24 July, 2018

THE JESS FRANCO FILES, Vol. 1: Four Screenplays and a synopsis by Jesus Franco

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As I was reading this essential (for the Jess Franco collector and scholar), massive 581 page volume containing four previously unpublished original screenplays and a synopsis for a proposed 21st Century version of THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF/GRITOS EN LA NOCHE (1961), ORLOFF 2001, I was also watching Franco's comic-book style LA VENGANZA DEL DOCTOR MABUSE (1971). That film has always struck me as pure Jess Franco in terms of aesthetics, style and theme. I was surprised to learn that it is a scaled down relative of a much more ambitious, unfilmed screenplay, EL CASTILLO DEL FRANKENSTEIN, a macabre Gothic set in 1920s Europe about a mad scientist who is experimenting with human fetuses in order to create a race of supermen. The project was also to be a return to the style of Franco's first horror film, GRITOS EN LA NOCHE. But LA VENGANZA DEL DOCTOR MABUSE, the finished film, is quite different in style from the screenplay. It has an Op Art, late 1960s style somewhat reminiscent of Kubrick's A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971), albeit hurriedly filmed and with an extremely low budget.

Backtracking, the book also presents four other screen texts, LABERINTO, which would become the presently lost SEX CHARADE (1972), LA NOCHE TIENE OCHOS (THE NIGHT HAS EYES), UN TIRO EN LA SIENE (A SHOT IN THE TEMPLE), which was planned as the neo-noir RELAX BABY, and the aforementioned ORLOFF 2001.

THE NIGHT HAS EYES seems to have evolved into the later NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT (1970). Planned as a German-Spanish coproduction, it eventually was filmed as LES CAUCHEMARS NAISSENT LA NUIT, a French production shot in October 1969, just before Franco's last film for producer Harry Alan Towers, EL CONDE DRACULA (1970). Some pickup scenes featuring Soledad Miranda were shot on the set of EUGENIE DE SADE, in early 1970. Franco's script opens with a striking, poetic "Photomontage" which was realized as the dreamlike opening of NIGHTMARES..., embellished by the sensual French dubbing of Josiane Gibert, voicing the doomed heroine, Ana (Diana Lorys). Thought control through hypnotism, though, plays a lead role in the script, as in Franco's 1982 MIL SEXOS TIENE LA NOCHE.

A SHOT IN THE TEMPLE presents an even more fascinating conundrum. Jess Franco was forever immersed in what he always termed "black cinema"/film noir. His favorite films were such titles as Robert Siodmak's THE KILLERS, the high point of mid 1940s black and white noir lighting and tonality. The script is a sordid crime thriller built around the director's favorite private detective, Al Pereira. The PI floated through the 50 year Franco filmography, from the 1962 LA MUERTE SILBA UN BLUES until his very last feature, REVENGE OF THE ALLIGATOR LADIES (co-directed by longtime associate-friend-colleague, actor Antonio Mayans, in 2013. The book cites 13 titles which feature the character and doubtless Franco would have made even more Al Pereira adventures had he lived. The project was never completed, but the screenplay has some strong similarities to the 1972  LES EBRANLEES, with Howard Vernon as the detective, entangled in a sleazy nightworld of clubs, hookers and crime.

LES EBRANLESS (LA MAISON DU VICE) a.k.a. VIBRATING GIRLS ends the same way as the script, with the suddenly angered Pereira murdering the "woman" he loves when she informs him that she is a man, a transsexual. The book correctly observes "Actually, Les Ebranlees isn't anything else than the erotic version of Un tiro en la sien...." while pointing out that Franco actually started filming the script after the completion of Les Ebranlees. What would have resulted might have been an immediate remake, albeit with Lina Romay in the role of the transsexual. Or it might have been like the even more hardboilded 1982 Al Pereira noir, BOTAS NEGRAS, LATIGO DE CUERO, which presents the bitter end of Al Pereira, shot down by the woman he loves after a heated sex scene staged in a swamp.

The most fascinating texts are the shortest. The 28 page script for SEX CHARADE is a cyclical, circular construct which opens, as do so many Jess Franco films, as a stage performance of a jungle girl sacrifice to a cannibal tribe. When the lights come on the lead actresses become later involved in adventures in the crime/noir, horror and spy movie categories. It all ends with a redux of the staged jungle rites, just where it all began. Franco would make a science fiction generated version of this in his delightful 1980 EL SEXO ESTA LOCO, one of his very best, most experimental and personal films. There's even a film-within-the-film and numerous generic ruses. The resulting film, made reportedly in 1969-70, became somehow lost, but a severely altered version was reviewed by future Franco actor Jean-Piere Bouyxou, the French critic who played Dr. Orloff in Franco's FEMALE VAMPIRE/La Comtesse Noire (1973). Bouyxou reported a 30 minute variant composited with footage from other, non Franco films, which made little sense on any level. Only the opening jungle girl scene of the original Franco film remained somewhat intact. Will SEX CHARADE ever be recovered. Not likely, but the brief scenario is a revelation. The annotations, as with all the scripts, are detailed and excellent. There's an 18 page file of rare adverts, photos, promos and black and white stills, many from SEX CHARADE.

The final text, ORLOFF 2001, is a real curiosity. Franco planned this at the time he was moving into his "digital period" during which he produced a series of Shot On Video productions on the cheap, often financed by American fans. Some of the better ones are worthy of future evaluation somewhere. Franco wanted either Paul Naschy or Malcolm McDowell as Orloff, Udo Kier was also under consideration for a role. Franco wanted to have a score by Iron Maiden. None of these plans worked out and the story, titled CRIES IN THE NIGHT, was never filmed. The very brief treatment, barely five pages, is just a number of delirious paragraphs describing the time travelling adventures of Emil Orloff, a scientist who, grieving the fate of his injured daughter Melissa, manages to travel back in time to Victorian London to obtain flesh and blood for his hideous attempts to rejuvenate her. A dimensional portal beyond the mist, a strange mirror device used to observe the daughter and a police investigation all play roles in the short, dense scenario.  From Dr. Orloff to Dr. Mabuse to his farthest out flights of fantasies, these scripts and notes allow us delve ever further into the multi-verse which was the world of Jess Franco.

LA VENGANZA DEL DOCTOR MABUSE (1971) The eyes of Jack Taylor in the Spanish version of Jess Franco's Doctor Mabuse thriller. I believe a cut version is on Divisa DVD. I have the good quality German DVD of the bastardized Dr. M Schagt Zu from Artur Brauner's CCC. A pity, since its hard to see the uncut Venganza. Just one of the Jess Franco films discussed at length in this book by Francesco Cesari, Roberto Curti, published by Vial of Delicatessens press. They do a painstaking, thorough job of presenting, deconstructing, annotating and illuminating these rare texts.

It's a bilingual Spanish-English text, translated and introduced by publisher Ferran Herranz. Described as a "philological volume" intended to further research the prolific, exponentially expanding filmography-career of the late Spanish cult movie titan, Jesus Franco Manera/Jesus Franco, best known as "Jess Franco" (1930-2013).

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11 July, 2018

More Jess Franco Blu-rays coming this September!

Two 1980s jungle adventure films, both co-produced by Eurocine, Paris, are due for their HD debuts, from MVD classics, on September, 11, 2018. Both are highly entertaining genre films, the kind which only Jess Franco could make. Not top-tier Franco, but still enjoyable and fascinating testaments to the his interest in pulp genre fictions. 

DIAMONDS OF KILIMANDJARO (1983) is the French version of EL TESORO DE LA DIOSA BLANCA. The latter is the markedly different Spanish version, which could be considered the director's cut. It has different opening and closing scenes which completely change the mood and meaning of the story. It also features some alternate locations, including a fantastic treasure cave with a spiral staircase where a hermit, played by frequent Franco composer Daniel J. White, hides from rescue by "civilization." 

GOLDEN TEMPLE AMAZONS (1985), started, with Jess Franco directing, as TUNDRA Y EL TEMPIO DEL SOL. It ended up being completed by Alain Payet, a Eurocine contract director. I have doubts if this could actually be considered a "Jess Franco" film. Franco has said he doesn't make "silly" films, so you have to be in the mood.  It has some signature Jess Franco scenes, including a torture scene which is a self-homage to THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN (1973), but is watered down and rather forgettable in the final cut by Eurocine.  Featuring William Berger as Uruck, the ruler of the Amazons, Analia Ivars as a jungle girl, and Antonio Mayans as an adventurer. My favorite Jess Franco jungle films, MACISTE CONTRE LA REINE DES AMAZONES (1973), X-312 FLIGHT TO HELL (1970) and LA ESCLAVA BLANCA (1985) are not scheduled for Blu-ray release anytime soon. And how about ROBINSON AND HIS SEVEN WILD SLAVES (1971)?!  They're fun-in-the-sun Franco outings.

(C) Robert Monell, 2018