29 January, 2011

Franco's 80s actors: ÁNGEL ORDIALES

You’ve seen that full scraggly beard, sharp nose, long dark hair and receding hairline in several Jess Franco films from the director’s period of association with Antonio Mayans. A stills photographer and assistant to DP Juan Soler Cózar, Ángel Ordiales was, like Soler Cózar himself, willing to perform on both sides of the camera: it figures that both men were cast as filmmakers in Oasis of the Zombies (1981). Ordiales’s other roles include one of two rapists in Las orgías inconfesables de Emmanuelle (1982), the randy gardener in the ridiculous El hotel de los ligues (1983), a dying man in Sangre en mis zapatos (1983), Perico “El Bosé” the beggar in El siniestro Dr. Orloff (1984) and “Beardo” the fisherman in El lago de las vírgenes (1987). According to Antonio Mayans, Ordiales “went on to become a dentist and died at a very young age”.

(Mayans’s statement is taken from the interview with the actor conducted by Ferrán Herranz and Francesco Cesari and published in the 2010 symposium book Il caso Jesús Franco, coordinated by Cesari).

Text by Nzoog Wahrlfhehen

28 January, 2011

THE SINISTER EYES OF DR. ORLOFF: Intervision Picture Corp. DVD

COLOR/1973/76m 12s/Fullscreen]
16 Chapters
Amaray Case

Street Date: 2/8/11

Fiske Manor, Barcelona: Melissa (Monterrat Prous) has been a paraplegic since birth but has recurrent nightmares that she walked one night as a girl through the dark corridors of the family estate and discovered her father (Jess Franco) bleeding to death from an assault by an unknown assassin. The father's blood drips on the girl's legs as she wakes up screaming. Mellisa's half-sister (NIGHT OF THE SORCERER's Loretta Tovar) and Lady Flora (NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS' Kali Hansa) are concerned enough by Melissa's mental state and her self imposed isolation to call in the eminent psychiatrist and old family friend, Dr. Orloff (KEOMA's William Berger). But the Doctor as well as Melissa's relatives have hidden, and conflicting, agendas which will result in a series of brutal murders.

Filmed in the spring of 1973 by Films Manacoa P.C.*, Franco's own production company, this is quite different in style and impact from the first two Jess Franco branded DR. ORLOFF titles, GRITOS EN LA NOCHE (1961) and EL SECRETO DEL DOCTOR ORLOFF (1963),  THE SINISTER EYES OF DR. ORLOFF is in color rather than the gothic-style B&W of the earlier films, and that makes all the difference along with the fact that the direction and photography are much more sober and realistic. One could almost call this conservative in approach with less of the compulsive telezooming of Franco's early 70s oeuvre (cf DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN), more conventional blocking and an overuse of dialogue to telegraph plot, character and thematic exposition. A rather artificial mix of dysfunctional family melodrama, inheritance thriller and old, dark house murder mystery (cf LAS NOCHE DE LOS ASESINO, also from 1973) it is distinguished by generally good acting, especially by Berger, Prous and Jose Manuel Martin as the family servant who attempts to save Melissa from the Family Plot (Hitchcock pun intended!). 

GRITOS EN LA NOCHE is, of course, a classic while EL SECRETO DEL DOCTOR ORLOFF is a worthy follow up, replacing Howard Vernon (Orloff remains his signature role) with an able Marcello Arroita Jaurrgui (the villain in Franco's dleightful 1967 Eurospy send-up LUCKY, THE INSCRUTABLE). Vernon would return to the role in the 1982 EL SINIESTRO DR. ORLOFF, my favorite of the series. Berger looks rather physically beat but that might be understandable considering that he had just been released after being held in an Italian prison for over a year on narcotics charges. Berger's wife died while also incarcerated on the drug charges after being denied medical attention. The actor manages to exude the gravitas it takes to play such a character and his performance is boosted by being effectively voiced by the Spanish dubber/actor Jose Guardiola (HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB).* *

Prous is the correct physical type for the role of the endangered, seemingly helpless Melissa and this, along with her role as the victimized title character in Franco's SINNER: THE INTIMATE DIARY OF A NYMPHOMANIAC (1973) represenent her best work of the seven JF  titles in which she appeared. 

The main problem with this film is its verbose script and static (for Franco) direction. It looks rather rushed and has to depend on Franco's own highly atmospheric musical score for most of its suspense. Written under Franco's frequent David Khune beard the music harks back to the experimental Pagan/Franco cues in GRITOS EN LA NOCHE. This time the score is driven by jarring, low organ notes atonally clashing with dissonant piano chords, rattling percussion, an eerie whistling and other odd instrumentation. There are few of the iconoclastic camera angles the director became noted for although the intercutting of sudden close ups of Orloff's visage into the murder scenes in rather effective. A corny folk song ("open your eyes again") sung in English by Robert Woods' Davey Hutchison character (this is not the real voice of Woods) doesn't really provide the intended counterpoint and seems a rather mawkish device, especially when used as a way to provide a uplift as the final credits roll. Edmund Purdom (THE CAPTAIN IS 15 YEARS OLD, PIECES) is totally miscast as the local detective on the case and appears noticeably uncomfortable in the role. His role probably should have went to the able Spanish character actor Joaquin Blanco (HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD) who appears as his assistant here. And although some of the director's recent DV work may be criticized for having too many overlong sex scenes included THE SINISTER EYES... could definitely have used an infusion of eroticism to perhaps enliven the proceedings at certain intervals. 

The INTERVISION PICTURES CORP. disc is the film's North American DVD debut as well as one of the maiden releases, along with Franco's most recent PAULA-PAULA (2010), of this company, or at least the new incarnation of it since CEO Larry Gold Sr. has reportedly been a VHS pioneer and claims to have many more upcoming releases to unleash. Opening with an obviously vintage VHS-sourced INTERVISION logo (complete with a glitch, I guess to give it a Grindhouse tip of the hat; at least I hope it was intentional) the feature itself appears to have been sourced from an ancient PAL master. Mr. Gold himself mentions that "...Jess stepped up with a rare 1-inch master, culled from his vault in Malaga..." in a press release available on the INTERVISION website. A press released dated Dec 22. 2010 states that the original negative was sold to a "competitor" by Franco in 1973 "who promptly butchered its distribution, losing the negative in the process."  If that's what indeed happened then what is "lost" are the original elements rather than the film itself, which has been available for decades on Spanish VHS {Sogepaq Video} and DVD [VELLAVISION]. I have a dub of the Spanish video which has a consistently better video quality than this DVD in terms of clarity, sharpness, detail, luminosity and definition. Whatever element they used does have brighter, more present colors than the somewhat pale colors of the Spanish VHS, with saturated reds and greens, but this plus is spoiled by the overall transfer, which can best be described as fuzzy. The closeups are soft while most long shots go into a rather unsightly blurring mode. To add to the list of afflictions there is also an unfortunate tendency for the presentation to exhibit a kind of motion artifacting which is most apparent when the characters or camera suddenly move. Whatever merits the original cinematography by Antonio Millan might have had are cropped by the fullscreen presentation.

This is the also the first English subtitled presentation of this title, which helps because of the film's complicated, talky scenario but the subs are rather small  and awkwardly placed (I'm told this may be an encoding issue)*** and sometimes disappear altogether, most disastrously during the crucial scenes showing Orloff's first encounter with the police, where he is revealed to be a liar, and the subsequent, very important scene where he details the reasons for his resentment against Melissa's father and outlines his future plans to eliminate the rest of the family. I hate to include these spoilers but you won't see this information laid out in the English subtitles, as it should be! The subtitles pick up toward the end of his rant but it's too little, too late. There's also an audible hiss on the soundtrack which never goes away. All told this is one of those problematic PAL to NTSC conversion which results in numerous playback issues. 

There is one significant extra, the new 18m interview with Jess Franco, THE SINISTER ORIGINS OF DR. ORLOFF, wherein Jess reveals, between luxurious puffs on his omnipresent cigarettes, that the name Dr. Orloff originated in his filmography not as a homage to the 1939 British Edgar Wallace adaptation, THE HUMAN MONSTER, where Bela Lugosi plays a very sinister Dr. Orloff but rather from one of Jess' Capitol Records collections, which credited a "Eugene Orloff" as a violinist on an album's label. Since Jess is a known world class music buff, collector and film composer/musician in his own right, this is credible. More relevantly he discusses how he considers the Dr. Orloff character in GRITOS EN LA NOCHE to be a rather understandable villain since he is attempting to save his daughter with his crimes. He obviously considers the character somewhat sympathetic, an aspect which he would expand upon in the aforementioned EL SINIESTRO DEL DR. ORLOFF. He also affirms his respect for the late Berger whom he also directed in THE CAPTAIN IS 15 YEARS OLD, JUEGO SUCIO EN CASABLANCA (1984), GOLDEN TEMPLE AMAZONS (1985) and in Berger's very last role in the unreleased JUNGLE OF FEAR (1992). Berger collapsed during the shoot of JUNGLE and later succumbed to bone cancer. Describing Berger as a "sensitive" actor  Franco obviously considered him a close friend and valued colleague and is visibly moved when discussing his imprisonment, dedication as an actor and fatal illness. Also very interesting is Franco's detailing of how the Spanish authorities as the time rated this film as "1B" instead of "1A" because it was produced in Barcelona, a city which the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco disliked and wanted to punish because he didn't find much support there. He terms the Spanish authorities as "Motherfuckers" who damaged his career, his film and held back the future career of Montserrat Prous, who ended up as a comedienne in local theater. The director sums up his feeling about the film by admitting that he had some problems communicating his intentions to the cast and didn't really succeed in making a fully realized version of the film he had envisioned.

Franco scholars, myself included, should be intrigued by these revelations but there is also a big drawback here. Franco speaks in heavily accented English and since no English subtitles are provided at least 50 percent of his comments are incomprehensible on an initial listening. Subtitles should have definitely been provided in this case. It should also be noted that along with the above mentioned problems with the feature's subtitles are some glaring grammatical/usage errors. At one point a character is described as "degenerative" and one of Orloff's lines is translated as "Your family has played a stupid system."

So, with all these issues and a few distinct pluses, should you spend your $19.99 on this DVD presentation? . I guess if you really really want a DVD with English subs of this and want to hear some of an interesting JF interview, go for it. Some people want to collect any and all JF DVDs and can't get enough of the man. For me the film is second, if not third tier Franco and this is not in any way a definitive presentation. It may also make a future defiintive NTSC presentation less likely. 

To end on a positive note, the original Jano artwork which graces the front cover and disc is a definite plus. 

Film: **1/2
Video: **
Audio: **1/2
Extras: ***

* Robert Woods gave me additional information on the making of this film when I interviewed him in 2007. He noted that it was filmed in late spring of 1973 just before the aborted RELAX BABY from a 50 page script which was expanded on during the shoot. "The title on the script was THE STRANGE EYES OF DR. ORLOFF, in Spanish. We filmed it in less than two weeks." Woods confirmed that it was filmed outside of Barcelona but didn't travel to the Canary Islands for that part of the shoot.
Thanks to Robert Woods and Michael Casati.  
**Thanks to Mirek Lipinski and Nzoog for the additional information on the VHS/DVD history of this title and the Spanish dubbing. 
*** Additional thanks to Eric Cotenas.

NOTE: THE SINISTER EYES OF DR. ORLOFF [onscreen title: LOS OJOS DEL DOCTOR ORLOFF] is a story Jess Franco had told before (the "human killer-robot" theme would reoccur in such significant titles as EL SECRETO DEL DOCTOR ORLOFF, MISS MUERTE, NECRONOMICON/SUCCUBUS, CARTES SUR TABLE, THE BLOOD OF FU MANCHU, FUTURE WOMEN, NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT, MIL SEXOS TIENE LA NOCHE among many others) and would tell again, specifically in the 1983 remake of this film, the far superior SOLA ANTE EL TERROR with a "Dr. Orgaf " {Ricardo Palacios} replacing Dr. Orloff and Lina Romay (who appears in a minor role in THE SINISTER EYES...) as Melissa.

23 January, 2011

Franco's 80s actors: RICARDO PALACIOS

The Cantabrian-born, Madrid-based actor Ricardo López-Nuño Díez, better known as Ricardo Palacios, may be familiar to many from numerous Spaghetti Westerns, as well as much of Franco’s output from the early eighties. Born in 1940, he was a personal favourite of Antonio Margheriti, who used him in several films, even when there was no Spanish co-production involved, but it was Jess Franco, however, that gave him his first key role, as the bandit chief in The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968). This was the last time Franco and Palacios were to work together in a long time.

About a decade and a half later, Palacios’s close friend Antonio Mayans wheedled him into acting for Franco at the time when Mayans had become the filmmaker’s main assistant. During this period, Franco roles played by Palacios include that of the big mobster in Juego sucio en Casablanca (1985), the militarist prison warder in Furia en el trópico (1985), and Dr. Orgaz (a Hispanised Orloff) in Sola ante el terror (1986), a remake of Los ojos siniestros del Dr. Orloff (1983). Prior to this, his growling voice had appeared, minus his bulky presence, dubbing the butler in El hundimiento de la casa Usher and narrating Los blues de la calle Pop (both 1983).

Palacios had graduated in both acting and directing at the Escuela Oficial de Cinematografía (EOC) but it was not until precisely his spell as a Franco regular that he also realized his dream of taking up directing. His directorial debut, Mi conejo es el mejor (1982), was an S/M softcore film, in which Franco had no participation, although the leads were Lina Romay and Emilio Linder (taking over from the originally intended Mayans) and the supporting cast included Carmen Carrión. His next, more ambitious project was the Civil War comedy ¡Biba la banda! (1987), which was produced by Franco (who also did second-unit work) and featured Juan Soler Cózar among the actors, along with Mayans (also the film’s production manager) in a bit role. Palacios himself drifts in and out of the film, in the unresolved character of a Valencian landowner, one of several details suggesting that the film’s troubled history affected the final result. Palacios is on record as blaming Franco and Mayans for the production problems it encountered, although actors Alfredo Landa and José Sancho are agreed in finding Palacios himself somewhat disorganized.

Whatever the truth, Franco was fired from his own production and Palacios ceased to be on speaking terms with Franco or Mayans. The head of the Arcofón sound studios took over as producer and the film, despite all the trouble, opened to a good response. A sequel was intended but failed to take off, as did another film project of Palacios’s dealing with the Civil War. Palacios, however, found himself much in demand as a writer and/or director on Spanish TV. Ten years after the making of ¡Biba la banda!, the film served as the basis for La banda de Pérez (1997), a comedy TV series written entirely by Palacios and directed between himself and Josetxo San Mateo. At this point, Ricardo Palacios had largely abandoned his career as a screen actor, mostly concentrating on his work as a dubber and, especially, as a TV writer and director. This activity was enough to earn him enough money to gradually withdraw from show business in the wake of health problems he encountered in the late nineties, to the extent of necessitating surgery. There appears to be no information on film or TV work of his after the year 2002. He appears to be retired and still living in Madrid.

On the whole, he has acted in dozens of feature films and TV shows, performing under the direction of people as disparate as Roberto Rossellini, León Klimovsky, Ignacio F. Iquino, Paul Naschy, Juan Antonio Bardem, José María Zabalza, Juan Logar, José María Forqué, Richard Lester, José Luis Merino, Eugenio Martín, Sergio Leone, Rafael Gil, Juan Bosch, José Antonio Nieves Conde, Jaime Chávarri, Pedro Lazaga and Vicente Aranda. As for his work as a dubber, he can be heard as the voice of a sailor in Amando de Ossorio’s Serpiente de mar (1984) and that of Michael Berryman in the Spanish-language version of Sylvio Tabet’s Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time (1991).

Most of the above information is taken from Carlos Aguilar’s valuable book Ricardo Palacios. Actor, director, observador (2003), a lengthy interview in which the actor talks about his life and career. The son of a prison governor, he spent much of his childhood in expensive boarding schools (which he hated), and later, in his adulthood, following a spell with the right-wing Carlists, he subsequently joined the Spanish Communist Party. Roberto Rossellini, Eddie Constantine, Fernando Sancho, Juan Logar and Ignacio F. Iquino do not come off too well in the account he gives of his encounters with several notable people; Rafael Gil, Nieves Conde, Bardem, Lazaga, Frank Braña, Klimovsky, Margheriti, Leone and Merino are viewed more favourably. He also talks about his film interests: his favourite director is John Ford.

Regarding Franco and his 80s films, he says: “I went through outrageous situations during that period. For instance, I was left behind as a hostage in a hotel, along with the rest of the crew, because the money had run out and Franco and Mayans had gone to Madrid to look for more”. Regarding the man himself, his words are: “One thing I can say about Jess is that he’s got this wonderful capacity for ignoring what’s right and what’s wrong if it serves the purpose of making his film. Jess Franco is neither a good nor a bad person, he just wants things to be done his way and couldn’t care less about the rest of the universe”.

Text by Nzoog Wahrlfhehen

13 January, 2011


A quartet of giggling, hotpants-wearing, Beethoven-singing German waitresses arrives at a Canary Islands hotel in search of a good fuck. Eventually they get it - courtesy of some cursed living dead monks - and the viewer gets just about fuck all out of this thinly-plotted, quickly-shot GOLDEN FILMS INTERNACIONAL production.

While the concept of hooded skeletons somehow bonking brainless babes is so ridiculous and trashy as to be near-irresistible for a cult film fan, the actual film is a chore to sit through.
Jess edited LA MANSION... himself, leaving in tons of unnecessarily long cutaways and random 'characters walking about' footage. Yes, some of these shots are highly atmospheric. Yet the overall effect is not that of poetic deliberate pace but of desperate padding. Would Franco bother to sit through this movie nowadays? At his age that would be a sorry waste of time, that's for sure.

Extended sequences of unattractive simulated sex kill whatever little atmosphere the shots of empty hallways accompanied by wind wailing on the soundtrack manage to conjure up. Clearly, the director had neither the resources nor the inclination to develop the admittedly fascinating concept into anything more than just a throwaway little film. The four waitresses are given extremely poor, banal dialogue. Some lines are repeated ad absurdum, suggesting that the filming took place from just a basic outline with actresses possibly ad-libbing stuff asthey went along.

Many shots look hastily set-up and executed, adding to the sense of a rushed job which keeps the viewer from immersing himself in the absurd proceedings. Indeed, certain technical sloppiness has been a kind of a trademark of post-Towers Franco cinema but it couldn't hamper his truly personal work (DOWNTOWN, EXORCISM) which, although extremely roughly made, has distinct inner drive.

Had there been less filler sex and just a tinsy bit more substance, LA MANSION... would have occupied a more prominent position in Franco's mega-filmography. Still, there's something enjoyable to be found here. Antonio Mayans gives a surprisingly intense performance as Carlo Savonarola, the hotel receptionist. Scenes between him and a demented woman whom he keeps chained to the wall in one of the rooms are genuinely fun stuff, as is his final 'liberation'. At the end of the day, LA MANSION... is a film that's more fun to read about and look at screengrabs from than to actually watch.

Reviewed by Alex B.

10 January, 2011

Jess Franco's War

 ... Fassbinder episode 26 mins | http://archive.sensesofcinema.com/contents/directors/02/fassbinder...
R.W. Fassbinder's Nazi era musical melodrama

Lili Marleen - Edition ... | http://www.filmreporter.de/dvd/34898;lili-marleen-edition-deutscher

Fall of the Eagles | http://www.eurocine.net/eagles.html
"Lilli" Strauss (Alexandra Erlich) and Karl Holbach (Ramon Sheen) reluctantly go Nazi in LA CHUTE DES AIGLES (1990)

Director: Jess Franco
Artistic Direction: A.M. Frank

Lillian Strauss entertains wounded Nazi soldiers during World War II more out of a sense of decency and patriotism than any sympathy with Hitler's Nazi empire. The daughter of the wealthy Walter Strauss (Christoper Lee) she doesn't have to do this but she is a romantic at heart. She even has a music box similar to the one at the opening of Franco's equally dire cannibal epic, MONDO CANIBALE (1980). Then she ends up in CABARET drag doing numbers for Nazi officers, including Peter Foelich (Mark Hamill!), an unabashed Nazi fanatic. Look for long time Franco collaborator Daniel White as her pianist.

It opens with stock footage of Hitler raving and marching Nazi troops then cuts to the glossy opening credits image of a rose and a German officer's cap on an elegant table top. Also beware of more stock footage from Alfredo Rizzo's 1971 I GIARDINI DEL DIAVOLO*,  L'EST DE BERLIN and other Eurocine acquisitions. I think the latter also may have been used in ZOMBIE LAKE. This is a soberly directed and lit film and has a good supporting cast, including the estimable Craig Hill (ESMERALDA BAY-1989) and Teresa Gimpera (LUCKY, THE INSCRUTABLE). The Parisian villa representing the Strauss family estate was used by Eurocine as a backdrop for the nasty doings of Mathis Vogel in EXORCISM (1974) and Robert Ginty in MANIAC KILLER (1988)! Christopher Lee is very good, cast against type, as the conservative, aging banker and Hill would prove very effective in Franco's next  feature, LA PUNTA DE LAS VIBORAS (the underrated DOWNTOWN HEAT-1991). Franco was headed for big changes with the disastrous reception of his DON QUIJOTE (1992) and his re emergence with the digital era titles.

In FALL OF THE EAGLES we essentially are left with an epic scenario realized on a budget scale. Don't expect any impressive battle scenes. And Alexandra Erlich is no Liza Minelli or Hanna Schygulla.

 ... Lili Marleen
Fassbinder and his Lili Marleen in Berlin.

Von «Lili Marleen» bis ... | http://www.kultur-online.net/?q=node/2720&nlb=1
Fassbinder directs.LILI MARLEEN (1980).

Typical Nazi Exploitation.

Note the that the top two images are from R.W. Fassbinder's LILI MARLEEN which bascially tells the same story in a different context. Both films are worth seeing and make a fascinating double bill. What they share in common is the attempt to invoke the social class lure of Nazism, seeing it as a matrix of conformity rather than perversion (cf Visconti's THE DAMNED), downplaying combat while considering "performance" as a means of personal/political discourse. What I'm getting at is that Franco's intentions seem more in line with Fassbinder's than FRAULEIN ELSA SS or CONVOY OF WOMEN or any of the other Eurotrash Nazi exploitation of the era. But the film was so unsuccessful that it is perhaps time for a reconsideration, or at least a fair viewing.

According to OBSESSION: THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO the film had serious post production issues concerning the soundtrack and was eventually taken out of the director's hands. Hence, the mysterious "artistic direction" credit.

I'm still looking for an English friendly video/DVD which might allow me to upgrade my rating. 

Thanks to Francesco Cesari for helping me see the French Video.

*Not that I'm complaining since I used that ancient standard as stock footage for my own 2010 web series RETURN OF THE BLOODSUCKING NAZI ZOMBIES (Mathis Vogel), but as a reference point/homage not in the representational mode.