04 May, 2022

MIDNIGHT PARTY/LADY PORNO/PORNO DAMA (1975)

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 good natured 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 henchpersons 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. 

I'm getting an updated DVD of MIDNIGHT PARTY next week in the mail so I'll be adding my thoughts here after viewing. It's the full 90 minute version. 

REVIEWED BY ROBERT MONELL

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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Credits

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

26 December, 2021

LA VENGANZA DEL DR. MABUSE (Jess Frank, 1971) Franco index --------------------------------------------------------------------

 (a.k.a.  DR. M SCHLAGT ZU; DER MANN DER SICH MABUSE NANNTE; DER DOKTOR MABUSE; EL DOCTOR MABUSE)  In a remote lighthouse laboratory, criminal mastermind Dr. Mabuse conducts mind control experiments on women who are kidnapped by his assistants. Mabuse uses a mineral from stolen moon rocks (!) to create a ray that turns people into obedient zombies. A stripper, a witness to one of the abductions, in turn becomes the next victim. Under Mabuse's telepathic guidance, she seduces an American diplomat. These rapidly escalating events are investigated by Thomas (Fred Williams), the local Sheriff, who finally manages to locate the hideout. Mabuse is killed during a melee involving his brain damaged henchman as the lab explodes. 

 

This obscure feature represents the last gasp of the long-lived Dr. Mabuse franchise (albeit there was also Claude Chabrol's 1990 DR. M), which had seen better days in the Fritz Lang thrillers of the 1920s and 30s. Lang's final film, DIE TAUSEND AUGEN DER DR. MABUSE (1960), revived Mabuse as a nuclear age fanatic hiding out in a Berlin hotel outfitted with hidden television cameras, predicting surveillance culture along the way. That iconic film was followed by several Artur Brauner produced follow ups, such as DR. MABUSE VS SCOTLAND YARD (1963), which saw the series winding down amidst the competition of West German produced Krimis. Franco's 1971 movie has a very rushed look, For instance, one scene is partially obscured by a section of the lens-cap which appears not to have been properly removed by the camera team. Also, when the cops finally arrive at Dr. Mabuse's hideout, the shadow of Manuel Merino's camera falls over the arriving police car. Franco didn't have the time or budget to do any Hollywood style "coverage" and didn't bother correcting such technical gaffes as out of focus shots. 

A diplomat (Angel Menendez) falls under the mental control of Dr. Mabuse and his cohorts.


Some amusing touches include Mabuse's hulking henchman, Andros (Moises Rocha), with his sewn-up skull cap, looking like a refugee from a Hammer horror entry. The Red Garter "nightclub," which looks like a parking garage with a few battered chairs and tables placed inside, is the setting for Ewa Stroemberg's minimalist striptease. As usual in Jess Franco films,  WTF moments abound. The office of Sheriff Thomas looks like a leftover from some spaghetti western, and Williams appears throughout the film in a cowboy costume.  Despite these technical jaw droppers -- and that the always suave looking Jack Taylor is somewhat miscast as Mabuse -- the action is punctuated by a decent jazz music score, as well as some impressive color-gel photography. It basically looks like a color photo-novel one might read while listening to jazz on a Sunday afternoon.

 

            Jess Franco and Spanish horror regular Jack Taylor is Professor Frakas/Doctor Mabuse....

Most interesting are some extremely wide-angle compositions in Mabuse's lab and during the abduction scenes, which distort spatial relationships and employ lighting and color in a way which anticipate the look of Kubrick's A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, which was released at the end of 1971. But there's little chance Kubrick saw or was inflected by Franco's micro-budgeted thriller. The difference being that Kubrick's film grossed 100 million plus while Franco's cut-rate epic wasn't even adequately promoted by its producers. The German language version of this has additional scenes during the lab robbery sequence which don't appear to have been directed by Franco but may have been added to extend the runtime. The overall irony is that by the 1970s Mabuse seemed a lot less of a threat to world peace than the very real terrorists who were making the headlines in Europe and the Middle East.

Like Orson Welles before him, Jess Franco favored the wide angle lens which imposed a broader view from fixed perspectives. 

The Spanish language LA VENGANZA DEL DR. MABUSE might be the definitive "Director's Cut" of this obscure film. The German version used for this review was released by the German CCC company.

(C) 2022 Robert Monell

 Robert Monell    

24 November, 2021

The Demons (Jess Franco,1972; 2003 Director's Cut)


I recently revisited the 101 minute version of this Jess Franco witch burning epic, set in 17th Century England, actually a remake of his 1970 THE BLOODY JUDGE/NIGHT OF THE BLOOD MONSTER, with Christopher Lee playing the role of the historical Witchfinder General, Judge Jeffries. Here the Judge is played by the Iranian actor Cihangar Garffari (John Caffari), who doesn't have quite the psychological grasp which Lee had on the character. France decided to create this version in 2003, eliminating over 10 minutes of footage from the full 114 minute version, which is also included here, along with the much shorter German theatrical release. 

               Cihangir Gaffari, Jess Franco's second Judge Jeffries, Chief Inquisitor of England

Doris Thomas' masturbation scene is cut in half, in the original running an epic 3 minutes plus (see below). Jess Franco toning down a sex scene? Curious. A number of dialogue exposition scenes are also trimmed or cut. On the Spanish language option Franco included a number of cues, written for such earlier films as BARBED WIRE DOLLS, replacing the anachronistic acid rock/Pink Floyd style original cues of Jean Bernard Raiteux. In this complete version the self pleasuring writhing of Mother Superior (Doris Thomas) goes on for over 3 minutes as Franco's telezoom moves in and out of her copious folds of flesh, very much like the probings of the verdant Portuguese exteriors. It somehow seems appropriate within the establishment of a totally voyeuristic aesthetic illustrated by the repeated framing of sadistic tortures (performances) from the point of view of enthused audiences (the Inquisition in the opening scene, the villagers in the burning of Nichols). Leaving the obsessive zooming aside, the scope compositions of Raul Artigot get a lot of period detail into the frame as well emphasizing the layers of political and psychological power in the historical context.

Point of view is everything in cinema, especially the cinema of Jess Franco, and he often places his camera amidst the onscreen viewers of the sadoerotic spectacle as a way of subversively implicating/deconstructing the off screen viewer's appetite for such tortures. That may seem a stretch but even the critical Phil Hardy Horror Encyclopedia compares Franco's approach here favorably to Ken Russell's in his equally sadistic 1971 nunsploitation epic, THE DEVILS, which, as admitted by the director in the interview with David Gregory, was  the direct inspiration for this project. Both films exclusively deal with sexually inflamed clerics in the midst of a historical context of witch hunting and official corruption and both have their merits and demerits.

Frequent 1970s Jess Franco producer Robert De Nesle 

 The point of interest is that the accused and accusers in both films are related to religion, the catch being that the Inquisitors often sport political ambitions and agendas. One could expand this in the case of LES DEMONS ( and Franco indicates this in the interview) into an allegory of the situation in Spain under the yoke of Francisco Franco at the time the film was made. Religious hypocrisy in his homeland was a running theme in the life and career of Jess Franco, and some of his films and projects were subject to the whims of the censorship of that era.




 THE DEMONS is certainly one of Franco's most visually compelling films for producer Robert De Nesle, with the cynical, shifty- eyed Jeffries portrayed by Gaffari as a suitable replacement for Christopher Lee (as Franco notes in the interview), solidly backed up by Anne Libert, Karin Field, Doris Thomas, the always welcome Howard Vernon, and especially the stunningly sensual Britt Nichols. In some ways the film is stolen by Franco and Spaghetti Western regular Luis Barboo as the dedicated torture supervisor. It's not great Jess Franco but it's surprisingly compelling and complex, given the debased genre and available budget. It's definitely a "Jess Franco" film, overflowing with his personal obsessions and touches. This version also has the complete flesh dissolving scene in which Karin Field is reduced to a skeleton after receiving the "kiss of death" from born-again witch Britt Nichols. This scene was also restored on the UK Nucleus Films restoration of the film. Franco's 1976 LOVE LETTERS OF A PORTUGUESE would be a more lavish exercise in transgression, and seemed more generously produced by Erwin C. Dietrich. After 1980 Franco avoided returning to Nunsploitation. 

R2 114 + 200 (Bonus)

Dolby Digital

2.35:1 (the German print looks about 2.50:1)

(C) Robert Monell, 2021

28 October, 2021

FRANCO NOIR Blu-ray


Above: Images of a would-be political authoritarian looms over the characters in RIFIFI IN THE CITY (1963) and CITIZEN KANE (1941). The plots tells a different story. 

FRANCO NOIR, the new Blu-ray release from Severin Films, is not only very good news for fans of Jess Franco, it's a feast for the eyes and ears of fans of classic Film Noir, Eurocrime cinema, jazz enthusiasts and rare cult movies. 

 



 DEATH WHISTLES THE BLUES (1962) filmed directly after Franco's first horror film, GRITOS EN LA NOCHE (THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF), set on such Bond-style locations as South America, Jamaica and New Orleans, is best described as a crime film immersed in a jazz environment, shot in the high contrast black and white, including the Dutch camera angle style referencing classic Film Noir. Given that the villain (Georges Rollin) is ultimately defeated by the appearance and aggressive investigation of Interpol Agent 069 (a Franco joke which survives on the soundtrack of the French language version), it also turns out to be a Eurospy film with jazz interludes, including an on-camera appearance by Jess Franco as saxophone player with the Whisky Jazz Club band.

In 1947, somewhere in a South American police state, Julius Smith and Frederico de Castro, drivers in the employ of international criminal Radeck, are stopped by police and arrested for smuggling guns in their fruit truck. They manage to escape before being taken into custody, but Castro is shot dead while Smith (Manuel Alexandre) escapes, turning up as a jazz trumpeter in New Orleans over ten years later under a different name. The action of the remaining story is triggered when Castro's widow (Perla Cristal EL SECRETO DEL DR. ORLOFF), visiting underworld figure Carlos Moroni's nightclub, recognizes a song played by the band as ''Blues del Tejado", written by her late husband. This Franco composed melody, used again and again throughout the film in different contexts, becomes a haunting anthem of the grief which lingers after the loss of a loved one. Her current husband is, in fact, the same Radeck, now in semi-retired/hiding status as Vogel, who set up Smith and Castro for arrest years before. When she mentions the song to Radeck she signs the death certificate of Smith who her husband orders murdered in a staged traffic accident a few nights later. Grief, revenge, fear all amp up the odds as Radeck decides to silence all those who might reveal his past and present crimes.

The plot becomes more complex when Jao, a ship worker, arrives and starts asking questions about Smith's death. At the same time Moira (Danick Patisson), a new singer who has debuted at Moroni's nightclub, also seems to have a hidden agenda. As Radeck/Vogel, the villain of the piece, the French actor Georges Rollin (THE SADISTIC BARON VON KLAUS) gives the character an understated menacing quality which is very effective and really pays off in the final turns of the narrative when the true identity of the noir femme fatale is revealed. Under his surface charm and elegance Radeck is a ruthless killer. The fact that the film moves with such dispatch illustrates Franco's skill at packing so much plot and atmosphere into a well-paced 81 minutes.

DEATH WHISTLES THE BLUES is action packed, atmospheric, filled with delightful jazz music and a fascinating cast of sinister characters. As the secret agent-protagonist actor Conrado San Martin, who played the relentless police inspector in Franco's previous THE AWFUL DR ORLOF, does not quite have the charm of Sean Connery's James Bond, the actor was even renamed "Sean Martin" on the theatrical and video adverts. The fact that his character's real name is Al Pereira gives Franco's perennial favorite detective/spy a good origin story.  Highlights include a surprisingly well-staged lethal fistfight in a dark alley between the agent and the thuggish Moroni (Gerard Tichy) which has the gritty flavor of similar scenes in such classic 1950s American noirs as KISS ME DEADLY (1955) and Welles' TOUCH OF EVIL(1958).

The unmasking of Radeck at a Gothic styled masquerade ball also shows Franco at his most visually arresting and anticipates the surreal, frenetic masquerade ball which opens his 1967 Eurospy spoof, LUCKY THE INSCRUTABLE. It should also be noted that the local homicide cop Inspector Fenton in DEATH.... is played by Spanish actor Fortunio Bonanova, who also appeared as the voice coach of the wife of the title character in Orson Welles' most famous film, CITIZEN KANE. This would be Bonanova's final film. CITIZEN KANE has a much more prominent influence of the other film on this release, the 1963 RIFIFI EN LA CIUDAD. 

Alternate titles of the French version of DEATH WHISTLES THE BLUES included 077 OPERATION JAMAIQUE and 077 OPERATION SEXY. No one has yet located a print of that SEXY version, according to Franco writer Stephen Thrower on the Bonus featurette included on the release. The version presented on the Blu-ray is the original Spanish language release, before Eurocine retitled, dubbed, and reedited it. This feature, scanned in HD from original negative elements, is presented in 1.78:1 (16:9), no significant loss of image was noticed during playback. Both features are in Spanish 2.0 mono audio with new English subtitles. Scanned from original negative elements the video quality is far sharper, with superior overall definition to the dupes that have been floating around for years.

Speaking of Orson Welles, that legendary director's trademark visual style is written all over both of these features. It is well-known that Orson Welles was impressed with a screening of RIFIFI IN THE CITY, which he was shown to him by a Spanish producer to discourage him from working with Franco. Welles liked it so much, probably recognizing the influences of his own filmography, including CITIZEN KANE (see top images), THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, TOUCH OF EVIL, that he decided to hire Franco to be his assistant on his two upcoming projects, CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT and TREASURE ISLAND (1965).  Franco and Welles reportedly had a falling out and TREASURE ISLAND, which Franco had started directing with Welles in the lead role, was left unfinished. When I asked Jess Franco who was his favorite director when I interviewed him he answered without hesitation, "Orson Welles." He followed that up by saying another top favorite was Robert Siodmak, a German born director who moved to the US in the late 1930ss to make a top notch series of Film Noirs, including a Jess Franco favorite, THE KILLERS (1946). Franco also mentioned that he especially admired the use of jazz music in Siodmak's thrillers, terming them "Jazz-Noir". Both of these films in this release would fall into that classification.

RIFIFI IN THE CITY could indeed be termed Wellesian from its very first shots of huge posters of corrupt businessman-senate hopeful Maurice Leprince (Jean Servais). Leprince is a major player in the cocaine smuggling racket and is being investigated by veteran detective Miguel Mora (Fernando-Fernan Gomez). The severe expression on Leprince's face and the sinister edge to his bearing on the poster suggest a threatening personality rather than a helpful, benevolent one which a politician might desire. One night a key informant, Paco, is delivered literally onto Mora's doorstep, dead on arrival. Mora is outraged and steps up his game, informing his colleagues that he's talking the gloves off and will take Leprince down without regards to laws, rules or regulations. But there are more related murders, mysterious clues, twists and turns which delay Mora's plan, leading to frustration, violence and tragedy along the way. 

Based on the 1958 novel by Charles Exbrayat VOUS SOUVENES_VOUS DE PACO?, the key to the murder mystery and conspiring architect of Leprince's downfall lies in the book's title, DO YOU REMEMBER PACO? The last section of the film contains a number of sharp turns and fatal twists giving the violent endgame a one-two punch. This is a sprawling, complex film which employs music, melodrama and political intrigue to create one of Franco's darkest, most stylistically elaborate immersions into a noir nightmare world. The character driven plot is worth the wait it takes to unravel. Daniel White's wide ranging score, from hot jazz, to Latin blues, mambo to big band salsa and beyond, with an especially haunting main theme, is one of his most accomplished for Franco. 

What we are left with is more of a downbeat contemplation of a genre than a straightforward crime thriller. The destruction of the villain necessitates the loss of good people and the feeling of being dropped at the edge of a precipice at the last moment. As with many of his better, more personal films, Franco seems reluctant to give us a completely happy ending, so he gives us complicated one instead with food for thought on the side.  The high contrast black and white cinematography by Godofredo Pacheco creates a sense of ratcheted-up visual delirium both in the violent set pieces and the painstakingly choreographed musical numbers. In fact this film could be also be called a musical-noir. Led by the over-the-top blonde persona of Marie Vincent (the secretary in Benazeraf's once controversial crime-noir, JOE CALIGULA), whose alpha style singing and dancing are set off by her deliciously stylized outfits and hairstyles. One must take into account that Franco had already made two large scale musicals by this time, THE QUEEN OF THE TABARIN and VAMPIRESAS 1930 (both 1960), and that music was as important to him as writing, directing, acting and visual stylistics. It was published as a 1968 photo-novel in Spain in Aventuras de Ciencia-Ficcion #6., according to the review in OBSESSION: THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO.*

This feature, like DEATH WHISTLES THE BLUES, is presented in 1.78:1/16:9; although shot in 1.66:1 there is no significant loss of image. Scanned  in HD from negative elements there are a few moments which lack the focus and definition of the rest, but this is the absolute best this film has ever looked on home video. This is full-blown noir, consistently composed with atmospheric poise. The new English language subtitles are an accurate translation of the 2.0 mono Spanish language soundtrack. A 60 plus minute featurette interview with Stephen Thrower details the career of Franco up to the early 1960s, along with discussing the plots, influences, and performances in both films. He also adds some observation and criticism of Franco's seeming lack of interest in conventional plot construction. My own feeling is that both are just about pitch perfect in tone and style, representing Franco's final word on classic Film Noir and his own early steps into a personal brand of neo-noir which would continue to evolve until the very end of his career. 

*Balbo, Lucas, pp 46-47, 1993.

Released by Severin Films.

(C) Robert Monell , 2021

16 September, 2021

ESCLAVAS DEL CRIMEN (James Lee Johnson, 1986)

 

                                                               Vintage Spanish VHS


ESCLAVAS DEL CRIMEN: With direction credited to James Lee Johnson, screenplay to David Khunne, and even taking the space to note that it's based on a story by Sax Rohmer, Esclavas Del Crimen is a double joke from inveterate trickster, Jess Franco.  This candy colored obscurity is a deliriously filmed erotic adventure that updates Sax Rohmer's Sumuru ethos (Rohmer receives screen credit, as "S. Rohmer") to a contemporary Asian region. It's doubtful that the actual story, what little there is of one, is based on any actual Rohmer story.  Lina Romay appears as Fah Lo Suee, the daughter of  a Fu Manchu style Oriental villain, made up with exotic eye mascara to appear Oriental, with an equally Asian wardrobe and hair style. A title card explains it takes place "in an exotic corner of the distant east, [a] paradise of the drug and corruption." The double joke is that it's a parody of Sax Rohmer's universe played straight, if not sober. Romay does a lot of elaborate exotic dancing in her hotel nightclub, located in a jungle high rise guarded by heavily armed female security personnel. It's also typical of the kind of budgetary restraints the director faced that most of the action is staged within convenient hotel rooms.


Members of the Rocky Walters rock band are approached by seductresses at an Asian tourist resort where they are drugged, tortured, and forced to sign over bank accounts and other financial holdings.  This criminal enterprise is investigated by a karate fighting investigator and an Interpol agent who wears a pink shirt. The movie climaxes with an air strike carried out by the agent flying a Harrier Jump-Jet delivering a napalm payload into the encampment. Franco obviously spent a lot of time on creating his personal atmosphere of male enslavement in a jungle hideout ruled by Alpha women.

This amusing if sometimes opium-paced trifle is most interesting for the eye-popping color filter effects, which fill key scenes with bright primary color patterns which appear as odd halos, sometimes obscuring the action. The female bunch are a sexy and imposing army of Amazons that recall Shirley Eaton and her followers in Franco's THE GIRL FROM RIO/ FUTURE WOMEN (1969).  Only in this post hardcore-Franco feature the female army parade around the tropical headquarters in the nude. Following the final assault on the hidden jungle headquarters Lina Romay gets to repeat the trademark Fu Manchu standard: "The world will hear from me again!"

 


Every so often in his massive filmography Franco returned to the Far East to stage supposed Sax Rohmer/Edgar Wallace tales. The ones produced by Harry Alan Towers in the late 1960s were the most adequately resourced, despite the outrageous use of stock footage in THE CASTLE OF FU MANCHU (1969), including the sinking of the Titanic via Roy Ward Baker's 1958 black and white docudrama A NIGHT TO REMEMBER intercut with more lifted footage from the 1966 THE BRIDES OF FU MANCHU, directed by Don Sharp! This isn't really an official Sumuru film, the female villain played by Romay is just a variation on Rohmer's characters and themes. 


 

Franco's 1985 VIAJE A BANGKOK, ATAUD INCLUIDO was also credited to Edgar Wallace material, although it turns out to be an remake of THE 1966 Franco Eurospy, CARTES SUR TABLE. Then there was the similar BANGKOK, CITA CON LA MUERTE (1985), a colorful mixture of martial arts, drug smuggling thriller and kidnapping for ransom melodrama, featuring Lina Romay as a Thai pirate, filmed in the Canary Islands. The visual style in that one features comic book style frames with dialogue balloons. With the aid of his ace collaborator, cinematographer Juan Soler Cozar, Franco was obviously having a lot of fun with these Far Eastern-set pulp fictions.



This Herminio Garcia Calvo production followed a series of hardcore features such as EL MIRON Y LA EXCHIBICIONISTA and ENTRE PITO ANDA EL JUEGO (both 1985). It's another return to the Franco-verse take on the Sax Rohmer-Fu Manchu franchise which he explored in the late 1960s with THE BLOOD OF FU MANCHU, THE CASTLE OF FU MANCHU, and THE GIRL FROM RIO, all produced by Harry Alan Towers. It signaled the final part of that Jess Franco phase before he helmed such bigger budgeted, late 1980s, Eurocine-produced action films as FALL OF THE EAGLES, DARK MISSION, and ESMERALDA BAY. 

Unlike Franco's earlier Sax Rohmer related epics, ESCLAVAS DEL CRIMEN has yet to have an official DVD or HD presentation in an English friendly or any version in North America or elsewhere. This review was based on  a VHS dub of the Spanish video pictured at the top of this post. 

Yet another supposed Edgar Wallace adaptation was Franco's 1983 adventure SANGRE EN MIS ZAPATOS, based on an actual Wallace novel, "Sanders Come from the River"

(C) Robert Monell, 2021                                                               


29 August, 2021

El Hundimiento de la Casa Usher (1983) Filipe M. Guerra version

 

I'm gradually putting together a series of blog posts on this unique version of Jess Franco's lost director's cut of his 1983 EL HUNDIMINETO DE LA CASA USHER.  The film was only projected publicly once at a Horror Festival in Spain, where is was roundly rejected by a disappointed audience.

It was then recut and several murder sequences involving Usher (Howard Vernon) were added while other footage was removed. Years later it was again re-edited by Eurocine, Paris, with other newly filmed sequences featuring Olivier Mathot, Francoise Blanchard as Usher's assistant and his daughter. A lengthy clip from Franco's 1962, GRITOS EN LA NOCHE was also included, as a flashback to Usher's past as he relates it to Jonathan Harker (Hacker!). Black and white footage in a color film. This version was given the English language export title, REVENGE IN THE HOUSE OF USHER, with a Wizard Video box graphic including an image of a menacing power drill (cf De Palma's 1984 BODY DOUBLE!). This version is also known as NEUROSIS: THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER and ZOMBIE 5.

Part I will be an extensive interview I conducted with Felipe M. Guerra, who created the new composite which gives an impression of what Jess Franco's version might have been.

GRITOS EN LA NOCHE, the 1962 film which was Jess Franco's first horror film, makes a surprise appearance in NEUROSIS: THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER. 
 
Jess Franco on NEUROSIS: THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (in French)

 
REDEMPTION Blu-ray
 
 
 
 
 
 
(c) Robert Monell, 2021






25 August, 2021

EL COYOTE (Joaquin Romero Marchent, 1955)

 
 

 
EL COYOTE (1955): When the territory of California is made a state in the mid 1800s there is much violence and resistance by outlaws and the Mexican residents, which is violently put down by US military force. Massacres and uprisings result in many casualties. Eventually a stranger arrives who takes on the masked identity of a ruthless avenger. This is the first of two feature films featuring a Zorro type character who helps the citizens of California resist anarchy and corrupt US military officials in the newly founded state.
Above: Jess Franco (center), with Rafael Marchent (left) and his brother Joaquin Romero Marchent (right) onset. All three would go on to direct Spanish Westerns in the 1960s.

An atmospheric historical adventure shot in high contrast monochrome by Ricardo Torres with a impressive use of shadows and stylized camera angles. Both this and the sequel were shot in 29 days by the great Joaquin Romero Marchent, assisted by a very young Jess Franco (seen center in the below production still), who was scriptwriter, assistant director, co-composer and appears in a cameo. Marchent went on to become the most prolific maker of Spanish westerns. Franco also co-wrote the 1962 remake, also directed by Marchent, starring Frank Latimore as El Coyote and Howard Vernon as a corrupt US officer. These films tell the story of American expansion from the point of view of the people exploited by the local American politicians and military of that era. Based on characters created by Jose Mallorqui.
Above: Jess Franco, with a prosthetic nose and mustache, as a Union soldier in EL COYOTE (1954)? Or perhaps not.
 
Although it's very brief, there is a possible Jess Franco appearance as a Union soldier, seen from low angle during a dissolve, in the American flag raising sequence at the beginning of the film. There's a strong resemblance. Perhaps it's the very first Franco cameo. He would also appear as a more recognizable piano player in Leon Klimovsky's Spanish noir, MIEDO (1956), on which he also worked as a screenwriter and composer. It's very interesting to note the difference in style between this film and LA VENGANZA DEL ZORRO, the 1962 color remake. Not only is the monochrome format more effective in creating a period atmosphere, it develops an ambience of noirish deceptive appearances. Black and white is neither reality nor the way humans normally perceive reality. But we can dream in black and white, and black and white movies have been made since the birth of cinema. 
 
The one major problem with the first two Marchent COYOTE films is the casting of Mexican actor Abel Salazar in the lead role. He's believable as the foppish gentleman who first appears in town, less believable as the ghostly, masked midnight rider. Salazar went on to appear in and produce such key Mexican horror films as EL VAMPIRO (1957) and EL BARON DEL TERROR/THE BRAINIAC (1961). He doesn't appear to have the internal fortitude, athletic sophistication and elan needed for the role. Frank Latimore was somewhat more effective in the remake. 

                                            Above: Mexican producer-actor Abel Salazar

When El Coyote's looming shadow towers over the corrupt commandant in the final confrontation we are transported to the realm of illusion, dreams, 1940s Hollywood horror. Nothing in the remake equals it. The one advantage is that Howard Vernon is a better actor and gives a more layered performance in the remake. Next we'll consider the second film, which is basically an extension of the first with some interesting developments. Once again Franco was assistant/co-director/co-writer since the films were shot simultaneously and then constructed as two separate features. According to director Marchent, it turned out to be a very work intensive, confusing shoot. 

(C) Robert Monell, 2021