27 January, 2017

Goodbye to Mike Connors/Ciudad Baja (Downtown Heat) (1994)

Television and film actor Mike "Touch" Connors died at the age of 91 in California on Thursday, January 26. He appeared in many B movies (VOODOO WOMAN), some big budget ones, and became a star with his hit television series MANNIX (1967-1975), in which he played a detective. Known for being cast as tough guys, villains, policemen, may have led to his being cast as the rogue American federal agent Steve in Jess Franco's Ciudad Baja (Downtown Heat) (1994). Connors fits comfortably into this minor Spanish thriller which does not register as a typical "Jess Franco" film. 

A rather glossy production, DOWNTOWN HEAT is a gritty and pretty interesting crime flick. Mike "Touch" Connors is featured as a special agent out to bust Eurocrime Lord Radeck (Craig Hill). Connors, who started his career in such Roger Corman B film entries as the WIP SWAMP WOMEN, is his usual hard edged self and gives everybody hell. Many familiar television "Cop Show" tropes appear here. Radeck is, of course, a familiar name for villains in Franco's filmography. The film features a group of local police in a Central American country who form a vigilante group who work outside the law, including kidnapping and murder, to destroy Radeck and his international narcotics empire. Charles Chaplin's daughter, Josephine, appears as a vengeance seeking police woman. Her previous role  in a Jess Franco film was as a police decoy in Franco's JACK, THE RIPPER (1976).

Philippe Lemaire (AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO) is notable as a corrupt police official. Everyone spirals into personal/professional corruption here. The film sometimes recalls such Al Pereira titles as LES EBRANLEES (1972), but Oscar Ladoire plays another detective in the lead role, while Antonio Mayans has a brief role as an undercover officer. Lina Romay sports a short, punk hairstyle and wardrobe here. A jazz score, including themes by Franco and Daniel White comprise the score. Spanish horror regular Victor Israel (GRAVEYARD OF HORROR, HORROR EXPRESS) has a small role. This film marked the end of a certain era in Jess Franco's filmography. He would return after the failure of his DON QUIXOTE (1993) to embark on his final digital period. 

21 January, 2017




Sandra Olsen, Fata Morgana, Victor Seastrom, Paul Lapidus
With Lina Romay
Music by Exequiel Cohen
Additional Music by Jess Franco
Written and Directed by Jess Franco
Image result for vampire junction (2001)
An erotic horror-western of the Internet Age, VAMPIRE JUNCTION can be read as a metaphor for the rising Phoenix of Jess Franco's career which seemingly crashed and burned with the disastrous reception of his labor of love, DON QUIJOTE. Rejected and forgotten by his own generation, labeled a hack and a pornographer who dared to meddle with the testament of bonafide genius, Franco would find an unimagined acceptance and fame with a new generation in the synthetic universe of the worldwide web, where everyone and anyone who posts on whatever omnipresent message board becomes instantaneously validated in every corner of that world, Jess Franco would be crowned king of his own empire. In Godard's seminal A BOUT DE SOUFFLE, Jean Pierre Melville, the father of the Nouvelle Vague, appears as a writer who is asked by the nihilistic heroine [Jean Seberg] to state his ambition. He answers, "To become immortal and then to die." This is perhaps the main theme of Jess Franco's life and career as well as that of VAMPIRE JUNCTION.

www.vampireflanagan.com... That's how you reach Father Flanagan. An ambitious 21st Century vampire just wouldn't be a player without his own website on the worldwide web. But he might be proactive and reach out to make contact. You'll be sitting at your laptop suddenly typing out like journalist Alice Brown (Lina Romay): FATHER FLANAGAN IS CALLING YOU...FATHER FLANAGAN IS CALLING YOU...

Jess Franco's best and most personal work tends to be cyclical, asymettrical, polyphonic and highly unstable. All of those terms apply to VAMPIRE JUNCTION, which can be described as a cyberpunk vampire video in Western drag. This is something more than just another Jess Franco erotic bloodsucking opus, with its fascinating subtext suggesting how the internet has affected both the way films are made and experienced. In a world of movie message boards and Jess Franco websites both his older films along with his ONE SHOT productions can be throroughly discussed at instant messaging speed complete with illustrative screen shots. Alice , the journalist who gets literally sucked into this erotic vampire vortex writes on the internet about the older civilizations which can be encountered in these southern climes. Father Flanagan (Victor Seastrom) and his vampire brides seem possessed by ancient evil spirits, they have become immortal, more incorporeal than solid. VAMPIRE JUNCTION signals that Franco has mastered an internet age, 21st century equivalent to the Gothic Expressionist Noir style of Murnau and Siodmak, both of whom made vampire films which Franco built his early cinema upon. In a world of high speed access and cellphones the distances between people are set into ironic relief. Alice is overwhelmed with anxiety from the outset while the residents overseen by the fat town Marshall (Paul Lapidus) seem frozen in pop-culture roles: Father Flanagan is always photographed as a gaunt, nearly motionless figure, looming in the distance in his long black leather coat and cowboy hat. He strongly resembles a drug pusher from a B crime movie. Vampire vixen Fata Morgana looks like a refugee from an MTV music video with her Day-Glo hair and black miniskirt. The drunken deputy (composer Ezequiel Cohen) calls himself Dean Martin, who played an alcoholic deputy to John Wayne's put-upon Sheriff in Howard Hawks RIO BRAVO (1959) and at times identifies himself as Andy Devine, who played the cowardly Sheriff in John Ford's seminal 1962 THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, a film which sought to debunk the conventional mythologies of both Western history and movie Westerns. Personality gives way to personality disorders while color and form continually evolve into startling patterns. 

You are arriving in Shit City. The burned out alcoholic Dr. Spencer (Steve Barrymore) describes the place as a "strange, parallel world" we're told, "an old Hollywood B-film set." If the name sounds familiar it's also the fictional name of the corrupt coastal town in Franco's LOS BLUES DE LA CALLE POP (aventuras de Felipe Malboro, volumen 8 ) a 1983 personal favorite of JF, where he turns his love for "Black Cinema" into a live acton comic-a kind of post MTV western-noir with punk aesthetics. This time Shit City is in the Southwest, of Spain or the US, it doesn't matter because this is really Francoland where all bets are off. It's a place, according to the town physcian who has summoned the investigative journalist, where B western icons Bob Steele and Tom Tyler would have felt at home, at the same time, the mood is altered to one of post modernist dread. A deliriously composed (in Hi-Def video) synthesis of neo-noir, Cyberpunk Eurowestern* and techno-metal vampire cinema. 

The opening credits sequence is alone worth the price of admission: Alice Brown drives toward this hellish wonderland through phosphorescent washes of chroma into an hallucinogenic ocean of generic icons. Marshall Joe Mendoza has posted a lowball reward for Billy the Kid and eyeballs the intruder warily. Visions of a female vampire with punk colored hair crawling down the wall. The imposing master vampire dressed in black leather duster and cowboy hat. The black countess (Samantha Olsen) emerging from a mirror, a black & white apparition with only a wash of crimson in her hair to remind us this is in color, and color, its endless permutations and possibilites is a major subject of this project. An extraordinary sonic experience with sparing, ellipitical dialogue, desultory narration, Goth organ music, electronic bleeps, distant, monotonous, malacophonous satanic litanies from a ancient vortex which coexists on the other side of the mirror. Any and all concepts of temporal normality, space and tincture are immediately shattered and replaced with an a temporal, multidimensional and iridian aesthetic. The sonic environment is oscillates between faint murmurings and jarring blasts of synthesizer generated notes and sounds. 

This film is an arc, a luminous discharge of electronic current, which seems to magnetically drain the atomic structure of all visible matter into an invisible, haunted realm, a place only Jess Franco knows. His precognitive cinema, encored with crimson sex and endlessly repeating mythologies which once generated can never be let alone. Like a traditional Hollywood western, they overwhelm the trivialities of the calmer, modern world with arid vistas which lead to sudden death. In a scene as aesthetically arresting as any in a Mario Bava gothic (cf. THE WHIP AND THE BODY, OPERAZIONE PAURA) we have Lina Romay walking down hallway flooded with pools of green light toward an vampiric ambush while outside the Old West style structures bake under the implacable Spanish sun.

But Franco is intensively interested in the curvature of Hollywood genre cinema toward an unknown space which he can provide a Cubist, Abstract-Expressionist, Surrealist, Minimalist or Pop Art portal. The structure of his filmography, and the individuals film contained within, tends toward curvilinearity. The are no straight lines in Franco's universe, but there are numerous spirals which cycle backward, forward and back again. Franco's approach to the vampire film, the noir, the western is hieractic. He wants to perserve the icons, the myths in miniature while shining a bright colored light behind them transforming them into something new and unique. 

Alice drives through the aquamarine rain into some kind of cognitive dissonance and, at the end, dissolves along with her molesters, leaving behind those trademark solar flares which are a kind of representation of Jess Franco's smile. She has experienced an erotic interview with a vampire conducted in the sealed off area of the Unconscious. Along the way there's time stopping, sensuous, blood-spattered encounters with the swallowers whose images seem to flicker on the surfaces these southwest desert lands. Franco has arrived, after nearly 50 years of cinema, at a totally Synthetic, personal and interactive cinema where intricate schemes of cross references become a kind of self satire designed to delight himself and those who choose to enter the grid. You have arrived at Shit City... .

Finally, the Internet gave Jess Franco his ultimate inspiration and validity, a space which welcomed and nourished him. Just as the cellphone became the tool of choice for recording the visions of Jean-Luc Godard in his equally challenging 21st Century films.

*There's also an ambitious villain in the Demofilo Fidani Spaghetti Western ERA SAM WALLASH...LO CHIAMAVANO COSI SIA (1972) named Flanagan, played by Dean Stratford [Dino Strano]. The film's protagonist is played by Robert Woods, a frequent player in early 1970's Franco-Robert de Nesle productions (AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPIJO, YUKA, PLAISIR A TROIS). Fidani was one of the one or two most prolific creator of Spaghetti Westerns. At their best they are Eurobis delights in the best JF tradition: lightning fast shooting schedules, frequently recycled sets, plots, actors and an obsession to keep churning out product despite lack of proper funding and planning. 

*Music and Jess Franco scholar Francesco Cesari points out that a cue from Franco's 1960 musical VAMPS 1930 is reused here, but reworked on a synthesizer.

Edited by: bobmonel at: 2/27/05 10:02 am

11 January, 2017

REVENGE OF THE ALLIGATOR LADIES (Jess Franco & Antonio Mayans, 2013): Review of Jess Franco's final film

Image may contain: 1 person, phoneJess Franco plays himself in this sly comedy in which he is engaged in directing another erotic film while the subject of his previous film, private detective Al Pereira, attempts to relate to the eccentric film making process of Jess Franco. Pereira also has difficult relationships with his son and women in general, illustrated in various amusing vignettes. He travels to Germany where he becomes accidentally involved in a sort of international espionage affair due to his presence at a Communist gathering. Lead actor-co-director Antonio Mayans introduces the film as an "Audio-visualization... based on a surreal story", which is an appropriate enough synopsis. 

Back in Spain director Franco continues to film the alligator ladies, Carmen Montes, Irene Verdu and Paula Davis, in extended erotic interludes. Much of the Franco-directed footage is shot through mirrors showing both the erotic action and Franco directing it. These self reflexive images are a carry-over from Franco's previous Al Pereira adventure, AL PEREIRA VS THE ALLIGATOR LADIES and his 1980 surrealist science fiction parody, EL SEXO ESTA LOCO. The scenes involving Pereria and his family, friends and associates, along with the scenes filmed in Germany were directed by longtime Franco actor-associate Antonio Mayans after Franco's death in April, 2013. Pereira is gamely played by Mayans as a long-suffering victim of everyone's ridicule, especially the director and the alligator ladies, who have the last word. The irreverent tone and sharp edged dialogue sometimes evoke the droll repartee of the W.S. Van Dyke's 1934 mystery-comedy THE THIN MAN. It should be noted that classic film was made on a B budget, on a rushed schedule by Woody "One Shot" Van Dyke. 

This is the last in a long running series of Jess Franco directed films about troubled investigator Al Pereira, the first being ATTACK OF THE ROBOTS/CARTAS BOCA ARRIBA (1966), in which Pereira was played by American singer-actor Eddie Constantine. A shorter, incomplete version of REVENGE OF THE ALLIGATOR LADIES, directed by Franco himself, is more focused on the director shooting erotic scenes with Montes and co. Franco's presence is again central, the film opens with him facing the camera, delivering a comic-esoteric monologue. His image moves even further into the mirror, and now he's on the other side of the mirror.

Other recommended Franco Al Pereira titles include LES EBRANLEES (1972), with Howard Vernon in the role, DOWNTOWN (1975), which features Franco himself as the detective, BOTAS NEGRAS, LATIGO DE CUERO (1982) and CAMINO SOLITARIO (1983), in which Mayans finally took over the role. 

REVENGE OF THE ALLIGATOR LADIES will be of interest to Jess Franco enthusiasts, cult film historians and collectors as the ultimate illustration of Jess Franco's obsession with the process of personal creation while continuing to throw himself into his work right up until his passing.

Robert Monell, 2017

07 January, 2017


Updated from the Robert Monell Archives
(C) Robert Monell 2015
Roland, the World's Sexiest Man



I once called this one of JF's "finest" De Nesle efforts but I've changed my mind as it doesn't hold up very well despite an admirable premise....

A wealthy ex-playboy, Roland (Fred Williams) tires of married life and decides to return to his old ways. He poses as a butler and becomes a servant to rich and beautiful women, but many complications ensue. His "wife" is the imposing Barbara Bolt (Brigitte Monnin) is a frisky career woman, the President of an International Organization of porno stores, whose demands cannot be met by the intimidated Count Roland. An interesting class-gender conflict ensues, allowing Roland to have numerous erotic encounters to satisfy his bruised ego, the paying porn cinema customer but not necessarily the average fan of Jess Franco's outre vision.

The title of this sly comedy of manners indicates Franco wanted to infuse this amusing trifle with a sense of irony. Roland may be handsome but as played by Williams behaves like a run-of-the-mill male model, albeit with a little more humor and liveliness than this usually dull actor musters in his other Franco roles from this period. He's especially inadequate as the hobbled super spy in THE DEVIL CAME FROM AKASAVA. Franco aims for the tone of a Howard Hawks screwball comedy, but verbal and visual puns, not physical comedy, are more his forté. And as the only available videos on the U.S. mail-order circuit are in French, those unfamiliar with that language will miss the satiric barbs at male chauvinism and upper-class arrogance.
As Roland's pudgy, mischievous manservant Malou, Richard de Conninck aka Bigotini, a familiar Franco actor who often worked as the director's assistant, just about steals the show from Williams. Most of the footage follows Roland as he is seduced by various women, and in an especially amusing scene, tries to avoid the advances of one husband who also happens to like men.

The cinematography is colorful, with occasionally interesting camera angles, but the lack of any action other than sexual may bore those who are not Franco enthusiasts. This 1974 sex farce is one of Franco's least screened Robert De Nesle features, although released on French VHS [Videobox] it is not available in anything near HD in any format. A sometimes subtle, somewhat tender look at social roles and the presence of invisible class barriers which cut people off from erotic expression. It almost makes one wonder what the result would have been played straight.... Actually, this is the kind of French bedroom farce at which Blake Edwards excelled.

Andre Benichou's swinging Jazz score is wonderful and the sun dappled, color intensive, cubist frames remind one of Cezanne with a touch of Impressionist color patterns. And no film with Pamela Stanford, Monica Swinn and Lina Romay (as Loulou Laverne) in the cast can be all bad. It remains, alas, rather tiresome at its full length. The version under review is reportedly cut from 120 m!

Don't hold your breath for a Blu ray restoration.... but you never know.