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

02 February, 2018

THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z (1965) Redemption Blu-ray Review...

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.

The 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

29 January, 2018


DEVIL HUNTER (Clifford Brown, 1980)
 Credited to "Clifford Brown" this German, Spanish, French and Italian coproduction features Al Cliver [Pier luigi Conti], most familiar from Fulci's ZOMBIE, as a mercenary hired to bring back a starlet [Ursula Buchfellner] who has is being held for ransom on a tropical island. The only interesting performances are given by the intense, late Werner Pochath and Antonio de Cabo as nasty and increasingly frantic criminals. Conti/Cliver looks as bored as usual while German starlet Buchfellner looks almost anorexic and spends most of her screentime tied up nude to a tree getting abused by the criminals and a giant black cannibal. Watching Europeans like Eurocine regular Claude Boisson as the cannibal chief is a real hoot and the film is reliably unconvincing in just about every department. Note the equipment in the film producer's office; everything in this film looks cheap/bogus. Maybe that's the point.But it's Franco all the way in terms of out-of-focus shots both from the marauding cannibal's POV and other images, mismatched filmstock (the film was reportedly begun by BLIND DEAD auteur Amando De Ossorio), and editing between events which looks like it was meant to create ironic counterpoint (the paparazzi and the fashion show are intercut with the jungle pursuit of another nude female victim who is later tied to a tree, gutted and disgustingly cannibalized). Totally incomptent on the FX level, the cannibal is shown chewing on bloody meat scraps in extreme closeup, this will give no competition to the other Euro cannibal films of that era (cf CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST). It's pure exploitation for very desperate audiences. There is an interesting primitivist score by Franco himself (and Daniel J. White) with a delirious male vocal by Carloto Perla, heard in other 1980s Franco films. The stalking bug-eye giant nude cannibal has to be one of the most blatantly racist images in the history of horror cinema or a tip to the zombie in I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE or both.

The Video Asia DVD of this, coupled with Manuel Cano's VOODOO BLACK EXORCIST (1972), is possibly the worst digital presentation of a Franco film yet. The opening credits are removed and the film starts in the middle of the first scene. There is digital censoring of the copious male and female nudity of the original, some extreme gore is cut and the bottom third of the image is masked presumbly to hide the presence of Japanese subtitles, video quality is significantly inferior to the more complete old TRANSAMERICA VHS: THE MAN HUNTER. I believe that this was indeed sourced from a Japanese video or disc and booted over here. The somewhat racist cover artwork reads TERROR TALES FROM THE HOOD: SPECIAL EDITION VOLUME 4. BLACK VOODOO EXORCIST (sic) plus THE GRUESOME SHOCK OF: THE DEVIL HUNTER: A 1970s style Afro coiffured female poses in a collage with a glowing eyed gravedigger, green hands emerging from graves holding cigarettes [!], etc. The back features more dated jungle nonsense wigh some stills and amusing promo notes {"the long banned masterpiece...[!]"}. But for under 10 dollars it may be an outre collector's item for some. Of course, now in 2018, DEVIL HUNTER has been released on Blu-ray, in two different languages, on a double bill with Eurocine's CANNIBAL TERROR, which makes DEVIL HUNTER look like a masterpiece in comparison. It seems to improve with the years, and in HD, as raw entertainment cooked for the masses by Jess Franco in his "Clifford Brown" mode. (C) Robert Monell 2018 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED   

SNAKEWOMAN - Jess Franco, 2005, États Unis/Espagne
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. Carmen Montes is the title character, 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 a demented female Renfield who is kept in a private asylum by the mad Dr. Nostradamus (Antonio Mayans). The reporter has come to investigate the estate of the legendary actress-composer Oriana Balasz. The Snakewoman 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. 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 b&w photo of Marlene Dietrich and this may be another subterranean homage to the cinema of Von Sternberg. In fact, Franco's digital films look more Sternbergian as one contemplates them beyond mere attempts to stay working in his late period. 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 recent 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. (C) Robert Monell 2018 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

17 January, 2018

Stephen Thrower update of NUCLEUS Jess Franco Blu-rays

I copied this from Stephen's 1/17/18 post on FACEBOOK, which details some of the intensive restoration work done on these UK RB releases. I'll be reviewing these at some point and comparing them to the X RATED KULT, REDEMPTION and the US VHS releases.

An update by Stephen Thrower on the new Nucleus UK releases of two Jess Franco horror classics. I'll be reviewing these on my Franco blog in the future.
Stephen Thrower added 3 new photos.
THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN and THE DEMONS: two peak period Jess Franco movies that no serious fan should be without, now available from Nucleus Films (http://nucleusfilms.com/) and featuring on camera interviews with yours truly! I'd also say that these two films are well worth buying if you're curious about Franco but uncertain about where to start. Some will counsel caution and recommend the slightly more sober and conventional 1960s titles, but to hell with all that. Why not throw caution to the wind and grab these two - they'll give you a fantastic insight into his freewheeling style in the 1970s.
Nucleus majordomo Marc Morris has done a huge amount of extraordinary work restoring THE DEMONS in particular. Here's a list of some of the work he's done which viewers and reviewers may not otherwise be aware of:
1. Incorrect aspect ratios on numerous shots fixed throughout.
2. White line frames removed throughout.
3. The soundtrack was out of synch throughout (sometimes by as much as 6 seconds). Marc has fixed this.
4. The soundtrack was missing audio, and in these scenes had been badly looped. Marc has located audio from alternate sources and replaced the annoying looped audio with correct audio where possible.
5. There was some German dialogue on the French soundtrack, which Marc has replaced with the correct French dialogue.
7. There were numerous instances of actors speaking with no dialogue heard on the soundtrack - now fixed.
8. There were numerous instances of dialogue spoken, with the actors' mouths not moving - now fixed.
9. The dissolve from face freeze frame to skull was completely missing - Marc has added this back.
10. He has also created from scratch an English language master, which is believed to match the original English language export version.
11. German Trailer - On the Kino Blu-ray, this was incorrectly dubbed with random French audio from the movie. This has been replaced with the original German soundtrack.
12. Marc has also corrected the frame rates from 23.976 fps to 24 fps, so if you have exquisitely perfect musical pitch the soundtrack will now match your LP record of Jean-Michel Lorgère's Trafic Pop!
And finally, look out for the startling fx shot included in the French trailer for Erotic Rites of Frankenstein which as far as I can recall doesn't appear in any currently available version of the film. Face-ripping!

02 December, 2017


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

07 November, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

01 November, 2017

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

Coming on Blu-ray from REDEMPTION, February 2018.
If you look at the right of the cover image, above the Z, there's an image from a long elusive scene depicting the murder of one of three scientists by Miss Muerte (Estella Blain), the main character.
Image may contain: one or more people and text

It was apparently filmed but has never surfaced on any video or digital release version which I'm aware. It would be an interesting inclusion in this release, if it has indeed been located.

Image may contain: 2 people

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

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

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

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

Thanks to Daniel P. Simon for the above image.

(C) Robert Monell, 2017

31 October, 2017

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

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

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

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11 October, 2017

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

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

02 October, 2017

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

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

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

08 September, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

** Thanks to Kieth Crocker for additional information

(C) Robert Monell, 2017

02 September, 2017


Directed by Dan Simon (Jess Franco)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(C) Robert Monell, 2017