11 October, 2018

SNAKEWOMAN - Jess Franco, 2005, États Unis/Espagne; REVIEW

SNAKEWOMAN - Jess Franco, 2005, États Unis/Espagne
When I first viewed SNAKEWOMAN I immediately  thought to myself  "Jess Franco doesn't make films anymore, he makes video, but the results are still, even in glossy HI-DEF, 100% Jess Franco."  I spoke to Jess during the conception of this film and he was quite excited about attempting an updating of VAMPYROS LESBOS (1970), which this in essence is, but it's also more than that.  It's his digital era Image result for snakewoman 2005

compilation of images, characters, themes which are infused with his fascination for serpentine women, especially those females involved in the performance arts, including erotic performances, stripping, S&M shows, exotic dancing of all kinds. This goes all the way back to such erotic stage performances in LABIOS ROJOS, GRITOS EN LA NOCHE, EL SECRETO DEL DR. ORLOF, MISS MUERTE, NECRONOMICON, VAMPYROS LESBOS, VENUS IN FURS and many more.  In at least one related film, Eurocine's THE GOLDEN CAGE (1975), Franco was hired to direct erotic shows seen in a nightclub in which the action, a lurid crime scenario involving white slavery and drug trafficking, unfolds. It's hardly a "Jess Franco film" but the various strip tease numbers bear his mark. It's difficult not to recall Estella Blain and Soledad Miranda slithering across the stages in MISS MUERTE/THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z (1965) and VAMPYROS LESBOS when watching the moves of Carmen Montes nearly 40 years later. 
Then, of course, there are the literal, venom-infused snake women of Fu Manchu in Franco's Harry Alan Towers produced BLOOD OF FU MANCHU (1968). One could go all the back to the serpent and Eve in the Garden of Eden in the Old Testament to find similar characters, images and themes of sex, guilt and sin. And, in some regards, Jess Franco, although once condemned by the Vatican as a "dangerous" filmmaker for Catholics (along with the sublime Spanish rebel, Luis Bunuel!), can be considered a poet of rogue-Catholicism. An artist from a largely Catholic culture who was more at home in staging black masses than in the kind held on Sunday mornings.

Carmen Montes is the title character in SNAKEWOMAN, a female vampire who wears nothing but a long red lined black cape and a tatoo of a double headed python which curls around her torso. She dominates a netherworld {Malaga, Spain} where "walk-ins" appear and disappear as suddenly as her attacks. Her most recent victim is a female reporter (FATA MORGANA), the Jonathan Harker character, and Christie Levin is the demented female Renfield who is kept in a private asylum by the mad Dr. Nostradamus (Antonio Mayans). The reporter has come to invesitage the estate of the legendary actress-composer Oriana Balasz. The Snake woman may be her descendant or her continuation. It begins and ends and is often interrupted by telezooms onto flocks of tropical birds which recall the kites in VAMPYROS LESBOS. The music is spectral but will not enter the imagination in the same way as the ground breaking score for that 1970 cult classic. Count Dracula is still the structuring absence here, though, as he was in VAMPYROS LESBOS. 


Carmen Montes does evoke the late, great Soledad Miranda and the film is filled with captivating images. Franco's director credit appears over an old black and white photo of Marlene Dietrich. This may be another subterranean hommage to the cinema of Von Sternberg, a certain influence on the wildly hermetic eroticism which is at the core of Franco's best and most personal films.  There are a lot of lesbian interludes (Franco told me he wanted to call it VAMPIRE INTERLUDE) but not as many as in some of his digital era work and they don't smother the film. The acting is above average and it's worth seeing on the SRS DVD where it is coupled with DR. WONG'S VIRTUAL HELL and some still galleries. Look, or hope, for a future HD release. 

 (c) Robert Monell 2018 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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