25 November, 2023


This 2004 R2 two-disc set was for its time, now 20 years ago, the best ever presentation of a Jess Franco project, the 1972 French Spanish co production, LES DEMONS
Three different international versions 114 m, longest vintage version.

101m, "Director's cut" this is the 2003 Jess Franco remix.

85m, the vintage German language version [looks about 2.50:1].

16:9 anamorphic 2.35:1; DD 2.0: Code 2.
An elderly woman tortured and burned as a witch hurls a curse at Lord Jeffreys (Cihangir Gaffari) promising that she will be avenged by her daughters. Kathleen (Anne Libert) and Margaret (Britt Nichols) are convent bound young women whom Lord Jeffreys is informed are the spawn of the exectuted witch. He sends out Lady de Winter (Karin Field) and Renfield (Alberto Dalbes), the girl's real father, to find them and bring them back to face the Inquistion. More nudity, lesbian interludes and torture than Franco's first film about Lord Jeffreys, THE BLOODY JUDGE, LES DEMONS is now available on an essential 2 disc box set from X RATED KULT DVD. Disc 1 contains the longest 114 minute version with German and French language options, original trailer, alternate scenes and other bonus materials. This version, presented in a colorful 2.35:1 transfer finally reveals the films as the Sadean epic that it is: post-modern erotic Fantastique which comments on the Inquisition and nunsploitation genres of that era (cf THE DEVILS). Franco's use of the widescreen ratio is simply stunning, with an impressive use of multiple fields of action and the colors are gorgeous. All the sex, nudity and violence is present in this uncut print.
In a way, THE DEMONS could be considered a remake of Jess Franco's 1970 THE BLOODY JUDGE, also featuring a witchburning judge played by a very different actor, Cihangir Gaffari, here credited as John Foster, whose interpretation of the role. In an inteviewed included on the 2023 Mondo Macabro disc of THE WITCHES MOUNTAIN, Gaffari complains that Franco, as Spanish co-producer of the film just disappeared at the end of shooting, forgetting to pay the actor for his performance. This was after Gaffari had already donated some of his own money to the film's production! Disc 2 contians a new "Director's Cut", reedited and rescored by Franco in 2003. He replaces the t Franco himself dubbing Howard Vernon's character! At 101 minutes it cuts Doris Thomas' masturbation scene in the long verions (over 3 mn!) to 1mn and also loses some expository scenes but still has an epic scope. The print looks slightly crisper and more colorful than the longer 114 mn version but the Spanish dubbing is technically limited and somewhat hollow with a "studio" ambiance. As with many Franco "alternates", it consistutes a separate new film in itself. Onscreen title: LAS POSEIDAS DEL DEMONIO. Finally, there is the Original German 85 minute version, which censors some of the sex, nudity and torture. English language option included. This is the only version with the original credit sequence intact, the other two have new video generated fonts. The video quality of this print can only be described as "Grindhouse" and the directed is credited to Franco's "Clifford Brown" beard. As noted above the aspect ratio appears to be closer to 2.50:1 on playback. The score by Jean Bernard Raiteux can only be described as early 1970s "prog rock" in style and is perfectly anachronistic and likely the idea of post production editor Gerard Kikoine. Franco would criticize this score in later interviews, missing the point. All three versions are letterboxed at 2.35:1 and have multiple language options. The oversized box is lavishly and lasciviously illustrated with four potential covers. "The X-Rated Nunsploitation Series 5" Available from Xploited Cinema. "Sex und Gewalt hinter Klostermauern" is emblazoned on the back cover over a close-up of a male nipple being clipped off and full frontal nude shots of female characters masturbating and stretched out on a torture rack. I guess one would term this 2004 release a collectors item. R2 (C) Robert Monell: New Version.

19 November, 2023


Directed by Jess Franco (credited to Rick DeConninck). Cast: Lina Romay (Shirley Fields), Roger Darton (Milton Warren), Martine Stedil, Ronald Weiss, Ramon Ardid(Perry Mendoza), Denis Torre, Jess Franco (Bill, a hitman). aka: UNA SECONDINA IN UNA CARCERE FEMMINILE (Italian version). --Perry Mendoza, a smalltime hood, orders a raid on the yacht of millionaire Rufus Hackerman. His men escape with a cache of diamonds. Mendoza eliminates his associates and keeps the diamonds for himself. When he returns to his club, girlfriend Shirley Fields (Romay) summarily executes him and immediately turns herself in to the police.
This is a legendary Franco title, not so much for what it is, but for how it supposedlycame into being. While shooting FRAUENGEFANGNIS (BARBED WIRE DOLLS) for Swiss producer Erwin C. Dietrich's Elite Film, Franco decided to clandestinely shoot another WIP film simultaneously utilizing some of the same cast members and sets. The story was that he simply shot the alternate film as slightly different takes, using short ends and leftovers of the film he had been allotted. He then cut it together and sold it to Italian producers to whom he owed money behind Dietrich's back. What actually happened was Franco shot a totally different film, using some cast members from FRAUENGEFANGNIS, which was a considerable success for Dietrich. When the producer discovered Franco's subterfuge he managed to forgive him, while deciding to keep a closer eye on the wayward director during future shoots. However, both films have totally different stories and characters. Also there are no alternate takes or short ends or footage from BARBED WIRE DOLLS. The main location was down the coast from the fort where FRAUENGEFANGNIS was shot. A small town on the Southern coast of France where people who can't afford Nice congregate. A number of exposition scenes are set in the low rent Hotel De Gregorio, which was obviously a convenient production center for this termite Women-in-Prison affair.
WOMEN BEHIND BARS is as amusing as the tale behind its production. A kinder, gentler version of Franco's previous WIP formulae; it's a breezy parody of Euro grade Z crime films. The opening raid on the Chinese junk by masked gunmen is indicative of what is to come-- a wild montage of fitful zoom shots of the bandits running in and out of compact cars, down stone steps onto a beach where a hastily staged shootout occurs. Everything looks like it was filmed in single takes, and probably was. The prison sequences mostly consist of sado-sexual encounters between Lina Romay (looking trim and tricky here), the catlike Martine Stedil, and the oafish Ronald Weiss (the philosophical warden who ends up getting shot by Franco himself, appearing as a nervous hitman). There are all kinds of odd visual details here which continue to register after viewing, like an oversized telephone in Weiss'office, or the electric torture device used on Romay, which looks like a soundboard hijacked from the editing studio. Roger Darton turns in a droll performance as Milton Warren, a corrupt insurance investigator sent to get back the diamonds. His dry narration gives the rather predicatable storyline a much needed ironic spin.
My favorite sequence is a minimalist prison break which begins with Romay teasing Weiss to distraction, then marching him out past his heavily armed guards with his own gun pointed at his head. It's a sexual variation on the classic breakout scenes from the old Warners prison dramas. Daniel J White's elegant, modulated piano and organ score (which was recycled for some 1980's Franco productions) keeps the action percolating, providing atmosphere and versimultitude to a venture which seems mostly have been shot in a hotel room and a prison cafeteria set. Nonetheless, this is an enjoyable trifle which may actually make you want to rush off and check in at the Hotel Don Gregorio. Note that prolific English language dubber and Rome based dubbing director Richard McNamara voices the hit man played by Jess Franco. McNamara was also responsible for the English language dub of Franco's 1971 DRACULA PRISONER OF FRANKENSTEIN> Reviewed by Robert Monell (New Version: 2023)

15 November, 2023

The Sinister Dr.Orloff --Blu-ray

This 1982 Golden Films Internacional Production is my personal favorite of Jess Franco's Dr. Orloff series. It replaces the heavy Gothic look of GRITOS EN LA NOCHE (1961) (the Spanish version) with a glittering, full color semi sci-fi look. EL SECRETO DEL DR. ORLOFF (1964) looks more like an Alfred Vohrer Krimi and the Gothic element is more reserved. THE EYES OF DR ORLOFF (1972), the first in color, totally eliminates the Gothic look and has a much more realistic look and feel, sort of more like a typical 1970s Spanish Giallo. By the early 1980s Franco's style has again morphed into something quite different than those monochrome thrillers of the early 1960s.
The new Blu-ray from MONDO MACABRO further enhances those colors and aesthetic choices of Franco which distinguish this from all his previous Dr. Orloff (Orlof, with one f, in GRITOS EN LA NOCHE) films. SINISTER could be titled The Son of Dr. Orloff. Antonio Mayans plays the mad doctor's biologist son as a sexual psychopath who kidnaps local women in Alicante, Spain to restore the comatose body of his mother through an electronic form of soul transfer. His brother (Raf Smog) is a blind beast with skin grown over his eyes, a victim of young Orloff's unethical experiments.The film details the monstrous looking hulk stalking and kidnapping young, attractive women for the macabre expriments of Alfred Orloff. This iteration of a favorite Franco character definitely earns its Classification "S" rating.
Some of the stalk and kidnap sequences are shot-by-shot reconstructions of similar scenes in GRITOS EN LA NOCHE. The final experiment of young Orloff is sabotaged by Orloff Sr. (Howard Vernon), repeating his role in GRITOS EN LA NOCHE, only playing a wheelchair bound, elderly version of the mad scientist, now wiser and reprentant for his sins. He is aware of Alfred's sexual sadism and questions his scientific motives. It all ends in complete scientific and criminal disaster with everyone either dematerialized or the wrong soul going into the wrong body. Only the sarcastic laugh of the senior Orloff resonates as the end credits roll.
Or is that Jess Franco laughing?
ABOVE: Frequent Jess Franco composer and actor, Daniel White.**** BONUS/VIDEO/AUDIO: Beside the audio commentary (see below) and a Stephen Thrower talk on the film, a visit with frequent Franco collaborator Antonio Mayans is included. He speaks fondly of his experiences on this film and other Franco productions over the four decades they worked together, depicting the director as a trickster who would complete two films in four weeks alloted for one film and flee shooting locations just ahead of the landlord. The film is a revelation in HD, with bold colors and layered reflections which give it a cyber-punk aesthetic at times. With a fascinating soundscape by Jess Franco himself, wildly interpreting the Pablo Villa score on a Profeta-5 synthesizer, a versitale five-voice polyphonic synth, used by Kraftwerk and other popular bands in the 1980s to create unique sounds. It's a film with a unique soundscape and look, which at times recalls his futurist styled BLUE RITA (1976) or the ultra- dimensionality of his sci-fi-sex-satanic-spy fantasia, EL SEXO ESTA LOCO (1980).
We should also consider in future blogs such Orloff related films as ALONE AGAINST THE TERROR (1983) and FACELESS (1988), both of which have a Dr. Orloff character and deal with psychological and scientific transgressions. This region free release is the US premiere of the film and its worldwide Blu-ray debut. DISC FEATURES Region free 1080p presentation from a new 4K restoration of the film In Spanish with optional English subtitles Brand new interview with Antonio Mayans Brand new interview with author Stephen Thrower Brand new audio commentary by Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson LIMITED EDITION FEATURES 20 page full color booklet by Francesco Cesari and Roberto Curti; reversible sleeve with new and original art; 1500 numbered copies in the usual red case (C) Robert Monell,2023

02 November, 2023


Plaisir a trois 1973 85 MINUTES: MONDO MACABRO (Blu-ray; Jess Franco Triple Bill); European Trash Cinema (U.S. import) DIRECTED BY "CLIFFORD BROWN" (JESS FRANCO) WITH: ROBERT WOODS, ALICE ARNO, TANIA BUSSELIER, HOWARD VERNON, ALFRED BAILLOU, LINA ROMAY --------------------------------------------------------------------
(a.k.a. HOW TO SEDUCE A VIRGIN) In 1973, Jesus Franco directed at least 12 movies. PLAISIR A TROIS stands out for its clever plotting, above-average performances, and carefully constructed visual style that takes an almost Cubist approach to imagery. For instance, in the first scene Alice Arno's character, Martine Bressac, departs from a mental hospital. As she is debriefed by the head psychiatrist note how her bright green bandana and rectangular shapes of the windows behind her head result in a disturbingly, off balance cubist composition which subtly signals us of the woman's dangerous tendencies and mental imbalance. These type of compostions recur throughout the film.
There's a game going in throughout the course of this film. A game created by the Marquis de Sade, played by the four main characters. It's kind of a 3D chess game, a game of Life and Death. The winners take all, the loser dies a horrible, extended death. Who is the loser? Who are the winners? They won't be who you think they are. The plotline here, adapted from a story in Sade's Philosophy in the Boudior, has been used in many other Franco projects. Martine is an artist who paints impressionist style nudes. Her hidden occupation, though, combines art, perversion, murder and a secret torture chamber underneath her villa. Women she has seduced, tortured, and murdered are arranged in sado-erotic poses as living dead sculptures. Arno's spine-chilling performance give this "horrors in the wax museum" scenario considerable psychological depth. She is the embodiment of pure, selfish lust. Arno (real name: Marie-France Broquet) was one of Franco's best performers, but she disappeared from the Euro-exploitation scene sometime in the mid 1970s. Robert Woods, veteran of countless spaghetti westerns, has a good role here as Arno's double-dealing husband. Howard Vernon is amusing as a smug chauffeur, and diminutive Alfred Baillou plays a snooping gardener who seems somewhat deranged.
ABOVE:Producer Robert De Nesle C.F.F.P. Paris**** PLAISIR A TROIS does not concentrate on the story's horror element. The basement of women frozen in poses of death has been done in such films as MYSTERY IN THE WAX MUSEUM, HOUSE OF WAX and MILL OF STONE WOMEN (1960), it instead follows a potential victim (Tania Busselier) into Arno's unholy lair. A handful of stylized sex scenes between Busselier, Arno, Woods, and Lina Romay (as Arno's slightly deranged slave) sets up a surprising twist (but very Sadean) ending, in which Martine becomes a victim of her own sick escapades. Once again a hermetically sealed world is created by the use of an 18mm lens range to shoot the interiors of the villa which the scheming protagonists inhabit. This lens was often used by Orson Welles to open up claustrobic spaces in such films as TOUCHE OF EVIL and THE TRIAL. He also uses some fairly elaborate lateral tracking shots, as when the basement chamber of horrors is first introduced or to subtly distort the distances between characters. After all, Franco himself has said his films are about the distances between people.
In addition, Franco offers a consistently perverse and obsessive world within Arno's villa -- Rooms bathed in red light, strip teases using mannikins, slow-moving sex action, and his trademark voyeuristic motifs. Busselier's midnight bedroom antics (spied on by Arno and Woods through a telescope) are some of the most erotic scenes Franco has filmed, without becoming overly explicit.
The reveiwed print contains some very brief XXX shots, but they are handled with an unusual grace and discretion, considering Franco's more graphic forays into hardcore sex movie terrain. The Franco biography, Obsession: The Films of Jess Franco, lists the running time of this film as 80 minutes, but some U.S. mail order companies offer a French language version which runs approx 87 minutes, as does the highly recommended MONDO MACABRO Blu-ray. The colors, seen in HD, are richly saturated and often display clashing, but gorgeous, patterns. The color of the 1950s melodramas Douglas Sirk directed at Universal come to mind.**** BELOW: Douglas Sirk's IMITATION OF LIFE (1959)****
****ABOVE: Clifford Brown (1930-1956)**** Given the number of versions Franco made of this story, this once again underlines that the style he uses to tell the same stories over and over is always completely different than the previous iterations. His style is constantly, gradually evolving as he moves on to different locations, casts and budgets. He's like a pianist or a jazz trumpeteer usuing different keys, notes and tempos to play the same tune, each time renewing it for his audience. Clifford Brown, the jazz trumpet stylist used a specific "approach pattern" on the notes he played to arrive at his unique sound. It's no accident that this film, as many other Franco films, is credited to "Clifford Brown", one of the director's favorite beards and musicians. (C) Robert Monell, New Version--2023

12 October, 2023


I'M IN A JESS FRANCO STATE OF MIND: Women In Peril: JE BRULE DE PARTOUT: Happy Birthday to Brigitte Lahaie! I was lucky enough to score one of now OOP LE Blu-rays of Jess Franco's rarely seen crime drama, [Click above to continue]

28 September, 2023

BLUE RITA/DAS FRAUENHAUS coming to Blu-ray; 2 Disc SE in Dec. 2023

BLUE RITA SE: Coming in December from Full Moon. This kinky, visually dazzling Eurospy fantasia is one of Franco's better films made for Erwin C. Dietrich. 2 Disc- Blu-ray+DVD. BLUE RITA/DAS FRAUENHAUS, filmed in Paris and featuring Martine Flety and Pamela Stanford as leaders of a criminal organization of female seductresses and spies. The visual style of this Erwin Dietrich-Robert De Nesle production, 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 for a Russian spy (Eric Falk) and an undercover female agent sent to break up the operation.
This all plays as a more stylish reconsideration of the plot and style of Franco's Harry Alan Tower's produced THE GIRL FROM RIO (1969). It's much less conventional and more infused with Franco's unique personal style than Towers allowed. Dietrich was a more supportive producer who gave Franco permission to be himself. That means what we have here is a wild eyed action painting, a million light years from a tepid Bond imitation. The much less supportive Robert De Nesle was co-producer and was very much in attendance during the Parisian shooting according to an interview I did with Pamela Stanford on her work with Franco. She remembered De Nesle literally rushing the cast from location to location between scenes and making sure no time was wasted. He always considered Franco a reliable employee who would deliver a profitable product. Dietrich respected Franco as an artist who would deliver a personalized work in his own time so didn't bother interfering. It would be ideal if the German language track were included, along with the English dub.
(C) Robert Monell, 2023 Product details Product Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 7.48 x 5.31 x 1.18 inches Director ‏ : ‎ Jess Franco, Jesus Franco Media Format ‏ : ‎ Anamorphic, NTSC, Widescreen Run time ‏ : ‎ 1 hour and 15 minutes Release date ‏ : ‎ December 12, 2023 Actors ‏ : ‎ Esther Moser, Olivier Mathot, Erik Falk, Pamela Stanford, Sarah Strasberg Studio ‏ : ‎ Full Moon Features ASIN ‏ : ‎ B0CF39WB42 Number of discs ‏ : ‎ 2 Best Sellers Rank: #15,181 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV) #1,669 in Action & Adventure Blu-ray Discs

12 September, 2023


Revisiting Jess Franco's LES GLOUTONNES recently I was struck by how its radical changes in tone and basic incoherence (the latter courtesy of "comedy" inserts insisted on by Robert de Nesle) don't completely destroy its stylistic charm. Once a "somber", according to Alain Petit, erotic adventure becomes a take-off on the peplum genre complete with slapstick antics by Bigotini (Patrick de Conninck), the servant of Howard Vernon's return as Cagliostro, and wise cracking voices coming out of the abyss. The one hardcore insert, featuring Alice Arno performing fellatio on a nude actor and receiving a squirt of white fluid which may or may not be male semen, is absurd and unerotic as possible. In my interview with featured American actor Robert Woods, he confirmed that no hardcore was shot while he was around during the shoot sometime during the Summer of 1973, back to back with YUKA, shot with the same cast on the same settings on the island of Madeira.
Directed under his French nom de plume Clifford Brown, this is a fascinating mess due to the fact that Robert de Nesle, or somebody, took a supposedly "serious" film and made it into a delirous collage of peplum, adventure, comedy, erotic and fantasy motifs. It's Wal Davis as Maciste vs. Robert Woods as the evil Caronte who attempts to overthrow and kill the Queen of Atlantis, played by Alice Arno. Maciste prevails with the help of "the gobblers" the women of Atlantis. Howard Vernon makes an appearance as Cagliostro (cf. LA MALDICION DES FRANKENSTEIN), who observes the antics with his horny attendant, played by the puckish Rick Deconninck/Bigitoni. A very interesting, eclectic score by Robert Viger [?] is an atmospheric bonus.
Mark Forest was supposed to play Maciste, according to Franco.* The opening shot, panning down a misty valley, and the first view of the stormy coast of the remnants of Atlantis, are outstanding images, but unless you are a Franco completist or a peplum enthusiast you the ragged montage of this film rather tying. Franco also made YUKA/MACISTE CONTRE LA REINE DES AMAZONES (also 1973 with Davis/Waldemar Wohlfaart and Robert Woods playing the male leads opposite Alice Arno and the Queen of the Amazons in another erotic "peplum" set in the Middle Ages.
What we have left as of this writing are VHS dupe level DVDs/DVDRs of this film and YUKA, both damned to the lowest levels of home video. Without any HD restorations in sight it is what it is, they are what they are. Softcore knockoffs made to be exhibited in theaters in tenderloin districts of whatever metropolis you lived in or near in the 1970s. Fans of le bad cinema, genre anarchists or those interested in quasi-experimental cinema hiding beneath a Z budgeted porn package might provide some interest and amusement. They both are exercises in unconscious mise-en-scene existing in the absence of conventional genre respectability or "art" film pretension. A favorite scene features the emergence of white shrouded beings during a ritual sacrifice staged by Caronte and Parka (Kali Hansa).
Given the poverty of means, the lack of reliable representation of its proposed world and the intrusion of "comedy" interludes this porno-peplum establishes itself on a bizarre wavelength. Most of the main cast, sans Emma Cohen, is also featured in Franco's unabashedly emotional masterpiece, AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO (1973), also largely shot on Madeira but infused with realistically sketched characters caught up in an other-worldly murder mystery. The power of that film is in being drawn into the destruction of an attractive, vulnerable, relatable person as she conducts a murder spree on all the men who enter her web. But is the web woven by her, or the toxic spirit of her dead father? We're never sure. That ambiguity is the film's strength. We're struck by how good the performances by Emma Cohen, Howard Vernon and the supporting plays are at creating credible people in the midst of an eerie tragedy. There's none of that in LES GLOUTONNES, its interest lies in its cinema-degree-zero mise-en-scene with its often cubist compositions and its absurdist tone, which replaces the reportedly "somber" tone of the original cut. Every zoom shot is strangely compelling and seem somehow necessary. At the end its suggested to all be an erotic fantasy of Alice Arno, who lies in bed, overseen by a skull, lost the daydream which is LES GLOUTONNES.
(C) Robert Monell, 2023

19 August, 2023

Jess Franco's XXX Files #1: The Architecture of Porn in the realm of lethal desire. A Hardcore Sampler.

Lina Romay is the nameless object of interest of the voyeur in the apartment block across from her highrise. EL MIRON Y LA EXCIBICIONISTA is Jess Franco's sharply essay focused on the dynamics of pornographic cinema and the mise en scene which it entails. This under 60 minute hardcore actually ended up being sold in DVD format at newstands along with a flood of other once banned titles after intitally being screened in 1980s era Spanish fleapits. It opens with telezoom high angle views of residents of a high rise relaxing by a large swimming pool, recalling similar telezoom shots of a hotel pool in the 1973 FEMALE VAMPIRE.
Franco himself sometimes appears as a voyeur in his own films as in the above image from his 1975 hardcore DE SADE'S JULIETTE, which was lost after being re-edited by Italian porn king Joe D'Amato. On the other hand there's the 1976 DAS BILDNIS DES DORIANA GRAY aka DIE MARQUISE VON SADE, a film of exqsuitely composed images of refracted light and ugly hardcore porn close-ups. Art lies in the balance between "an eternal to-and-fro from lethal boredom to wild desire" or something which can't be evaluated by conventional journalist prose. In the softcore cut of the film the hardcore footage is replaced with oneiric images of Doriana smoking opium and repeatedly walking down a spiral staircase while clutching a large flower. "Nude Descending a Staircase" comes immediately to mind. Producer Erwin Dietrich claims to have never seen the hardcore cut.
DORIANA GRAY, in any of its editions, is overlain with a visual elegance which far exceeds its template LA COMTESSE NOIRE (1973), a poetically inclined film which is also titled FEMALE VAMPIRE, and which also has a longer version with hardcore inserts. The longest version of LA COMETSSE NOIRE was released as a hardbox DVD by X Rated Kult. Reflecting the lifetime cigarette habit of the director, the most interesting scenes in the 1978 hardcore COCKTAIL SPECIAL, a XXX version of EUGENIE, THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION (1970) are scenes of the main characters sitting around smoking cigarettes. a favorite Jess Franco pastime. The nothing gained by watch the crassly filmed hardcore material except that this version ends with Eugenie having sex with her father. That outcome is presented as a "happy ending" in the otherwise fetid proceedings. This was Franco's final film for producer Robert De Nesle, who passed away the same year.
By the time the 1980s unfolded and hardcore became legal in Spain Franco was there again as director and voyeur in UNA RAJITA PARA DOS (1984), featuring micro-close ups of scat playing spies at a highrise hotel. Scenes of the cast relaxing by the swimming pool are the only relief from the relentless hardcore close ups.
Returning to hardcore with EL MIRON Y LA EXCIBICIONISTA in the mid 1980s the architecture which surrounds the hardcore close-ups is more of interest than the close-ups of genitalia. Lina Romay's exhibitionist lives in a cement apartment block fitted with huge windows through which the voyeur watches her from his adjacent cement apartment block. The architect was not Ricardo Bofill this time, but the asethetic and perceptual distance between characters. After all, Franco himself once suggested his films were about the "distance" between people.
Thanks to Francesco Cesari for sending the rare "Spanish kiosk DVD" of Jess Franco's 1985 ENTRE PITOS ANDA EL JUEGO, a delightfully airy, witty and self reflexive hardcore feature con "Candy Coster", directed by "Lulu Laverne", produced by Fernando Vidal Campos' Fervi Films. It's obvious that Franco took these micro-budgeted hardcores as seriously as his non-erotic, more mainstream, linear mid 80s Fervi Film projects. The erotic film, even hardcore, is another legitimate genre for him. A brief (approx. 70 m) venture, this is a minimalist (by necessity), almost Godardian take on the demands of Spanish hc consumers in that era. The telezoom images of high rises over Alicante [?] under the credits remind me of similar images in Godard's TWO OR THREE THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER (1966), also about sex, architecture and is the kind of film snobs hate. The same kind of snobs who jeer at Demofilo Fidani "westerns" and Jess Franco hardcore assignations. And remember, Orson Welles also worked on at least one hardcore film late in his career.* And it's always good to see "Mona Lisa"*... . Obviously, I take a certain attitude as a default mode when dealing with Franco's hc portfolio, and this is one that bears the scrutiny.
The ever-active telezoom is used to focus on the architecture of the highrise across the plaza from the XXX action. Franco is quoted in OBSESSION: THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO (who also list this item as a Lina Romay film "with Franco's collaboration"; I think, "ghosted" by JF) as saying at Cannes '92 that, "This film has one of the best comic sequences in the history of pornographic cinema...." Jess could never be accused of false modesty in guiding potential customers through his sideshow of hardcore.
The Agfacolor DVD print is really nice. Good luck in finding one! Stay tuned for more Jess Franco XXX Files! (C) Robert Monell,2023

31 July, 2023

DEVIL HUNTER (1980): Notes on Jess Franco's Cannibal Apocalypse.

DEVIL HUNTER/Mandingo Manhunter/The Man Hunter'El Canibal (Blu-ray) 1980--France-Germany-Spain; Severin Films Blu-ray--104m; Trans-World Entertainment (U.S. Video). DIRECTED BY "Clifford Brown" (Jess Franco) WITH: Al Cliver, Ursula Buchfellner, Robert Foster (Antonio Mayans), Antonio Da Cabo, Werner Pochath, Muriel Montossey (woman on boat). ======================================= Features Reviews Video Resources Links Credits (a.k.a. SEXO CANNIBAL; IL CACCIATORE DI UOMINI; JUNGFRAU UNTER KANNIBALEN; THE DEVIL HUNTER; MANDINGO MANHUNTER)
Franco's most notorious venture into cannibal cinema, while not as extreme as Umberto Lenzi's CANNIBAL FEROX or Ruggero Deodato's CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, registers as a definite gross-out, deliberatey so, as well as a ripe example of the director's cynicism. Is he satirizing the cannibal genre and films like CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1979), or is he just executing a commercial delivery of a product filled with sexual violence and graphic gore? This 1980 co-production clearly represents Franco's ability to deliver on demand a commercially viable, if crudely crafted sex and violence exploitation adventure and something which he can infuse with his own style. One can picture the director, machete in hand, cutting his way through the Portuguese "jungles" to find locations for a film about a mercenary hired by a sleazy producer to rescue his contracted sex star from ruthless kidnappers. The plot is lurid and unimaginative: A sexy starlet (Ursula BuchFellner) is kidnapped by ruthless criminals in a European city (Alicante) and whisked away to a tropical island. On the island, the kidnappers torture and molest the terrified woman until help arrives. This takes the form of hero type Peter Weston (Al Cliver, aka Pierluigi Santi) and his Vietnam vet sidekick (Antonio Mayans, credited as Robert Foster). The starlet manages to escape before the heroes arrive. She runs straight into the arms of a local native tribe, who are intent on sacrificing her to their living god. Weston puts an end to the the cannibal's bloody rampage by pushing him off a cliff. He sails into the sunset with the topless starlet. Plotting is not high on Franco's skill set nor is it a personal priority in his multiverse. As in Bunuel's Mexican melodramas a happy ending can signify its opposite as a character arc can be a detour leading nowhere. It's another element in the cycle of exploitation which is mapped out by the producers and the art directors on board for home video releases. The actual on-set "Art Director" was longtime Eurocine hack Pierre Chevalier (ORLOF AND THE INVISIBLE MAN, PANTHER SQUAD).
Some of this plays even worse than it sounds. The most effective part is the opening, in which Franco cross-cuts a cannibal tribe pursuing a victim to paparazzi descending upon Buchfellner at her hotel. The sense of actors waiting for direction is pervasive and the early scenes set in the hotel and beach are filled with background extras who all stare directly at the camera. The jungle scenes, filmed largely in Portugal, do contain layers of humid atmosphere along with buckets of blood.
Franco doesn't seem to give a damn here about the 1970s trend of Italian cannibal films which heavily loomed at that time. He knew his intended audiences. It's difficult to locate any gestures toward his personal obsessions and his sometimes imaginative use of low-budget filmmaking techniques. The order of the day on this Italian-French-Spanish-German co-production seems to have been to jump on the cannibal bandwagon, pull 'em into the theatres and rip 'em off. Even the graphic gore scenes are uninteresting. More interesting is the way they are edited into the action in blood dripping close up, like gore inserts suddenly inseretd in a comic strip jungle adventure.
The only character seen practicing cannibalism is played a seven-foot tall black actor (a local Portuguese gymnast according to Franco) with absurdly bulbuous eyes, credited as "Burt Altman". He wanders around a questionable jungle setting bare-assed, and eats most of the cast. Whenever the cannibal eats flesh, we see him endlessly chew on what appears to be bits of cold cuts dipped in fake blood. It's sickening and somewhat laughable at the same time. Such gratuitious details are also immediately laughable and immerse the view into a realm of delirious jungle fever. There only performance worth mentioning in this macabrre jungle adventure is Werner Pochath's nervous kidnapper who always seems on the verge of an anxiety attack, although one wishes that the always nice to look at Muriel Montosse had more to do than show-up in two brief scenes and get nude before she is eaten by the cannibal demon.
The first time I saw this, on a Blockbuster Video VHS, it seemed that almost every scene was in some way technically inept. The photography was the most dismal I had seen in a Franco production. At least half of the movie seemed out-of-focus, under-exposed, or over-exposed. An atmospheric background vocal created by Carlos Perlata (Carlos Franco), Franco, and Daniel White adds a sinister ambience in the right places. Seen decades later in HD, the Juan Cozar compositions are much more interesting, dense with local flora and other detail. Cozar has since become a noted still photorgrapher of natural scenes. Some film writers (The Aurum Horror Encyclopedia) have labelled the native scenes and the cannibal zombie as racist representations. One thinks of the 1960 German Krimi, THE AVENGER/DER RACHER, featuring future Jess Franco player Klaus Kinski in one of his first Edgar Wallace roles. Its depiction of a black African servant, a feral raised, hair covered hunchback suspected of severing heads wasn't as risible then as it would be today. Then there's the Wallace written KING KONG (1933), especially viewing the vertical climb of Cliver up a 90 degree cliff to save the white heroine from yet another monster of color. It's certaingly crass exploitation of basic civilized fears of ravishment by the Other. That's the way things are represented in Franco's civilization free universe, entertainment value aside. I guess to the 2023 non Franco fan this would all seem fairly abysmal, the serious Franco collector would not pull it off the shelf to entertain party guests.
The now ultra-rare TWE (Trans World Entertainment) video version is presented in full-screen format, but the gore scene close-ups are letterboxed at varying ratios. Wizard Video reportedly released this version in the U.S., as well. The more recent Blu-ray versions are definitely the way to go for optimal video and audio quality of film which has often been screened via unwatachable presentaions. The Spanish language tracks are the recommended options, since the vintage video English language voice casting is bottom of the barrell. CUT TO-- 2017 archival notes: Credited to "Clifford Brown" this German, Spanish, French and Italian coproduction features Al Cliver [Pier luigi Conti], most familiar from Fulci's ZOMBIE, as a mercenary hired to bring back a starlet [Ursula Buchfellner] who has is being held for ransom on a tropical island. The only interesting performances are given by the intense, late Werner Pochath and Antonio de Cabo as nasty and increasingly frantic criminals. Conti/Cliver looks as bored as usual while German starlet Buchfellner looks almost anorexic and spends most of her screentime tied up nude to a tree getting abused by the criminals and a giant black cannibal. Watching Europeans like Claude Boisson as the cannibal chief is a real hoot and the film in unconvincing in just about every department. Note the equipment and details in the film producer's office; everything in this film looks cheap or bogus. A junk aesthetic. But it's Franco all the way in terms of out-of-focus shots both from the marauding cannibls POV and other images, mismatched filmstock (the film was reportedly begun by TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD auteur Amando De Ossorio), and editing between events which looks like it was meant to mean something (the paparazzi and the fashion show are intercut with the jungle pursuit of another nude female victim who is later tied to a tree, gutted and disgustingly cannibalized). Totally incomptent on the FX level, the cannibal is shown chewing on bloody meat scraps in extreme closeup, this will give no competition to the other Euro cannibal films of that era (cf CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST). It's pure exploitation for very desperate audiences. There is an interesting primitivist score by Franco himself (and Daniel J. White) with a delirious male vocal by Carloto Perla (Carlos Franco), heard in other 1980s Franco films. The stalking, bug-eyed, giant black nude cannibal has to be one of the most blatantly racist images in the history of horror cinema or a tip of the hat to the zombie in Val Lewton's more aftful I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE. (C) Robert Monell 2017-2023
VIDEO ASIA DETOUR: The Video Asia DVD of this, coupled with Manuel Cano's VOODOO BLACK EXORCIST (1972), is possibly the worst digital presentation of a Franco film yet. The opening credits are removed and the film starts in the middle of the first scene. There is digital censoring of the copious male and female nudity of the original, some extreme gore is cut and the bottom third of the image is masked presumbly to hide the presence of Japanese subtitles, video quality is significantly inferior to the more complete old TRANSAMERICA VHS: THE MAN HUNTER. I believe that this was indeed sourced from a Japanese video or disc and booted over here. The somewhat racist cover artwork reads TERROR TALES FROM THE HOOD SPECIAL EDITION VOLUME 4. BLACK VOODOO EXORCIST (sic) plus THE GRUESOME SHOCK OF: THE DEVIL HUNTER. A 1970s style Afro coiffured female poses in a collage with a glowing eyed gravedigger, green hands emerging from graves holding cigarettes [!], etc. The back features more dated jungle nonsense including some stills and amusing promo notes ("The long banned masterpiece...[!]"). But for under 10 dollars it may be an outre collector's item for some. (C) Robert Monell 2017-2023
There would be more jungle adventures to be created during the 1980s, DIAMONDS OF KILAMANDJARO (1983), GOLDEN TEMPLE AMAZONS (1984), THE WHITE SLAVE (1985), all infusing Franco's Saturday Matinee adventure mode with his unique Primitivism. He seemed to get the jungle dieties out of his system with TENDER FLESH, in which the threats were civilized flesh owning class. Cannibalism is an oral fixation in Franco's universe, rather than a dietary choice and, a signifier of class, of the upper class devouring the lower classes at their leisure. These signs would be reintrepted in his final digital period. DEVIL HUNTER is hardly Franco's answer to Deodato's CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, which ended by asking its audience to wonder whom the real cannibals were, the exploitative media or the anthropological cannibals. The class contrast between the wealthy cannibals and working class procurers and prey is not as elegantly stated as in LA COMTESSE PERVERSE (1973) or like the game show format of TENDER FLESH. There is irony in this film but there is no message. It was a way for him to continue to work and participate in a trending genre. (C) Robert Monell 8/4/2023

13 July, 2023

Jess Franco's Digital Apocalypse: Part 1

Jess Franco's final period of filmmaking lasts from the the second part of the last decade of the 20th Century until his death in 2013. OBSESSION: THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO doesn't cover it at all, being that it was published in 1992, still situated in the analog age. There seems to have been a generalized dismissal of this last batch of films, some remakes of earlier films, such as INCUBUS, BROKEN DOLLS, which revisit the plots and characters of two of his best films, LORNA, THE EXORCIST (1974) and ISLAND OF LOST WOMEN. More about those later.
LUST FOR 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.
While LUST FOR FRANKENSTEIN may evoke memories of B movie icon William Beaudine's final feature film, JESSE JAMES MEETS FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER (1965), it's nonetheless a good place to begin a survey. This 1998 remake of a classic of the director's Robert De Nesle portfolio is sometimes visually astounding, obsessively personal, ultra-bizarre, morbid, perverse and maddening, 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.
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). We are a long way from Franco's earlier adaptations of James Whale's classic THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, and Franco has undergone a radical stylistic evolution by this time. This wasn't going to compete with memories of Warhol's FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN (1974), which had platters of dripping guts, 3D, Joe Dellasandro, Udo Kier and the Warhol name attached, but neither is it Richard Cunha's 1958 monochrome trashterpiece, FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER, which was targeted for a certain profit point on the American Drive-in circuits.
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 has the unmistakeable DNA of 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, on a budget of next to nothing, 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 forms, jarring video noise, floating structures, playing over the erotic encounters between the scientist, the monster, a dominitrix from hell (the white-hot Analia Ivars) and everyone else in sight.
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, but somehow seeming to occur at the rate of events at the bottom of the ocean floor. Welcome to the parallel universe called Jess Franco, digital style. "Why has it taken you so long to get here?" the film seems to ask as it commences. More on Franco's video-verse in Part 2. Orignally published and d(C) by Robert Monell at Thu, Dec 09, 1999, 12:08:07; New Expanded Version (C) 2023, All Rights Reserved.

08 May, 2023


Review: MIDNIGHT PARTY (1975)/LADY PORNO version Posted by Robert Monell , Apr 02,2000,09:56 post reply top message newest index New Version (2023) (C) Robert Monell aka Porno Pop, La Partouse de Minuit, Sylvia le Basleuse, Sexy Blues (Production/prerelease titles), La Coccolona (Italian release), Heisse Beruhrungen (Erwin Dietrich/Swiss version). LADY PORNO (76 minute Spanish version) Directed by Tawer Nero (Julio Perez Tabernero) for Titanic Films. "A Belgian-Spanish co-production" is credited onscreen in this Spanish language cut. The longest (94m) cut is presumably Franco's own preferred cut and listed as a French-Belgian production.
This is a sexy spy film once directed by Jess Franco in just a few days, at least it looks like a few days, mostly at a hotel in Southern France (some exteriors of the astral pyramids of La Grande Motte are glimpsed). 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 ("I'd like to fuck her in the ass!"), 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 (film historian-critic-actor-musician-screenwriter-Franco friend, Alain Petit). This is not really another of Franco's Al Pereira episodes, as he is mainly a player in Sylvia's story. 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, the interactive takes allow 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 four wall mode. The longest version of this film opens with Romay in full interactive mode, addressing the viewer as she twists and turns in erotic self pleasure.
It's mosty a lot of good natured fun for the initiated, except that the subject of interest is torture. Torture that really hurts to watch! 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 Ardid, 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, Franco, the actor, is much more flamboyand here than Franco, the director. 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. It's a comedy of torture, after all.
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).
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 between Petit, the villains and the cops (a minimalist debacle of dutch angles and snap zooms accompanied by light-hearted jazz,) 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. Franco places the absurd action as film within a film within a role play since the party itself turns out to be a spy game. When the director-actor breaks the fourth wall again to dismiss the concocted reality he has just created he's getting the last laugh and word, reminding us that his films represent nothing but meditations on represention.
It's especially interesting to watch this "comedy" lon a double bill with the intense, morbid SHINING SEX, made the same year, with 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 sci-fi/drama about the dissemination of an AIDS like plague. The secret agents in SHINING SEX are extra-dimensional invaders investigated by a paranormal scientist, played Jess Franco again. A truly mind-bending 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, courtesy of post-production producer-editor, Joe D'Amato. REVIEWED BY ROBERT MONELL NOTES: MIDNIGHT PARTY was released in Germany on January 23, 1976, in France on December 7th, 1977; LADY PORNO carries a 1982 Spanish copyright date. The IMDB lists Brussels Belgium, Madrid, Alicante, Comunidad Valenciana Spain and Cote Bleue, Bouches-du-Rhone France as additional locations. (C) Robert Monell--2023 NEW VERSION