formed in 1994 by Silvia Superstar (Silvia Garcia Pintos) and Billy King (Arturo Dominguez), this was the first of two films directed by Franco which were build around the image and music of the band. They cut a few albums but their popularity was limited and this film, although Franco’s first theatrical release in Spain in several years, only had about 100, 000 patrons and grossed a mere 100.000 in USD. This would be the last theatrical release of a new Jess Franco film in Spain. It’s also one of his last filmed in 35mm.  The title of the film had to be changed because the name Barbie was trademarked by Mattel manufacturing, which by the 21st Century had become a Fortune 500 company. Franco filmed a follow-up KILLER BARBYS VS DRACULA (2002), which added two Draculas, musical numbers with German vocal star Bela B., a Walt Disney aesthetic and was staged in a bizarre Spaghetti Western theme town in Southern Spain. Eurowestern stars Dan Van Husen (CUT THROATS NINE), Peter Martell and Aldo Sambrell (NAVAJO JOE) were featured. 
Filmed in one month (Jan. 8 to Feb. 8, 1996) in Valencia and other locales, it’s not a bad looking film, especially on the new Redemption Blu-ray, and the Spanish language soundtrack, with English subtitles, is the way to go, since the English track features horrendous voice-casting and muffled English-dubbed voicing. The scenes featuring Aldo Sambrell (VOODOO BLACK EXORCIST) and Ms. Giordano (BURIAL GROUND) come off the best, atmospherically lit and composed by 1970s Franco cinematographer Javier Perez Zofio (SINNER, NIGHT OF THE SKULLS). It’s actually very much a kind of Punk-Gothic comic book, just as EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN was an Adult-Horrorcomic book in 1972, indebted to the kind of sexy/violent comic strips (DIABOLIK, KILLING, SATANIK) which were popular in Europe in the 1960s and 70s. But the film didn’t make much of an impact by the mid 1990s when Spanish audiences were more likely interested in US produced, larger budgeted, mainstream horror offerings.  The Killer Barbies song COMIC BOOKS, states the band’s and the film’s aesthetic, as well as affirms Jess Franco’s lifelong obsession with all kinds of comic book/comic strip characters in his filmography, LUCKY THE INSCRUTABLE (1967) and LOS BLUES CALLE POP (1983), being the most obvious examples. The finale, featuring cult figure Santiago Segura, getting flattened by a steam roller, is something that might be found in an EC Comic infused with punk attitude, which is a good description of this film.
The blood bathing scenes are fairly gory and Ms. Giordano is fully up to the lusty requirements of the scenario. But the scenes don’t have the same sensual-emotional impact as such Jess Franco female vampire operettas as VAMPYROS LESBOS (1970) or FEMALE VAMPIRE/LA COMTESSE NOIRE (1973).  Nonetheless, they work well within the limited context of this film and will be highlights for horror movies fans.  There’s not much viable eroticism in this film, considering Jess Franco’s career long expertise in that realm. Some of the comedy scenes involving the band members in the haunted castle aren’t very amusing and perhaps clash in tone.  Jess Franco had at least one good  vampire film in his future, VAMPIRE JUNCTION, which overall works much better as erotic horror and seems to have a more authorial voice than this.
Also included on the Blu-ray are an audio commentary by Troy Howarth, and a trailer along with the Spanish, French and the dire English language tracks. The 4K scan from the original elements features the film looking the best it could possibly look, with generally good color, definition and detail, considering the often soft-focus original cinematography.
Thanks to Nzoog for additional information
(C) Robert Monell, 2017

02 October, 2017

Rare 16mm print of Jess Franco's COUNT DRACULA on Ebay



Rare 16mm print of Franco's COUNT DRACULA. Thanks to Donald Farmer

1970 16mm Sound Feature Film Color Count Dracula Christopher Lee Klaus Kinski VG in DVDs & Movies, Film Stock | eBay
EBAY.COM

08 September, 2017

THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN (Flint Holloway/Edward D, Wood Jr., 1970)

This 53m 40s wonderment is the only surviving record of Ed Wood's 1970 foray into the soft-core feature film realm. I first became aware of this title via Rudolph Grey's essential Wood biography, NIGHTMARE OF ECSTASY. *   Grey lists it in his chronological filmography as 1971 production which followed NECROMANIA (also 1971), quoting cinematographer Ted Gorley as describing it as "inferior" to NECROMANIA, lacking the supernatural elements found in that film and that it was filmed in three days "probably on a budget lower than NECROMANIA". Well, after seeing the film on the fatwvideo DVD, sporting a 2009 Films Around The World, All Rights Reserved onscreen logo and DVD stamp, I can report that much of Grey's notes are incorrect.

Grey lists it as a Cinema Classics Production, Released by Stacey Films, as was NECROMANIA. This much seems correct. But THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN (onscreen title) was not an aka for THE YOUNG MARRIEDS, which as we now know is a completely separate, later production, and has now had its own DVD release. Copyright 1971 The Professionals appears on the main title card "THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN", but that company is nowhere mentioned in Grey's book.


In fact, THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN is superior, in my view at least, to THE YOUNG MARRIEDS, while not being as entertaining, well shot, atmospheric or humorously scripted as NECROMANIA. It also lacks NECROMANIA's engaging couple of Renee Bond and Rick Lutze as the leads. They give good performances as quick witted, likable characters, an endlessly bickering married couple, a Nick and Nora Charles in an all nudie haunted world. That film had something approaching a well-written script. THE ONLY HOUSE... appears to have not had a full script at all, or perhaps only a brief treatment containing several key scenes. 

According to informed sources** THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN was made after Wood's 1970 soft-core detective noir TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE, which featured Ed himself in gloriously unapologetic drag. Both TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE and THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN marked Wood's return to feature film making since writing and directing THE SINISTER URGE in 1960. What can be said, after sampling the SWV outtakes from TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE, is that THE ONLY HOUSE... does not have that film's colorful stylistic flair. TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE is a candy colored neo-noir with a horny PI getting it on with an endless stream of female informants in lurid settings. The international settings are telegraphed with an almost Godard-like minimalism, primary colored travel posters stand in for locations, the editing is in-your-face and sometimes avant-garde. 

THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN does have Uschi Digard, either nude or wearing a floppy hate and high black leather boots, as our hostess at the only brothel in a 19th Century town which now seems to be haunted by the spirits of the horny dead. Or does it emit a weird electromagnetic field which makes everyone who enters uncontrollably lustful to the point of... ?  Rape is always an ugly word and deed but this film opens with a gang rape of a scantily clad brunette, who seems the only inhabitant. A group of six, three men and three women, led by a bearded man with a cigarette in his mouth, quietly mount a staircase in an old, disheveled house. The bearded man snaps his fingers, motioning the group, some of whom are also smoking cigarettes, toward a thick oak door on the second floor. They force open the door to reveal the brunette, clad only in a short lemon colored bathrobe, gasping and looking terrified. She flees the group who pursue her as turbulent piano music is heard on the soundtrack. Finally they all pin her down, lift her up and carry her down the stairs to the lower level. The looks of lust on the male and female attackers are obvious and priceless. The entire idea of gang rape conducted by both sexes was somewhat unique and it's never explained why they are there or how they knew a victim would be waiting. One wonders if the way this opens, in media res, was a deliberate decision or the result of the film being either unfinished or this being an incomplete print. 

The feeling of watching fragments of a film continues even though the film does have its own beginning, middle and ending. After a long groping of the rape victim, who is now moaning "Fuck me', making it all the more disturbing, the second part opens with Uschi, now fully dressed, introducing herself and welcoming the viewer. Facing the camera, standing in front of a large bed, Uschi will be our narrator in this interactive piece of soft core cinema. She introduces several short stories which are acted out by the previously seen six cast members, all of which feature Uschi totally nude and very involved in the hot and heavy action. Also breaking the fourth wall are the constant comments and instructions to the cast shouted out by an off-screen voice, "Move back a little, that's good", "Back off from her, let's see more of her" (referring to Uschi), "Lay down, just move around, don't be so tight". Is this Ed Woods' voice, or an assistant's, or the cameraman's? Was it planned as part of the final film or just left in because of an incomplete final sound mix. The latter is most likely, but it does fit in with the film's interactive structure, making it Wood's most self reflexive work. What would seem merely technically deficient/sloppy in normal production values, becomes a fascinating element in this context. 

The first story features a man Uschi calls "Peter Lewin", played by actor who was the bearded leader of the group in the opening. Rape once again rears its ugly head as Peter forces his way into the room occupied by Wendy (Uschi) accompanied by dire instrumental music, and then forces himself onto her. Later, flighty instrumental music is heard over the scene as the victim becomes compliant. In another story in the omnibus a stripper named "Bouncing Beulah" has a lesbian interlude with Uschi, which ends with them both discussing how much they like each other's breasts. A gritty Blues song sung by a female singer is heard over this segment. Further off-screen directorial comments heard (helpful English subtitles make them understandable amid the muddled sound mix) "Do that again. I really dig it", "All right, get in a group, like that", and "Rub her naked". At one point a naked group sex participant suddenly stands up, shouting "It was me who tipped the cops off". Since no cops arrive at any point in the film, this line is particularly baffling while adding to the general amusement level. There's even a classic Ed Wood cat fight, symphonic music and a Hawaiian guitar interlude. 

The most interesting stylistic element is the way the camera repeatedly floats upward, away from the group sex play, to examine a painting or outside foliage seen through an open window. The painting gets the most attention, one of those large format, cheap looking imitations of 19th Century neo classic style, depicting a nude woman holding up her arms in the foreground as soldiers in what looks like Ancient Roman military armor and helmets are seen in the background near a horse drawn chariot, In the far background ancient wooden ships at sea are seen. Why are we suddenly looking at this dollar store canvas? It seems to be yet another example of Wood's recurrent personal directorial matrix  what the French term "mise-en abyme/mise-en abime", the image within the image, the scene within the scene which the auteur (Wood) encapsulates/contrasts with the action on the main canvas. One thinks of the numerous cheap paintings, posters, photos which decorate the dingy, impoverished mise-en-scene of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, NIGHT OF THE GHOULS, THE SINISTER URGE and other Wood-directed items. The man had an eye for something beyond the obvious, which is why his films still are collected, viewed and examined decades after his sordid passing. And this goes along with the authorial cast directions heard off-screen making this a totally personal work in a totally impossible creative/technical set-up.

It all concludes with Uschi bidding the viewer farewell before she is engulfed  by several nude cast members, only to struggle out of the impending orgy to add, "You still here, people? Get out and let us have some fun!" The End. 

*NIGHTMARE OF ECSTASY, The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr., by Rudolph Grey, Feral House, 1992, pp. 210-212.

** Thanks to Kieth Crocker for additional information

(C) Robert Monell, 2017

02 September, 2017

TWO FEMALE SPIES WITH FLOWERED PANTIES; OPALO DE FUEGO (Jess Franco, 1978) Severin Blu-ray

Directed by Dan Simon (Jess Franco)

Strippers Cecile (Lina Romay) and Brigitte (Nadine Pascal) are taken in handcuffs to a sleazy nightclub. They have recently been released from a Brazilian prison where they were serving sentences for prostitution and lewd dancing. It's daytime, when strip clubs are usually closed, so the girls suspect something is up when the are confronted by U.S. Senator Connolly (Franco regular Olivier Mathot) and a Canary Island's police official who force them to perform a strip tease before offering them a chance at getting their prostitution sentences reduced if they go on a secret mission to Las Palmas. Cecile, who is experienced in photography, is ordered to photograph everyone who enters or leaves a suspicion villa which is adjacent to the hotel where they will be staying.


BELOW: Joelle Le Clair in OPALO DE FUEGO
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This film resides in Franco's Women In Peril bin, which includes such titles as THE SLAVES, FRAUEN OHNE UNSCHULD, BLUE RITA (1977), MADCHEN IM NACHTVERKEHR (1976), JE BRULE DE PARTOUT (1978), LINDA/ORGIA DE NINFOMANAS (1980), among many othrs, all of which involve similar scenarios dealing with women forced to work as prostitutes in sleazy nightclubs. It can also be viewed as another entry into his occasional Red Lips adventures, featuring a duo of female nightclub performers who are secretly private investigators, the best of these films was the first, the moody, black and white Film Noir, LABIOS ROJOS (1960). Later entries include TWO UNDERCOVER ANGELS/ROTE LIPPEN, KISS ME MONSTER (1967). Unofficial variations on the Red Lips films include LES GRANDES EMMERDEUSES (1974), which TWO FEMALE SPIES.... most closely resembles in style, story and spirit. 

The dangerous assignment here involves the women showing up for an arranged job at a Las Palmas nightclub run by the Mr. Forbes (Yul Sanders/Claude Boisson) and his wife (Joelle L'Quement=Joelle Leclair). Mr and Mrs. Forbes have a rather odd relationship. He sexually assaults women whom he helps kidnap to be sold as private sex slaves to millionaires. She has turned sexually frigid toward him due her the stress of running the day to day affairs of the nightclub. They are operatives of a large, shadowy international crime syndicate which orders the kidnappings and close the sales to clients living in the Canary Islands. This all seems sanctioned by local authorities. The film opens with one such kidnapping involving the international sex star Adriana Rinaldi (Susan Hemingway), carried out by Forbes, aided by a female in large sunglasses (Muriel Montossey, whom would go onto appear as the lead actress in Franco's 1982, THE INCONFESSABLE ORGIES OF EMMANUELLE, as Vicky Adams). The victim is chained to a bed and brutally raped by Forbes, a particularly shocking scene even in this s exploitative context.

When our two female spies arrive in Las Palmas they are greeted by the joyously gay Milton (Mel Rodrigo) the DJ at the Flamingo club. He fills the ladies in on the job and the Forbes observe the two performers as they do their first show. Later both dancers are abducted after Mr. Forbes learns of their mission and true identities. They are both brutally tortured, which results in the death of Brigitte. Cecile is hypnotized by the strange opal ring worn by Mrs. Forbes so that she will become a future mindless slave. But Cecile escapes and is pursued by helicopter, piloted by Mrs. Forbes, only to escape to a local hippie colony living in desert caves. Meanwhile another club employee is set-up as the fall guy for the murder of Connolly and the illegal operations of the nightclub. Will she be able to eventually escape from the island and the agents of the kidnapping ring? 

TWO FEMALE SPIES IN FLOWERED PANTIES has a ridiculous title and an unusually complicated, action filled plot, at least for a Jess Franco film. It contains humor (at least in the French version), exotic/erotic dancing, mind control sessions, sexual torture, rape, machine guns battles, an anarchist uprising, and a political back story. The villains are agents of an international organization said to control world terrorism and have been responsible for the JFK and Martin Luther King assassinations in the U.S.. The local Federal Police and Washington DC politicians are under their command. When Senator Connolly is told about all this he is judged a security threat and gunned down. Given the amount of action, nightclub performances and information which needed to be telegraphed, Franco manages to wrap it all up in his usual personal style, albeit resulting in a technically uneven presentation in which every other shot seems out of focus or misfired. It looks as if, as usual, time and money were in short supply and the director had to rush through a series of complex scenes in order to get them all on film.

The most effective scenes are the amusingly low-tech helicopter pursuit of a bikini clad Lina Romay (credited as Line Castel on the French print and Candy Coster on the Spanish version) and two very character driven scenes between Mr. and Mrs. Forbes in which their erotic relationship is illustrated as their evolving emotional detachment is revealed.  These scenes involving the couple are totally missing from the Spanish version, available as an SD DVD in this package, OPALO DE FUEGO. They were inserted after-the-fact for the French release version by Eurocine when they acquired it from the Spanish producers, Joaquin Dominguez's Triton Films PC, Madrid, who co-produced in association with Studio 8, Lisbon, Portugal. Eurocine also added a different extended opening scene, lasting about 15 minutes, in which the kidnapping of Ms. Hemingway is carried out. Neither Ms. Hemingway or Montossey appear or are credited in the Spanish version. Whether of not Jess Franco filmed these scenes is not clear, but since they involve actors he was working with on other projects at the time, his involvement was likely.

Eurocine also removed one of the absolute best, and most Franconian episodes, the Salome 2000 exotic dance performed by Ms. L'Quiment with what is meant to represent the severed head of John the Baptist. The blasphemous, Bunuelian qualities of this scene are quite obvious and 100 percent Jess Franco. Also removed were two key scenes which explained the exact agendas of Milton, who is revealed as not being gay and as a fellow US government operative,  and nightclub associate Mr Morales (Canary Island native Albino Graziani, who would show up as a character actor in other Franco films shot there including OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES, MANSION OF THE LIVING DEAD, TREASURE OF THE BLOND GODDESS, and BANGKOK, CITY OF THE DEAD). Cecile's discovery of a murdered man hanging in her closet is yet another scene removed from the Eurocine cut. This scene is an exact copy of an episode in Franco's 1966 CARTES SUR TABLE/Attack of the Robots, where Eddie Constantine, as secret agent Al Pereira, made the discovery. It's played for laughs in both films. Considering all this, it's likely the Spanish version was Franco's preferred director's cut, but that he went along with the Eurocine revisions. The torture scenes include the burning of Lina Romay's naked flesh with lit cigarettes, producing ugly burns. This torture method was also prominently used, administered by Jess Franco himself, in th 1976 Women In Peril-White Slavery sexploitationer, THE SLAVES, another Dietrich production.

All this results in two very different versions of a film with the same actors, plot and setting. The Spanish version plays like a much more sober,  intense, cynical, downbeat variation, opening with Mrs. Forbes putting a new hire under the mental control of her opal of fire. Not only does this opening have a more moody atmosphere, set to Daniel White's jazz score (the music is credited to Franco alone on the Spanish print), it sets the tone for the rest of the film, where the mind control aspects recalls such previous Franco films as CARTES SUR TABLE (1966), MISS MUERTE/THE DIABOLICAL DR.Z (1965) and NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT (1970)., among many others, as a favorite Jess Franco conceit.  Eurocine also re-filmed one key scene, where Connolly is briefed on the political agenda behind the Las Palmas organiztion, setting it in a seedy office rather than the more elegantly staged scene and attractive setting in the Spanish version.

Both versions are very absorbing and entertaining action thrillers with strong erotic overtones and feature pretty graphic scenes of blood spattered torture.  Daniel White's sometimes moody jazz styling add a lot to the atmosphere, although the main drawback is the sometimes shaky cinematography, credited to Gerard Brissaud and, in some sources, Ramon Zaldia and Lionel Efe, but it actually may have been lit by Jess Franco himself, just in order to get it done.

Severin includes both versions on separate discs. TWO FEMALE SPIES IN FLOWERED PANTIES is presented in 1080p Full HD resolution, both versions are pillar-boxed and look properly framed with no image missing from the frame. The HD version is much brighter and more colorful than the SD presentation of OPALO DE FUEGO, naturally. Daniel White is properly credited for the music on the French version, which credits Dan Simon as the director and Evelyn Deher with the original story. The English LCPM Stereo track is noticeably more dynamic then the French language track. Both the BD and SD have English subtitles available for the original French and Spanish tracks, respectively. This marks the debut of this title of US home video. There have been no previous official North American video or digital releases. The only previous release of which I have been aware is the Dutch VHS release. This is probably the best this rather obscure Franco entry ever has looked or will look, theatrical presentations included.

The special features includes a 10 minute interview with Franco in which he discusses the Canary Island locations such as the prehistoric desert caves where the hippie  sequences were shot. He also reveals his script was influenced by the SAS spy-action novels of Gerard De Villiers. He also discusses how he enjoys mixing light comedy with violence, drama,  tragedy and confirms the films of George Cukor (especially THE MARRYING KIND) as a guiding influence. Since Cukor directed many musicals (MY FAIR LADY) and Franco always places musical performances upfront in his films, that influence is very enlightening. There is also an unprecedented interview, shot in the mid 1990s, with frequent Franco composer-actor Daniel J. White, who discusses his many collaborations (he lists 40) with the director and his admiration for Franco's abilities as a total filmmaker who can write, direct, act, edit, score and complete a film. He also reveals his awareness the bad producers often let him and Franco down by paying them with bad checks and cutting off funding for films or making damaging additions/subtractions to Franco's director's cuts.

Stephen Thrower helpfully places the film in the busy Franco timeline as a breather between his more reasonably budgeted Erwin C. Dietrich productions, his final Robert De Nesle oddities (COCKTAIL SPECIAL) and his later, much more personal Spanish films. Time-coded and VHS outtakes from the Spanish version and a 3 minute theatrical trailer are included. By combining two very different versions of one film, this package makes an interesting collector's item for those seeking to understand the complete filmography of the director and the conditions of his employment at that time.

(C) Robert Monell, 2017


22 August, 2017

MARI-COOKIE AND THE KILLER TARANTULA.... An Outrageous Film by Jess Franco


MARI-COOKIE AND THE KILLER TARANTULA (1998)

Produced by One Shot Production
Directed and Written by Jess Franco
Photography: Raquel Cabra
Music: Jess Franco, Daniel White
Cast: Lina Romay (Mari-Cookie), Analia Ivars, Linnea Quigley,
Michelle Bauer (Sheriff), Robert King, Peter Temboury, Amber Newman.



During the Spanish conquest of Europe a pregnant woman is raped by a conquistador. Shortly afterward, a tarantula enters the woman and deposits its eggs. The spawn is a mutant female who transforms into a lethal spider when sexually aroused. Centuries later, in present day Spain an erotic dancer performs in a bizarre persona,The Killer Tarantula. After her shows she picks up willing victims who will end up entangled in an awesome, tortuous web back at her lair. A local Sheriff (Michelle Bauer) becomes attracted to the performer while investigating the disappearances of several club patrons. Meanwhile, the distraught mother (Linnea Quigley) of a wayward stripper (Amber Newman) seeks out her daughter. All will eventually bear witness to the seductive powers of the mysterious creature.

A squiggly, green title announces "An Outrageous Film by Jess Franco," as if his long time fans needed to be primed for this soft-core horror fantasia. The focus is on kinky sex amidst comic book horror and elements of deliberate self-parody are constantly popping up. The spider-woman motif goes all the way back to the director's 1961 pastel-colored musical VAMPIRESAS 1930 and Estella Blain in the classic MISS MUERTE (1965). Femme fatales are often associated with insects in Franco's filmography, as they are in the films of fellow Spanish surrealist Luis Bunuel.

The naked,tormented, half alive bodies of victims hanging in the awesome web festooned across the tarantula's living room, the sado-erotic arachnid rubber-gear, the obsessed audience at the club, are all images which continue Franco's career long obsession with Performance. Cinema is a show and the show is usually an erotic tinged scenario of seduction and death. The show here is illustrated with candy colored lighting and basic digital effects credited to the University of Malaga. As with many final period Jess Franco Spanish-American productions the English language track is somewhat problematic.

The eye popping visual design of glittering colors and outre costumes hold sway during the extended sexual encounters between Romay and everyone else in the cast. Even such risible effects as the inflatable tarantula with a human face seems a reasonable synapse and bears comparison with the mutations in the 1950's version of THE FLY. But this is late 1990s Jess Franco at his most unhinged. No other filmmaker could have imagined, much less filmed, this demented scenario. It's a high spirited Adult cartoon which ensnares its viewers by sheer oddity value. 

Lina Romay performs with enthusiasm and humor in a role few other actresses could handle. She easily manages to upstage American scream queens Bauer and Quigley, although Bauer's Sheriff-outfit of black leather jacket, fedora, g-string and boots is 
something to behold. It all ends with the classic Fu Manchu threat, the world will hear from her again. In the spirit of the old Warner's cartoons there's a final imprint of "That's All Folks!"

I wasn't sure if I liked this film or not when I first saw it  nearly 20 years ago but it does retain its unique oddball charm and Franco did have a way of mastering a tone, even if that tone strikes many normal horror consumers as way off the beam. Actually it's supposed to be a "comedy" a la Jess Franco. But his notion of comedy is what he finds personally amusing. He's a master at the art of ridicule, but not always a master of telegraphing that ridicule to each and every viewer. This is not his worst film, but it's not Tier One Jess Franco. I would recommend it for a single viewing. It has that hallucinatory look which Franco sometimes achieves without really trying. You may ever find yourself smiling at the weird goings on.

(C) Robert Monell, 2017

26 July, 2017

DRACULA, PRISONER OF FRANKENSTEIN- German Blu-ray: Review Link

Here's a link to an excellent review by Tim Lucas of a recent German Blu-ray release of Jess Franco's DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN/DRACULA, PRISONER OF FRANKENSTEIN.

http://videowatchdog.blogspot.com/2017/07/francos-die-nacht-der-offenen-sarge.html http://videowatchdog.blogspot.com/2017/07/francos-die-nacht-der-offenen-sarge.html

16 July, 2017

VENUS IN FURS update: Blu-ray; Jess Franco; versions: Manfred Mann; Mike Hugg; David Lynch, TWIN PEAKS; HD AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO

Image result for VEnus in Furs 1969 movie images
VENUS IN FURS red room
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TWIN PEAKS-THE RETURN red room

Two things: Can there please be a Blu-ray release of Jess Franco's VENUS IN FURS asap? After seeing PAROXISMUS (...puo una morta rivivere per amore?), the alternate Italian version, credited to Hans Bilian, edited by Bruno Mattei, I wondered and still wonder if that version is closer to what Jess Franco intended, as a Noir style fever dream, than the more familiar cut, which was post-produced without the director's final input, although Jess told me he did supervise a cut, but not the one in general release. Nor have I seem the reported 90m, as opposed to the 86 m BU DVD, German version, VENUS IM PELZ.

Also, the more I see of David Lynch's new TWIN PEAKS television series, and reviewing the feature TWIN PEAKS FIRE WALK WITH ME, I see some interesting similarities with Franco in general and VENUS IN FURS specifically, especially the scenes in the red curtained, zig zagged floored Black Lodge. Red is the primary symbolic color in both feature films and overwhelms all other hues.

Try watching TPFWWM back to back with Franco's 1973 father-daughter incest drama AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO, the similarities may be coincidental, but they are there in terms of imagery, mirrors being a portal to the truth and other worlds in both, for instance. Both Franco and Lynch employ surrealist imagery to tell their tragic stories of young women destroyed by their fathers.

And an English friendly HD release of AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO is needed. It's also one of Jess Franco's key works. More on this in a future blog posting...

Emma Cohen entering the mirror in AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO (1973)
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Laura Palmer in the mirror: TWIN PEAKS
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TWIN PEAKS FIRE WALK WITH ME..




PAROXISMUS: I wanted to express my own personal reactions to this cut. Rather than a VIDEO WATCHDOG style comparison between this Italian version and the VIF we all know I plan do an ogoing series of shorter blogs on various aspects of both cuts, with some specific comparisons to come. First, the music. There was a fascinating online interview with Mike Hugg about his memories of composing and producing the music track for the original VENUS IN FURS, which unfortunately has been deleted.
 Maria Rohm as the object of desire in PAROXISMUS... PUO UNA MORTA RIVIVERE PER AMORE?

First and foremos,t BLACK ANGEL, as Jess envisioned it, was a love story steeped in the realm of jazz. Directly inspired by Chet Baker's observation that his own playing often transported him into a transcendent place. That element remains central in both versions.

Hugg states that he wrote the songs and the instrumentals were composed by him and Manfred Mann. But a lot of the music in the American cut came from other places, including US television, Stu Phillips library tracks, and cues from the score of the 1966 German made Jerry Cotton feature, THE TRAP SNAPS SHUT AT MIDNIGHT. Still other unidentified music is in the Italian version. I'm going to retry to locate the interview and publish a link if possible.

The film has always struck me as a unique musical-horror-fantasy on the themes of love and death. In a way all Jess Franco's films could be considered musicals, and he has described himself as a musician who makes films.
Manfred Mann, the popular Rock group which had a number of hit records in the mid 1960s before working on the soundtrack for VENUS IN FURS. They also appear performing their music in the film. 

Stay tuned for further information and commentary on PAROXISMUS, hopefully along with a review of the eventual Blu-ray release of VENUS IN FURS  It would be really interesting to have this alternate version as a special feature on an upcoming Blu-ray. 

Updated (C) Robert Monell 7/17

27 June, 2017

Jess Franco's favorite film directors.

http://www.listal.com/viewimage/7223030





Reginald Le Borg
Reginald Le Borg directs Louise Allbritton in San Diego I Love You (1944)

During my interview with Jess Franco he noted some of his favorite film directors. The Austrian director Reginald Le Borg was one of them. Franco compared his career as an eclectic B director to that of Le Borg, who made numerous low budgeted films in Hollywood from the 1930s to the 1970s. He made a number of interesting, stylish horror films including DEAD MAN'S EYES, WEIRD WOMAN (Inner Sanctum mysteries), THE BLACK SLEEP, the last feature film of Bela Lugosi, DIARY OF MADMAN with Vincent Price, VOODOO ISLAND, with Boris Karloff. He also made THE MUMMY'S GHOST (1944), possibly the best of the UNIVERSAL follow ups to the 1932 classic, THE MUMMY.

Le Borg, who reportedly had a rather intimidating on set attitude, was a busy filmmaker, with over 60 films to his credit between the 1935 and 1965. He also directed episodes of such prominent 1950s US television series as 77 SUNSET STRIP (1958), MAVERICK, DEATH VALLEY DAYS, SCHLITZ PLAYHOUSE (1951) and numerous others. 

Jess Franco's favorite film directors.

http://www.listal.com/viewimage/7223030





During my interview with Jess Franco he noted some of his favorite film directors. The Austrian director Reginald Le Borg was one of them. Franco compared his career as an eclectic B director to that of Le Borg, who made numerous low budgeted films in Hollywood from the 1930s to the 1970s. He made a number of interesting, stylish horror films including DEAD MAN'S EYES, WEIRD WOMAN (Inner Sanctum mysteries), THE BLACK SLEEP, the last feature film of Bela Lugosi, DIARY OF MADMAN with Vincent Price, VOODOO ISLAND, with Boris Karloff.

17 June, 2017

COMING SOON ON BLU-RAY!


AKA: TWO FEMALE SPIES IN FLOWERED PANTIES/OPALO DE FUEGO, Directed by Dan Simon, 1978--Starring Lina Romay, Nadine Pascal, Olivier Mathot and Yul Sanders. An exotic crime-spy-thriller, filmed in the Canary Islands, about an International kidnapping ring, investigated by a corrupt U.S. Senator who blackmails two female ex-cons into infiltrating the gang. Lots of action, sleaze and torture in this upscale production.


Both versions will be in the package. MERCHANTS OF SEX [French version} in HD: OPALO DE FUEGO{Spanish Version} in SD. Fully loaded with Special Features. 
Neither feature has been available on disc in North America and this will be the HD debut of MERCHANTS.... .

07 June, 2017

N. TOOK THE DICE (Alain Robbe-Grillet, 1971)



I recently streamed this intriguing 1971 feature by novelist-filmmaker-theorist Alain Robbe-Grillet on the Fandor Amazon channel. It was well worth it since the film is an experimental restructuring of his 1971 L'EDEN ET APRES, which was also filmed in Bratislava and Tunisia with the same cast and a similar plot. But plot is not as important as image and soundtrack in ARG's universe, where character and story are one or two dimensional pulp devices. All of his films have a pulp fiction quality which is very upfront and intentional.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3o6XnW-v0yM

ARG was a contemporary and kindred spirit to Jess Franco. Both were immersed in the literature, imagery and philosophy of the Marquis de Sade. Franco actually adapted several of his books, including JUSTINE, JULIETTE (unfinished), PHILOSOPHY IN THE BOUDOIR and EUGENIE DE SADE, to name a few. ARG's films are awash in Sadean imagery, in which sadomasochism is visualized and discussed throughout. 

Robbe-Grillet's name is mentioned during the word game in SUCCUBUS/NECRONOMICON (1967) and Franco's VENUS IN FURS is a virtual remake of ARG's debut feature, L'IMMORTELLE (1963). Both films feature a search for an elusive women who represents and delivers death to the man who finds her. N. TOOK THE DICE and its template both feature a woman (Catherine Jourdain LE SAMOURAI) who ends up imprisoned in a Tunisian torture complex, where women are kept in hanging cages by pirates with clandestine motives. Misogynist? Maybe. Is it Art? It depends on personal definitions. What is art to one person, may be mere pornography to others. Where does eroticism end and pornography begin?

 The key question is: can eroticism be a subject and technique in Art? I think most would answer yes to that.   Robbe-Grillet never worked in the hardcore sex mode, as did Jess Franco, but he did create a series of erotic conundrums in his books and films which transgress common definitions of taste and are pornographic to some. His film SUCCESSIVE SLIDINGS OF PLEASURE (1974) actually was the subject of criminal litigation in Italy and was banned there. 

ARG is mainly interested in presenting films and books as experiments in anti/non/multi linear-narrative and alternate literary/film forms. Conventional representation is critiqued, ridiculed and turned inside-out.  Eroticism is often a portal to a dangerous type of personal/political freedom, although his films don't deal with specific political matters, as do those of Jean-Luc Godard. It's all a game, to enjoy, one which allows and encourages reader/viewer participation. The meaning is provided by the reader.viewer, as the narrator assures us in the last moments of N. TOOK THE DICE, a film which directly addresses the audience with respect and conspiratorial intimacy. 

In 1975 I had the chance to see EDEN AND AFTER presented with a following Q&A by Robbe-Grillet. The second feature was his even more transgressive SUCCESSIVE SLIDINGS.... . I was somewhat shocked by the intensity of the sadomasochistic imagery in the latter, and it had trouble finding wide release in France or any release in North America at the time. Robbe-Grillet was teaching in New York at the time and was a most interesting host for his films, appearing bemused and answered questions politely and gratefully. He mentioned Marguerite Duras' INDIA SONG as a film which caught his attention.

(C) Robert Monell, 2017

26 May, 2017

LES EXPLOITS EROTIQUES DE MACISTE DANS L'ATLANTIDE (1973)


Les gloutonnes



Here's an update of my review of LES GLOUTONNES, Jess Franco's Z grade Peplum from 1973. Actually this and MACISTE CONTRE LA REINE DES AMAZONES/YUKA, made with same cast, on the same locations, are very watchable, no-budget fun, especially for the Jess Franco initiate. Updated from a review originally published by the wonderful Club Des Monstres!

Credited to Clifford Brown, this is a fascinating mess due to the fact that Robert de Nesle, or somebody, took the supposedly "serious" movie which Jess Franco made and transformed it into a delirious collage of Peplum, period adventure, comedy, erotic and Fantasy patterns. It's basically the erotic adventures of Waldemar Wohlfaart/Wal Davis as Maciste vs. American actor Robert Woods as the evil Caronte, who, with the aid of Kali Hansa, attempts to overthrow and kill the Queen of Atlantis, played by Alice Arno. Maciste prevails with the help of "the gobblers"/the women of Atlantis. Howard Vernon makes an appearance as Cagliostro (see LA MALDICION DES FRANKENSTEIN), who watches the antics via a magic medieval television along with his horny expectant, played by the puckish Rick Deconninck / Bigotini. A very interesting, eclectic score by Robert Viger [?] is a bonus. There's even a hardcore sex scene thrown in the mix involving a young, naked stud who walks down a spiral staircase to ejaculate over a golden wrapped Alice Arno. 

 Peplum regular Mark Forest (LION OF THEBES) was supposed to play Maciste, according to Franco, but somehow Steve Forest, another US actor, was mistakenly engaged. The blonde Wohlfaart ended up playing the role. He seems to in a happy daze and walks through the lush settings wearing a goofy smile. There are also other "erotic" interludes consisting of shots of Alice Arno reading an erotic text as she lounges in bed. These scenes could be outtakes form THE HOTS NIGHTS OF LINDA (1973) and seem to be there to suggest the Peplum/adventure action is a visualization of the material being read by Arno. Are they fantasies, flashbacks, or whatever? It's difficult to discern if these scenes and much of the rest were the director's intent or the result of producer meddling. 

The opening sequence of a misty valley and the first view of the stormy coast of "Atlantis" are outstanding images but unless you are a Franco completest you may hate this film. Franco also made YUKA, filmed back-to-back/simultaneously in 1973 with Davis / Wohlfaart and Robert Woods playing the male leads, another erotic "Peplum" set in the Middle Ages. In some versions of YUKA Davis is named Karzan. Lina Romay plays a water nymph who leads Maciste to the island. The Gobblers include Montserrat Prous, Caroline Riviere and Pamela Stanford (who are somehow teleported to an erotic encounter with Bigotini at Cagliostro's remote castel) and Chantal Broquet. As Parka, Kali Hansa is impressive as a particularly ferocious ally of the veil knight Caronte.

This is a difficult film to describe or dislike. Even in the recut version it's often visually engaging and a good time seems to have been had by all. At least that's what actor Robert Woods told me when we discussed this production several years ago.  But one wonders about Franco's original "somber" version. Actually, the action does not take place in the legendary Atlantis, but on another island to which the survivors of the destruction of the island have migrated. A typical Jess Franco geographical spiral, situating the action one degree away from legend and into Jess Franco terra firma.

Released in France by American Video. At this point still no HQ DVD/HD release.

Reviewed by Robert Monell (C) 2017

11 May, 2017

GOLDEN AGE OF SPANISH HORROR Debuts!

Review and Interview with Mirek Lipinski:
Publication preview
Issue #1 of the new magazine, GOLDEN AGE OF SPANISH HORROR, is now available for order. The unique 32 page publication is the only English language magazine devoted exclusively to Spanish Horror cinema. The cover image is a high contrast posed shot from Jess Franco's iconic 1961 Spanish Horror classic, GRITOS EN LA NOCHE aka THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF. A colorful Jano poster for Franco's 1973 UN SILENCIO DE TUMBA graces the back cover. It's published and edited by Paul Naschy expert and Latarnia Intenational creator Mirek Lipinski. 

It opens with a quote about "tragic eroticism" and "pain and blood" from Baron Von Klaus himself. An appropriate epigraph. An editorial correctly states that Spanish Horror has been underrepresented in conversations about Euro-Horror and offers an appreciation of the dark legacies of those films, this is set  against an inside spread of Bruegel's THE TRIUMPH OF DEATH. The contents proceed with an article on the emergence of Dorado Films, who earlier this year released the first Blu-ray presentations of Jess Franco's THE SILENCE OF THE TOMB and THE SINISTER EYES OF DR. ORLOFF, followed by a thoughtful essay on Spanish horror films currently in demand and in release. There is a review of Kino Lorber's recent Blu-ray of DR. ORLOFF'S MONSTER and a note on upcoming Franco DVDs.

An informative 3 page illustrated spread on Spanish actor Julian Ugarte (FANGS OF THE LIVING DEAD, FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR) reveals his presence in some unexpected places. Equally interesting is a preview of Lipinski's upcoming book, PAUL NASCHY: A LIFE ON THE SCREEN, with information on Naschy's role in a vintage episode of the US television series I SPY.


Two articles on Ray Danton's 1973 vampire film, CRYPT OF THE LIVING DEAD, a review by George R. Reis of the Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray and a well researched essay on the mystery of who actually directed the film, provide some important information on this Drive-In oddity. There's also a review of the album of Phillip Lambro's effective score for the film.

Several pages of full color adverts and promos for Naschy's HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE and Amando de Ossorio's LAS GARRAS DE LORELEI provide welcome eye candy. Also included are brief picture profiles of Spanish horror actresses Dianik Zurakowska (the heroine of Naschy's first werewolf epic, LA MARCA DEL HOMBRE LOBO ) and Patty Shepard, the US born actress who appeared as the iconic vampire woman in Leon Klimovksy's WEREWOLF SHADOW (1970), the film that sparked the Spanish Horror boom.. The magazine concludes with a very welcome inclusion of F.G. Loring's atmospheric 1900 vampire story, THE TOMB OF SARAH, the uncredited source material for CRYPT OF THE LIVING DEAD.

All this and more make this a must-have for fans of Euro-Gothic in general and Spanish Horror in particular. It's well laid out and filled with concise, intriguing articles. The magazine is lavishly illustrated with black and white and color photos, artwork, vintage posters and adverts. I had the chance to ask Mirek Lipinski a few questions about the genesis and future of the publication: 

Q: What was the inspiration for this magazine?

A: A few things--if I remember. I liked the old CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN magazine.

Q: What will be your publishing schedule?

A: There is no set release date for GOLDEN AGE OF SPANISH HORROR, Whenever, though I am working on the second issue and may have it ready in a couple of months.

Q: How did you start out compiling it?

A: The magazine was started when I took out of the closet all of my Naschy and Spanish Horror collections, and I realized I had a lot! I also knew I would not last forever--a point driven home to me when I had a health scare last year. For a moment I thought I was dying, but I'm alright now, of course. I wanted to get out as much as possible. I have a lot of information in my head and also a lot in my collection and this needed to see the light of day. Also, I haven't done a magazine in a long, long while and Golden Age was like a refresher course. I had to relearn stuff, like In Design, that I had forgotten. So the first issue was a challenge, even though people may not consider it that way. Also, there is a lot of Spanish Horror coming out on Blu-ray this year. That was not a deciding factor, but I was aware of it. I'm one not to judge these things harshly, even though I have my likes and dislikes. I love the genre, actually, so writing about it, and producing a magazine is easy, except for the effort involved in putting something tangible out there. 

Q: I can't think of any other magazines dealing exclusively with Spanish Horror, at least not in English.

A: I think the magazine is the only English language magazine dealing with Spanish Horror, its Golden Age. I have a lot of ideas and am looking forward to actualizing them.

Thanks to Mirek Lipinski


(C) Robert Monell, 2017

02 May, 2017

WOMEN IN CELLBLOCK 9 (Jess Franco, 1977)


NOTE: This is a review of the version now streaming at Full Moon on Amazon!,
not the German Blu-ray released as part of Erwin C. Dietrich's JESS FRANCO GOLDEN GOYA COLLECTION by Ascot Elite in 2014 or the Full Moon DVD recently released as part of THE JESS FRANCO COLLECTION which presents the film in SD, remastered in HD, with special features included.

Jess Franco is well known for his sexually explicit horror films like FEMALE VAMPIRE and THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN as well as for such dreamlike rambles as VENUS IN FURS. Another of his favorite genres is the Women In Prison film. One of his 1970s Women In Prison features is now streaming on Full Moon's platform on Amazon.com. It's a good example of the prolific director's evolving approach to the genre.

FRAUEN FUR ZELLENBLOCK 9 plays pretty much like a follow-up or remake of FRAUENGEFANGNIS (1975) aka BARBED WIRE DOLLS, Franco's first film financed by Dietrich, following several women incarcerated in a sadistic jungle prison run by a female warden and a corrupt medical doctor, named Costa in both films. The difference is that this time Costa is portrayed by Franco's iconic actor Howard Vernon, whereas in the former he was embodied by Paul Muller as a gentler, anxiety ridden soul. The cruel female wardress character goes all the way back to Mercedes MacCambridge in Franco's template for all his following WIPs, 99 WOMEN (1968), one of Franco's most financially successful films which looks very mild in comparison to his following WIPs. As we shall see Sade becomes the point of reference starting with the 1972 DEVIL'S ISLAND LOVERS. Costa himself is very much like one of the caustic torturers in Sade's THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM (1785), leavening his lust for violence with sarcastic wit.

WOMEN IN CELLBLOCK 9 is as nihilistic as any of Franco's previous WIPs but is even nastier in terms of detailed descriptions of the various tortures Costa inflicts on his victims. Loba, the wardress, can't compete with Dyanne Thorne's Greta (in GRETA, HAUS OHNE MANNER, 1977) in pure sick sadism and is played like a cheerleader to Costa by the veteran German actress Dora Doll, who appeared in over 200 films and television shows in an over 60 year career. But she's just not as interesting as the Nazi-esque wardress played to the hilt by Monica Swinn in BARBED WIRE DOLLS.

It opens as a truck carrying a load of fruit makes its way down a jungle road, the political context is immediately established as resistance leader Karine (Karin Gambier CALL OF THE BLONDE GODDESS) converses with the driver about the dangers of transporting a group of young women toward freedom in the police state. A roadblock, organized by Loba and Costa, manned by heavily armed soldiers, stops and searches the truck, discovering the human cargo. Loba tells the men to do what they want to the other women (meaning they are free to rape them) while Karine and two others are taken to the prison for interrogation. The prison is a complex of squat concrete structures with bars on the windows, lacking any civilized accommodations. Filmed in Portugal, the dense foliage hides the government prison from the outside world and Costa has free reign to do as he wishes, egged on by the rather butch looking Loba. It's obvious they both get sexual pleasure out of the torments they put the women through. They conduct a Sade like dialogue on the ins and outs of torture over dinner in their bungalow, the only livable place in the compound, as Karine and her friends are stripped and hung nude from the ceiling of cellblock 9, held in place by metal collars.

These scenes are very reminiscent of similar scenes in the 1972, LOS AMANTES DE LA ISLA DEL DIABLO, where Danielle Godet played a twisted figure very much like Loba, condemning the object of her desire and his lover to life sentences at hard labor in a jungle prison on trumped up charges. Her character also has similarities to tormentors in the stories and novels of Sade. Both films conclude with the victims summarily executed after an  attempted escape through the thick jungle.. The big difference here is the sexual torture here is directed at the women's genitalia, making it even more uncomfortable to watch. It's difficult to imagine anyone finding these proceedings "erotic" or in any way stimulating. There's no aesthetic or physical distance provided in the stark, minimalist mise en scene. Like Greta, these late 20th Century fascists really believe in what they are doing and the fact that it gives them intense pleasure is the coup de grace.

The reason these sex-and-violence-in jungle-prisons epics work is the fact that they are set in isolation from "normal" everyday reality, they provide the intended male clientele a means of taking out their sexual frustration with women in a passive-aggressive activity, watching a film about the sexualized torture of attractive women.. The jungle settings are rather like the castle torture chambers in Sade's novels. The climactic woman hunt, which was established in 99 WOMEN, the only one of Franco's WIP actually shot in South America (Brazil), is one of the most ruthless here, and all the hunted end up shot to death by the pursuers. . Escape  is hopeless in Franco's police states unless the hunted are prepared to become as violent as their oppressors, as in the conclusions of WOMEN BEHIND BARS or SADOMANIA, or literally consume their tormentor, as in the cannibal finale of GRETA, HAUS OHNE MANNER. The woman hunt also concludes Franco's LA COMTESSE PERVERSE, where the WIP context is absent but the power relationships are similar, the wealthy seduce, detain and finally hunt down the naked female prey in order to eat them. The cycle of consumption is shifted from a police state to an open society where socio-political inequality nonetheless undermines all relationships.

The torture scenes in GRETA, HAUS OHNE MANNER and the later SADOMANIA(1981) take on an almost cartoon quality, with larger than life sadists gleefully dreaming up ever new ways to inflict extreme pain on often naked female victims. One might actually find those films crude entertainment, and they have relatively happy endings, with Greta eaten alive by her inmates and the escape and revenge visited on Ajita Wilson by the main victims in SADOMANIA. There's nothing entertaining here, outside of the enthusiasm the disheveled Costa evidences while administering various torments. It plays like a clinically staged and photographed entry into an efficiently run Hell, which allows no mercy or escape. When Karine has the chance to kill Loba near the end, she hesitates and the guards mow her down while the wardress sneers and walks away as Franco's telezoom trails slowly up a gnarled jungle tree and goes into one of the director's trademark rack-focus interludes, ending on a blurred, despairing note as Walter Baumgartner's bilious score underlines the sordid brutality of it all.

Susan Hemingway has a few moments as an incarcerated student who is abused and forced to drink heavily salter champagne by Loba and Costa before she joins the other detainees in futile escape. Hemingway would play the title to great effect in another, more elegantly mounted and resonant Dietrich-Franco project, LOVE LETTERS OF A PORTUGUESE NUN (1976), one of the very best of their collaborations and a sterling example of a related sub-genre, Nunsploitation.

What makes this worth maybe one watch are Vernon's dryly humorous presence, some creative cinematography, the well defined oppressive atmosphere of the jungle (despite some outrageous stock footage involving various tropical denizens, a "funny" monkey,  menacing alligator/crocodiles whom would recur in SADOMANIA as instruments of doom), and the mastery of a specific, albeit very unpleasant tone which is achieved in spite of the enforced stylistic minimalism.

Not the worst of the Franco-Dietrich WIPs, that would be the last of them, the completely meretricious FRAUEN IM LIEBESLAGER (1977), featuring that fair haired German hunk, Waldemar Wohlfaart (THE HORRIBLE SEXY VAMPIRE himself), the totally bland Adela Tauler (CALL OF THE BLONDE GODDESS) and Nanda Van Bergen* as the least interesting of all Franco wardresses.

Franco would return to the WIP genre as late as the mid 1980s with the somewhat more compelling FURIA EN EL TROPICO (MUJERES ACORRALADAS/OUTLAW WOMEN, 1983/1986), which illustrate the absolute importance of the available acting skills of Lina Romay, crucial in maintaining an emotional focal point in this debased genre. Karin Gambier is not quite believable in the central role as the dedicated revolutionary who is the focus of Costa's torture, and was better cast as the disturbed abuse victim in Franco's inheritance thriller DIE TEWFLISCHEN SCHWESTER aka SEXY SISTERS, also made in 1977, she also gives the only credible performance in the director's color remake of I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, the appallingly witless CALL OF THE BLONDE GODDESS. The focus of the film shifts from the victims to the perpetrators, especially Costa, whose Sadean presence "narrates" the film and directs attention much in the same way as the structure of THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM breaks down into a lengthy series of lists and depraved calendar entries, detailing each sexual-violent transgression in journalistic detail, or like a documentary film script, always in the present tense, complete with close-ups, medium and long shots transposed into literary syntax, given burning ire, acid sarcasm and philosophical stings.

The HD version over at Full Moon on Amazon presents a sharp, detailed image with lush colors enhancing the tropical atmosphere. You can see each individual drop of sweat during the torture sequences. It's perfectly framed, luminous and the HD remastering results in an always crisp image. Unfortunately, Full Moon only offers the risible English dub track on this platform, which contains much absurd English language scripting, grating voice casting and robs Howard Vernon of his unique, commanding, nuanced delivery, considerably undermining his spot-on performance defining a memorably sleazy character.

WOMEN IN CELLBLOCK 9 isn't the best of Jess Franco's Women In Prison films but it is very much worth seeing for another outstanding performance by Howard Vernon and seeing how the director injects his fascination with the writings of the Marquis de Sade into the genre. After watching it via blurred video dubs for years it's good to see it streaming in HD with English subtitles.



(C) Robert Monell, 2017