28 April, 2019

Conrado San Martin (1921-2019)

Conrado San Martín Prieto (20 February 1921 – 24 April 2019)


Above: Conrado San Martin as Agent 069, in Jess Franco's LA MUERTE SILBA UN BLUES.

You have to marvel at the 75 year length of actor Conrado San Martin's film career, with over 130 film roles. He had already been acting in Spanish films for over twenty years when he appeared in two significant Jess Franco films, GRITOS EN LA NOCHE (1962), as Inspector Tanner, and in Franco's stylish Europsy/Noir LA MUERTE SILBA UN BLUES/077-OPERATION SEXY (1964), as Agent 069/Jao.

He also appeared in other Europsy films (TARGET GOLDSEVEN ), as well as Spaghetti Westerns directed by Sergio Leone (ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST; DUCK, YOU SUCKER) and others (IN A COLT'S SHADOW). He also appeared later in his career in Jose Ramon Larraz's US shot horror film, THE EDGE OF THE AX (1988) and the Spanish remake of VAMPYRES (2015). A reliable actor, certainly better known in Spain than in North America. He's especially effective as the persistent inspector in GRITOS EN LA NOCHE and the manipulative villain in Sergio Leone's peplum spectacular THE COLOSSUS OF RHODES (1961).

(C) Robert Monell, 2019

25 April, 2019

LA NOCHE DE LOS SEXOS ABIERTOS (Jess Franco, 1983)


Release dateSpain Feb 23, 1983
Country  Spain
LanguageSpanish
Runtime94 min
Technical details2.35:1


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.

Club music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYSknGwtG3A

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 Franz Liszt composition.* 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.

When I mentioned how much I admired the style of this film to Jess Franco when I interviewed him he seemed very surprised that I had seen it and liked it. He thanked me and asked why I had like it so much. I simply said that it was a visually gorgeous film about very sordid happenings in a world of strip clubs filled with Eurospies and criminals. He termed it one of his "black films" (film noir) and thanked me again for singling it out. 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 typical 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. However, as this more personal early 1980s period and his recent digital era films show, Franco is at his best when he is allowed to be himself and do as he pleases.

LA NOCHE... opens with a deliriously filmed strip by Lina Romay, performed in the driver's seat of a classic 1950s 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. The idea of a treasure located by a linguistic/musical code also played a key role in the scenario of an earlier Franco Eurospy related effort, KISS ME MONSTER (1968).


There is no known official North American VHS/DVD/Blu-ray release of this film as of this writing. 

*Liebestraum  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KpOtuoHL45Y

Thanks to Bluray.com & Sir Alex Lindsay...


(C) Robert Monell, 2019

14 March, 2019

DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN: Dracula's first victim (uncovered version).

Below is a clothed image of actress Anne Libert in Jess Franco's DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN. Below that we see her nude in what appears to be the same shot in the same scene, where the character is startled after seeing Dracula (Howard Vernon) peering through her window, illuminated by a bolt of lightning during a thunderstorm. This could suggest there was indeed a nude version of the film, or at least a partially nude version, including some nude takes of scenes in which actors/actresses are fully clothed.

The unclothed image could also be an on-set photo intended for promoting the film in certain venues or shot as a test. It does appear to be a filmed terror scene intended for an alternate feature film version.. The firts image of Ms. Libert below is from the German Blu-ray, fully clothed, titled DIE NACHT DER OFFENEN SARGE; the onscreen title is seen in the screenshot below the two images of Ms. Libert. It's some further evidence that a more explicit, nude, version may have been shot, but either not released or had a very limited release and somehow disappeared. Two versions of its companion Jess Franco Frankenstein film, LA MALDICION DE FRANKENSTEIN, also featuring Dennis Price as Dr. Frankenstein and  Alberto Dalbes as his nemesis, were filmed shortly after DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN in 1972, and both are extant on a number of  video/digital/Blu-ray releases.The nude image appeared in the horror magazine CREEPY IMAGES, Vol. #10, May 2012 (p.44

When I interviewed Jess Franco he emphatically stated that the "erotic" version of LA MALDICION was one of his personal favorites, but not the clothed version, intended for Spanish censorship guidelines. He also detailed how he approached composing the Techniscope framing of DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN and how much he enjoyed using the 2.35:1 format. But he gave no indication that there was a nude version of it which wasn't released. It must be noted that DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN, LA FILLE DE DRACULA and LA MALDICION DE FRANKENSTEIN were intended as a thematic/stylistic trilogy inspired by the Universal monster rallies of the 1930s and 40s. LA FILLE DE DRACULA also contains numerous nude scenes. At this late date it's unlikely an uncovered/nude version of DCF will appear, but you never know. The German Colesseo Blu-ray stands as the most complete, properly framed release of DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSETIN.

Thanks to Francesco Cesari and Elena Aanle

*The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein.

(C) Robert Monell, 2019








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:

WE REMIND YOU THAT THIS MOVIE IS CLASSIFIED AS SUITABLE FOR ALL AGES – GEE!

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

WE WARN YOU THAT IF YOU CONTINUE SO, THIS FILM WILL BE AUTHORIZED ONLY FOR THOSE OVER FOURTEEN YEARS OLD – DAMN!!

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

YOU ARE GOING TOO FAR. WE'LL AUTHORIZE THE MOVIE FOR OVER 18 YEARS OLD ONLY.

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

LA NOCHE DE LOS SEXOS ABIERTOS (1981)




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

22 December, 2018

LA NOCHE DE LOS SEXOS ABIERTOS (1981)

Above: THE TASTE OF YOUR LIPS: a song written by Daniel White and Jess Franco, is used in Franco's LA NOCHE DE LOS SEXOS ABIERTOS, only the words are changed to "A taste of your sperm" repeated over and over during a nightclub striptease.

La Noche de los Sexos Abiertos
1981 90 MINUTES European Trash Cinema and others (U.S. import); King Home Video (Spain) DIRECTED BY JESS FRANCO WITH: ROBERT FOSTER, LINA ROMAY, EVA PALMER, ALBINO GRAZIANI, TONY SKIOS, JESS FRANCO  

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 profilic 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 porno level of sado-erotic intensity), exotic locales, and Lina Romay has never looked sexier.

C Robert Monell 2018

11 December, 2018

BOTAS NEGRAS, LATIGO DE CUERO (Jess Franco, 1982)

botas negras, latigo de cuero 1982 89 MINUTES European Trash Cinema (U.S. import) DIRECTED BY JESS FRANCO WITH: CANDY COSTER, ROBERT FOSTER, IDA BALIN, ALFREDO KIER, MIGUEL INFANTE/ Produced by Emilio Larraga-Golden Films Inteenacional --------------------------------------------------------------------  BLACK BOOTS AND LEATHER WHIPS: A Film Noir Story.

One of Franco's favorite characters, private investigator Al Pereira (Robert Foster, a.k.a Antonio Mayans) has got an addiction and he's got it bad. The kind where he just can't keep it in his pants no matter what. It's gotten him in trouble before, but this time it will be the end of him. Al is frantically packing, trying to get away from trouble with sex, women, money, and all the people who are after him. Then Candy walks in. She's bleach blonde, wide eyed, and those long legs under her trench-coat just can't wait to wrap themselves around their next victim, who happens to be Al. She wants him to pick up some dirty money stashed in a wrecked car in the local junkyard, that's all. But Al doesn't bargain on having to kill two thugs, just so he could get back to his seedy apartment, where Candy waits with her legs spread wide. He doesn't bargain for the strip-club and Candy's male friend, who likes to wear make-up.


 Then there was the phony psychic and her friends, who like to strip and play S&M games with black boots and leather whips. When they make Al strip at the party and start beating him, he really loses it and begins shooting people. He doesn't bargain for that, either. So, running from the police and the mob he drives to end of a bayou, where he makes love to Candy one last time. As the seagulls reel overhead, stirred up by Candy's horny cries, she pulls the pistol out of her trenchcoat pocket (she was nude underneath) and pumps a few slugs into Al's side. "Puta" is the only thing he can get out as he falls to his knees, pants still around his ankles. Death was coming to the party, and he is the guest of honor. Like Robert Mitchum in OUT OF THE PAST he plays the sap right to the end. The burning, wet feeling in his side had finally made the lump of flesh between his legs go soft. He always called the nude playmate taped to his wall, "Mi Madre". But where was she?  It was all too much of a good thing. The bitch of it all was that Candy, who was long gone, hadn't gotten him, the mob hadn't gotten him, the cops hadn't gotten him. He got himself.

 BLACKS BOOTS AND LEATHERS WHIPS is the blackest panel of Franco's series of films about eternal fall guy Al Pereira. It's a film noir rendered in the saturated oranges, lemons and aquas of the glittery, trashy Costa del Sol. As embodied by Mayans (in one of his most dead-on performances for Franco), Al is a frantic, at times charming and boyish, womanizer who has a deep seated problem with obsession and compulsion. Romay's femme fatale is lush, slutty sexuality with an icy edge, barely perceptible and totally invisible to Al. This time around, Al might be a character out of Jim Thompson, and the his grim finale is inevitable for a man whose thinking capacity never rises above his waist. Daniel White's urgent score is perfectly appropriate for this rush-toward-death cautionary tale. One thinks of Renoir's 1930s noir LES CHIENNE, the bitch gets her man, all right.  Franco and Juan Cozar's citron color scheme has never seemed quite as ironic and becomes a post-modern Costa del Sol eqivalent of those liquid black nights and mean streets of Robert Siodmak and Jacques Tourneur.

(C) Robert Monell

07 December, 2018

KISS AND KILL (a.k.a THE BLOOD OF FU MANCHU) Jess Franco, 1968

I actually prefer this version of Jess Franco's THE BLOOD OF FU MANCHU (FU MANCHU Y EL BESO DE LA MUERTE), which moves with dispatch and doesn't seem to sag in the middle, as does the uncut, longer version. I also believe the new opening of this version (which appears later in some other versions) was borrowed, consciously or unconsciously, by RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK for the opening scene in that mega-hit.

This American Video 1988 VHS lists a 91 minute runtime on the back cover  (it's actually shorter than THE BLOOD OF FU MANCHU version and plays much more efficiently with a new opening scene featuring Gotz George leading an expedition toward Fu Manchu's hidden jungle city, which actually looks more like a large cave. Credited to Peter Welbeck, producer Harry Alan Towers, this first Franco-Towers collaboration is somewhat more coherent, but less colorful than the Franco-Towers THE CASTLE OF FU MANCHU (1969).

The back copy on the Kiss and Kill VHS (Rated PG) reads like a promo for a 1970s kung fu epic: " The great Christopher Lee explodes in this kung-fu classic! Playing a Japanese (?!) mercenary, he's intent on righting  the evils that roam the land [actually, he's playing the Chinese super villain Fu Manchu!] He's in top form, fighting off his enemies with lots of sizzling high energy, high-kickin' action! As one of the most exciting films of its genre, KISS AND KILL will keep you on the edge of your seat!" But even trimmed by 10 or so minutes it's somewhat of a slog and won't keep anyone on the edge of their seat. And there is no high kicking kung fu fighting in any version which I've seen.
There's also a US release of this film titled AGAINST ALL ODDS, which is a different edit of BLOOD OF FU MANCHU. Released in the US theatrically in September 1969.

(C) Robert Monell

23 November, 2018

LA TUMBA DE LOS MUERTOS VIVIENTES (1981) Jess Franco's lost Zombie epic...

If you are a serious fan of the films of Jess Franco, or a zombie movie completest, it's likely you have seen the director's 1981 Nazi zombie effort, OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES/L'ABIME DES MORTS-VIVANTS, which is out on Blu-ray from REDEMPTION FILMS. It is less likely you have seen the notably superior Spanish version of the same film, LA TUMBA DE LOS MUERTOS VIVIENTES.

 
Reviewed by Robert Monell (C) 2108
(a.k.a. L'ABÎME DES MORTS-VIVANTS)

Robert Blabert (Manuel Gelinl) and his friends use their holidays to
find a treasure left by Rommel's soldiers in North Africa, and to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of Robert's father. On their way, they run into a man who is also looking for the treasure, was digging around for the treasure and awakened its guards, a group of flesh-eating zombies.

This is a long-lost Spanish-language Franco movie, parts of which were used to create the Nazi-zombie quickie known as OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES (a.k.a. BLOODUCKING NAZI ZOMBIES). OASIS was completed and released by Eurocine magnate Marius Lesoeur (under the name A. M. Frank). Franco's version recently resurfaced on Spanish television.

Though LA TUMBA DE LOS MUERTOS VIVIENTS is a completely different film from OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES, it uses the same basic story line. Adding to the confusion, Franco's original production company shot French and Spanish versions simultaneously. Pieces of the French version were subsequently used in other Eurocine movies, of which OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES is the most well-known. LA TUMBA incorporates World War II battle scenes from some Italian productions, of which only Alfredo Rizzo's I GIARDINI DEl DIAVOLO (1971) has been identified.

The checkered history of LA TUMBA is more interesting that the movie itself, although it is obviously an essential Franco collector's item. It looks and plays a lot better than OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES, mostly because Juan Soler Cozar's atmospheric cinematography has been retained. The actors are more interesting, too -- namely Eduardo Fajardo, an experienced character actor who appeared in many Italian westerns and thrillers (DJANGO, etc), and Lina Romay, looking as sensual as ever and eventually falling victim to the cannibal Nazis.

The superior performances of Fajardo and Romay (compared to the actors who play the same roles in the French version), along with Franco's sharper
editing, help this version play a lot smoother than the relentlessly schlocky OASIS. Also interesting are the effectively tilted camera angles used during the zombie attacks (which are not used in the OASIS version), as well as gorgeous long shots of the Canary Island desert locations. Best of all is the delirious, eerie score by Pablo Villa (Daniel White and Jess Franco), which is absent from the other versions and adds a sense of menace which is so obviously lacking in OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES.


Daniel White is credited with the score for OASIS, although with different, more conventional cues. An all region HD release of LA TUMBA.... would be welcome. It should be noted that Franco also worked on another Nazi zombie project for Eurocine, ZOMBIE LAKE (1980). The scenario of that film has some interesting parallels with Franco's 1964 EL SECRETO DEL DR. ORLOFF. But Franco dropped out of that project and Jean Rollin ended up handling the direction. Franco remains uncredited on the finished film.
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14 November, 2018

Congratulations to Dr. Alex Mendibil

Congratulations to my friend, colleague, creator of the EL FRANCONOMICON Facebook group and blog, Alex Mendibil, who has been award a PhD by Madrid University for his Doctoral thesis on the cinema of Jess Franco.


This is the first thesis on this topic warded a doctorate in Spain. Alex is a true world class expert on the alternate reality which is the world of Jess Franco. 

Robert Monell, 11/12/18

11 October, 2018

SNAKEWOMAN - Jess Franco, 2005, États Unis/Espagne; REVIEW

SNAKEWOMAN - Jess Franco, 2005, États Unis/Espagne
When I first viewed SNAKEWOMAN I immediately  thought to myself  "Jess Franco doesn't make films anymore, he makes video, but the results are still, even in glossy HI-DEF, 100% Jess Franco."  I spoke to Jess during the conception of this film and he was quite excited about attempting an updating of VAMPYROS LESBOS (1970), which this in essence is, but it's also more than that.  It's his digital era Image result for snakewoman 2005

compilation of images, characters, themes which are infused with his fascination for serpentine women, especially those females involved in the performance arts, including erotic performances, stripping, S&M shows, exotic dancing of all kinds. This goes all the way back to such erotic stage performances in LABIOS ROJOS, GRITOS EN LA NOCHE, EL SECRETO DEL DR. ORLOF, MISS MUERTE, NECRONOMICON, VAMPYROS LESBOS, VENUS IN FURS and many more.  In at least one related film, Eurocine's THE GOLDEN CAGE (1975), Franco was hired to direct erotic shows seen in a nightclub in which the action, a lurid crime scenario involving white slavery and drug trafficking, unfolds. It's hardly a "Jess Franco film" but the various strip tease numbers bear his mark. It's difficult not to recall Estella Blain and Soledad Miranda slithering across the stages in MISS MUERTE/THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z (1965) and VAMPYROS LESBOS when watching the moves of Carmen Montes nearly 40 years later. 
Then, of course, there are the literal, venom-infused snake women of Fu Manchu in Franco's Harry Alan Towers produced BLOOD OF FU MANCHU (1968). One could go all the back to the serpent and Eve in the Garden of Eden in the Old Testament to find similar characters, images and themes of sex, guilt and sin. And, in some regards, Jess Franco, although once condemned by the Vatican as a "dangerous" filmmaker for Catholics (along with the sublime Spanish rebel, Luis Bunuel!), can be considered a poet of rogue-Catholicism. An artist from a largely Catholic culture who was more at home in staging black masses than in the kind held on Sunday mornings.

Carmen Montes is the title character in SNAKEWOMAN, a female vampire who wears nothing but a long red lined black cape and a tatoo of a double headed python which curls around her torso. She dominates a netherworld {Malaga, Spain} where "walk-ins" appear and disappear as suddenly as her attacks. Her most recent victim is a female reporter (FATA MORGANA), the Jonathan Harker character, and Christie Levin is the demented female Renfield who is kept in a private asylum by the mad Dr. Nostradamus (Antonio Mayans). The reporter has come to invesitage the estate of the legendary actress-composer Oriana Balasz. The Snake woman may be her descendant or her continuation. It begins and ends and is often interrupted by telezooms onto flocks of tropical birds which recall the kites in VAMPYROS LESBOS. The music is spectral but will not enter the imagination in the same way as the ground breaking score for that 1970 cult classic. Count Dracula is still the structuring absence here, though, as he was in VAMPYROS LESBOS. 


Carmen Montes does evoke the late, great Soledad Miranda and the film is filled with captivating images. Franco's director credit appears over an old black and white photo of Marlene Dietrich. This may be another subterranean hommage to the cinema of Von Sternberg, a certain influence on the wildly hermetic eroticism which is at the core of Franco's best and most personal films.  There are a lot of lesbian interludes (Franco told me he wanted to call it VAMPIRE INTERLUDE) but not as many as in some of his digital era work and they don't smother the film. The acting is above average and it's worth seeing on the SRS DVD where it is coupled with DR. WONG'S VIRTUAL HELL and some still galleries. Look, or hope, for a future HD release. 

 (c) Robert Monell 2018 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

02 October, 2018

EXORCISM (1974)

EXORCISM 1974: SYNAPSE 2001/94m/First ever commentary by Jess Franco, w Kevin Collins/REDEMPTION Blu-ray 2012/97m Extended version. Video Search of Miami, European Trash Cinema, 93m (U.S. imports) DIRECTED BY J.P. JOHNSON ("JESS FRANCO ") WITH: LINA ROMAY, "JESS FRANK" (JESS FRANCO), PIERRE TAYLOU, "LYNN MONTEIL" (NADINE PASCAL), MONICA SWINN, OLIVIER MATHOT, ROGER GERMANES, CLAUDE SENDRON, RICHARD DeCONNICK, CLAUDE BOISSON, DANIEL J. WHITE, CHRISTINE CHIREIX, DAVID ATTA, FRANCE NICOLAS, SAM MAREE, CAROLE RIVERE, PHILLIPPE LEBRUN, RAMON ARDID, ALBERT LERNER, CATHERINE LAFERRIERE, FRANCOISE GOUSSARD.
This outrageous project exists in so many variants, at so many different running times it would be impossible to view them all (since some are not even available on home video) much less detail the differences. Of the versions now available on tape, the softest is undoubtedly the cut Wizard Video version, DEMONIAC, released in the late 1980s. A running time of 87 minutes is listed on the Wizard video box (it's actually about 79 minutes), which also sports stills of scenes not included in this particular cut. They released a recut version of LA SADIQUE DE NOTRE-DAME a 1979 Spanish-French co-production that mixes footage from Franco's 1974 EXORCISME ET MESSES NOIRES and scenes shot five years later on Parisian locations.


This film has a soft-core sex and violence, English-language variant, titled EXORCISM, which was the film which started it all. The 1975 hardcore version of this film, retitled SEXORCISME, can be had in two slightly different cuts available from U.S. mail order companies. These include an 71-minute English-subtitled version, taken from a French-language video; and a longer 82-minute variation which also has a slightly different scene arrangement. The latter is available in French language only. Both of these version drop much narrative material and several major characters to include several lengthy and over-the-top XXX sequences, some of which show Franco himself participating in hardcore action! The gory, English-language EXORCISM was unavailable for many years and in some ways it is the most disturbing of all the versions. The protagonist, Mathis Vogel/Laforgue (Franco), is a sexually twisted, religion-obsessed psychopath who murders Paris women.

The uncut film represents Franco's most severe vision of madness and evil. It's also one of his most personal, given that the director himself plays the main character. The thematic questions are, what constitutes madness and evil? Though these are familiar themes in Franco's works, the director never posed them so powerfully as here. The XXX versions were desperate attempts to make an unpleasant film more commercial, at least on the adult movie market, and the hardcore situations only enhance the film's sense of sexual delirium and blasphemy. The fact that all these version have scenes which later found their way into the 1979 remake SADIST OF NOTRE DAME indicates that Franco was attempting to more bucks out of burnt-out material. The hardcore versions look so cheap and shoddy, though, that one guesses they had difficulty even on the "money-back guaranteed" sex circuit of the mid 70s, which probably explains why he recycled the scenes.

 The English language EXORCISM anticipates in tone and style such slasher fare as HENRY PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER and SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, and Franco's character is in some ways even more sinister than Hannibal Lector. However, EXORCISM and the later SADIST OF NOTRE DAME are very somber. The gore scenes are repugnant, and include the torturing of both Carole Riviere and Lina Romay with a knife. As they are being cut up, the killer chants sections of the Roman Catholic mass in Latin. The most grotesque addition is a scene which shows him murdering The Countess (France Nicholas) on a hotel bed. This is accomplished by shots of him slashing her open and ripping out some of her internal organs. Also, this version also makes clear the Black Masses Vogel witnesses are staged events, the human "sacrifices" are not harmed but are willing participants, the knives they are "stabbed" with have retractable blades, and the blood is fake. As these explanatory scenes are missing from all other versions, Vogel's mania and the Satanist's agenda are a lot clearer -- Vogel is a deluded fanatic and the Satanists are just harmless hedonists, even though their dedication to evil is total.

 Another aspect this version restores is a conversation between the various police inspectors and an Interpol investigator, in which Vogel's murders are linked to rituals from the Inquisition. Connect this with Vogel's description of himself in SADIST OF NOTRE DAME as an agent of the Inquisition. EXORCISM has the same story line as all the other versions, minus the 1979 footage of Vogel repeated visiting the Notre-Dame cathedral, and confessing his murders to a priest who was a friend in the seminary that Vogel left. Without these scenes, EXORCISM and the hardcore SEXORCIMES are much more nihilistic. Vogel seems much more monstrous and, ironically, slightly more sympathetic. Some of Vogel's background and motives are not explained, which colors him as a mysterious, almost abstract, icon of insanity. He is insane, but perhaps not evil in the same sense as the Satanists, who are upper-middle class dilettantes and choose evil as a way of life. Vogel's self-proclaimed holy war upon them and the loose women of Paris is his philosophical statement on the amorality of the modern world, but he sees his sick actions as totally moral. EXORCISM and its many variants are not conventionally well-made films. The minimalist visual style, under-lit cinematography, ragged editing (exacerbated by the XXX inserts of some versions), and painfully slow pacing contribute to a viewing experience which is hard on the viewer's eyes and patience. Perhaps this reaction is precisely what Franco was looking for, as the theme of the film is the nature of "viewing." Vogel sees the sadomasochistic rituals, which he misinterprets, and we are the viewers of Franco's sado-thriller.

Where does Franco's responsibility end and ours start? Sadism and pornography were not created by Jess Franco. They have been constant throughout the human and Art history. EXORCISM's opening credits are printed over an eerie, satanic S&M ritual (missing from SADIST OF NOTRE DAME and DEMONIAC), in which a nude Lina Romay, writhing and bound to a martyr's cross, is whipped, caressed, and then smeared with the fresh blood of a beheaded dove (we actually see this appalling animal torture as the credit "Directed by J.P. Johnson" appears onscreen). The camera obsessively follows the movement of a leather-clad torturer (Lynn Monteil), as the unholy and gothic atmosphere intensifies with Andre Benichou's funereal, haunting score (the SADIST OF NOTRE DAME version was re-scored by Franco regular Daniel J. White). Seen in its uncut form, this scene echoes the sado performance rituals which open one of Franco's best earlier works, NECRONOMICON (1967). It is also instructive to note that Vogel's occupation, a writer. His sadomasochistic tales are actually first-hand accounts of his own murders. They are published by "The Dagger and Garter," a sleazy magazine operated by one of the organizers of the satanic masses. Vogel may be a demented visionary, but the Satanists are shown as seemingly normal citizens who are able to hide their perverted activities from the authorities, something Vogel cannot do. The publishing offices and the rococo castle in which the orgies are held are facades to fool the outside world. Franco expresses this theme of deceptive appearances by the way he shoots these locations, panning and zooming into the architectural details whose aesthetic qualities ironically contrast with the blood orgies executed within. These visual tidbits may also underscore the ancient or Medieval nature of Vogel's obsessions. The casting of beady-eyed Pierre Taylou and Lina Romay, as the arrogant publisher and his airhead secretary, works in perfect contrast to Franco's performance as the seedy Vogel. Taylou in his tacky mid-70s leisure suit and Romay in her then-fashionable maxi-coat represent common complacency and hypocrisy. In contrast, Vogel appears at least honest about his crusade. "One must know evil in order to fight it" he tells them. This battle between Vogel's mania and the cult's more socially acceptable depravity is the film's main trumpet call.

 The endings of EXORCISM and SADIST OF NOTRE DAME are quite different. In EXORCISM, Taylou jumps into the pursuing police car after Vogel has murdered a cult member (an interesting touch reminding one of Fritz Lang's M, in which the police and the underworld both pursue a killer). In SADIST OF NOTRE DAME, the chase is abruptly cut off when Vogel is taken into custody at Notre-Dame. In EXORCISM, Vogel is tracked to his suburban house where the lead inspector takes him out with a DIRTY HARRY-style shot that just misses Lina Romay, who is being held hostage. As Vogel falls dead into the front seat of his car, a dog howls mournfully in the distance. This effective touch can only be heard in the French-language version. The film ends as the camera quickly pans up to the roof of Vogel's house as the police absurdly speed away, leaving the dead Vogel and his traumatized hostage unattended! Even with all these rough edges, EXORCISM and its many variants haunt the memory as an uncompromising version into the center of madness and depravity. Franco's own performance here is brave and affecting, the total opposite of his usual tongue-in-check cameo appearances in his own movies. The voyeuristic scenes where he spies on Romay and her lesbian lover are especially chilling, due to the subdued way Franco moves his eyes and body as he peers through the window. Although he doesn't utter a word, his emotions are clear. The fact that Franco's acting here is superior to the direction indicates that the role itself was more important to him the final resulting film. Completest collectors will probably want all these alternate versions and make up their own mind about which is the most effective as both a psycho-sexual thriller and self-reflexive display which would be further repurposed in the 1980 EL SADICO DE NOTRE DAME. (C) 1998-2018 Robert Monell

28 September, 2018

Tearful Surrender kickstarter

Cassandra's film project is a homage to the films of Jean Rollin and Jess Franco!

Only 3 days left to get in on the action & help support my project which features a strong/sexy/badass/talented (mainly female) cast, an original horror story with many conceptual layers to dig your teeth into, a strong visual aesthetic/art direction for the film, a beautiful atmospheric set/location, elaborate special fx/practical effects planned, and so much more! Please take a look at the project & donate today! Support underground film!
KICKSTARTER.COM
Tearful Surrender is a gothic horror tale about a Sea Siren & her muses from the underworld who must feast on human souls to survive!