12 August, 2022

WITCH KILLER OF BLACKMOOR ((1970)

Directed by Jess Franco. Cast: Christopher Lee (Lord George Jeffreys), Leo Genn (Earl of Wessex), Maria Schell, Maria Rohm, Margaret Lee, Howard Vernon, Milo Quesada, Hans Hass Jr, Peter Martell, Vincente Roca. Alternate titles: NIGHT OF THE BLOOD MONSTER, IL TRONO DI FUOCO, DER HEXENTOTER VON BLACKMOOR, EL PROCESO DE LAS BRUJAS.


This luridly titled Spanish/West German/Italian co-production is one of the more fascinating, if less personal, of the films Franco helmed for the notorious writer-producer Harry Alan Towers. This review is based on the Dutch video, one of many variants which are available on VHS. It is important to note that it is now available on DVD in its proper 2.35:1 format (in PAL) from England's Salvation company. The Dutch version runs slightly shorter than the reported 89m of Salvation's DVD, but the crucial difference is the aspect ratio. The Dutch print is letterboxed at what looks like 1.85:1, but a lot is cropped offscreen. For instance, when Judge Jeffreys propositions the character played by Maria Rohm, only about half of her figure can be seen, the rest, including her crucial reactions to the sexual blackmail, is beyond the edge of the frame. This is one of the Franco's most carefully composed films and really needs to be seen in its correct format. Note: I actually saw this film on the big screen at a drive-in circa 1972 on a double bill with BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB. At that time I was not a Jess Franco enthusiast and drove out before the end, finding the film ponderous and talky, especially since it had been luridly retitled NIGHT OF THE BLOOD MONSTER.

A relatively lavish production (by Franco standards), the art direction (by none other than SUCCUBUS' Jack Taylor-as George O. Brown) and cinematography maximize what were probably limited resources, while looking fairly lavish for a Harry Alan Towers production. Just a few paintings hanging and the right camera angles give Judge Jeffrey's chambers the appearance of a sumptuous set. The exteriors, taken in Portugal, are convincingly "English" and, overall, we are able to suspend disbelief that this is England in 1685. This is a rather big deal in a Franco film, especially a period piece. Just consider how Towers and Franco totally bumbled some of the period atmosphere of the infamous EL CONDE DRACULA (also made 1969, a few months after what would become generally known as THE BLOODY JUDGE).

This is usually reviewed as an inferior copy of Michael Reeves THE CONQUEROR WORM/WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968), probably because both were released by AIP (in retitled, altered versions) in the U.S.. Despite the historical setting and the consideration of the motives of the sexually obsessed Witch-finder, Franco's version takes a little more care with historical accuracy and tries (at the very end) to give the devil his due. Matthew Hopkins dies in the midst of yet another atrocity in the Reeves film, whereas Jeffreys collapses in his cell after being arrested and witnessing a brutal hanging/beheading. The implication being that he has suddenly come to an understanding of the human misery resulting from his mad campaigns. His tortured visage and haunted eyes are a lifetime away from the early scenes where he is seen in his crimson robes and white wig delivering "witches" and "traitors" to death sentences in his kangaroo court. 

Jeffreys did indeed die in prison, but it is unknown if he ever repented. Lee is excellent in this role, considering that it could have easily lapsed into a one dimensional cliche. His arrogant demeanor and menacing movements are often undercut by his furtive glances at the bosoms of the women he condemns to be burned alive. As with the best actors, Lee is able to combine body language with voice to indicate a conflicted character, and it is a considerable accomplishment that he is able to make us feel a sense of pity for this monster. Leo Genn is also fine as the crafty Earl of Wessex. Some of the high points of the film occur during the subtle back and forth between Wessex and Jeffreys, where both of these veteran performers cleverly employ almost imperceptible inflections to get a point across:

JEFFREYS: "We do our best..."

WESSEX: "Then, may God save us from your worst."

The film really soars during these interludes. Less successful are the frankly sexploitative torture scenes (the reason for the film), reduced in this version to tableau style depictions of stretching and flayings of scantily clad, blood stained women. Franco icon Howard Vernon is not really onscreen long enough in some versions to make an impression as the black hooded executioner. Milo Quesada's weasel (who ends up getting chewed to death by freed inmates) is a hateful villain, while Margaret Lee is pretty much wasted in the role of the doomed Alicia. The battle scenes are well mounted but either cut short or minimized by being placed under the opening credits, for example. According to OBSESSION:THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO, the longest version of this title is the Italian (at 98m), but Franco has claimed in interviews that his original cut ran nearly two hours!

That version can be accessed online, surprisingly enough on Amazon Prime, under the title WITCH KILLER OF BLACKMOOR, where it can be streamed for 1.99. This is the closest I've seen to the nearly 2hour director's cut which Franco intended and includes the rescue of Maria Rohm's character from a river which is not included in the 2003 Blu-Underground extended release.

(C) Robert Monell 2022.

03 August, 2022

Je Brule de Partout (1978) Pulse Video Blu-ray LE



I was lucky enough to score one of now OOP LE Blu-rays of Jess Franco's rarely seen crime drama, Je Brule de Partout ((1978). It sold out in record time from PULSE VIDEO, in partnership with Vinegar Syndrome. Queen of Euro-erotica Brigitte Lahaie emerges from a sea of grain in an X Pro-III grab from the opening disco scene.  A welcome indicator in this 2k scan from 35mm elements. The plot in rudimentary: A detective investigates the abduction of the daughter of an American diplomat in Lisbon. After swimming in the cultural cesspool of this film's depressing SexWorld, he comes up with results that punish the guilty and rescues the heroine (Susan Hemingway). A jazz filled, downbeat immersion into the director's familiar criminal netherworld of drugs, kidnapping, extortion, white slavery, sex, international intrigue and violence.


Robert de Nesle's last or next to last production, this crime film was made back to back with COCKTAIL SPECIAL using some of that film's cast and locations. Here's what I initally thought of the film after viewing it via a vey poor French language VHS dub about 30 years ago [From MHVD archive]:

aka JE BRULE DE PARTOUT. Directed by Jess Franco (credited as Jacques Aicrag). Jenny Goldstone (Susan Hemingway) is abducted after a night at a popular discotheque. She is the most recent victim to fall into the hands of an international white slavery cartel. The point person is the beautiful, blond Lorna (Brigitte Lahaie) who, along with her henchmen, bundles the girls aboard a ship fitted with an orgy room into which a sedating "love drug" is piped. The victims are arranged on mattresses and the "action" is viewed from overhead camera angles, locking the viewer into a voyeuristic POV.  They are transported to a brothel in Portugal where one of Jenny's customers will turn out to be her own father, ironically revealed to be the financier behind the ring. But there is someone else on the trail of the abductors, a certain investigator whose name will be familiar to those familiar with the filmography of Jess Franco, Al Pereira. 



One of Jess Franco's more obscure sexploitation efforts, this one is of note mainly for the alluring presence of Ms. Lahaie who would go on to be featured in several memorable Jean Rollin titles (FASCINATION, NIGHT OF THE HUNTED). Lahaie, like Rita Calderoni or Rosalba Neri, is one of those Euro-cult actresses whose stunning beauty is equaled by a formidable acting talent. She can play a mean bitch (as here, or in FACELESS) or a pathetic victim (cf NIGHT OF THE HUNTED), and sometimes a bit of both (cf FASCINATION). 
Robert de Nesle (1906-1978). Producer and CEO of the legendary CFFP, a production house responsible for dozens of Peplums, Westerns, Eurospy, erotica and horror from the late 1950s onward. Died on April 21, 1978, at age 71. 

This was shot in less than a week and really looks it. The "love drug" sequences are represented by smoke being forced through crudely cut rubber tubes. The love drug concept also turns up in the Franco filmography as early as THE GIRL FROM RIO a.k.a. SUMURU 2 (1968), and is also prominent in keeping Ursula Buchfellner as one of the CAPTIVE WOMEN aka LINDA/NAKED SUPERWITCHES OF THE RIO AMORE (1980) {see the self-explanatory still on p 143 of OBSESSION: THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO to get a taste of the latter title}. I term all the above mentioned titles as Women-In-Peril, a related offshoot of the Women in Prison genre, also a goldmine for JF. Some plot elements, especially the father-daughter erotic complications, are also present in Franco's COCKTAIL SPECIAL, another adaptation of Sade's PHILOSOPHY IN THE BEDROOM, also made in 1978, the reported year of Robert De Nesle's death. It's also interesting to compare this film to the Franco film made for Erwin C. Dietrich the year before, DAS FRAUENHAUS, which is almost full strength Franco, featuring an Op-Art style mise-en-scene illuminated with saturated color filters. 



Ms. Lahaie apparently quarreled with Franco on set and she doesn't look like a happy camper, but she does look terrific and can act, as she verified forever in Jean Rollin's NIGHT OF THE HUNTED and Franco's FACELESS (1988)! My favorite part was the opening, set in a glittering disco. Franco pans up from Lahaie's black leather boots to the neon colored-light show and you immediately know you're in Jess Franco territory (despite the use of one of his rarer pseudonyms during the amusing spoken credits). The director even manages to work in his trademark Al Pereira P.I. character, but Jean Ferrere's thug-like visage is no match for the more ambiguous mug of Antonio Mayans, my own favorite interpreter of JF's favorite Private Eye. Daniel J. White's moody, brassy score adds a dash of much needed atmosphere. 



This rather obscure title was one of three hardcore quickies produced by the late Robert de Nesle and directed by Franco in 1978, the year of the producer's death and one of the director's less than favorite years. It represents someone coming up for air following a deep sea dive (in this case the colorful rush of productions the director made in his two years with the Erwin C. Dietrich factory. 

NOTE: I have recently come across this quote from Brigitte Lahaie in a 2009 interview on the website PSYCHOVISION "Jess [Franco] who has a certain talent unfortunately ruined by some confusion [...]." This was about 20 years after Franco give her role of the female villain in his gore epic FACELESS (1988), in which she was absolutely terrific. I guess she was thinking of her more negative experiences on JE BRULE DE PARTOUT.


Is this essential Franco? Hardly. But it's not as dull and tacky as ELLES FONT TOUT, produced as part of the same Portuguese-lensed 1978 bundle (later remade as the superior HOTEL DE LUIGES during Franco's Golden Films Internacional period) and really doesn't deliver the hardcore action demanded by that market.

If you must see this film, see it as a tribute to the gorgeous Ms. Lahaie, even though she now rejects it as part of her catalogue and the best she can say in the Bonus interview is that it's not as bad as it could have been, an attitude shared by Stephen Thrower in his interview on the Blu-ray.

The cinematography is rather bland and straightforward, especially compared with the best of Franco's previous Dietrich productions. It lacks the Sadean tone/textual reference points and more transgressive content of COCKTAIL SPECIAL, culminating with incest while sharing its interiors and exteriors, shot in a coastal suburb of Lisbon, the White City ( IMDB: Cruise terminal of Rocha do Conde de Óbidos, view of the movable bridge and in the distance to the left the bell towers of Church of São Francisco de Paula.). It certainly looks better in this HD presentation than could have been imagined, given its rushed production, grungy settings, clinical staging and bottom-of -the barrel aesthetics.

(C) Robert Monell 2022

03 July, 2022

SNAKEWOMAN



SNAKEWOMAN

- Jess Franco, 2005, États Unis/Espagne

After the beginning of the 21st Century ess Franco didn't make "films" anymore, he made mostly 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 tattoo of a double headed python which curls around her torso. She dominates a netherworld {Malaga, Spain} where "walk-ins" appear and disappear as suddenly as her attacks. Her most recent victim is a female reporter (FATA MORGANA), the Jonathan Harker character, and Christie Levin is the demented female Renfield who is kept in a private asylum by the mad Dr. Nostradamus (Antonio Mayans). The reporter has come to 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. 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 2022 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

official site

25 June, 2022

(C) Robert Monell, 2020

Cocktail Special (1978)/Smoking cigarettes with Jess Franco….

with one comment

Photo credits:

1/ COCKTAIL SPECIAL

2/ Producer Robert De Nesle

3&4/COCKTAIL SPECIAL

5/LABIOS ROJOS (Jesus Franco, 1960)

Smoking cigarettes is an iconic activity in the cinema of Jess Franco, from the inspector lighting up during an investigation in his second feature, the 1960 LABIOS ROJOS, his marvelous monochrome Red Lips template [Picture #6]. Jess Franco himself was a prolific, notorious consumer of cigarettes from a very young age until his finals days. He enjoyed his addiction and it was part of his creative make-up.

In LOS BLUES DE LA CALLE POP (Aventuras de Felipe Marlboro, volumen 8), his wondrous 1983 Neo-noir/live action comic strip extravaganza, we meet cigarette man Sam Chesterfield, a wise-guy piano player played by Jess Franco himself.  He is an informer for the film's anti-hero, unlucky PI Felipe Marlboro (Antonio Mayans).The villain of the film is named Saul Winston! Characters named for popular cigarette brands all together in a marvelous, sleazy world called Shit City, in a film which plays like a candy colored music video and anticipates the Robert Rodriguez SIN CITY in both style and mood.

Franco himself was a lifelong smoker from his teenage years into his 80s. He smoked furiously while he directed onset, while offset and when acting before cameras. He appeared to enjoy every single puff he took. One of my favorite scenes of his onscreen smoking is when the torture expert he plays in THE MIDNIGHT PARTY (1975) stops directing the torture of Lina Romay to fire one up. 

I recently revisited Franco’s last film for producer Robert De Nesle (Picture #3) the 1978 hardcore COCKTAIL SPECIAL. It’s a micro-budgeted version of Sade’s PHILOSOPHY IN THE BEDROOM, earlier filmed  by Franco in 1969 as EUGENIE, THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION and more freely adapted in Franco's 1973, PLAISIR A TROIS.. It opens with images of women reading (The ultimate sin in a man’s world; Picture # 3) and continues with long sequences of Eugenie (Touxa Beni) and her friends lounging around a Portuguese villa, making love, drinking the disgusting title concoction [urine, sperm, whiskey] and… you guessed it, smoking cigarettes (Picture #1).  Robert De Nesle is credited with the script (as Robert Hugue). The film ends with Eugenie unknowingly having sex with her own father (Picture #5) during a masked ball. 

 Producer/director/writer Jacques Garcia (Aicrag) was also involved. But it’s still 100% Jess Franco.

Cigarettes also played a role in another 1978 Jess Franco film, OPALO DE FUEGO (TWO FEMALE SPIES WITH FLOWERED PANTIES) in which Lina Romay, who plays a stripper, has to undergo torture involving getting sensitive areas burned with cigarettes. Smoking is Cool in Jess Franco’s alternate universe, as cool as Humphrey Bogart smoking his way through a series of 1940s Film Noirs. The Howard Hawks version of THE BIG SLEEP opens with images of cigarettes in an ashtray. Photo #5 features of police inspector from Franco's 1960 noir, LABIOS ROJOS, lighting up another cigarette.

A few comments: Lina Romay, supposedly as "Martine", is not in the 71 minute version I saw of this film, which is from the Swedish Video, WET LIPS.  It was first released in France July 5, 1978. It was filmed in Portugal at some of the exterior locations use in Je Brule De Partout, also 1978. Touxa Beni is the prefect Sade heroine, delighted with herself as she is corrupted.

Robert De Nesle, Born: August 1, 1906. Died: April 21, 1978 (age 71) , died before the theatrical debut of this film. De Nesle was owner of the Production company CFPC (Comptoir Français de Productions Cinématographiques) [fr]. He produced/co-produced such peplums as HEROD THE GREAT, THE COLOSSUS OF RHODES, THE CONQUEST OF MYCENE, before moving into financing Eurowesterns (Mario Bava's THE ROAD TO FT. ALAMO), Eursopy films (the Agent Coplan series) and ordered porno versions of such Jess Franco films as LORNA, THE EXORICST, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MIRROR and THE PERVERSE COUNTESS. 

15 June, 2022


THE DEVIL CAME FROM AKASAVA (aka DER TEUFEL KAM AUS AKASAVA) (1970)

Directed by Jess Franco.
With Soledad Miranda, Fred Williams, Jess Franco, Howard Vernon.
A Spanish-West German co-production.
Available from European Trash Cinema.

This may seem, on first viewing or by someone just looking for a well-made spy action-adventure, to be a totally inept rush-job. It was, sadly enough, Franco's last collaboration with his legendary discovery, Soledad Miranda. She would die in a car accident shortly after the completion of this supposed Edgar Wallace adaptation. The plot is basically generic Eurospy cliches strung end to end with the main interesting aspects being Miranda's participation and the director's stylistic solutions to make the then-flailing Edgar Wallace franchise compete with numerous Bond imitations.


 

British Agent Jane Morgan (Miranda) joins forces with a Scotland Yard investigator (Fred Williams) to locate a stolen mineral which has the capacity to transform base metal into gold. The downside is that it emits rays which turn all those who come into contact with it into barbecued zombies. After a trip to the tropical country of Akasava, where the stone was discovered, the agents discover two eminent physicians (well played by Franco regulars Paul Muller and Horst Tappert) have secured the element and are planning to sell it to a corrupt philanthropist. The men are murdered by a counter-agent (Howard Vernon), who is ultimately blown up along with the stone in a plane crash while attempting to flee the country.


Miranda's participation in this enterprise is highly erratic — she pops in and out of the story and her main role is to provide a romantic interest for the hero, indifferently played by the soporific Fred Williams, a handsome, dull actor who spends most of the film limping around in a debilitating leg cast. She doesn't really get a chance to project the obsessed sensuality which burned up the screen in her stunning turns in VAMPYROS LESBOS and EUGENIE DE SADE (both 1970). She does get to perform some abstract strip teases during which she barely moves and doesn't even remove any clothing. No strip and a lot of tease. Cubist eroticism, Jess Franco, style. She is simply somewhat wasted in a role any actress could have done, and whenever offstage she never turns on that mysterious aura of narcotic eroticism which surrounds those indelible performances. Howard Vernon and Franco himself appear in small roles as agents and lighten up the proceedings with some humorous asides.


What saved the film for me were the whirlwind vocal and brass score by Manfred Hubler and Siegfried Schwab (available on CD) and Franco's frenetic camera style and pacing. The director really goes over the top with the zoom lens here (as many critics have complained), moving in and out of the action (or non-action) or suddenly zooming up to the top of palm trees and back down again for no particular reason. These rather desperate directorial moves become kind of amusing to watch for the sheer unpredictability of what Franco is going to focus (or un-focus) on next. The wild camera work is accentuated by the fast paced editing (unusual in a Franco film from this period) and heady music. Franco obviously knew he was involved in a lost cause and at least produced film with a few of his personal touches. It's a Eurospy quickie which his longtime fans can laugh at while regretting the fate of the doomed Miranda. 

There is also an English language dub of this film. Would anyone know who dubbed Soledad Miranda in this version? Please answer in comments, thanks.

(C) Robert Monell, 2022 (new version)

04 May, 2022

MIDNIGHT PARTY (1976)

 f

aka La Coccolona (Italian release), Heisse Beruhrungen (German version). LADY PORNO (Spanish version) Directed by Tawer Nero (Julio Perez Tabernero) for Titanic Films. This is a sexy spy film once directed by Jess Franco in just a few days at a hotel in Southern France. A typical Franco strategy. Around the same time, he shot two other films there (Le Grand Motte) with the exact same rooms, casts and crews (DE SADE'S JULIETTE, SHINING SEX). The version under consideration here has the onscreen title Lady Porno, a Spanish variant of Franco's original MIDNIGHT PARTY. Julio Perez Tabernero, an actor turned producer-director (he can be seen in Franco's own SADISTEROTICA/Two Undercover Angels)acquired it for his Titanic Films (Julio, your company needs a new handle!) and reconstructed it as an "American-Belgian" co-production. It's very amusingly redubbed and rescored with lewd comments, bawdy music and direct-to-the-viewer takes. --Sylvia is a very hot stripper who carries on an affair with a cheap detective, Al Pereira (Olivier Mathot) behind the back of her longtime squeeze Red Nicholas. This is not really another of Franco's Al Pereira episodes, as he is mainly a player in Sylvia's story. Approximately 15 minutes of original footage are missing from the longest version, MIDNIGHT PARTY.


VHS of JUSTINE, a 1979 composite edited and rescored by Joe D'Amato from 3 different Jess Franco films, MIDNIGHT PARTY, SHINING SEX, and DE SADE'S JULIETTE (all 1975). 

This is kind of like a live action cartoon (cf LUCKY, THE INSCRUTABLE) with Lina Romay giving it all she has as the resourceful Sylvia. This might actually be my personal favorite of her performances, she mercilessly teases the viewer directly as the interactive approach allows her to pose, stick her tongue out, and make alluring remarks to the audience before turning back to the scene and players at hand, resuming in the traditional fourth wall mode. It's all a lot of goofy fun. Except that the subject is torture. Torture that really hurts! Sylvia is taken by Radeck/Agent 008 (Jess Franco himself), a spymaster and professional torture mogul who takes his business very seriously indeed. Look at the way he abuses poor Sylvia: after being stripped and sexually abused by hench-persons Monica Swinn and Ramon, she's poked, punched and cigarette burned by the ingrates under the very close supervision of Radeck. They take her to the "torture clinic" which, this being a Jess Franco shoot, merely means another hotel room (or the same hotel room slightly redressed and shot from a different angle). Choosing a metal tool they try pulling out her toenails, as Radeck is beginning to lose his patience. At this point one of my favorite moments in Franco's monumental filmography occurs, and it only last a few seconds--Radeck simply puts a cigarette in his mouth and lights it. That's it! The exact way which actor Jess Franco jabs the smoke into his mouth and fires it up has to be experienced first hand. It's a grand bit a business, something small made into something very special by a seasoned professional. Radeck drops the pose at the end, as Sylvia and Al are escaping he faces the camera and admits to us that it was all an illusion. We have been spectators. But what are we doing at this venue? Of course, that question is implied rather than asked.


 

 Alain Petit is very droll as the Marxist jazz singer, Nicholas. Billed as "Charlie Christian" (cf JUSTINE, the 1979-80 Joe D'Amato composite where he is likewise billed as his footage here is rolled over with scenes from SHINING SEX into a unique reedit) he performs his infamous "La Vie est une Merde", also heard in a blues rendition during Franco's 1982 EMMANUELLE EXPOSED and in Petit's documentary THE MAKING OF TENDER FLESH (1997). 

Lina Romay, as the doomed lover in Franco's lost 1975 feature DE SADE'S JULIETTE, featured along with scenes from MIDNIGHT PARTY in Joe D'Amato's 1979 composite JUSTINE.

The Spanish language version which was screened for this review (subtitled in English) is very much in keeping with the joker/trickster impulses which frequently bubble to the surface of Franco's work. The finale, a shootout with the cops (a minimalist debacle) followed by shots of birds flying in the distance as our couple floats away on a pleasure craft, is post-ironic in the sense that it delivers on expectations which Franco obviously considers bogus while gleefully curving past the generic demands of representational, grade B sexploitation production methodology. In other words: don't worry, be happy, it's only a movie. 

Below is an image of the R0 DVD I picked up from Ebay. No extras, but HQ, if not HD, video quality. Just under 90m. It may be from the same source as the Italian and German discs. Seeing it in English, usually not conducive for a Franco screening, is interesting as the slapstick style physical comedy, played to the hilt by Lina Romay, is emphasized. Franco plays the torturing spy master as a clockwork sadist but Franco the director obviously enjoyed presenting the torture of Lina Romay as humorous, breaking its intensity. Monika Swinn and Ramon Ardid seem to be moving in fast-motion as they strip, sexually assault and virtually rape their victim. When Franco-Radeck faces the audience, breaking the fourth wall, he seems to be exasperated that we, the audience could have taken it all so seriously. Franco, the director, certainly returned again and again to the Eurospy format as a way of having fun with genre cinema and asserted its artificiality. 


It's especially interesting to watch this "comedy" with the intense, morbid SHINING SEX, made the same year, withe the same main cast, on the same locations in Southern France, sometimes using the same hotel rooms, shot from the same camera angles. There is a perverse atmosphere of toxic sexuality, perhaps anticipating Franco's unreleased Sida, la peste del siglo XX (1986), a drama about the dissemination of an AIDS like plague. The secret agents in SHINING SEX, though, are inter-dimensional invaders investigated by a paranormal scientist, Jess Franco again. A truly mind-melting experience would be to view both and then JUSTINE, which composites footage from SHINING SEX, MIDNIGHT PARTY and Franco's lost JULIETTE DE SADE into one Sadean blow-out. 

(C) Robert Monell, 2022

12 March, 2022

LUST FOR FRANKENSTEIN (Jess Franco, 1998)

LUST FOR FRANKENSTEIN/Lady Frankenstein (1998)
Written, Produced and Directed by Jess Franco, US/Spain.
With Lina Romay, Analia Ivars, Carlos Subterfuge, Michelle Bauer, Amber Newman, Robert King.
93min. A One Shot Production.

Franco's first Frankenstein was emodied by the gigantic
Spanish character actor, familiar from Spanish-Italian Eurowesterns, Fernando Bilbao (DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN (1971).

Astounding, obsessively personal, ultra-bizarre, morbid, perverse and maddening are terms which come immediately to mind while or just after watching this most recent entry into the Frankenstein file of Jess Franco. Earlier drafts include such grade Z mixes of horror, sexploitation and experimentation as THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN (THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN -1972 ) and DRACULA, PRISONER OF FRANKENSTEIN filmed with the same cast, crew and sets the same year. The monsters in those films, played by Fernando Bilbao as a silver skinned, moronic killing machine, have nothing on Michelle Bauer in this new version. Casting the American scream queen in this legendary role was a stroke of genius, as her always nude (except for combat boots!) creature is a riveting, pathetic creation as the lover-slave of sex-starved scientist Moira (Lina Romay), the frustrated daughter of Dr. Frankenstein. 


American filmmakers were also having fun with Frankenstein in the 1970s after Mel Brooks YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN hit it big.....

Jess Franco would tell me when I interviewed him in 2005 that THE CURSE (EROTIC RITES) OF FRANKENSTEIN was his personal favorite in his Frankenstein series ("the erotic version," he specified) and one can see why. It's tone is one of transgressive glee, as if he were giggling at the silver skinned creature in that penniless presentation. The tone here is one of more morbid humor with a touch of primal fear.

Jess Franco would have approved of this 1965 William Beaudine-directed Frankenstein mash-up featuring cowboys vs. the vengeance seeking daughter of Baron Frankenstein.
 

The plot is minimal, as usual in Franco's post 1980's work, narrative elements are pushed to very edges of what can best be described as a nonstop barrage of digital delirium delivered at full metal intensity to the eye, ear and libido. The violent nightmares of Moira include bloodly visions of Dr. Frankenstein and his female composite. The monster (whom may or may not be Moira's erotic fantasy) shows up, becomes her lover and her instrument of revenge, killing everyone else in the cast. They end up in bed together at the end, as Moira wonders if it all really happened. The action (or non-action) begins and ends with a famous quote from Hitchcock's REBECCA (1940), an Academy Award winning classic and one of the numerous direct and indirect references to films made by others as well as Franco's own previous work (Romay is seen wearing T-Shirts with logos from SUCCUBUS and THE DEVIL CAME FROM AKASAVA- late 1960's thrillers featuring - respectively - Janine Reynaud and Soledad Miranda, two legendary and hypnotic sex stars the likes of which we will probably never again experience).


The lack of a sustained/coherent plot is likely to deny many access to the visual/aural delights which abound as is the obsessive focus on sex (nothing new for Franco). What is new here is the fact that the production was shot at least partially on video and is layered with what seems like miles of digital effects courtesy of the director's collaboration with the technicians at the Centro de Tecnologia de la Imagen-University of Malaga, Spain. Imagine the "Beyond the Infinite" final passage of Kubrick's 2001... redone by Salvador Dali, Charles Manson and the Marquis de Sade and you get some kind of idea what is in store. The digital imaging appears in virtually every scene and many shots have numerous layers of highly saturated colors, incongruent form, jarring structures and other visual noise playing over the erotic encounters between the scientist, the monster, a dominatrix from hell (the white-hot Analia Ivars) and everyone else in sight.

The return of Frankenstein in the Franco-verse. And this time it's a woman played by an American Scream Queen.
Pink Floyd, one of Jess Franco's favorite prog-rock groups, joins in the madness....

Add to all this a throbbing, jacked-up neo-heavy metal score by Mikel Sagues and Franco himself and you have the ingredients for a mind reeling spiral which forever seems on the verge of spinning out of control and sometimes does. Sex and more sex at a thousand miles high, but somehow seeming to occur at the rate of events at the bottom of the ocean floor. Sound impossible? Welcome to the parallel universe called Jess Franco. Why has it taken you so long to get here?

04 March, 2022

HISTORIA SEXUAL DE O/THE SEXUAL STORY OF O


  Odile, a beautiful but naive young woman vacationing in Spain, attracts the attentions of a voyeuristic couple who live across from her hotel. The couple spy on her as she lounges around naked, and when they invite her over for a session of grou sex, Odile gives in immediately.

After spending days enjoying this
menage a trois, the couple take Odile to the villa of the wealthy Wanda Von Karlstein, where the sex continues. Wanda's perverted husband drugs Odile's drink and rapes her. When she awakens, Odile is chained to a bed, and her captors have sado-erotic torture and death in mind. One of her abductors has a sudden attack of remorse after finding her mutilated body, murders the Von Karlsteins, and walks into the ocean carrying Odile's dead body.




HISTORIA SEXUAL DE O is quite a bit more immersive than some of Franco's more tedious sex-a-thons of the 1980s. The florid, tropical locations and gorgeous cinematography offers a counterpoint to the downbeat melodrama. A melancholy female vocal sets a sombre tone throughout, which Franco maintains until the very last shot of the blazing sun beating down on the aftermath of violence and death. The character of Odile immediately resonates and she might be compared to Henry James' Daisy Miller, although the milieu here is a century, a culture and miles removed. The locations here are familiar from other Franco Golden Films Internacional productions. Franco's concentration of multi-colored flowers makes this one of his most visually gorgeous films of that period.

There are many effective visual and aural touches throughout, which amplify the theme of corrupted innocence. For instance, the victim is first seen wandering in an idyllic garden reading excepts from Norman Mailer's "The Naked and the Dead," foreshadowing her own fate literally. It is also significant that her abductors use Beethoven's famous Ode to Joy from his Ninth Symphony to seduce her attention, underscoring the theme of Old World decadence preying on Odile's gullibility.

As Odile Alicia Principe offers sensuality a la 1981 tourist quality, with a tragic ignorance of the brutal ways of the world, at least the world according to sexual hipsters in post Francisco Franco Spain.

Exotic looking Carmen Carrion and the gaunt, sinister Daniel Katz are well-cast as the wealthy tormentors. Katz's impotent freak-out while raping Odile is especially blood-curdling. There is also a subtle sociological subtext similar to the situation in Franco's 1973 THE PERVERSE COUNTESS, wherein upper caste villains use a financially struggling lower-class couple to provide victims for their blood lust. This inequity creates a scene in which a henchman turns on his vicious employers.

The scene in which the only survivor of the massacre carries Odile's body into the water is also lifted from the end of THE PERVERSE COUNTESS. The long, excruciating sequence detailing Odile's torture and death is painful to watch, as chains, whips, and studded medieval-style weapons are used to strip away her flesh. Franco encourages us to become emotionally engaged with Odile, which ratchets the level of intensity even higher. The fact that it's shot in soft focus with hallucinatory, multi-colored light emanations decorating the sado-erotic action makes it all the more disturbing.

The stuff of nightmares, HISTORIA SEXUAL DE O is highly recommended and has been released on DVD by Severin Films. That 2007 DVD includes an interview with the director
, finding Jess in an unusually self- critical state of mind we learn that the production was more than modest, "two cents" rather than usual two dollars and that Franco was less than pleased with Principe (whom he terms "stupid") and Mauro Rivera (BLACK CANDLES). He saves his praise for Carmen Carrion and Daniel Katz, noting the latter actor simply disappeared after acting in a few of his films. He also manages to wave off Just Jaeckin's STORY OF O, suggesting the director is more of a high fashion photographer than a real director. More to the point he notes that Sade, rather than Pauline Reage, was his real influence here and encourages critics to actually "read" the oft condemned author rather than moralize about him. Even more fascinating is his discussion of his use of water symbolism as a kind of portal to another reality.   It is hoped that an updated, HD release will appear asap.


Sadean, but not Sade, or an official Sade adaptation. The film was certainly heavily inspired by the writings of  "The Divine Marquis", as are many of Franco's films, whether Women in Prison, horror, crime-noir, or whatever genre he is working. Nor is it an official adaptation of the Pauline Reage novel. It is closer to such earlier Franco Sade adaptations as EUGENIE, HISTORIA DE UNA PERVERSION or LE COMTESSE PERVERSE. It's very much in the Sade wheelhouse, a modality which Franco continually returned to throughout his long, busy career.

Robert Monell   2022

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Historia Sexual de O
1981 86 MINUTES European Trash Cinema and Video Search of Miami (U.S. import) DIRECTED BY JESS FRANCO WITH: ALICIA PRINCIPE, CARMEN CARRION, DANIEL KATZ, MAMIE KAPLAN, MAURO RIVERA
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14 February, 2022

Lina Romay (1954-2012), 10 Years Later....

Lina Romay in Jess Franco's LA COMTESSE NOIRE (FEMALE VAMPIRE)



Lina Romay was born in 1954 in Barcelona, Catalonia, in the year of the Chinese zodiac Horse. She died on February 15, 2012 in Malaga, Spain, 10 years ago today. I remember feeling lost in time for a moment when I heard about her premature death at the age of 57. Someone was gone who couldn't be replaced. Acting was her art, and she was a great artist. 


She was still a teenager when she met and started acting in films directed by her longtime companion and husband, director Jess Franco (1930-2013). Even in her early roles she was eye-catching. Her first major role was in Franco's iconic, erotic horror-drama, FEMALE VAMPIRE (1973). Without any dialogue she dominated the screen and the rest of the cast for that film's runtime. She was breathtakingly sensual and had a natural magnetism which immediately drew attention to her mute, lonely character. Many leading roles followed, including some for other directors, including Erwin C. Dietrich (ROLLS ROYCE BABY), Carlos Aured (APOCALIPSIS SEXUAL), Ricardo Palacios and Jorge Grau. She also helped Franco as a sometime assistant director, editor and constant inspiration. She is also listed as the director of some of his productions (INTIMATE CONFESSIONS OF AN EXHIBITIONIST). She was an unabashed exhibitionist as a performer. You could feel her joy and intensity as she performed for Franco's voyeuristic cameras. It could be said that she was the probably first totally sex-positive movie star. She didn't hide or downplay her sexuality onscreen. There was no shame or egocentric persona on display. She was a force of nature who blew away all boundaries and stepped over all taboos, both soft and hardcore.

Her final role was as Jess Franco's loyal, unselfish and omnipresent helper as she guided her wheelchair-bound mate around the world and on the sets of his final films. My only contacts with her was when she patiently answered my email questions about obscure details of her and his careers and on the phone during my marathon long-distance interviews with Jess. I immediately got the feeling of warmth and friendship in her distinctive voice as she handed the phone to Jess. 

Thank you, Lina Romay. You are now immortal and live on in your many indelible film performances. It is now 10 years on, and you are missed!


(C) Robert Monell, 2022

07 February, 2022

LES EBRANLEES/Dolls for Sale (1972): Director Clifford Brown (Jess Franco)

The Hotel Santa Catalina on Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Canary Islands is a main locations of the crime action in LES EBRANLEES. Al Pereira has lunch on one of its levels in one scene and it is also a place where he can meet clients without arousing suspicion. This is what the 5 Star hotel looks like today. It's been in business for over 100 years. It overlooks the sea and gives a panoramic view of the island from another angle.

Howard Vernon was perfectly cast as sleazy PI in this very grim entry in the crime-noir series about the Spanish investigator directed by the man who created the character, Jess Franco. The director himself took the role in the 1976 DOWNTOWN and longtime Franco regular and sometime production manager essayed the role in several 1980's crime dramas, such as BOTAS NEGRAS, LATIGO DE CUERO, which is a sort of remake of this film.

This was the third Jess Franco film featuring the sleazy Private Investigator Al Pereira as the protagonist. Franco demonstrated his lifelong cinephilia by naming him after the Hollywood production designer Hal Pereira (DOUBLE INDEMNITY, REAR WINDOW), who was at least as prolific as Franco, designing some over 280 films. His most memorable artwork is seen in the Film Noir format. In that area he mastered the black and white aesthetic as well as the blushing colors of VERTIGO. One could draw a parallel with Jess Franco, whose monochrome noir DEATH WHISTLES THE BLUES is lit and composed in the dynamic yet layered tones of Robert Siodmak's THE KILLERS, a personal favorite of Franco. LES EBRANLEES is a different story and a different kind of production, it looks almost threadbare and is as stylistically sleazy as the world it depicts. Perhaps a HD release would throw a different light on mise-en-scene of this Robert De Nesle production. This is the director's grittiest entry into the Eurocrime trend which was taking off in the early 1970s and would pretty much rule the rest of the commercial landscape in European genre cinema of that decade.

 

ABOVE: Conrado San Martin (the police inspector in Jess Franco's first horror film, GRITOS EN LA NOCHE), was the first actor to portray Al Pereira, as Agent 069, in DEATH WHISTLES THE BLUES (1962), now available on Blu-ray from Severin Films.

 

An abridged (approx, 69m) French language version (original title: LES EBRANLEES, although the title card is missing on the version I saw, a transfer from French video to VHS), this fullscreen transfer, the grungy cinematography was by Gerard Brissaud, looks like it came from a 35mm print which played every grind-house in France for numerous decades. This downmarket quality somehow seems perfectly appropriate considering this is an utlra-sleazy, sweaty foray into a feral Euro-underworld investigated by Jess Franco's favorite private eye, Al Pereira. The fact that Al is incarnated by the legendary Howard Vernon, an elegant stylist who brought a haggard dignity to his work for Franco, Godard (ALPHAVILLE), Melville , Lang (DIE TAUSEND AUGEN DER DR. MABUSE) and many others, gives this grade Z Eurocrime obscurity a gravitas amid its porno designation. This is a deep, dirty dive into the continental prostitution racket and its related Euro underworld activities in the morally compromised 1970s. As usual with Franco films of this era, much of it appears to be shot in hotel rooms, specifically the Hotel Catalina.

 

ABOVE: Antonio Mayans is once again cast as Al Pereira in Franco's final neo-noir featuring his favorite PI. This was Franco's final completed film. He passed away white shooting the follow-up, THE REVENGE OF THE ALLIGATOR LADIES (2013), which was completed by Antonio Mayans. Call him Al Crosby, Al Pereira, whatever, the name might change, the character is the same.

 

The plot synopsis published in OBSESSION-THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO bears little or no relation to the version under consideration here.* But since the continuity is so choppy, it's hard to offer an alternative scenario. Periera seems to be investigating a drug/prostitution ring operating out of a number of hotels and clubs. After brushing off some pimps and thugs, he becomes involved with a stripper (Montserrat Prous) whom he uses to infiltrate the criminal organization. The boss turns out to be a club owner (Doris Thomas), who has an amazon girlfriend (Kali Hansa) also adept at kidnapping, torture and seduction.

 

ABOVE: Another 1980 remake of LES EBRANLEES features Antonio Mayans as "Al Crosby" in this iteration.

As with so many Franco titles the action commences in the middle of an erotic performance (cf: SUCCUBUS (1967), EXORCISM (1967), to name just a couple). A trashy nightclub where garishly attired patrons gawk at one of the "vibrating girls" thrashing around on a red and white checkerboard stage to Janin and Hermel's electrified lounge score. A later minimalist striptease by Montserrat Prous seems all the more erotic because she removes nothing more than her black leather gloves. Her slow, deliberate movements are absolutely hypnotic. It's obviously another version of the slow motion striptease practiced by Diana Lorys is the 1969 neo-noir, NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT.  Hansa getting the drop on an exhausted looking Vernon (after he has just had rough sex with Hansa) by holding a gun against his private parts and threatening to pull the trigger is typical of Franco's dark, absurdist tone throughout. There is little is any intentional or unintentional humor here. Vernon's depiction of Pereira's slow burn when he discovers that the stripper he has been using has been tortured to death is an acting high water mark and an emotional low point in the film These arresting, very brief encounters are afterimages which play in the mind long after the porno loop design burns itself out. Some might find it largely dismal and depressing. Somber is the best word to describe it.

Alternately hypnotic and narcotic, this is a rather grim tidbit which will be of interest to Franco collectors due to its long standing unavailability on a quality, English friendly video/DVD and those who need to see another chapter in one of the director's longest running roadshows- the Al Pereira Chronicles. Over 20 years after I first saw and reviewed this there is still no official DVD and no Blu-ray in sight. The story and atmosphere of this film were recycled in Franco's 1980 PICK-UP GIRLS,* which is every bit as sleazy and slightly less somber, also dealing with a transexual character's spiral into criminality. In that film's case, as with LES EBRANLEES, the treatment of a trans character is brutally retrograde.

Thanks to Michelle Alexander for her assistance.  

*See pp.501-568, A Shot in the Temple in "THE JESS FRANCO FILES, VOL.1" by Francesco Cesari and Roberto Curti, where the script for the unfinished "RELAX BABY" is compared to the completed films,"LES EBRANLEES" and "PICK-UP GIRLS (La Chica de las Bragas Transparentes)".

(C) Robert Monell, 2022

05 January, 2022

Jess Franco's Weird Women Files


THE GIRL FROM RIO: Jess Franco's 1969 Eurospy-style thriller, filmed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, features Richard Wyler as an agent sent by a banker to rescue his daughter from a cult of political terrorists led by Sumuru, played by former Bond Girl Shirley Eaton (GOLDFINGER). It's playing for free on Tubi. There's also the Harry Alan Towers produced THE MILLION EYES OF SUMURU from 1967, also starring Ms. Easton in the title role and featuring Maria Rohm (also in THE GIRL FROM RIO), George Nader as an American secret agent, and Klaus Kinski. That one is directed by Lindsay Shonteff and is on the Blue Underground Blu-ray along with THE GIRL FROM RIO. A more action packed film than GIRL, it was filmed on location Hong Kong.

https://tubitv.com/movies/525893/the-girl-from-rio https://tubitv.com/movies/525893/the-girl-from-rio

 


 a.k.a. LA CIUDAD SIN HOMBRES, Spanish version; below, SUMURU 2, alternate German version.

I'd actually recommend the German alternate cut which contains an armored car robbery not in any other version. This is one of the most well engineered action scenes in a Jess Franco film. It also has a different music score. The original score by Daniel White is a delight for fans of bossa  nova.



Sumuru (Shirley Eaton) and her #2 (Beni Cardoso) in THE GIRL FROM RIO/FUTURE WOMEN/RIO 70. 

Jess Franco would do several follow ups, including the 1987 ESCLAVAS DEL CRIMEN, starring Lina Romay as a Sumuru-like like leader of a group of lethal women who kidnap and kill on her orders. That one features a very stylized aesthetic, using diffusion filters and other optical effects to give the overall visual impression of a comic book. 

ESCLAVAS DEL CRIMEN, Franco's 1987 erotic thriller is an optical experiment starring Lina Romay as the daughter of Fu Manchu.

An even more outre follow up was Franco's 1977 BLUE RITA/DAS FRAUENHAUS, filmed in Paris and featuring Pamela Stanford as a leader of a criminal organization of female seductresses and spies. The visual style of that one, co produced by Erwin Dietrich and Robert De Nesle, deploys a lot of colorful costumes, color gel lighting, smoke, mirrors and eye catching filter effects. The women are a bisexual, sadistic, and exhibitionist lot who make a lot of trouble.




 

(C) Robert Monell 2020