16 February, 2021

CASTLE OF THE CREEPING FLESH (Adrian Hoven, 1968) Blu-ray Review

Castle of the Creeping Flesh-Im Schloß der blutigen Begierde | Appointment with Lust |  Directed by Adrian Hoven.  1968-84m Severin Films  

It's hunting season in the Austrian mountains where the rich and bored attend an endless array of wild parties held in various Gothic castles.  A particularly rowdy party is unfolding in the sprawling domain of the decadent Baron Brack (Michel Lemoine), who leaves the castle early with an attractive female guest. At his private villa the drunken Baron rapes the guest, who just happens to be the second victim of a sexual attack which recently occurred in the woods nearby. The first victim was the daughter of the widely feared Earl of Saxon (Howard Vernon), who has released a bear into the woods to hunt down the rapist. When it is revealed that the same person is responsible for the crimes a cycle of brutal revenge takes place which may be the result of a 300 year old curse on the Barony.   For a film which was obviously made as a light entertainment for adventurous moviegoers of the late 1960s, this film has a cruelly complicated plot which constantly reminds us that the wealthy also have their problems. It all builds up to the kind of WTF ending which 1960s tales of the uncanny thrive upon. I first saw this film on video in the early 1990s when I found out that Jess Franco had some kind of involvement. He's listed as an uncredited writer on the IMDB, but back then I had first read about it in OBSESSION: THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO, only to be made aware that it wasn't really a Franco film. It was directed by Austrian director, producer, singer Adrian Hoven, who makes ample use of the Austrian locations and the wonderfully atmospheric Castle Kreuzenstein.   

I enjoyed watching the collection of odd trailers, alternate credit sequences and featurettes in the loaded BONUS features folder of the new SEVERIN HD release of this 1968 Satansbraten of cursed castles, decadence, rape, insanity, open heart surgery, murder, wild animal attacks, and Gothic sleaze. OBSESSION: THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO mentions in the film's review, "According to Howard Vernon...this film...was based on an original script or idea by Jesus Franco."*  Indeed, it's very much in the demented Franco wheelhouse and features the main cast and composer from his marvelous SUCCUBUS/NECRONOMICON (1967). It's certainly a welcome uncut restoration from the original German negative of a unique oddity which might make a good party film in the 21st Century.  It looks terrific in HD, with rich colors and sharp definition.  German and English language options are available.  Also included are two interviews with the widow and son of Hoven, conducted by Uwe Huber, they discuss this film and his Mark of the Devil films. 

 This was released in North America in a crudely dubbed, cut down edit on VHS, under the title CASTLE OF THE CREEPING FLESH, in the late 1980s.  Howard Vernon, Michel Lemoine and his then-wife Janine Reyaud are featured. They were all in SUCCUBUS, directed by Jess Franco and co-produced by the same company, Hoven's Aquila Films.

My interest was piqued since Franco reportedly came up with the original treatment (written on a bar napkin?) for this German exploitation, directed by producer Hoven himself under his Percy G. Parker beard. On paper it must have seemed a sure bet, one of those Grindhouse-bound surveys of Euro-decadence which were so popular, post LA DOLCE VITA, in the 1960s. The budget conscious Hoven managed to get four feature films out of the same cast, including future director Michel Lemoine (SEVEN WOMEN FOR SATAN), who were also in the trio of Franco-directed Aquila films (including KISS ME, MONSTER and SADISTEROTICA/TWO UNDERCOVER ANGELS). Lemoine here plays the wild-eyed rapist who gets the aforementioned rough justice at the hands of the Earl of Saxon. He's almost a figure out of a Sade novel. I think Franco may have given the idea for this to Hoven as a thank you for bankrolling and letting him direct NECROMONICON just the way he wanted.

Actor-producer-singer Adrian Hoven, would go on appear in several Rainer Werner Fassbinder films (WORLD ON A WIRE, FOX AND HIS FRIENDS) in the 1970s and produced with the infamous MARK OF THE DEVIL films, appearing in and directing the second installment, WITCHES (1972). He died in 1981, at the age of 58.

IM SCHLOSS DER BLUTIGEN BEGIERDE is fun, but nowhere near as layered or unique as a Jess Franco film. It's kind of a Gothic-Eurotrash fantasia which unfolds in the late 1960s and the 17th Century, far from the madding crowd. Howard Vernon holds the show together, and it's always good to have Janine Reynaud on hand as a party girl. In any case, enjoy this witches brew. 

(C) Robert Monell, 2021

26 January, 2021

FLORES DE PERVERSION (2005)

The Divine Marquis... *FLORES DE PERVERSION is based on the posthumous Sade text "Augustine de villeblanche, ou le stratageme de l'amour: HISTORIETTES: CONTES ET FABLIAUS de Donatien-Alphonse-Francois, marquis de Sade, publies pour la premiere fois sur les manuscrits autographs inedits par Maurice Heine. A Paris, pour les members de la Societe du Roman Philosophique, 1926. 4to , 340 pages. 

A Manacoa Film Production Filmed in Malaga, Spain PAL R2 X-Rated-Kult DVD Spanish & German language options with removable English subtitles. Photo Gallery Original Trailer X-Rated Kult Trailers.  

 Mme Villeblanche (Lina Romay) operates an upscale prostitution empire located in a office tower somewhere in Spain. She spends most of her days frolicking in bed with her assistant (Rachael Sheppard), occasionally interrupted by business calls on her cellphone. Two new hookers are hired to lure clients into the torture chambers of Mme... a one-way trip for the customers. Jess Franco has returned to Sade again and again since JUSTINE in 1968. That adaptation of Sade's infamous 1791 novel was scripted by producer Harry Alan Towers, this 21st Century shot-on-Hi-Def direct-to-DVD item, along with its 2005 [onscreen (C) 2003] sister project FLORES DE PASION, has yet to make it to R1 Blu ray. Just as he brought Sade into the 20th Century with works like EUGENIE DE SADE (1970), PLAISIR A TROIS (1973) and EUGENIE...THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION (1970), he's now brought him into the early 21st Century, an age of cellphones, shaved pubic hair and the Internet. This is a situational rather than "plot" film, with Fata Morgana, Carmen Montes acting out bondage, whipping, castration scenarios which climax with sexual cannibalism under the direction of Franco's Princess of Eroticism, Lina Romay. 

This isn't a "nice" movie; approach with caution. Once again, it's all shot in anonymous apartments, hotel rooms and what looks like a brick-walled parking garage... minimalist indoor settings in which the "perverted" tableau unfold. The pubic shaving, lesbian groping and whippings go on and on until "duration" becomes just a term. Nothing often happens in Jess Franco films. That's not a typo. There's no fresh air in this perverse, enclosed universe. Sunlight is replaced by onscreen production lamps, pink, green, yellow electronica and colorized digital noise. We don't even have the comfort of continuous full color, sometimes the image turns b&w, with blood-red highlights. 

 

A nude man is crucified upside down and another (Ezequiel Cohen) is flayed, then castrated before his [obviously fake] genitalia are eaten by the hungry whores of the Mme... It's an artificial paradise, a vivid, unapologetic alternate reality presented for your consideration.... the Divine Marquis would be proud. Obsessively interactive with the ladies teasing the camera lens and the viewer beyond while the Franco favorite "Life is Shit" (THE MIDNIGHT PARTY) and other familiar JF tunes are heard on the soundtrack as if caught in a maddening loop. Will the future be a world without men, just languid, intelligent women who control finances and themselves and enjoy using sex as power? Is Jess wanting us to squirm amidst the sexual terrors? It's disturbing, amusing, boring, fascinating all at the same time. I changed my mind about it. You might hate it. You might, like myself, be unnerved to watch our blissful daughters of Sappho, their faces stained with a jet of the recently castrated victim's blood, look into the camera with an evil smile and assert, "And you...will be next." Jess really knows how to hurt a guy. And one can almost see his wicked smile superimposed over the unsavory doings. You get the distinct impression that Franco wants you to take it personally and will break up laughing when you do. It will be knowing, conspiratorial laughter. As I stated on my FACEBOOK homepage, I didn't enjoy it on first viewing. But seeing it again, well... let's just say it takes repeat viewings, if you can take it. ... and that's a BIG if! Jess Franco, you're beautiful, piss me off any time you want. I love it.... Thanks to Francesco Cesari for suggesting I might want to think twice.... Thanks to Eric Cotenas for helping me see the R2 German Kult DVD. Watch it in Spanish with English subs if you can get it. A German language track is also available. I wonder what my reaction will be to FLORES DE PASION? 

(C) Robert Monell, 2009

05 January, 2021

AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO (1973, Jesus Franco)

(a.k.a. THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MIRROR; LE MIRIOR OBSCÈNE; LO SPECCHIO DEL PLACERE)

AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO is the Spanish-language version of this twisted psychological thriller, which also exists in a more explicit French-language version.

Though the production looks rushed and is somewhat incoherent, it is one of the busy director's most effective and moving examinations of mental illness, as well as the possible connection between insanity and the world of the occult.

Ana (Emma Cohen) is a musically talented but repressed woman who, though in her twenties, still lives with her parents. The day Ana announces her engagement, her overprotective father (Howard Vernon) suddenly and inexplicably commits suicide. Ana leaves home to forget the tragedy and finds companionship and work in a jazz band in Lisbon.

After awhile, she experiences disturbing visions of her father's death. Also, she hears his voice calling her from a haunted mirror that appears in her room. Inside this strange mirror-world, she encounters several men trying to win her affections. She brutally murders them at her dead father's command.

Coming back to reality, she attempts suicide but is saved at the last moment. Despite a therapeutic rest period, her psychosis persist and she commits more murders. Finally, there is a deadly supernatural reckoning when the magic mirror is destroyed.



This unique addition to the Franco canon keeps the viewer emotionally engaged in Ana's tragedy, mostly due to Cohen's excellent performance. Thankfully, the film lacks the clinical, ultra-close-up quality that sometimes keeps the viewer at arm's-length in some of Franco's other thrillers.

Most fascinating is how Franco relates Ana's problem to religion, visually correlated by repeated shots of churches, religious statues, and evocative paintings. Ana's father is shown to be a devout Catholic who uses
faith to hide from his darker impulses. The plot's mystery is never really solved, but a final "vision" in the magical mirror suggests a possible explanation.

In addition, Franco populates the movie with a lot of Freudian imagery (cf. Hitchcock's SPELLBOUND), some of it bordering on the surreal: one almost subliminal image (in the French version) shows a goldfish transforming into a knife that Ana uses on one of her victim. The horrifying and repeated image of the father's corpse leads Ana again and again into the realm of madness and death. This same image also appears in Franco's VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD, another study of a family tragedy.

Vernon is chilling in his role as the ambiguous father. Unfortunately, much of his performance is lost in the French version in favor of added erotic scenes featuring Lina Romay and Alice Arno.

The Spanish version also has a haunting music theme, which is replayed at different tempos, tracking the downward spiral of Ana's madness. The island of Madeira provided a breathtaking location for this nightmarish story, as it also did for THE BARE BREASTED COUNTESS, filmed
in the same year. Ana's personal mirror world, the reality on the other side of the mirror, is filled with both psychological and occult symbols. A fish out of water becomes a knife with which Ana will murder his current suitor. Jacques Lacan's theoretical STATE DU MIRIOR (Mirror Phase/State) comes to mind. Ana's father has a perhaps unconscious sexual obsession with his daughter, which is also glimpsed in the mirror phase. His spirit has seemed to have psychologically or supernaturally embedded itself in her subconscious, and it wants her to kill her lovers, which are competitors for the dead man's desperate, evil spirit. Or is it all due to Ana's disturbed emotional state, which is immersing her into violent fantasies?

Above: The specter of Luis Bunuel haunts AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO>

The final image of Ana in her wedding gown brings up visual memory of the title character in Luis Bunuel's macabre 1961 dark satire VIRIDIANA in her bridal gown which she has put on to cater to the perverse desires of her hypocritical guardian. In the case of the Bunuel film the older guardian of the heroine also hangs himself when he is about to lose control of the object of desire. When I mentioned this to Jess Franco when I interviewed him he denied any direct influence, adding "he [Bunuel] was free; I was not." Which was technically true, Bunuel was given carte blanche by the Spanish censor and Francisco Franco government. It was only when they saw the finished film that they moved to withdraw and ban the film in Spain for years. Franco, who claimed to just be a director of a "commercial project" had no such guarantee. 

Seen in it's uncut version, the film has a more focused emphasis on Ana's musical career and several sidebars featuring the more normal aspects of her daily life. This result in making her final fate more tragic.

al otro lado del espejo

1973 80 Minutes Q Video (Spain)/95 Minutes DVD (France). Director: Jesus Franco.
Cast: Emma Cohen, Howard Vernon, Robert Woods, Ramiro Oliveros, Waldemar Wohlfahrt,, Jess Franco, Philippe Lemaire, Franciose Brion, Alice Arno,Adela Tauler, Carmen Carbonnel< . Music: Adolfo Waitzman. Songs: Roger Sarbib. Produced by Robert De Nesle-CFFP-Paris,
Jose Manuel Herero Producciones Orfeo S.A. Madrid. DP: Antonio Milan. Editor: Gerard Kikone, Mercedes Alonso. Asst. dir: Ana Maria Settimo de Esteva. Art dir: Luis Vasquez. Stills: Mario Lippert (Howard Vernon), Francesca Da Silva.   

The additional cast in the French version: Lina Romay, Monique Delaunay, Roman Ardid. 

Note: The Andre Benichou music for the French version is downbeat and largo tempo compared to the jaunty opening piano theme of the Spanish version. The Gerard Brissaud cinematography in the additional French scenes lacks the style and polish of the Spanish shot scenes.  

 

(C) Robert Monell 2021

23 December, 2020

JULIETTE DE SADE (Warren Kiefer, 1969) Jess Franco and Beyond.....

Vintage poster for the Italian release version of JULIETTE DE SADE


Recently I had a chance to finally see Warren Kiefer's obscure, shot-in-Italy feature film, JULIETTE DE SADE (1969).*  Kiefer (1929-1995) was an American novelist, screenwriter and director who managed to make four largely forgotten films during the 1960s. It's a modern take on the writings and philosophy of the Marquis de Sade which unfolds in 1969, in the midst of the era of peace, love, Woodstock, hippies, Manson and the emergence of an international counter culture. In cinema it was the era of breaking sexual boundaries, ultra-violence on the big screen (Sam Peckinpah's THE WILD BUNCH was also released in 1969), and exploring once forbidden subjects. JULIETTE DE SADE was not the only Sade film released in 1969. There was Jess Franco's big-budget (for him) JUSTINE AND JULIETTE, produced by Harry Alan Towers and  American International's biopic, DE SADE, featuring Kier Dullea in the title role. The 1967 Peter Brook film of the play MARAT/SADE, in which Sade himself was a character putting on a historical drama, had already refreshed the memory of Sade in the pop culture of that decade. It was to be expected that exploitation products based on the works of Sade would follow.

 


Franco would release several more Sade adaptations in the 1970s, the best being EUGENIE DE SADE, starring the fated Soledad Miranda. EUGENIE, THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION, based on Sade's novel PHILOSOPHY IN THE BOUDOIR, featuring Maire Liljedahl and Christopher Lee,  opened in the U.S. in 1970. More Franco-directed Sade films would appear throughout the 1970s (PLAISIR A TROIS, SINFONIA EROTICA, COCKTAIL SPECIAL), into the 1980s (EUGENIE: HISTORIA DE UNA PERVERSION,  GEMIDOS DE PLACER), and his 21st Century digital period (HELTER SKELTER, 2000). 

 Above: Body painting in JULIETTE DE SADE.



Sade's 1798 1000 plus page epic is a companion to, and second part of LE NOUVELLE JUSTINE, OUR LES MALHEURES DE LA VERTU (1797).  It's a first person, episodic narrative, in which Juliette travels the world, getting educated in :he Sadean philosophy as she participates in a cornucopia of sexual perversions. At the end, she announces, "...the truth itself, and the truth alone, lays bare the secrets of Nature, however mankind may tremble before those revelations. Philosophy must never shrink from speaking out." And speak out it continuously does in six long, detailed sections. The most surprising element of Kiefer's film is that it ends with a refutation by the heroine of Sade's philosophy as she flies away to a far more conventional lifestyle and mindset. 



Opening with Juliette (Maria Pia Conte) attending body painting sessions, orgies, sexy dancing parties, we're immersed in La Dolce Vita,  Rome 1969 style. She finally meets a distinguished looking expert of the philosophy of Sade. Played by familiar Euro-genre character actor John Karlsen, a gaunt, elderly looking actor who appeared as authority figures, villains, and professional types like the doctor who ran the insane asylum for women in Fernando Di Leo's Italian slasher SLAUGHTER HOTEL (1971). Karlsen looks like he's in his 80s here, even with a very 1969 Fu Manchu mustache. The actor would go on to appear in dozens of other Rome based European Cult/Trash cinema genre films and sometimes mainstream Hollywood titles like BILL AND TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE.  

Above: Prolific Eurocult actor John Karlsen
 

The Sade enthusiast hosts a dinner in which one of Juliette's friends does an enticing erotic dance in close contact with a miniature of Michelangelo's "David." This is the most erotic scene in the film, and despite it being supposedly based on a Sade novel, contains no scenes of sadomasochistic violence. It's more like Franco's VENUS IN FURS,  the title of which suggests a famous book which explored masochism. another 1969 release, which did contain scenes of whipping, torture and had a much darker tone and an appropriately  ambiguous ending.

Juliette's Sadean instructor even gifts her with an ultra sleek, high ticket Lamborghini, in which she speeds around from one Roman hot spots to another until a bad Roger Corman-like LSD trip (in a museum!) results in a change of consciousness . Suddenly aware of the superficiality of her lifestyle, represented by her throwing the keys to the Lamborghini back to her guru, her rejection of both him and the philosophy of The Divine Marquis seems complete and permanent. But, you never know. This was still the 1960s, albeit on the cusp of the more unpredictable 1970s. The feeling of wanting more thematic exposition is the film's main problem. Perhaps a more visual/ironic representation of the perversions and contradictions illustrated in the writings of Sade would have been appropriate. One wonders if censorship were an issue. The print consulted for this review was more than 10 minutes shorter than the original runtime.
Above: Dirty dancing with a Michelangelo masterpiece.
 
 
Even Roger Greenspun's review in The New York Times, published December 27, 1969**(see below), complains that the heroine is never allowed to completely disrobe on camera. You know you're in trouble when The New York Times is suggesting more nudity was necessary for authenticity.  Greenspun makes some good points in the review, but I find it overly dismissive and has an annoyingly superior tone. Flaws and all, JULIETTE DE SADE is a rarely seen oddity, worth seeing over 50 years after it was made. Kiefer was a talented novelist and an interesting, if under-productive,  filmmaker. His Italian-shot horror film, CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD (1964), is a macabre, atmospheric, Gothic period piece. That film featured Christopher Lee as a castle bound aristocrat with a morbid obsession with the science of embalming. An actor with the agency of Lee would have provided needed grounding and authorial presence in JULIETTE DE SADE, rather than a voice-over. Nonetheless, this film deserves to be rediscovered, restored to its full length English language version and given an HD debut.

Here's a link to Robert Curti's excellent article on the writing and film career of Warren Kiefer. https://offscreen.com/view/warren_kiefer 

*Thanks to Jeremy Richey for helping me see this film.
 
 
** THE NEW YORK TIMES review of EUGENIE DE SADE, which opened in New York City on December 26th, 1969.
 
REVIEW by Roger Greenspun. Dec. 27, 1969. "For perhaps two minutes, at the beginning and again at the very end, "Juliette de Sade," now playing at the Rialto East and the Rialto West, succeeds as erotic movie making. In those minutes we are offered close-ups of the star's thighs, her lips, a poised cigarette, her invitational eyes—put together in slow, straightforward montage as a kind of monumental tease. Such moments of colossal intimacy, of passionate secrets shared with a movie screen, are of course their own reward. But in "Juliette de Sade" they are too meager and too few to validate the film.For the 81 intervening minutes, the same young lady, Maria Pia Conte, offers us almost nothing at all. This is the first time I have seen a movie with pretensions to pornography in which the principal actress never disrobes for the audience.
 
Because she leads a life of willing sin and dissolution, she is continually in situations (bed, for example) where she ought to be undressed. But she never visibly is, and the resulting calisthenics devoted to holding the sheets up under the chin or keeping the beach towel from falling off would have done credit to, say, the athletic purity of Doris Day in her most embattled moments.Based, according to the distributor, on Sade's "Juliette," the film concerns a precocious young thing who leaves her convent school quickly behind and comes to conquer mad, mod, swinging Rome. She finds a roommate, buys a lot of new clothes and meets an evil old man with a walrus mustache. He declares himself a follower of the divine Marquis de Sade, a name that from, the pleasure principles the old man elaborates, might as well be a pseudonym for Jeremy Bentham. He promises to instruct Juliette in his "philosophy." Connoisseurs of the genre will recognize that "philosophy" is always a dirty word when muttered in the presence of a leggy blonde, but in this film it might as well be a system of Kantian imperatives for all the bad that comes from it.So the old man gives her a new car, has her over to dinner with some friends and plays a game of chess with her. For a time she accepts this corruption. ("I had Rome where I wanted it, in the palm of my hand. And I wasn't going to let go until I had squeezed it dry," exults Juliette's voice, English-dubbed, while her yellow-green Lamborghini P400 zips past St. Peter's.) 
 
And it is here, on the beaches and in the middle-class apartments of Rome, that the film's imaginative poverty (not depravity) shows itself to worst effect."Juliette de Sade" means to suggest a sensualism of rich ornamentation and of plastic surfaces. Like most movies of its type, the film pretends to private knowledge in addition to sex, and to forbidden mysteries beyond the body.But, unlike most movies of its type, it supports those pretenses with fairly classy production values and handsome photography. It falls victim to its own aspirations, and to a tone of prissy elegance. Typically, Miss Conte, though she never strips, does indulge in a singularly unexciting fashion show.Before she breaks away from her sponsor—to set up in business for herself—Juliette suffers an LSD trip and an orgy. Nothing in the trip (the worst in a miserable tradition) deserves description. But during the orgy, which consists of two men and three women eating grapes, etc., Juliette's roommate does an erotic dance around, over and up against a pint-sized reproduction of Michelangelo's "David." The scene is supposed to be tense with energy and illusion, but the girl slithers without conviction, and the little David, a model of outmoded decorum, hides his plaster with a fig leaf.
   
The Cast: Juliette . . . . . Maria Pia Conte  Toni . . . . . Lea Nanni Clarissa . . . . . Christine . . . . . Angela de Leo. JULIETTE DE SADE, directed by Warren Kiefer; produced by Ninki Masiansky; released by Haven International Pictures. At the Rialto East, Broadway near 42d Street, and the Rialto West, 42d Street west of Broadway. Running time: 83 minutes. (Not submitted at this time to the Motion Picture Association of America's Production Code and Rating Administration for rating as to audience suitability.)

(C) Robert Monell, 2020


13 December, 2020

LA ESCLAVA BLANCA (Clifford Brown/Jess Franco. 1985)

la esclava blanca, 1985- source: Video Search of Miami (Spanish VHS-U.S. import) DIRECTED BY "CLIFFORD BROWN" (JESS FRANCO) WITH: JOSÉ LLAMAS, MABEL ESCAÑO, JOSE MIGUEL GARCIA MARFA, AUGUSTÎN GIL, LINA ROMAY, CONCHI MONTÉSa, JAMES TALL. 87 minutes


 

 Of the eight other films Franco made in 1985 (half of them hardcore porno features), this very low budget adventure stands out because of an absorbing, multi-layered script by ace Spanish screenwriter Santiago Moncada. Beside writing Mario Bava's HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON, Claudio Guerin Hill's THE BELL FROM HELL and Juan Antonio Bardem's THE CORRUPTION OF CHRIS MILLER, Moncada has written and produced screenplays for a variety of European genre directors. Manuel Cano's SWAMP OF THE RAVENS, TARZAN'S GREATEST CHALLENGE and VOODOO BLACK EXORCIST were all based on Moncada screenplays, not to mention the ultra-violent Spanish western CUTTHROATS NINE. This film was co-produced by Moncada and Franco's Manacoa company.

                                       Above: Prolific Spanish screenwriter Santiago Moncada


.As for Jess Franco, 1985 wasn't his best year, but it was a busy one, offering a variate of micro-budgeted genre projects. In LA ESCLAVA BLANCA, Moncada gives us three separate stories that gradually interweave and come together in the final scene. The first story seems to have elements of MACBETH and B movie programmers. A weak-willed jungle guide is manipulated by his domineering wife into committing a series of crimes. During a safari, he leads a honeymoon couple (José Llamas and Conchi Montés) into a trap laid by the Tobonga, a Stone Age tribe that worships a giant lizard god. The bride is tied to a sacrificial altar for later sacrifice. The second story starts out in the city, where a female karate student (Lina Romay and two of her instructors accidentally discover the secret of the Tobonga. In the third story, two separate expeditions make their way back to the Tobonga camp. One of these groups includes the original guide, who has been abducted by the karate instructors (they have also killed his wife). The other consists of the husband of the abducted woman and the female karate student (Lina Romay) who has split off from the school. During the long trip back, the guide has a change of heart and decides to repent, turning against his captors and helping the people he originally betrayed.

 The climax of the film, shot and edited with dispatch despite the budgetary restrictions, may remind some viewers of a miniature version of the final scene in THE WILD BUNCH. The very last scene, in which the Tobonga gold is abandoned by the survivors, echoes THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE. Franco's film, of course, is a lot less ambitious than those two classics, but maybe that's why it works so well. The massacre at the Tobonga camp, the abduction scene, and the opening safari are as well-staged as anything Franco has ever done. There's also an amusing dose of voodoo dancing thrown in for good measure. He takes it all seriously, even though it's bascially juvenile comic-strip pulp. But, then again, Jess Franco had a life long passion for comics and pulp fiction. 

Daniel White's pulsating drum and vocal score is familiar from some of Franco's other jungle adventures (MACUMBA SEXUAL, DEVIL HUNTER), but this is by the most unpretentious of the lot. Jose Miguel Marfa and Mabel Escaño are both very effective as the safari guides from hell. With its karate scenes, voodoo rituals, adventure story, literary and film references, LA ESCLAVA BLANCA seems like a kind of compendium of Franco's 1980's output (minus the XXX sex material). I

If one can get past his other sub-standard jungle/cannibal fare, this one is most definitely provides 90 minutes of undemanding entertainment. I would be pleasantly surpised if this fogotten mid 1980s programmer showed up on a Bllu-ray release, but stranger things have happened. I I had some behind the scenes photos of the shoot supplied by Senor Marfa but haven't yet been able to transfer them here. The Spanish locations will be very familiar to seripusJess Franco collectors.

 (C) Robert Monell Updated 2020

09 November, 2020

LOS BLUES DE LA CALLE POP (Jesus Franco, 1983)

Los Blues De La Calle Pop 1983 80 MINUTES Galan Video (Spain) European Trash Cinema (U.S. import). Written, Photographed and Directed by Jess Franco. Cast: Robert Foster (Antonio Mayans), Candy Coster (Lina Romay), Jose Llamas, Trino Treves, Mary Sad, Analia Ivars, Jess Franco, Augustin Garcia. -------------------------------------------------------------------- (a.k.a. AVENTURAS DE FELIPE MALBORO, VOLUMEN 8) Felipe Marlboro, ideally incarnated by Franco mainstay Antonio Mayans ("Robert Foster"), is a seedy private investigator who takes up a missing person case in punk infested Shit City, a sub-Fellini nightclub world in which all the males seem to hang out in a smoky bar decorated with posters of Bogart and Mae West, waiting for trouble to erupt. The residents of this corrupt town all look like they base their fashion sense on MTV. The men look like either Sid Vicious or a member of A Flock of Seagulls, and the women sport the slutty attire and pouty sexuality of Robert Palmer's female back-up in his music video "Addicted to Love." Likewise, (as the visual style of the film is a whacked-out array of shimmering primary colors and weird camera angles.
The plot has Marlboro enlisting the aid of piano player Sam Chesterfield (played by Jess Franco himself) in an all out effort to bust the town's drug and dirty money kingpin Saul Winston (Trino Trives). This witty and visually striking neo-noir parody is one of Franco's personal favorites, and it's easy to see why. Almost every shot in the film is a loving homage to 1940s private eye cinema (such as THE MALTESE FALCON and THE BIG SLEEP) filtered through a 1980s MTV-style lens. It's also retro-punk and looks forward to more familiar cine-comic books, such as SIN CITY. Franco has stated that he attempted to sustain a comic-book look in many of his genre efforts. He totally succeeded in this film as he did in his amusing 1967 spy spoof, LUCKY THE INSCRUTABLE. He also pulled it off in his 1971 answer to a 1940s Universal Pictures monster rally, DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN. Our guide through the punk nightmare world of POP STREET BLUES is the director's trusted actor-collaborator-friend Antonio Mayans, who is the perfect fall guy in Franco's off-world of pimps, whores, killers, and thugs. Sexy Analia Ivars makes for a perfect lean and mean femme fatale.
Franco stages the well worn private eye cliches in his usual iconoclastic fashion. For instance, when Marlboro gets a beating for asking too many questions, the guy who kicks the living daylights out of him is a flashy flamenco dancer who performs his dance steps in between each punch and kick. Most amusing of all is the twisted ending, which finds Marlboro seduced by the woman who has set him up for extinction.
Franco adorns this very personal project with a quick-paced editing style, brightly colored comic book frames, seedy locations shot through diffusion lenses, and a rousing New Orleans style jazz score by longtime Franco friend-collaborator Fernando Garcia Morcillo. LA BLUES DE LA CALLE POP is a continual delight to see and hear. Franco's experimental deployment of colored filters is especially interesting (as is Franco's stylistically similar 1986 punk-Eurospy adventure ESCLAVAS DEL CRIMEN) and makes me wonder why he didn't continue in this style. Instead, his next several films (leaving aside such purely commercial projects as FALO CREST and FACELESS), such as DARK MISSION (1987), ESMERALDA BAY (1989), FALL OF THE EAGLES and DOWNHEAT HEAT (1990), mostly display much more conventional visual aesthetics.
Seen in today's cult-music/movie friendly age, LOS BLUES DE LA CALLE POP could be designated as "retro-punk" in style, tone and theme. One gets the feeling that Muddy Waters would have understood it. There's even a touch of CASABLANCA, including the iconic poster for that 1943 classic. With the director himself as the reliable piano man one waits for someone to say, "Play it again, Jess." (C)Robert Monell, 2020 Franco index

03 September, 2020

BANGKOK, CITA CON LA MUERTE (1985, Directed by Clifford Brown [Jess Franco])

Robert Monell & Alex Mendíbil Blog Alliance

BANGKOK, CITA CON LA MUERTE (Clifford Brown, 1985)

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BANGKOK, CITA CON LA MUERTE is fascinating to the serious Jess Franco student but may not engage interest as a serious action film with Jess Franco-style martial arts interludes included. The formulaic plot combines drug running, Thai pirates (led by Lina Romay), karate fighting, kidnapping, comic relief and tourist footage which on first viewing looks cribbed from an unknown source.*  [Update: the DoP of this film, Juan Soler Cozar, read this review and kindly informed me that he was actually sent to Bangkok to shoot some street footage, and that it does appear in the film. I was very surprised that they went to the expense and trouble to do this, especially considering the production’s obvious micro-budget.]

The yacht-going daughter of a millionaire is kidnapped by pirates. Her father (Eduardo Fajardo) hires a bumbling private eye named Panama Joe (Bork Gordon) to locate her. The daughter’s boyfriend is also on the kidnappers’ trail. Panama Joe discovers the crooks are led by a drug smuggler (Antonio Mayans), who is in turn being double crossed by Queen Amania (Lina Romay). The detective roams around the faux Asian locations, tries to play both sides against the other, while uncovering deeper layers of corruption and double dealing.BANGKOK is dialogue and plot heavy to no good end, and Gordon’s imitation Inspector Columbo ramblings just do not spark enough interest. The characters are shown talking in cartoon dialog balloons during the opening credits, but Franco unaccountably drops this unusual device immediately and never picks it up again. What’s left is a C-minus adventure with some comic relief and sloppily staged karate stand-offs, in which the participants miss each other by miles. Then again, given the budget and assumed rushed shooting schedule this could be understandable. It also could indicate the director's disdain for those perfectly choreographed martial arts films of Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan, Sonny Chiba, etc. 

Gordon (Christian Borck) just seems a disheveled guy, actually a German comedian/television actor, who wandered in. Like the karate stuff, comedy-parody needs timing. The lines and martial arts blows rarely connect. Actually, I managed to find some amusement in the martial arts showdowns where the fighters miss contact with each other by such obvious distances that it looks like children playing at karate fighting. This is all likely due to a crushing schedule/lack of budget. Nonetheless the colorful cinematography frames the locations with skill and makes the Canary Islands seem like Southeast Asia, at least for 90 minutes.

    BANGKOK, APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH (VSOM dupe from Spanish television broadcast)      


A colorful, amusing mix of Kung Fu fighting, Asian aesthetics, modern day pirates, BANGKOK CITY OF THE DEAD (1985) mixes comic book-style imagery with crime film elements, some self parody and a adventure plot with a not-so-happy ending. Franco has tried this before, notably in the delightful LOS BLUES CALLE POP…. (1983) and La sombra del judoka contra el doctor Wong (1985).

Lina Romay has a few touching moments as the pirate leader, but she is once again miscast, and her familiarity as Lina Romay distracts from her performance. In one embarrassing scene, shes dances around in a tight swimsuit accompanied by a mechanical band. The result might been cute in 1973, but at this late date it is unfunny and unflattering to the talented Ms. Romay. Veteran character actor Fajardo (DJANGO)  turns in a professional but unexceptional performance as the millionaire.

The movie benefits from its luminous cinematography and occasionally hectic energy but needs a more interesting focal point.. The Far Eastern locations, represented via the aforementioned stock footage are given an atmospheric boost by Pablo Villa’s (Franco and Daniel White) brassy score, some of which recalls music heard in Franco’s earlier FU MANCHU AND THE KISS OF DEATH/KISS AND KILL (1967). Given the negatives I’m at the stage where I can still engage with and enjoy even an understandably flawed genre mashup such as this one. It’s obvious that Jess Franco took it serious enough to attempt to deliver a multi-faced entertainment package under impossible circumstances. As he told me when I interviewed him on his Golden Films Internacional period, these productions were “poor” i.e. made at very low coast, with little or no resources and rushed out to theaters or hidden away in the offices of producer Emilio Larraga to be lost forever. I had some fun watching it but have no idea where one could see it outside of fan websites. I am not aware of any DVD release, although it may have appeared on Spanish VHS.

The version I saw was from the wretchedly unreliable VSOM and had no English subtitles. A good quality HD transfer from a print or negative with  language options is required for a more in-depth consideration, but it’s an example of Franco’s 1980s exotica.

*Thanks again to Juan Cozar for additional information on the production of this film.
(C) Robert Monell [1998: New Version: 2020

Bangkok, Cita con la Muerte
1985; 87 Minutes; Spanish TV broadcast                                                                                     Director:  “Clifford Brawm” sic (Jess Franco)/ Director of Photography: Juan Cozar./ Produced by Golden Films Internacional S.A. in Alicante and Bangkok, Thailand.
 

28 August, 2020

DEAD MAN'S HAND (Rarely seen precredit sequence in the Spanish version of THE SADISTIC BARON VON KLAUS (1962)

 
Here is a video (please excuse the quality) of the rarely seen precredit sequence for LO MANO DE UN HOMBRE MUERTO (1962), the Spanish language version of THE SADISTIC BARON VON KLAUS. A 2.35:1 scope film, the French version had been released on Blu-ray. Unfortunately, this Spanish version has not had a HD release. Also, the later sequence, featuring Hugo Blanco torturing and murdering Gogo Rojo, was censored in this version.

This sequence features a white masked killer in black, anticipating the sadistic "shape" in Mario Bava's Giallo foundation stone, BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964).




23 August, 2020

BAHIA BLANCA (1984, Directed by Jess Franco) Severin Blu-ray.

BAHIA BLANCA (1984) Severin Blu-ray

BAHIA BLANCA, Jess Franco's rarely seen 1984 crime melodrama, screened today at the Filmoteca in Madrid, Spain as part of a tribute to the late Lina Romay. Hopefully, a future HQ DVD/Blu-ray presentation of this excellent film will appear.

The above was a hopeful note from several years ago for a future Blu-ray presentation of this outstanding 1984 Jess Franco crime film. That hope has now been answered by Severin Films Limited Edition HD release.

BAHIA BLANCA is a tragedy wrapped inside of a film noir set on a tropical Mediterranean island populated by a bar owner and her mute sister (Lina Romay) which is regularly visited by local fishermen thirsty for alcohol and sex.

This  film was financed by Franco's own Manacoa Production company and was not available on digital media until now. As of this writing the Bahia Blanca Blu-ray is sold out. For those of us lucky enough to have procured a copy, the film offers multiple rewards, being one of the director's more personal and well crafted products. The video quality is breathtaking, high resolution, glowing colors, and layers of atmospheric detail delight the eye. This is a very downbeat, sometimes lyrical tale, the kind of story that pulp fiction writers revel in and sailors tell when they return from the sea. It also should be noted that there is a port city named Bahia Blanca in Argentina, a country which is sometimes named as a magical locale in the alternate Franco-verse. Maybe this is another wink from the ever-deceptive auteur. 


Above: Shining Sex Blu-ray. Another highly recommended release from Severin Films. 


Lina Romay, Antonio Mayans, Analia Ivars and Eva Leon are all top-notch in their roles as the haunted participants in Franco's melodrama of crime, lust, murder and vengeance. Franco himself establishes an authorial presence by playing the role of a local psychic who predicts the the sad fates of the protagonists. The chilling image of revenge -minded maiden Analia Ivars clutching a rifle as she arrives on the island to act out her part as the story's exterminating angel is one of the most memorable images in Franco's extensive filmography. The eerily beautiful song by Isabel De Tejeda, the repetition of which takes on varying emotional inflections in different contexts, musically illustrates the nature of these deeply flawed lives overwhelmed by primal emotions and surprised by violent death in this revenger's tragedy.

Both SHINING SEX and BAHIA BLANCA have been finally saved from obscurity and unwatchable dupes by the due diligence of Severin Films.

Special Features: 
In the Land of Franco ,Part 4: a tour of Jess Franco locations guided by Stephen Thrower and Antonio Mayans

Bay Of Jess: Interview with Stephen Throwner on the film.

1080p Full HD resolution
Spanish Mono with new English subtitles.
Scanned in 4K from the original negative.
1984--98 minutes.


I'll be posting on the recent Severin HD presentation of SHINING SEX in the near future.

(C) Robert Monell, 2020

07 August, 2020

BOTAS NEGRAS, LATIGO DE CUERO (1982)

(a.k.a. BLACK BOOTS AND LEATHER WHIPS)

One of Franco's favorite characters, private investigator Al Pereira (Robert Foster, a.k.a Antonio Mayans), has an addiction and he's got it
bad. 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 women, money and all the people who are after him. Then Lina (Lina Romay) 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. It's pretty obvious that she's the kind of spider woman which Franco introduced in such 1960s films as MISS MUERTE(1965) and VAMPIRESAS 1930(1960). In this case, the black widow, the femme fatale.

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 Lina waits with her legs spread wide. He doesn't bargain for the strip-club where she performs and her male friend, who likes to wear make-up and female clothing.

Then there's the phony, blind 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. Unplanned violence is part of Al's professional and personal life. Now he's a murderer. A walking dead man.

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 and pumps a slug 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 fall guy role right to the end. The burning, wet feeling in his side finally makes the lump of flesh between his legs go soft. He always called the nude playmate taped to his wall, "Mio Madre". But where was she? The bitch of it all was that Lina, who was long gone, hadn't gotten him, the mob hadn't gotten him, the cops hadn't gotten him. He got himself. Lina Romay is credited as "Candy Coster" but is named Lina in the film. Another level of irony.

BOTAS NEGRAS, LATIGO DE CUERO 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. It's even darker than Franco's 1972 Al Pereira adventure, LES EBRANLEES. In that film Howard Vernon played Al Pereira who also got involved with sleazy criminals and made poor decisions which destroyed him emotionally if not physically.

Romay's
femme fatale represents lush, slutty sexuality with an icy edge which is barely perceptible to Al. This time around, Al might be a character out of Jim Thompson or a deluded protagonist from a Florida based crime thriller by John D. MacDonald.  It's obvious from the outset that 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. Franco and Juan Soler's vivid color scheme has never seemed quite as ironic and becomes a post-modern Costa del Sol equivalent of those liquid black nights and mean streets of the 1940's noir universe of Robert Siodmak, in particular THE KILLERS, a personal favorite of Franco.
Unfortunately there is still no digital representation of this film, which would benefit greatly from a HD restoration.
Robert Monell
  Unfortunately there is still no digital representation of this film, which would benefit greatly from a HD restoration.
Robert Monell
=======================================

15 June, 2020

Jose Benazeraf's ORGIES REVOLUTIONNAIRES (1983, rare film)


Watch Orgies Revolutionnaires 1983 video on xHamster, the best sex tube site with tons of free xczech Orgy ...
Jun 5, 2018

 I hope this link to watch this Jose Benazeraf hardcore rarity (at least rare to me, since I don't have any of the French DVDS and had to scrounge Internet porn sites). Good luck. This one has wit, irony, a fast pace and a subversive charge. One can never be too busy, even during times of political violence, for plaisir....

Viva Benazeraf!


Posted 6/14/20 rm

02 June, 2020

Dan Van Husen, R.I.P.

The prolific, versatile German character actor Dan Van Husen passed away on May 25, 2020 in England. Linda, his wife, was at his side. He died from COVID-19 complications and had also been in declining health, due to Alzheimer's disease, for several years. I was friends with Dan for around 20 years, I met him on a Spaghetti Western Internet board circa 2001. We then kept in touch through email, and eventually Facebook.

ABOVE: Dan Van Husen in Jess Franco's LA NOCHE DE LOS ASESINOS (1972). Dan was very friendly and generous with the time he took to help me understand his work with Jess Franco, whom I had been publishing articles and blog posts about since the early 1990s.

Dan had been in dozens of European genre films since the late 1960s. He had acted alongside Lee Van Cleef (in BAD MAN'S RIVER and other Spaghetti Westerns). He worked with Federico Fellini (in FELLINI'S CASANOVA), Werner Herzog, Tinto Brass (SALON KITTY) and many other legendary names. Between 1968 and 2019 he appeared in 145 films and television productions. At least 23 of his performances were in the Eurowestern category or Hollywood films such as EL CONDOR and DOC, which were filmed in Spain. His striking looks made him a natural for villain roles or unique character parts.

He acted in his first Jess Franco film, DER TODESRACHER VON SOHO (DEATH PACKS A SUITCASE) in April 1971. He appeared as a burglar working with the main villain (Horst Tappert). The film was a Bryan Edgar Wallace krimi, produced and co-written by CCC founder Artur Brauner, a German-Spanish co-production filmed in Alicante, Barcelona and London. Dan fit right into Franco's strange, mood-drenched universe and would be cast in four more of the director's films, including KISS ME KILLER and TENDER AND PERVERSE EMANUELLE (both 1973).





 His final film with Franco was the digital horror-comedy KILLER BARBYS VS. DRACULA (2002), where he played vampire hunter Dr. Seward. I spoke with Dan right after he made his final Franco film and he seemed to have had fun, being amused by Franco's frenetic, haphazard, low budget attempt to make a Dracula film, He was also pleased to be reunited with  1960s and 70s Spaghetti Western regulars Aldo Sambrell and Peter Martell, who also had roles in the shot-in-Spain musical-horror oddity.

ABOVE: Dan Van Husen was given a lifetime achievement acting award at the Almeria Film Festival

Dan was especially fond of his time spent making Franco's NIGHT OF THE SKULL, mostly because he got to act alongside his close friend, actress Swan Heinze, whom he also worked with in Franco's KISS ME KILLER, a Eurocine remake of the director's atmospheric 1962 noir LA MUERTE SILBA UN BLUES. He admitted he didn't have any recall whatsoever of appearing in KISS ME KILLER or TENDER AND PERVERSE EMANUELLE, in which he appeared as a tough homicide detective. Both of those films seem to have been made back-to-back in late 1973 or in such hectic circumstances that they were wiped from his memory. After all, Franco made 12 films in 1973, an amazing amount even for him. When I asked him if he remembered anything at all about them, he laughed saying, "Well, you know Jess, he sometimes made two or three films at the same time without telling the actors about how many films they were playing in"

Dan continued to send me emails inquiring about how I was doing, sending holiday greetings and reporting updates and information on his continuing acting career. I'll miss hearing from him.

Dan Van Husen was a memorable, reliable, versatile character actor and one of the good guys.

Thanks to Tom Betts.

(C) Robert Monell, 2020.

01 June, 2020

German Blu-ray: ROTE LIPPEN: SADISTEROTICA

This German re-release is of Jess Franco's 1967-68 Aquila co-production. This is the German version (RED LIPS), with a different runtime and score than the Spanish release. which should run about 89 minutes. The US Video release was retitled TWO UNDERCOVER ANGELS and cut out over 10 minutes of footage.

The German video release title was DER WOLF-HORROR PERVERS. The West German release version, according to some references, has a runtime of 92 minutes. This horror parody is heavily influenced by Pop Art aesthetics popular in the late 1960s, which is obvious from the splashy, brightly colored set design. Janine Reynaud is costumed in an outlandish black leather fashion design which would fit into a contemporary female Superhero/Supervillain film.

The comic book quality plot features erotic murders re-staged as tableaux vivants by a mind controlled werewolf (actor-director Michel Lemoine) under the direction of a crazed artist played by producer Adrian Hoven, who acted and co-produced NECRONOMICON/SUCCUBUS and KISS ME MONSTER, the two other Aquila productions directed by Franco

(C) Robert Monell, 2020

31 March, 2020

VAYA LUNA DE MIEL: In Search of the Trivial. Finding Jess Franco in a rediscovered film.




At first glance this long unseen 1980 film is another Jess Franco adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's THE GOLD BUG. But is this frenetic comedy-adventure something more or something less than what it appears to be? In fact VAYA LUNA DE MIEL (What a Honeymoon!) is very similar in plot and style to Franco's 1981 LAS NOCHES DE LOS SEXOS ABIERTOS, which is a jaunty, erotically charged adventure-comedy about a couple in search of a hidden treasure, and it's one of several  films which he loosely based on that Poe story. But VAYA... lacks the nonstop sex, nudity and violence of LAS NOCHES.... it seems to have been deliberately made to appeal to more general mainstream Spanish audiences rather than the grind-house brigade. Franco was obviously in a very playful mood when he made it. So put on your white jungle hats and join in the fun.


                                                                   Jungle raiders

It opens with a pan shot over a crowed beach as Simon (Emilio Alvarez, who had previously appeared in Amando de Ossorio's "S" film PASION PROHIBIDA)), a clean cut young man, sits in the sun reading THE THERMOPYLAE. Yolanda (Lina Romay) walks past him, catching his eye. She then comes over and asks him to unfasten the top of her very skimpy bikini. They are married after a a brief flirtation and disembark for a tropical isle named Bananas, presumably a Banana Republic where the remainder of the film is set. All this occurs, along with a discussion of ancient Greek history, before the opening credits, signaling that the honeymoon is the kind of oneiric holiday from reality which often replaces any serious attempts at realistic verisimilitude in a Jess Franco film. A complicated honeymoon provides a perfect plot for a romantic comedy, Jess Franco style, in which the director is as much of a sight-seer as the characters. As the action proceeds Franco finds all manner of odd details in the local hotel and the streets of Benidorm, Elche, Alicante on which to focus his nervous lens.


                                             
                                                     Las Noches De Los Sexos Abiertos

Once on the island our couple become almost immediately embroiled in a search for a hidden treasure which has been already initiated by several separate parties, including a local group who want it for their town's coffers, a vacationing gangster (singer-director Max Boulois), another criminal group who closely track the couple, and a secret agent (Antonio Mayans). As in the Poe story the couple come across a series of clues which have to be carefully pieced together to reveal the location of the treasure. The first clue is discovered in the capital of the island, A dingy town which seems to be largely overtaken by a sprawling amusement park. The park is outfitted with various attractions, shopping markets, carnival rides and a Funhouse out of which stumbles a suspicious character (played by Jess Franco) who has just been shot by several gangsters. The couple is given a piece of blank paper as the dying man dying man repeats the word "beetle", which turns out to be the golden bug of the story. A Chinese inscription later appears on the paper after it is left in the sun while the couple are at a beach.

Of primary concern to Franco in this sequence are the various sculptures, images and icons of animals, demons and other bizarre figures which are everywhere in sight around the park. A sculpted vulture and a pink clad devil, among other odd figurines, seem to observe the confusion and pursuit of the couple by the gangsters and other dodgy looking individuals.. Franco's ever-active zoom lens keeps closing in on these objects as if they were as important as the human characters and the story itself. In fact, it could be intuited that they are more important in the director's obsessive, esoteric mise-en-scene. Codes, either musical or linguistic, are a favorite Jess Franco stratagem to bypass conventional narrative, they are consistent elements in the plots of KISS ME, MONSTER, LAS NOCHES DE LOS SEXOS ABIERTOSand other films throughout his career.


                                                                 Carnival Demons


The action proceeds to a series of encounters between the various gold seekers in the hotel room of the couple. Simon has a recorder with which he can summon help by playing several notes as did Al Periera (Eddie Constantine) in Franco's ATTACK OF THE ROBOTS (1966). In fact, miniature robots are also part of the plot here, appearing out of nowhere to give the couple coded directions and warnings before self-exploding. These brightly colored plastic creations seem like something out of a child's fantasy world, part of the fantasy-play matrix in which the characters are embroiled. At the end there is a hint that the entire outlandish, if somewhat silly, plot is something to enjoy before the newlyweds endure the daily realities of normal married life. Whatever it is, Franco is more interested in every tiny detail of the environment rather than any kind of real suspense, intrigue or meaning. The only meaning is Franco's desire to make another film, whether it's finished or released is of secondary importance. In fact, this film wasn't released at all and was discovered by Franco scholar Alex Mendibil in the Filmoteca Espanola.



                                                        Attack of the (toy) Robots

My first thought after seeing this long lost, never released title was that it was like one of those 1960s Walt Disney live action comedies, only conceived and directed in secret code by a mad poet whose only wish was to amuse himself. This is actually as personal, subversive and esoteric as any title in the extensive Franco collection. It's just that's not what it appears to be on its rather glossy (for Jess Franco) surface. One has to leave expectations and perceptions behind to get it, but not to enjoy it. Franco doesn't have any messages for viewers of his films, but he does offer endless, amusing subterfuges, in-jokes, auto-critiques, arcane references and genre satire which one can take or leave. He's a master of artful ridicule of subjects which deserve to be ridiculed, especially criticism in search of profound truths in cinema. This film is structured like the amusement park location, it's there to explore and have fun in. Franco's direction acts as a carnival barker, shouting "Look at the gewgaws, ride the ferris wheel, go into the Funhouse."


After viewing it I thought of my 2004 interview with Jess Franco (published in ART DECADES # 13) in which the director praised surprisingly Walt Disney and the fantasy world he created, stressing that he admired the man as a pioneer in entertainment and the universe created under his name. But he qualified that by saying the multi-million dollar Disney corporation was not something he admired. One recalls the Mickey Mouse mask wearing killer in BLOODY MOON. Disney characters also appear on t-shirts and props in such otherwise grim epics as BARBED WIRE DOLLS, LINDA and EUGENIE, THE STORY OF A PERVERSION (1980). KILLER BARBIES VS. DRACULA is like a horror musical unfolding in Disney style alternate world.The idea here is that our seemingly wholesome young couple have the kind of naivete one associates with Disney product, even if the actor who plays Simon looks to be about 15 years old (he was actually in his mid twenties as was Lina Romay at the time of shooting). Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse don't appear but the live-action cartoon quality is prominent. Franco fans expecting scenes of morbid sex and violence might be pleasantly surprised by this other side of the director's world.


So what exactly is this film which fell off the radar 40 years ago? Like many of Franco's unreleased films it may have encountered quota/tax issues and was withdrawn from the market. The production company/potential distributors might simply have decided it didn't have the commercial potential needed to insure a successful theatrical run. Given that there is no serious violence, only brief nudity and one mild seduction scene it probably would have been rate 14 in Spain (only 14 or over admitted, the next rating up from "Todos los Publicos", everyone admitted). Certain 1970s popular films which had increasing levels of sex and violence were driving international mainstream tastes to demand more of that kind of content, especially in Spain, which by 1980 had largely transitioned away from the stricter censorship of the General Francisco Franco era. Maybe VAYA... was just too genteel for rapidly changing audience tastes. That seems odd since we are talking about a Jess Franco film, after all. What emerges instead is an eccentric romantic comedy-adventure about how the honeymoon educates the newlyweds about each others foibles and the fact that the world around them is place of danger and intrigue which can best be navigated with some apprehension along with a wide open mind.


                                                           The Gold Bug

This was a rare production of the Magna sound studio which created the soundtracks for such Franco films as EL SADICO DE NOTRE DAME, SINFONIA EROTICA, DEVIL HUNTER, among others. Lina Romay is dubbed here by Mari Pe Castro, the wife of the studio''s artistic director. The film was shot on locations in Benidorm, Alicante and Elche, familiar from other Franco productions.


Thanks to Nzoog.for research assistance.

(C) Robert Monell, 2020