11 July, 2018

More Jess Franco Blu-rays coming this September!

Two 1980s jungle adventure films, both co-produced by Eurocine, Paris, are due for their HD debuts, from MVD classics, on September, 11, 2018. Both are highly entertaining genre films, the kind which only Jess Franco could make. Not top-tier Franco, but still enjoyable and fascinating testaments to the his interest in pulp genre fictions. 

DIAMONDS OF KILIMANDJARO (1983) is the French version of EL TESORO DE LA DIOSA BLANCA. The latter is the markedly different Spanish version, which could be considered the director's cut. It has different opening and closing scenes which completely change the mood and meaning of the story. It also features some alternate locations, including a fantastic treasure cave with a spiral staircase where a hermit, played by frequent Franco composer Daniel J. White, hides from rescue by "civilization." 

GOLDEN TEMPLE AMAZONS (1985), started, with Jess Franco directing, as TUNDRA Y EL TEMPIO DEL SOL. It ended up being completed by Alain Payet, a Eurocine contract director. I have doubts if this could actually be considered a "Jess Franco" film. Franco has said he doesn't make "silly" films, so you have to be in the mood.  It has some signature Jess Franco scenes, including a torture scene which is a self-homage to THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN (1973), but is watered down and rather forgettable in the final cut by Eurocine.  Featuring William Berger as Uruck, the ruler of the Amazons, Analia Ivars as a jungle girl, and Antonio Mayans as an adventurer. My favorite Jess Franco jungle films, MACISTE CONTRE LA REINE DES AMAZONES (1973), X-312 FLIGHT TO HELL (1970) and LA ESCLAVA BLANCA (1985) are not scheduled for Blu-ray release anytime soon. And how about ROBINSON AND HIS SEVEN WILD SLAVES (1971)?!  They're fun-in-the-sun Franco outings.

(C) Robert Monell, 2018

09 June, 2018

THE DAY OF THE PURPLE SUN (Carsten Frank, 2017)

'The Day of the Purple Sun': Part I (2017)

| Drama | 2017 (Germany)
'The Day of the Purple Sun': Part I Poster
''THE DAY OF THE PURPLE SUN'': The cosmos of the incurable Margarethe. Her journey through the mysteries of the Egypt underworld. Will she be coming forth by day?



Stars Margarethe von Stern

Margarethe (Margarethe von Stern) is a desperate woman dying of some kind of consumptive disease. She frenetically wanders through a bleak, bizarre wilderness toward an underworld inhabited by the ancient Egyptian deity, Anubis.

This two part experimental epic was produced, co-written and directed by German producer-director Carsten Frank. It was co-written and stars the actress Margarethe von Stern, who also appeared in Frank's previous SECRETS OF A SOUL (2012) and BESTIE (2013). Frank was also involved in several Jess Franco films,  and appeared in the late director's final film, along with Ms. von Stern, REVENGE OF THE ALLIGATOR LADIES (2013). He also appeared as an actor in Franco's INCUBUS (2002), an interesting remake of LORNA, THE EXORCIST (1974). and was an actor in Franco's KILLER BARBYS VS. DRACULA, which he also co-produced.

The Day of the Purple Sun can only be described as an experimental horror film, with visionary and occult elements obvious throughout the unsettling, but hypnotic proceedings. If one watches both parts in one sitting, it's 2 and one half hours of being immersed in a mysterious, grotesque, fantastic underworld. The film is disturbing, sometimes gut wrenching, and not for those with a sensitive stomach. It illustrates, with tilted, obsessively probing photography and an outre soundscape, a decaying, fallen world not unlike the death-trip transgressions of Jorg Buttgereit (NEKRONAMTIK). But this film goes even further into that hellish domain. 

Actress Margarethe von Stern is absolutely magnetic as the pathetic lost soul whom the film is built around. Dying, starving and desperate, she wanders through muddy exteriors in which naked tree branches poke out her eyes at one point. She is observed by a frog-demon and encounters rotting carcasses of other animals, maggots and other creatures of the death cycle. With her large, expressive eyes and seemingly elastic limbs she acts out the role with brilliantly expressed body language instead of dialogue. In fact, there is very little in the film. The first 20 plus minutes is dialogue free and consists of her in the wilderness as the sinister, edgy, industrial soundscape of Maggy Moon drones under the action. 

There is a ritualistic quality to each scene, especially in Part 2, in which she is taken to the ancient Egyptian underworld by the masked deity, Anubis, played by director Frank. One can almost smell the odor of decay and death at certain times and the atmosphere is rich in occult electricity, mystery and a sense of entering alternate realities. I can only compare it to certain works by Kenneth Anger (LUCIFER RISING), the final scenes of Lucio Fulci's THE BEYOND, and the New York Underground films of filmmaker, actor, performance artist Jack Smith (FLAMING CREATURES). 

This is very much worth seeing for the down to earth, emotionally intense, existential presence of Margarethe von Stern, a performance artist who knows no boundaries. She projects all the emotions of the human rainbow and an other-worldly quality as well.

(C) Robert Monell, 2018

05 June, 2018

Coming July 2018 from Le Chat Qui Fume on Bluray & DVD

DIGIPACK/Full Version/1920x1080p HD resolution 16/9 DVD/DTS HD Mono French&English tracks with Eng subs/All Region/Bonus: Jess and Pamela Stanford, Jacqueline Laurent, Alain Petit. FRANCE 1974. Essential Jess Franco with Pamela Stanford, Lina Romay, Jacqueline Laurent, Guy Delorme,  Howard Vernon and Jess Franco. An updating of Faust with the Devil as a woman.

17 May, 2018

The Janine Reynaud Story (1930-2018). In words and images...

Image result for el caso de las dos bellezas
"El caso de las dos bellezas" 1968: In this Jess Franco "Red Lips" psychedelic horror-comedy Janine Reynaud plays an art thief who, in this scene, becomes an element in the POP ART mise-en-scene....

Home Video Trailer from Anchor Bay Entertainment

Monica Swinn
Monica Swinn RIP...😪😪😪

Robert Monell Didn't know she had passed away. Thanks 

First of all, this is how I found out about the passing of Jess Franco actress Janine Reynaud. It was on Alex Mendibil's Jess Franco Facebook Group EL FRANCONOMICON, in a post by another Franco colleague, Belgian actress Monica Swinn. It now appears that she did not die, as previously reported, on Jan. 30, 2018, but much more recently, possibly on May 13, in Sugarland, Texas, where she lived in retirement after retiring from her film career.. The cause of death was reportedly pancreatic cancer. She had a long and very interesting life, first as a model for French designer Jean Partou and as an actress in Euorspy films, a Spaghetti Western, several giallos, more than a dozen sex comedies directed by her then husband, actor-director Michel Lemoine. 

Some notable roles were in French erotica made by Max Pecas (JE SUIS UNE NYMPONMANE, 1971) and Jose Benazeraf (FRUSTRATION, 1971). Her three films made with the prolific Jess Franco were NECRONOMICON (SUCCUBUS, 1967), SADISTEROTICA (ROTE LIPPEN, 1968) and BESAME MONSTRUO, 1968.  She was also in the Jess Franco-related CASTLE OF THE CREEPING FLESH, a 1968 German lensed horror-melodrama in which she appeared with most of the cast of NECRONOMICON. Jess Franco reportedly wrote the original story, which was directed by German actor-singer-producer-director Adrian Hoven (MARK OF THE DEVIL 2).

Above: The Bitches, directed by Michel Lemoine, starring Janine Reynaud, a 1973 erotic drama.

Whenever or wherever she left planet Earth, she left it a more interesting, mysterious place due to her exotic, ambiguous presence in all the European genre films in which she appeared. My own two favorites are definitely Jess Franco's NECRONOMICON and Benazeraf's FRUSTRATION. Both directors were prolific, major league popular artists working in commercial erotica and genre riffs. It just so happens that she was at the center of their very best films. One cannot imagine either film without her.

Above: Eyes wide shut. Like a surrealist's muse, she is the polymorphous perverse magnet which holds Franco's NECRONOMICON together....

In NECRONOMICON she plays the predatory, exhibitionist Lorna Green, an S&M performance artist based in Lisbon. The film opens with an extended sadomasochistic performance in which she taunts and tortures a male and female tied to crosses in a dungeon. Then, when it appears she is going to kill the victims, Franco cuts to the audience in a nightclub and it's all revealed to be a show. That is a key Jess Franco scene in which he establishes the illusion vs. reality conceit which would be the central theme for the remainder of his 50 year career. Janine Reynaud, dressed completely in black, commands attention as an icon of Fantastique. With her 1960's "big hair" and drowning pool eyes, she is the immortal woman, as in Alain Robbe-Grillet's first film L'IMMORTELLE. A dangerous, prowling red head, a man and woman killer.

She proved adept at physical comedy, in the two Op/Pop Art follow ups directed by Franco, EL CASO DE LAS DOS BELLAZAS and BESAME MONSTRUO
Both of those are worth making the effort to see in their Spanish language versions, which are very different from the US release versions, KISS ME, MONSTER and TWO UNDERCOVER ANGELS.

Her very best performance may be in Benazeraf's erotic melodrama, FRUSTRATION, in which she plays a quiet, repressed maid of a well-to-do French couple. The entire film is shot from the point of view of her character. Benazeraf puts the viewer in that point of view in the very first shots of the film and it remains there until the grim ending. The character is the polar opposite of Lorna Green in NECRONOMICON. She's a smoldering, withdrawn, mute witness to the comings and goings of her employers, while she fantasizes about wild orgies involving them, some in historical settings. It's very much in the style of Luis Bunuel's BELLE DE JOUR and DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID, both of which illustrate how a powerless woman becomes liberated through her sexual fantasy life.  It's a film desperately in need of a new HD presentation. I saw it on an English dubbed vhs in the 1990s* and was struck by its stark, simple Ingmar Bergman style examination of the unconscious mind of an unassuming woman.Image may contain: one or more people and text

Before getting into continental erotica she played supporting roles, often as a seductive villain, in such Eurospy thrillers as OPERATION WHITE SHARK, Antonio Margheriti's KILLER ARE CHALLENGED and YPOTRON (all 1966). It's not exaggerating to say that she is the most memorable element in all three of those modest adventure films."

After hearing of her passing I contacted her former co-star of OPERATION WHITE SHARK, the retired American actor, Rodd Dana, who was a close friend of hers. What he wrote back says a lot about her: " Ciao Roberto, Heard from Tom and you about Janine's passing. Sad. She was a wonderful, magical talent" Magical indeed. We won't be seeing the likes of her again anytime soon.  

(C) Robert Monell, 2018

12 May, 2018

Im Schloss der Blutigen Begierde 1968 - English subs - HORROR/EXPLOITATION

Another suggestion for Jess Franco Birthday viewing. This was released in a crudely dubbed, cut down edit on VHS, under the title CASTLE OF THE CREEPING FLESH, in the late 1980s. A more recent German language Blu-ray has surfaced on YouTube, It's the uncut version and in very good video quality. Watch it before it gets removed!  Howard Vernon, Adrian Hoven, Michel Lemoine and his then wife Janine Reyaud are featured. They were all in the previous year's SUCCUBUS/NECROMOMICON (1967), directed by Jess Franco and co-produced by the same company, Adrian Hoven's Aquila Film.


Jess Franco reportedly (according to Howard Vernon) came up with the original treatment (written on a bar napkin?) for this exploitationer, directed by producer Hoven himself. One of those decadent surveys of decadence which were so popular, post LA DOLCE VITA, in the 1960s. The budget conscious Hoven recycled the cast of Franco's NECRONOMICON (SUCCUBUS, 1967), sans Jack Taylor. Michel Lemoine, was also in the trio of Aquila films (including KISS ME, MONSTER and SADISTEROTICA/TWO UNDERCOVER ANGELS) and here plays a wealthy rapist, Baron Brack, who gets very rough justice at the hands of the Earl of Saxon (Howard Vernon). I think Franco may have given the idea for this to Hoven as a thank you for bankrolling and letting him direct NECROMONICON just the way he wanted.

German actor-producer-singer Adrian Hoven, who directed this under the beard Percy Parker, would go on appear in several Rainer Werner Fassbinder films (WORLD ON A WIRE, FOX AND HIS FRIENDS) and become involved with the infamous MARK OF THE DEVIL film series, appearing in and directing the second installment, WITCHES (1972).

IM SCHLOSS DER BLUTIGEN BEGIERDE is fun, but nowhere near as layered or unique as a Jess Franco film. It's kind of a Gothic-Eurotrash fantasia which unfolds in the late 1960s and the 17th Century. Howard Vernon holds the show together, and it's always good to have Janine Reynaud on hand as a party girl. In any case, Happy Birthday to Jess Franco, gone 5 years ago. He is missed.

(C) Robert Monell, 2018

08 May, 2018


VD Marquee Classics
Coming to Blu-ray September 2018 for the FIRST TIME IN NORTH AMERICA from MVD CLASSICS...
This disc will be region free.
$24.95 SRP
This is actually the first HD release of this 1980s jungle adventure, with some cannibals thrown in (it's actually reviewed in the AURUM HORROR ENCYCLOPEDIA). Interestingly enough, the Spanish language version, at a reported 87 m, seems to be the director's cut, whereas Eurocine, the French co-producer, added an alternate opening, including a small plane crash which strands the future jungle queen and her father (Franco regular composer and actor, Daniel J. White) in the bush (obviously Southern Spain. 
The French version also features an abrupt, downbeat ending, while the Spanish ends things in a more Saturday afternoon adventure-serial fashion, which signals the touch of serial fan Franco himself. There are also some interesting locales, including a golden cave and a treasure, which have a less prominent place in the French version, credited Cole Polley (Claude Plaut?). Daniel Katz, a veteran of the director's later Spanish career, appears as the downed pilot in the French cut, but is totally absent in the Spanish version.

One hopes that both versions could be included on this HD release. We'll see...

21 April, 2018

LA NOCHE DE LOS SEXOS ABIERTOS (Jess Franco, 1981-Golden Films Internacional)

Copyright Robert Monell, 1998-2018
Moira (Lina Romay) is a sexy cabaret stripper by night and a secret agent by day. Actually, she's kind of both at all hours. 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 Canary Islands desert during the last days of World War II (making this a kind of unofficial sequel to OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES/LAS TUMBAS DE LOS MUERTOS VIVIENTS-1981).

Private detective Al Crosby is also on the trail of the gold and teams up with Moira. Eventually, Prof. Von Klaus (Canary Islander Albino Graziani) 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, from a Lizst compostion, have to be played on an organ which will electronically trigger the lock mechanism. 

When Moira performs the piece, the door opens and the treasure awaits them. The only problem is that the counter agents 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 period and his recent films show Franco is at his best when he is
allowed to be Franco.

LA NOCHE... opens with a deliriously filmed strip by Lina Romay, performed in the driver's seat of a classic fifties 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. 

Franco's Golden Films Internacional period, running through the 1980s, was perhaps his most personal and unfettered. He told me when I interviewed him in 2005 that he was completely free to shoot what he wanted and edit the film without fear of producer [Emilio Larraga, whom Franco told me got into serious tax trouble with Spanish authorities] interference or later revision. But he also worked unpaid upfront and with very low "poor" budgetary resources. Nonetheless, as with LA NOCHE.. he sometimes made his special magic happen. (C) Robert Monell, 2018

Robert Monell

20 April, 2018


Image result for Testamento Diabolico
VSOM [Video Search of Miami]: circa 1991No longer available. At least it's not listed in the JF section their site.
Film [this version]: *Video: * 1.33:1 [including inserts]; NTSC VHSAudio: *

This 1hr 45m composite contained approximately 30m of extra non-Jess Franco-generated/repeated Franco footage,  including erotic inserts [financed by Eurocine and shot circa 1973] and laughably unconvincing zombie footage reportedly filmed by Jean Rollin (very much in the "style" of the 1980 Eurocine coproduction ZOMBIE LAKE, directed by Rollin).

It composites an English language dub of the film with Spanish subtitles, TESTAMENTO DIABOLICO, along with scenes from, quoting a video generated scroll over footage from the Eurocine lensed garden orgy*,  "...the French releases HOLOCAUSTE DE ZOMBI, Princesse De L' Erotisme and the Italian-Euro print UNA VERGINE TRA I MORTI VIVENTI." The scroll goes on to claim to be the "definative" (sic) version which includes all the footage deleted from the "diluted Anglo version." This is really not correct since all this extra footage was never included in any "Anglo" home video version outside of this grey market composite. Some of the zombie footage does appear in such vintage VHS releases, like the WIZARD VIDEO release, which doesn't include the earlier shot erotic footage.

Onscreen title: A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD, with TESTAMENTO DIABOLICO [in yellow subtitles below the main title credit font]. I guess this version may have some value for Franco completists {I paid an outrageous 25 dollars + shipping at the time!] but the MIDNIGHT VIDEO composite is in much better audio/visual quality. That will be logged in a separate future post. Video Search of Miami is no longer in business and one can only have mixed feelings about their business practices and releases ("blurry" is a word which often comes to mind when trying to describe a typical VSOM release0.

*The infamous "garden orgy" is discussed in detail by a panel in "The Three faces of Christina" a 12 minute documentary by Daniel Gouyette , included as a special feature on the 2013 REDEMPTION Blu-ray release of the "director's cut" CHRISTINA, PRINCESS OF EROTICISM (79 minutes). There was some commentary that this release still retained some erotic footage not shot by Franco. It's nonetheless a welcome HD release. A 2k or 4k scan and full restoration, if the camera negatives are available, would also be welcome.   The scene is also included in the bonus material and features mid 1970's JF regulars Alice Arno (as a nude queen wearing only a cape, mask and crown, sitting on a throne and waving a sceptre), Pierre Taylou (EXORCISME), Waldemar Wohlfaart (AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO, YUKA, LES GLOUTONNES) and Nadine Pascal (THE SADIST OF NOTRE DAME).

A completely delirious exercise in creating an accumulator of all known footage from all known versions, as the CEO of VSOM described it to me nearly 30 years ago! 

C) Robert Monell 2018

26 March, 2018

Erwin C. Dietrich (October 4th, 1930 in Glarus[1] - March 15, 2018)

Erwin C. Dietrich passed away March 15, 2018, at the age of 87. He produced nearly 100 films and directed over 40 in a career spanning nearly 60 years. He was known for his numerous soft and sometimes hardcore features, and later for his action hits THE WILD GEESE and CODENAME: WILDGEESE. He also was a writer, actor, distributor (Avis Films) and opened the first multiplexes in Switzerland. The Zurich based producer also produced/co-produced/co-directed 17 Jess Franco films. From the ridiculous MONDO EROTICO (1976) to the sublime (MARQUISE DE SADE/DORIANA GRAY, DAS FRAUENHAUS (1977) and JACK THE RIPPER (1976), which stand as several of Franco's career best. He gave the prolific Franco better budgets, working conditions and, most importantly, the freedom to make the kind of films he wanted, at least within commercial formats and limitations. Both Dietrich and Franco were prolific makers of genre cinema, and appreciated film as an art form, a business and a way of life. 

Dietrich also provided funding for Franco's 1975 sex comedy (MIDNIGHT PARTY) and (BARBED WIRE DOLLS), the latter a highly successful Women In Prison epic which the producer balked at when Franco showed him the result. Both of those films starred Franco muse Lina Romay, as did Dietrich's own hardcore sex epic ROLLS ROYCE BABY (1975), in which Romay plays "Lisa Romay" a model-porn actress who hits on everyone around her until deciding on having her  chauffeur (Dietrich regular Eric Falk) drive her around the countryside in search of horny hitchhikers and wanderers to seduce. If the candidates are reluctant the chauffeur simply throws them on top of his beautiful employer and drives off. The drives become a ritual and her reason for living. This is a sex positive film, meaning sex is seen as a healthy, fun exercise, without hangups in a pre AIDS age. Sex is Eros here, rather than Thanatos, as it often is in Jess Franco erotica. Elegantly composed by Andreas Demmer and featuring a delightfully upbeat score by Walter Baumgartner, ROLLS ROYCE BABY may be Dietrich's masterpiece as a director, or at least a pleasant diversion. There's only one real hardcore scene in it, but Romay lounges around totally naked, legs spread, leaving nothing to the imagination throughout. There are worse ways to spend 85 or so minutes.

Dietrich's wildest piece of exploitation was the jet fueled, blood-soaked Nazi biker sleaze fest MAD FOXES (Paul Grau, 1981),featuring Jose Gras (the macho swat team leader in Bruno Mattei's zombie epic HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD) as a young, well to do driver of a Corvette Stingray who goes on a rampage of ultra violent revenge against the swastika wearing biker gang who raped his girlfriend (Andrea Albani) and murdered his family. It is a film that needs to be seen to be believed and defines the term European Trash Cinema, a Eurotrash verion of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.

After producing the Franco films Dietrich went on to much larger productions, co-producing the 1978 action hit THE WILD GEESE, with Richard Burton and Roger Moore, an Antonio Margheriti follow-up CODENAME: WILDGEESE with Klaus Kinski and Ernest Borgnine, and more Philippine shot action epics, such as DER COMMANDER., with Lee Van Cleef (which can be presently found streaming on AMAZON PRIME)

My own personal favorites of his Jess Franco productions were the Warhol-esque DAS FRAUENHAUS (1977) and MARQUISE DE SADE/DAS BILDNIS DER DORIANA GRAY.

Dietrich gave Jess Franco carte blanche while making the ethereal, dreamlike vampire tale, MARQUISE DE SADE (1976), an abstract-erotic masterwork with a unique tone and a style which evokes the the esoteric world of Ingmar Bergman.

The very first of Dietrich's directorial efforts which I saw was a 1980 Women In Prison epic, retitled  ISLAND WOMEN for US VHS release. That was sometime in the early 1990s when I found it in the Adult section of a local Mom & Pop video store. I remember it as a very entertaining film, featuring a leather clad Karine Gambier and Brigitte Lahaie. In fact, I rented it hoping it was a retitled Jess Franco film. Ah, those were the days. Thank you Erwin C. Dietrich for all the memories....

(C) Robert Monell

23 March, 2018

SINFONIA EROTICA (Severin Blu-ray)

PREVIOUS release on DVD:
Sinfonia Erotica Aka The Marquis De Sade's Sinfonia Erotica/Erotic Symphony. Directed  Jess Franco, With Lina Romay. Region 2 Import Spanish Audio No English Manga DVD

Thanks to an Internet contact I finally got a chance to see the MANGA DVD presentation years ago when I purchased a PAL capability player. The DVD is highly recommended, even though it's full-screen. There also aren't any subtitles or English language options. The image is %100 superior to the VSOM dub I had of the Italian tape, which also includes [incorrect] English subtitles and omits the original Spanish title sequence for a video generated main title card: MARQUIS DE SADE'S SINFONIA EROTICA. 

The Spanish version [it was a Spanish/Portuguese co production with Joaquin Dominguez as the primary investor]  of this 1979 film is the way to experience it. It still runs notably short of its listed 91m runtime in OBSESSION, but that may be incorrect. As Francesco Cesari notes in his essential and detailed liners there is no Liszt 4th Piano Sonata, upon which Franco supposedly based his score. In fact this film is a good example of Franco being, as he has said, a musician/composer who makes films. The score generates the mood, images, plot and characters. It's not a Ken Russell type extravaganza, though. I would place it in the top tier of Franco's Sade adaptations [it's mostly from the Bressac episode in JUSTINE, a remake of PLASIR A TROIS, but Franco's remakes are never just cut and dried remakes, they always expand in new directions].

It's an orgy of rack-focus and ambitious camera moves, like the circular track around the dinner as the participants plan against each other. Fassbinder-like pans and titled angles proliferate throughout. In terms of stylistic irony it may be Franco's closest to Fassbinder's period films. As Francesco points out the music is often used contrapuntally, to comment on and expand the imagery. It's a daring strategy which works more often than not this time out.  It's also one of Franco's best edited film, cutting from the characters to statuary, the exterior environment, and there is a fascinating internal montage in close ups which are also long shots and vice-versa. Franco atomizes objects and characters to an extreme degree as the screenshots provided by Alex illustrate.

As much of an improvement over gray market releases as that DVD was, the Severin Blu-ray now makes it obsolete and is as much a jump in quality as that was at time. 

SEVERIN BLU-RAY: A Triton, P.C./Estudio 8 [Lisbon,Portugal] Production with Candace Coster [Lina Romay] (Martine, the Marquise de Bressac), Mel Rodrigo (Flor), Armando Sallent (the Marquis de  Bresssac), Aida Gouviea, George Santos and Albino Graziani as Doctor Louys. DP: Juan Soler. Producer: Joaquin Dominguez. Based on the writings [Justine] of the Marquis De Sade; Written and Directed by Jess Franco. 84 mins. 1979. 1080p Full HD Resolution/Spanish Mono with English subtitles. 

Below: Alice Arno and Robert Woods in PLAISIR A TROIS (1973): A previous Jess Franco directed version of the Sade story.

Below: Cover for the new Blu-ray edition of SINFONIA EROTICA from Severin Films.

This 1979 Spanish-Portuguese co-production, a gorgeously lensed Sadean melodrama, is finally available in HD from Severin Films.

This is an elegant tone poem based on the same Sade story, from Justine 
-Justine, or The Misfortunes of Virtue (French: Justine, ou Les Malheurs de la Vertu), completed in1791. Franco actually shows Sade, played by Klaus Kinski writing the novel in 1787, or at least beginning it when is imprisoned in the Bastille, at the opening of the 1968 Harry Alan Towers scripted JUSTINE. Actually it's a story within the massive novel which Franco filmed as 1973's PLAISIR A TROIS and as GEMIDOS DE PLACER. The 1973 version featured Alice Arno in the role Lina Romay plays in SINFONIA.... Alice Arno quite effective and it's an interesting film, at least visually, but not in the same league as SINFONIA.... and the 1982 GEMIDOS DE PLACER, which was shot in just a few dozen plan sequences and is even more experimental.  

Marquise Martine de Bressac (Lina Romay) the wife of wealthy Marquis Armando, returns from a stay at a mental asylum after suffering a breakdown. She finds the Marquis involved with his male lover  Flor (Mel Rodrigo) and a runaway nun. Complications arise. Franco and his expert DP Juan Cozar flood the images with light and the camera often wanders away from the twisted characters to the distances between them, a favored Franco theme according to the man himself. The images of the statues, architecture, lakes and foliage of the estate are photographed in the style of the Alain Robbe-Grillet-Alain Resnais LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD (1962). It's a lush period piece which illustrates Liszt's piano music, which Franco adapted himself into a score part Romantic-part Gothic horror.

But this is not a horror film per se. It plays more like a period melodrama in the style of Douglas Sirk, pre his final Universal period. And as I wrote in my initial review of the DVD, the style also evokes Sirk acolyte R. W. Fassbinder (THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA  BRAUN, LOLA) in its lavish camera style, period evocation and use of color, which sometimes recalls Impressionist paintings of the late 19th and Early 20th Century. The floral environment, rich with all kinds of trees and flowers, seems as much interest to Franco as do the characters. There are many shots of budding tree branches (the opening credits), colorful sprouts and a glittering nearby lake surface, which the camera takes time to explore in detail. A sprawling castle atop an adjacent mountain also frequently captures the camera's lingering attention, even photographed through windows from interiors. This is the way Franco's  hapless EL CONDE DRACULA (1970) should have looked. 

Shot with a heavy dependence on star filters, diffusion and with a seeming desire to distort all natural light, the result is a highly stylized look which is far from any kind of realism. The period details, a villa in Sintra, Portugal, the dresses and men's wear, are all there, but everything is framed from a skewed angle or the focus is pulled, readjusted and pulled again. Instead of the zoom lens, a favorite Franco tool in the 1970s, the camera seems to constantly be on the prowl, slowly panning across bodies, rooms and landscapes, tracking toward, around and away from the action. The film seems both claustrophobic in its interiors and expansive in its sun-dappled exteriors. Gaslight and candlelight illuminate the manage a trois which often becomes a menage a quatre. 

The sex here is all devious, meant to manipulate and betray. Nothing or no one is what they seem on the surface. The Marquis is a bullying sadist who at the end, like most bullies, is shown to be a coward as he begs to die rather than be tortured. Martine, as expertly played by Romay, is both a victim and an evolving character who is playing a role within a role. Lina Romay has relatively few nude scenes and the erotic enounters are filmed in an almost abstract, rather than explicit/ hardcore, fashion. This is a film about emotional surges and variations rather than Grindhouse style sexploitation. 

Space is flattened and then expanded by Franco's elaborate camera styling and, importantly, time is expanded in these spaces. The pacing is set by Franco's own score, based on Liszt's music (concerto #2, rather than #4) but in the end is pure Jess Franco playing the synthesized result of what were no doubt improvisations on Liszt's themes. It seems as if we are witnessing the music being visualized and lulled into the 19th Century fantasia where our present concept of time is irrelevant. This film really rewards the viewer's patience and invites and further rewards multiple viewings. 

The new Severn Blu-ray, transferred in 4k from an uncut 35mm theatrical print, restores intended definition and sharpness to images meant to be that way as it illustrates the complex back and forth between focus and light flares, period lighting via the candelabra and gaslight as well as filtered sunlight pouring down on the bucolic locations.  Some of the painterly images are breathtaking and would be at home in Kubrick's design for BARRY LYNDON (1975). Of course, Franco is the polar opposite with his career long dependence on getting it in the can in one take but here he appears to have thought out and executed each and every image with extreme care and deliberation.  The film, finally, looks gorgeous and, at the same time, experimental.. Both Sade and the aspirations of Jess Franco are served well by this welcome and highly recommended HD release.

Special features include Jess Franco On First Wife NIcole Guettard, in which he uncomfortably recalls her extended, painful demise from a tumor and Alzheimer's Disease. 

In Stephen Thrower:On Sinfonia Erotica, the author of Muderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jess Franco places the film within Franco's filmography and discusses its style.

Thanks to Francesco Cesari and Wearethedead for additional informatioln. 

(C) Robert Monell, 2018

13 March, 2018

Sex, Death and Delirium under the African Sun (Macumba Sexual, 1980)

Macumba Sexual
She is introduced in long shot, clad in blinding white, sillhouetted against the desert Sun, the rays of which are blotted out by her imposing figure. The zoom lens gradually draws her closer to us, as if compelled by an occult force rather than a camera operator, in this case the great Juan Soler Cozar. She raises her hands above her head as if in communion with a elements. From the opening moments of this film She is in control....

The Canary Islands: Tara Obongo (the late, legendary Ajita Wilson), the living dead Black witch, is capable of possessing her victims through a form of sexual voodoo, hence the title. Her most recent victims are American tourists Alice Brooks (Lina Romay) and her boyfriend (Antonio Mayans). Alice is in the Canary Islands representling a US real estate firm. But that isn't important in this context. Tara seduces and sexually enslaves them both, but each time they believe they have escaped her spell another level of the nightmare begins.

Ever have a nightmare from which you couldn't awaken? You know it's only a dream but each time you try wake up another chapter of the dream starts. MACUMBA SEXUAL opens in the midst of a nightmare and ends with another one just starting. Alice dreams of Tara atop a sand dune under the blazing tropical sun. A terrifying fetish (looking like a shrivelled Donald Duck!) keeps appearing as a kind of warning. There is no escape from her psycho-sexual curse. A local hotel manager (Jess Franco) tells them that Tara has been long dead. But every time they sleep she becomes their controlling reality. Tara represents both Sex and Death, she seduces everyone who comes into contact with her and has two collared male slaves whom she walks like dogs. Her haunting voice calls to Alice while she sleeps in a similar way the vampire princess of VAMPYROS LESBOS called to another female protagonist. Tara lives to project sensual hypnotism and awaits her own death. There is no middle range of emotion or consciousness. The sexually ambiguous Ajita Wilson perfectly emodies her. But his is not a Pop Art blow out like VAMPYROS LESBOS.  The Istanbul of VAMPYROS LESBOS is replaced with the desolation of the Canary Islands locations, which seem like an endless desert. Those who know about her, like Franco's babbling innkeeper, can't fully articulate what she is about. But her presence permeates every moment of the film and overwhelms all of the characters. The audio-visual impact of the film is tremendous. It doesn't matter that Franco has told this story before. It's how he tells it this time which is important. One feels immersed in some primeval African ritual, one is which coherence and a "white" reading can't account for. 

It ends as Alice again awakens, this time in the comforting arms of her lover. then she sees the Voodoo fetish in the corner of the room. Or is it just an hallucination? The film closes on her seemingly endless, high pitched screams. Screams of pure terror. The unknowable, the negative force, the Other has once again gotten the upper hand. Jess Franco can only move on to the next film. Fin...

One of Franco's most delirious films: teeming with Jungian symbolism, almost dialogue free (words are pointless in this context), nearly hard-core (the Spanish tape appears to be cut), and driven by the moaning (by an uncredited relative of Jess Franco?), eerie voodoo rhythms of  Pablo Villa (the late , great Daniel J White improvising with the director and a vocalist). Lina wears a blonde wig, runs around in a skimpy bikini and is credited as "Candy Coster." It's too morbid to be erotic and creates a kind of disembodied horror which lingers after Tara dissolves into the omnipresent Voodoo fetish. The slow zoom shots which move in and out of the action seem controlled by Tara's presence, representations of her uncanny magnetism. The viewer is pulled into the toxic miasma, like it or not. It's like drinking an entire bottle of Rum all at once instead of just having a few tropical cocktails. One gets intoxicated and reality becomes irrelevant. Some may wish there were a HD release of this fever dream. Thanks to Francesco Cesari. 

Essential Franco. Robert Monell

10 February, 2018

THE DEMONS: Blu-ray Nucleus Films REVIEW

Demons, The (Blu-ray)

Jess Franco's wild blend of Nunsploitation and Witch burning gets a definitive HD release from Nucleus Films, including the complete version and the English language export. A fully loaded must-have.

THE DEMONS was Jess Franco's answer to Ken Russell's controversial 1971 Nunsploitation/Witchburning epic THE DEVILS, which specifically inspired producer Robert de Nesle (PLAISR A TROIS) to ask Franco for a film of the same style, content and genre. Franco delivered by essentially remaking his own earlier version of the same story, THE BLOODY JUDGE (1969), with Christopher Lee in the role of the historical Inquisitor Lord Chief Judge George Jeffry's (1648-1701), which was produced by Harry Alan Towers. There was also the Micheal Reeves-Vincent Price classic, WITCHFINDER GENERAL, which covered the same ground but in a much different style. The success of the 1970 MARK OF THE DEVIL insured that there was money to be had in presenting detailed tortures scenes of female witches. Franco denies he was interested in detailing torture or Sadomasochism in the 17m Featurette included here, Jess' Demons, and calls the film "bad" before detailing how he carefully planned the costuming, staging and background of the film.

The narrative follows two sisters, novice nuns Margaret (Britt Nichols) and Kathleen (Anne Libert), daughters of an executed witch who condemns Jeffreys and his corrupt consort Lady De Winter (Karin Field) in the opening scene (cf Mario Bava's MASK OF SATAN). They are arrested and tortured when Lady De Winter discovers their parentage and fears that they will carry out their mother's dying curse. Franco adds a scene where a demon (Satan?) appears in Margaret's convent room and rapes her. Or is it just her nightmare/fantasy?  Satan exists in the minds of the accusers as well as the condemned and the point of the film is that fear creates witches and people like Judge Jeffreys. This, of course, was also the theme of THE DEVILS and WITCHFINDER GENERAL, both of which were huge influences on Franco's film, which is more continental and idiosyncratic in tone. For instance, the early 1970s  prog/acid rock score of Jean-Bernard Raituex, added by sound editor Gerard Kikoine, is an inspired choice here, making the 17th Century mindset come alive in a late 20th Century context.

The performances of Karin Field and John Foster (Cihangir Gaffari, the Iranian-French producer-actor) as the tormentors are spot-on while Anne Libert and Britt Nichols effectively embody the desperate sensuality of the tormented sisters.  Franco's ever-active telezoom, controlled this time by Raul Artigot (director of the modern day witchcraft thriller THE WITCHES MOUNTAIN) ruthlessly examines the Portuguese architecture and landscapes, delivering striking and consistently engaging images. The religious paintings of the period, the torture chambers, the candlelit rooms are all impressively detailed. The scenes of torture are relatively brief compared to THE DEVILS or MARK OF THE DEVIL, and nowhere near as bloody. What Franco does concentrate on is eroticism, including the 3 minute plus self-pleasuring of Mother Superior (Doris Thomas) and the Satanic violation of Margaret. Witchcraft, sex and Inquisition are all part of the cycle of repression here, which Franco makes explicit in the last ambiguous shots..

The new Nucleus Films release finally delivers a  HD transfer of the longest, most complete 118m version along with the 88m English language "export" version (also in HD), which was the way I first saw the film, via UNICORN VIDEO. Much detailed restoration work has been done on the framing, images, soundtrack to correct all issues in previous releases. This simply looks and sounds great. It also restores an 8 second dissolve which shows the macabre dissolving of Lady De Winter's face into a skull after she has made forbidden love to Margaret, who is by that time the real thing, a willing daughter of Satan with supernatural powers. This image, seen in the above screenshot at the top of the review, was not in the previous Redemption Blu-ray presentation, but was in the 2004 XRATED KULT multi-disc set, which had its own problems otherwise. This Blu-ray is superior in every way to those previous editions, including the unfortunate 2003 "Director's Cut" in which Franco removed some of the rock style music and replaced it with rather inappropriate Daniel White cues from his previous unrelated films. That cut was also edited down, by Franco himself, to 101 minutes.

On top of all this the Nucleus release includes EXORCISING DEMONS, a new featurette with Stephen Thrower, who presents his own thoughts on the films, along with the American, French and German trailers, and German opening credits. One of the extras I really appreciate are the inclusion of some fascinating out-takes and trims (silent) of various scenes along with the (Clean) opening credits, which gives you the opportunity to enjoy Franco's wild camera work without the text credits to distract attention. There's also an extensive image gallery.

French with English subtitles; English Dub Versions; Color; 1972 1080p HD; 24fps, LPMC
Highly recommended.
(C) 2018 Robert Monell