05 March, 2019

VAYA LUNA DE MIEL-- Notes on the theatrical debut and making-of a once lost Jess Franco film. By Francesco Cesari

VAYA LUNA DE MIEL--Reviewed by Francesco Cesari 

[NOTE: This is the first-ever review of this recently recovered film to appear anywhere in any language. Thanks to Francesco Cesari for covering the showing in Madrid--Robert Monell, editor]

The world premiere of Vaya luna de miel (Wow, what a honeymoon) at Cine Doré in Madrid, on February 28th, was definitely a major Jess Franco event.

Previously known under the shooting-title El escarabajo de oro (The Gold-Bug), the film was considered lost or unfinished. At least until, last year, Franco scholar Álex Mendíbil discovered the original negative in the Filmoteca Española archive. The plot tells the adventures of Yolanda and Simón (Lina Romay and Emilio Álvarez), a couple spending their honeymoon in the imaginary tropical Isle of Bananas. Simón is mistaken for a spy and given a sheet which hides the secret to access a gold mine. Once again, a sort of hermetic code in a Jess Franco film. Coming into the sights of a sadistic couple (Craig and Greta, played by Max-B and Susy Boulais), the newlyweds are protected by a band of Orientals. Until the real Simón pops out … actually a Matt Simón, played by Franco’s regular and right-hand man Antonio Mayans, who introduced the film at Cine Doré together with Mendíbil.

Before talking about the movie, let’s try to clarify, as far as possible, its adventurous genesis. On 3 September 1979, José Luis Martin Berzal, the manager of Magna Films S.A., a well-known Spanish sound Company, announces the oncoming production of El escarabajo de oro, passing it off as a cinematic reduction of the famous story by Edgar Allan Poe. Filming should start on September 10th, but the cast is still incomplete. The male protagonist and Antonio Mayans are missing. At this time the character of Craig is assigned to Eurociné’s regular Olivier Mathot, for the stated purpose of selling the movie in France. Franco scholar Lucas Balbo found some documents that confirm the indirect involvement of the Parisian company, who as usual intended to re-edit the Franco footage: «Apparently Eurociné wanted to release it, re-edited with a pirate prolog and more special effects in a project titled Trilogie fantastique

Soon, however, things took a different turn. On October 1st, Mathot was replaced by Antonio De Cabo, and the filming locations were moved from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Madeira to the province of Alicante (Elche, Benidorm, Alicante – even if a minor part of the footage seems to be shot in Portugal). Considering that on December 6th Magna and Eurociné signed the contract for La diosa de los caníbales (White Cannibal Queen), the filming of which would start next January, Vaya luna de miel’s was likely shot in autumn 1979.

Shooting had already started when Max-B (aka Max-Henri Boulois) and his wife Susy Boulais (aka María Gonzales) came into play, probably still in order to sell the film to Eurociné. The actor was a black French singer who in '70s had some success with the song Bananaticoco.

As Craig and Greta, the couple took over from Antonio De Cabo and Ana María Rosier, a Spanish revue actress. In return, Franco assigned her the role of an oriental female-spy by fusing three different characters from the original script: a male spy and two female agents – Olga and Paula – in the pay of Craig. The only problem was that Antonio De Cabo had already played Craig in the scenes set in the fair. In Franco’s philosophy, repeating the shooting meant only wasting money and time. So, he kept the old footage and found the way of inserting new takes with Max-B. As strange as it may seem, the final editing works, except that the viewer will never know who the classy boss played by De Cabo is and why he later disappears into nothingness. The script describes Craig as «a kind of Peter Lorre, elegantly dressed»: certainly not the portrait of the gigantic Max-B, who looks rather like somebody halfway between Bud Spencer and Mr. T.

Editing and dubbing were efficiently completed, but Magna Films didn’t ask for the distribution license and the film was never released in Spain. According to Mendíbil, the negative found at the Madrid Filmoteca «comes from Fotofilm, where sometimes Franco left the laboratory expenses unpaid. Maybe the reels were confiscated until the debt would be paid, which never happened. We have found an invoice stating that the film was sent to a cinema in Barcelona, ​​but it wasn’t given any screening.» Until proven otherwise, Vaya luna de miel was not even sold to Eurociné. Nonetheless, the same year, interviewed by Augusto M. Torres, Franco included it among his best works.

We don’t know why the producer renounced the distribution. Maybe the answer lies in the anomaly of a sound company which suddenly became a production company. Magna wasn’t even listed in the register of film production companies. Its position was normalized only on December 12th, 1979, at the request of the Ministry. Moreover, Joaquin Dominguez, the production manager of Vaya luna de miel, was the director and the owner of Triton Films, the label that produced the four previous Franco films, entrusting the sound to Magna. So, it’s possible that Magna acted on behalf of Triton (maybe to recover some credit?). The fact is that, shortly thereafter, the newborn producer moved away also from La diosa de los canibales, which was converted into a Franco-Italian co-production.

The change of title was surely decided in extremis and was never communicated to the Ministry. The 91-page script still bears the title El escarabajo de oro, the only one used by the director when interviewed. However, that of Vaya luna de miel was surely Franco’s idea, as it quotes the Spanish title of a 1947 U.S. movie (William Keighley’s Honeymoon) featuring the “original” Lina Romay, whose name he used as nom de plume for his muse and partner Rosa María Almirall.

The production history may make one think of a marginal, minor work in the huge Jess Franco filmography; a hypothesis partly supported by the original script, with its fresh but light comedy tone. But the result on the screen is very different. The rhythm of the editing and the freshness of the shots make the difference. Give a child a basket full of bizarre puppets, toy cars, monsters, strange objects, and be sure he will build a crazy, thrilling story. Franco does the same. He takes what he has at his fingertips: first of all his puppets-actors, all strongly characterized as in a comic-book, then a small golden scarab, a sunny fair full of merry-go-rounds, some funny toy-monsters, a cheap ferris-wheel, a petulant robot-bonsai, some “exotic” guys taken from the road (the grotesque “Barbudo” – the Oriental head-honcho – is really extraordinary), brand new plastic-skeletons, hot lingerie and kinky dresses, a tiny magic flute, some 1970s automobiles … and he makes all of them interact with one another as in a daring bumper car ride. Even the Daniel White prerecorded music, heard in other Franco films, tends to break into the story to change the "point of view", to displace the viewer (most memorably with the romantic cello solo while “sweet” Craig takes away his treacherous half by clasping and lifting her like a pile of twigs).

The fair scene – filmed with his restless hand-camera and edited with great sense of rhythm – is the peak of the movie. Yolanda and Simón flee from the bandits by climbing on a ferris-wheel, while the crowd gathers to observe them as if watching a movie. Actors and passers-by merge. The effect, realistic and estranging at the same time, is typical of Franco at his best. Similar scenes can be found in Le journal intime d’une nymphomane (1973) and Las chicas del tanga (1984).

The spirit of the fair is the spirit of Vaya luna de miel. The pleasant comedy background (a mischievous one, “à la Billy Wilder”) works pretty well, mainly thanks to Lina Romay, wilder, hotter, and more charming than ever; but it is the surprises, the syncopations that make the film alive. When the viewer begins to relax, suddenly Franco takes him off guard. You can have fun like crazy (the arrival of the robot-bonsai is perhaps the drollest scene in Franco’s cinema), get mad by some unsuccessful gags (Craig's death, for instance) or by a gold mine made of aluminum foil, and wonder where and why Antonio De Cabo vanished, but you are always forced to interact with the screen, to leave your comfortable seat and enter inside the film to play with Jess and his puppets.

This is the very heart of Franco’s anarchic cinema. Even though its plot seems to refer mainly to the later ¿Cuanto cobra una espía? (1984 – another honeymoon couple surrounded with spies) and En busca del dragon dorado (1983 – still another fake transposition of the Poe's tale), Vaja luna de miel must be placed among his most crazy works – in the same spirit of his debut feature film, Tenemos 18 años (1959), Sex Charade (1969 – of which only the script remains), El sexo está loco (1980), the brilliant early 1960s script Sangre en mis zapatos, alas yielded to Tulio Demicheli (Misión Lisboa) who destroyed it like Vaya luna de miel’s toy-robot destroys everybody.

Well supported by the Filmoteca Española’s team and managers, Álex Mendíbil had the job of identifying the film and advocating its cause. Thanks to his passion and perseverance, more unknown Franco titles could surface. Mendíbil had also the idea of projecting two trailers after the film. One of them was Fu Manchú y el beso de la muerte, the Spanish version of Franco's The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968). Fresh from the vision of Vaya luna de miel, also the images of this mainstream work, acted out by Christopher Lee and other “classical” actors, assumed in my eyes a completely new meaning, I believe a more authentic one: the fake-Chinese actors, the poisonous snakes, the caves, the explorer hats, the bad guy’s size are the same as in Vaya luna de miel, as well as the director’s playful attitude.

The February 28th evening celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Filmoteca Española in the presence of José Guirao, the Spanish Minister of Culture and Sport. No doubt that the decision of associating this prestigious event with a work by Jesús Franco, a long-ostracized Spanish filmmaker, and in particular with a disengaged film such as Vaja luna de miel would have made him smile with a mixture of joy and mischievous irony. The original script, in this regard, foresaw a gag in three chapters and three cartels dedicated to the film classification system in post-Francoist Spain, which is absent in the film. Maybe Franco renounced it, but as you will see, the cartels couldn’t be inserted before the film classification, which never happened. The first cartel was supposed to appear while Yolanda and Simón are going to make love in their hotel room:


The second appears after a passionate kiss between Craig and Greta:


The third pops up toward the end, when the sadistic Greta bites Simón on his lips:


It’s at this point that the producer – «a man of humble appearance, crestfallen» – enters the image to beg the censor: «Authorize it at least for 18 y.o. and 14 y.o. accompanied». But «a hand with a big cigar and a big ring» appears and a voice off replays with the most sadistic pleasure: «No! ha, haha, hahaha ... NO!!»

© 2019 Francesco Cesari

22 February, 2019

WHAT A HONEYMOON! (Jess Franco, 1980) Rediscovered Jess Franco Film to screen in Madrid!

Jess Franco scholar/creator of the Facebook Group/Blog EL FRANCONOMICON, Dr. Alex Mendibil, has announced that a previously unknown (by me, at least)/unreleased/never reviewed Jess Franco film will have its world theatrical premiere in Madrid, Spain on February 28th, 2019, at the Cine Dore. Alex discovered a complete 35mm negative of this obscure jungle adventure in the vaults of the Filmoteca Espanola and convinced the library to create a positive of the film from the camera negatives.

From EL FRANCONOMICON Facebook Group: "Time for the news... WORLD PREMIERE!
VAYA LUNA DE MIEL (What a Honeymoon aka The Golden Bug/ El escarabajo de oro, 1980) se estrena el 28 de febrero en el Cine Doré, cortesía de Filmoteca Española que la ha recuperado tras encontrarnos el negativo en sus sótanos. Es una comedia romántica slapstick, con aventuras en la selva y robots de broma, entre cosas como La noche de los sexos abiertos, Sangre en mis zapatos o ¿Cuánto cobra un espía?

Filmoteca Española has restored the negatives we found in its vaults and a big premiere is scheduled for February 28 in Madrid! It's a slapstick rom-com mixed with jungle adventure and toy robots, between the likes of La noche de los sexos abiertos, Sangre en mis zapatos or ¿Cuánto cobra un espía?

Time for the news... WORLD PREMIERE!

What a honeymoon (what a honeymoon aka the golden bug / the golden beetle, 1980) premieres on February 28 at the cinema doré, courtesy of Spanish film library that has recovered it after finding the negative in its basements . It's a romantic comedy comedy, with adventures in the jungle and joke robots, between things like open sex night, blood on my shoes or how much does a spy charge?

Filmoteca Española has restored the negatives we found in its vaults and a big premiere is scheduled for February 28 in Madrid! It's a slapstick rom-com mixed with jungle adventure and toy robots, between the likes of La noche de los sexos abiertos, Sangre en mis zapatos or ¿Cuánto cobra un espía?"
"I talked to the CEOs at Filmoteca and let them know about the importance of the finding, and they agreed to to make a positive print and release it as part of the 30th anniversary of the Filmoteca on Feb. 28th. ," Alex explained. " I hadn't heard of the film before and asked Alex for some details of its history. "It was registered in 1980, but no record of a premiere at that time can be found. Working at the Filmoteca I asked for the negative to check. I found the title credits as "VAYA LUNA DE MIEL [What a Honeymoon in English] and that the films was already edited, the sound post-production was also done." 

The film features Lina Romay, Max Boulois, Antonio Mayans, Antonio de Dabo and Emilio Alvarez. It was photographed by Juan Soler and Produced by Joaquin Dominguez. This is one of a number of Franco adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe's story THE GOLD BUG; but set in modern day Spain.
Alex describes the film as a romantic comedy-adventure, "It's about newlyweds who find paper with magic ink from Poe's story. It quickly becomes a jungle adventure romp, with the couple being chased by fake Chinese villains and Max Boulois as a corrupt consul. There is also a fair with a spooky train, a scene on a ferris wheel, toy robots that self-destruct, and an ending in the style of GOLDEN TEMPLE AMAZONS (1984), with skeletons and the golden scarab. We have the typical music themes by Daniel White, a cameo by Jess, and the locations from BLOODY MOON (1980)."

"The movie has a very fast pace" Alex adds "and a very cool tone. It's a very small project, without ambitions, but also very effective." 

Since this film has had no theatrical, VHS, Laser disc, DVD/Blu-ray release anywhere this theatrical display of a 35mm projection will be its world premiere. It's sounds like a fun, serial type affair, Jess Franco style. Alex describes his Jess Franco archaeology at the Filmoteca as "a slow process. The Filmoteca may have 3000 unregistered titles!" One can only hope some enterprising DVD/Blu-ray company will step up and arrange for a belated HD release. A review of this film will appear here asap.

Thanks to Alex Mendibil, keep up the good work! 

(C) Robert Monell, 2019

11 February, 2019


Reviewed by Robert Monell

Moira (Lina Romay) is a sexy cabaret stripper by night and a secret agent by day. She is attempting to gain information on the Segunda Guerra Mundial, an international criminal group who are about to locate a hidden consignment of gold bars which was secreted beneath the desert during the last days of the Nazis.

Private detective Al Crosby is also on the trail of the gold and teams up with Moira. Eventually, Prof. Von Klaus provides a complex code which, when deciphered, will reveal the location. Moira is briefly captured by the opposition, tortured, and then freed by Al. They make a concerted effort to break the word puzzle, and finally succeed in locating Von Klaus's desert villa, in which there is a secret room containing the gold.

First though, the right notes have to be played on an organ which will electronically trigger the lock mechanism. It involves musical notation from a Liszt composition. When Moira performs the piece, the door opens and the treasure awaits them. The only problem is that the counteragents have pursued them by helicopter and plan to relieve Al and Moira of their newly found fortune.

Considering the fact that Jess Franco has returned to Euro-spy genre again and again throughout his career, it would seem the genre holds a special fascination for him, as well as providing the prolific director with narrative action that functions as a necessary backdrop to his trademark erotic scenes, personal touches, visual spirals, and private jokes.

It is impossible to separate the sex from
any generic conventions at this point in Franco's career. His later Euro-spy feature DARK MISSION (1988), offers evidence that he could leave aside the obsessive focus on eroticism and make a relatively straight commercial product, but as this more personal early 80s/Golden Films Internacional period, and his recent digital films illustrate, Franco is at his best when he is
allowed to be absolute freedom to be himself.

LA NOCHE... opens with a deliriously filmed strip by Lina Romay, performed in the driver's seat of a classic 1950s era American car. This all takes place in an ultra-glitzy night spot, where the sexy action is bathed in gorgeous neon hues. Lina's gyrations and Franco's camera work and lighting design seem in perfect harmony this time around, and the sequence is hypnotic.

There are many shootings, double crosses, torture sessions (one outrageously borders on a XXX level of sado-erotic intensity), exotic locales, and Lina Romay has never looked sexier.

13 January, 2019

What Jess Franco films do you want to be released on Blu-ray in 2019

Here's the ones which top my HD wish list:

Image result for Jess Franco films posters

Best Jess Franco releases of 2018: THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z (Redemption Blu-ray)

A woman whose face has been hideously disfigured with burn tissue is seen through a surgical mirror. She is lying on a hospital bed as if prepared for surgery. Suddenly she picks up a scalpel with a white gloved hand and begins to cut the scar tissue away in bloody close up. This is just one of the arresting images in Jess Franco's 1965 medical horror classic MISS MUERTE (THE DIABOLICAL DR.Z). It's an image which might recall a canvas by Salvador Dali, Francis Bacon or Rene Magritte. A jarring, surreal composition which can't be dismissed once it is seen. Welcome to the world of Jess Franco...

Austria: The aging Doctor Zimmer (Antonio J. Escribano), a student of the notorious Doctor Orloff ( one f in GRITOS EN LA NOCHE-1961), has been experimenting on animals with electro-magnetic energy he terms Z-rays, which are supposed to alter the chemical processes which control good and evil impulses in the human organism. A noted Chemistry Professor and independent thinker, he visits a local medical conference to gain permission from organizer Doctor Vicas (Howard THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF Vernon) to begin experimenting on humans. When he is violently repudiated by the committee, Zimmer collapses, suffering a fatal attack as a result of the public rejection. His daughter, Irma (Mabel Karr), also a scientist, vows to her dying father that she will continue his work. In the meantime, medical ethics be damned, she secretly plans deadly vengeance on the members of the medical board.

THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z was Jess Franco's fourth black and white horror film, and the third in which the transgressive medical theories and practices of "Doctor Orloff" (who is only mentioned in the dialogue here) play a key role in the plot. After the rather uneven EL SECRETO DEL DR. ORLOFF (1964), MISS MUERTE (Spanish title) registers as the aesthetic perfection of Franco's 1960s mad scientist series. By making the mad scientist a woman the director confirms his predilection for focusing his attention on female protagonists (cf his feature debut TENEMOS 18 ANOS) in a hostile, male dominated world. The stern, disturbing presence of Mabel Karr as the criminal with a complicated agenda is very effective, looking forward to such future Franco female super criminals/dominatrices/femme fatales as Lorna in SUCCUBUS/Necronomicon and LORNA, THE EXORCIST, Sumuru in THE GIRL FROM RIO, Irina in FEMALE VAMPIRE, Countess Zaroff in THE PERVERSE COUNTESS, the female prison wardens in 99 WOMEN, BARBED WIRE DOLLS, SADOMANIA, Tara Obongo in MACUMBA SEXUAL,  the daughter of Fu Manchu is ESCALAVAS DE CRIMEN (1987), the wild women in CRYPT OF THE CONDEMNED (2102) and many more deadly females. 

So, what is it with Jess Franco and wicked, transgressing women? There's much evidence throughout his filmography that he finds women much more fascinating and magnetic than men, even mentally unstable women, like Ana, the unconscious killer in AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO (1973), a film which Franco had originally planned to make around the time he made MISS MUERTE. Estella Blain, also an unconscious killer in this earlier scenario (co-written by Luis Bunuel scenarist Jean-Claude Carriere BELLE DE JOUR), has a vulnerable aura and a mysterious factor beneath her appearance as a beautiful young blond here. She's perfectly cast as the instrument of Irma's revenge, and reflects Irma's quiet resentment of women more desirable to men than herself.. Her performances in tight, glittering spider gear, seen from an overhead camera angle looking down at a spider webbed stage as she writhes toward a male mannequin, are the high points of this film. Other striking scenes include the stalkings and killings of Howard Vernon, in a Hitchcockian dining car (cf NORTH BY NORTHWEST),and the portly actor who played the mad scientist character in EL SECRETO DEL ORLOFF (Marcello Arroita-Jauregui, who was also a member of the Spanish censorship in the 1960s!). Scenes set in trains moving through the night and the dark alleyways of the small Austrian town also add Film Noir style ambiance, all superbly lit and framed by the masterful Alejandro Ulloa (COMPANEROS, THE DEVIL'S HONEY, EL CAMINANTE). His high contrast black and white lighting schemes really shine in this stunning presentation
Dr. Zimmer's weird, secret operating theater, filled with automatized operating tables equipped with retractable, metal claws, electronic generators, caged animals, blinking Strickfaden-style laboratory lighting, brings to mind both classic Universal Horror ( BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN) and Al Adamson's DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN. They seal the film in its own unique, monochrome, mid-1960s Euro-horror atmosphere. Such William Castle style horror gimmicks as the needles which are inserted into human flesh, gender bending disguises and plastic surgery interludes add to the macabre environment. The Edgar Wallace like lead inspector is played by Jess Franco himself, in a high spirited, if world weary manner. The film's composer, the prolific Daniel White, a longtime creative partner of the director, appears as a visiting Scotland Yard observer. They both seem to be relaxed and having fun with playing their roles. Their presence may have been a typical Jess Franco in-joke or likely dictated by cost cutting considerations.  All this and much more make this a top tier entry in Franco's long,  twisting filmography. This works as a headlong thriller told in a sometimes Expressionist, sometimes Surrealist mode, and a continuation with Franco's career-long obsession with those who break medical and other ethical codes. He would use the exact same plot again, with Soledad Miranda as the sexy, robotized avenger, in the 1970 SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY. It was the penultimate film of Miranda, who, like Estella Blain would die a tragic, premature death. 

This shimmering HD 1080p transfer from Gaumont's 35mm element marks a significant upgrade of this key title, and is definitely the best it has ever looked on digital media, with bottomless backs, appropriate grain, with not much visible DNR on display. Much detail, depth and resonant definition are revealed, and each image is razor sharp. This HD presentation of the film is going to be a must for the serious Jess Franco student, cult movie collectors or anyone who wants to be introduced to his work via a demonstration quality presentation.

Special Features include a detailed, informative commentary by OBSESSION: THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO co-writer Tim Lucas, who focuses on the themes of mind-control and gender in the film, the English and (preferred) French language tracks with English subtitles, along with the original theatrical trailer.
87 min, 1920x1080p (1.66:1, with some added information on both sides, top and bottom).
Daniel White's moody jazz music and both language tracks sound vibrant and crystal clear.

Highly recommended.
(2018) (C) Robert Monell