16 December, 2019

EXORCISMS AND BLACK MASSES: Viewings and variants... by Robert Monell

Most recent version discovered is located on X Hamster website (type in title) as SEXORCISM, 82m. Presumably, this is the hardcore French language version. The 2012 Redemption Blu-ray is problematic both in terms of a sometimes heavily damaged source print and the poorly dubbed English language main feature.

The standard horror version, a 69 minute censored cut, DEMONIAC, was also included on the Redemption Blu-ray. It does feature the French track, you can hear it under the opening credits. But the remainder defaults to the English dub. What is most needed is a release with the complete French track, which features the voice of Jess Franco as the killer, with new English subtitles.

The X rated 4 Disc release has 3 versions listed, one "Director's Cut" and two theatrical cuts in French. None appear to have English subs for the French tracks. I have not had the change to review this boxset yet. Redemption was supposed to release the French language hard-core version, SEXORCISM, but that release never happened. A multi-language version of  the 1980 alternate cut, THE SADIST OF NOTRE DAME, was released in 2018, from Severin Films, it included the Spanish track, on which Franco voiced his character. English language subtitles were provided.

"...artistic curiosity begins at the very point where the senses leave off." J.K. Huysmans


This outrageous project exists in so many variants, at so many different running times it would be impossible to view them all (since some are not even available on home video) much less detail the differences. Of the versions now available on tape, the softest is undoubtedly the cut Wizard Video version, DEMONIAC, released in the late 1980s. A running time of 87 minutes is listed on the Wizard video box, which also sports stills of scenes not included in this particular cut. They released a recut version of LA SADIQUE DE NOTRE-DAME a 1979 Spanish-French co-production that mixes footage from Franco's 1974 EXORCIME ET MESSES NOIRES and scenes shot five years later on Parisian locations. This film has a softcore sex and violence, English-language variant, titled EXORCISM, which was the film which started it all.

The 1975 hardcore version of this film, retitled SEXORCISME, can be had in two slightly different cuts available from U.S. mail order companies. These include an 71-minute English-subtitled version, taken from a French-language video; and a longer 82-minute variation which also has a slightly different scene arrangement. The latter is available in French language only. Both of these version drop much narrative material and several major characters to include several lengthy and over-the-top XXX sequences, some of which show Franco himself participating in hardcore action!

The gory, English-language EXORCISM was unavailable for many years and in some ways it is the most disturbing of all the versions. The protagonist, Mathis Vogel/Laforgue (Franco), is a sexually twisted, religion-obsessed psychopath who murders Paris women. The film represents Franco's most severe vision of madness and evil. The thematic questions are, what constitutes madness and evil? Though these are familiar themes in Franco's works, the director never posed them so powerfully as here. The XXX versions were desperate attempts to make an unpleasant film more commercial, at least on the adult movie market, and the hardcore situations only enhance the film's sense of sexual delirium and blasphemy.

The fact that all these version have scenes which later found their way into the 1979 remake SADIST OF NOTRE DAME indicates that Franco was attempting to more bucks out of burnt-out material. The hardcore versions look so cheap and shoddy, though, that one guesses they had difficulty even on the "money-back guaranteed" sex circuit of the mid 70s, which probably explains why he recycled the scenes. The English language EXORCISM anticipates in tone and style such slasher fare as HENRY PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER and SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, and Franco's character is in some ways even more sinister than Hannibal Lector. However, EXORCISM and the later SADIST OF NOTRE DAME are very somber.

The gore scenes are repugnant, and include the torturing of both Carole Riviere and Lina Romay with a knife. As they are being cut up, the killer chants sections of the Roman Catholic mass in Latin. The most grotesque addition is a scene which shows him murdering The Countess (France Nicholas) on a hotel bed. This is accomplished by shots of him slashing her open and ripping out some of her internal organs.

Also, this version also makes clear the Black Masses Vogel witnesses are staged events, the human "sacrifices" are not harmed but are willing participants, the knives they are "stabbed" with have retractable blades, and the blood is fake. As these explanatory scenes are missing from all other versions, Vogel's mania and the Satanist's agenda are a lot clearer -- Vogel is a deluded fanatic and the Satanists are just harmless hedonists, even though their dedication to evil is total. Another aspect this version restores is a conversation between the various police inspectors and an Interpol investigator, in which Vogel's murders are linked to rituals from the Inquisition. Connect this with Vogel's description of himself in SADIST OF NOTRE DAME as an agent of the Inquisition.

EXORCISM has the same storyline as all the other versions, minus the 1979 footage of Vogel repeated visiting the Notre-Dame cathedral, and confessing his murders to a priest who was a friend in the seminary that Vogel left. Without these scenes, EXORCISM and the hardcore SEXORCIMES are much more nihilistic. Vogel seems much more monstrous and, ironically, slightly more sympathetic. Some of Vogel's background and motives are not explained, which colors him as a mysterious, almost abstract, icon of insanity. He is insane, but perhaps not evil in the same sense as the Satanists, who are upper-middle class dilettantes and choose evil as a way of life. Vogel's self-proclaimed holy war upon them and the loose women of Paris is his philosophical statement on the amorality of the modern world, but he sees his sick actions as totally moral.

EXORCISM and its many variants are not conventionally well-made films. The minimalist visual style, under-lit cinematography, ragged editing (exacerbated by the XXX inserts of some versions), and painfully slow pacing contribute to a viewing experience which is hard on the viewer's eyes and patience. Perhaps this reaction is precisely what Franco was looking for, as the theme of the film is the nature of "viewing." Vogel sees the sadomasochistic rituals, which he misinterprets, and we are the viewers of Franco's Sadean thriller. Vogel also writes narratives about his "viewings" just as Jess Franco makes films about the relationships and distance between viewers and writers,performers,and directors.

(C)Robert Monell,2019 (New Version)

11 November, 2019


There are now several NTSC DVD's, but no Blu-ray versions, of this 1980 Jess Franco Women-in-Peril crime film which are available on Amazon and EBay. The version pictured above is not the one which will be under review. The one we are discussing is a 2007 release, and a very dodgy one, from SUBSTANCE DVD. This film also exists on VHS versions from Spain (as ORGIA DE NINFOMANAS, complete version), CAPTIVE WOMEN (U.S. VHS circa 1990, as part of the numbered CAPTIVE WOMEN series). There's also a cut Dutch DVD, titled LINDA, of which this appears to be a bootlegged rip.

The SUBSTANCE DVD (pictured above) is as unsharp and VHS-like in terms of video quality, as its cover, which lists Jess Franco as director (he's listed as Jack Griffin in the end credits). This version is missing the opening pre-credit sequence in which Andrea Guzon is hunted down on a beach by Otto W. Retzer and a thug who drive her down in a land rover. She is then brought to the Rio Amore brothel, where she is whipped and raped. Also missing are scenes of German starlet Ursula Buchfeller being tortured while chained and a graphic S&M sequence between two prostitutes employed in the brotheL. It runs a total of 78 m, 12 minutes shorter than its reported 90 m full length run-time. It's also in poorly dubbed English, although some of the dialogue, especially some delivered by "The Champagne Girl" (Bea Fiedler) is quite amusing in a crude way. 

Juan Cozar Soler, the film's cinematographer (at least of the Spanish version, Hannes Furbringer is credited DoP on the English and German versions) plays a goofy John who visits the Madeira club. Some brief footage of him is also eliminated in the LINDA versions on this DVD and the Dutch release. Both of these English language releases are to be avoided, although the vintage CAPTIVE WOMEN VHS has much better video quality and is uncut. This would make a good HD double bill with Franco's 1980 EUGENIE, HISTORIA DE UNA PERVERSION, which also features Katia Bienert as the title character. The most interesting performance in LINDA, though, is from Spanish sex star "Raquel Evans" as Shiela, the brothel's hard hearted owner, who also compares herself to the scorpions she keeps as pets in glass cages. A.K.A. NAKED SUPERWITCHES OF THE RIO AMORE/THE STORY OF LINDA.  

Unlike the 1980 EUGENIE... this is much more of a thematically tame moral immoral tale of Sacred and Profane love in the Franco verse. The catchy Gerhard Heinz Disco score saturates the action in a pop equivalent of the nostalgic netherworld of Douglas Sirk style melodramatics in the midst of a cesspool of sex and sadism finally allowed in 1980s Spanish cinema. The CD of the Heinz score is available on Amazon as The Erotic and painful obsessions of Jess Franco,GEMA, along with the German score for EUGENIE.... and the Heinz score for DIE SAGE DES TODES (BLOODY MOON), 23 cuts from 3 films. I'll be reviewing that CD in a future blog post. 
The solution to this problem is for some company to release an HD restoration of the uncut ORGIA DE NINFOMANS.

(C) Robert Monell 2019

15 October, 2019

Bordel SS (1978)

Bordel SS (1978)

A film by Jose Benazeraf.

Brigette Lahie stars as a sex worker in Jose Benazeraf's notorious hardcore journey in the final sordid days of the Nazi occupation of France. But there is more to it than that.

Robert Forster in ESMERALDA BAY

The recently late, great actor Robert Forster, was beloved for his "nice" tough guy roles in Quentin Tarantino's JACKIE BROWN (1997) and TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN (arguably the best work of Tarantino and David Lynch). The versatile pro could also play down and dirty bad guys, as he did in DELTA FORCE (1986) and in this Jess Franco war film, where he played Colonel Madeiro, a torture specialist in a South American police state which is invaded by the United States. One of Franco's largest budgeted films also features U.S. actors George Kennedy and Craig Hill. Supposedly coming on DVD/Blu-ray soon.

Forster is seen below on the cover of a European promo (top) and between Lina Romay and Sylvia Tortosa (Bottom).


Image may contain: 3 people, text Cast:  Robert Forster, Ramon Sheen, George
Kennedy, Craig Hill, Brett Halsey, Silvia Tortosa, Fernando Rey, Antonio Mayans, Lina Romay, Jess Franco.

Directed by Jess Franco
Screenplay by A. L. Mariaux, H. L. Rostaine, Jess Franco
Music by Luis Bacalov

Shot in Barcelona and Tarragona. 

 ESMERALDA BAY, a 1989 Eurocine production, has long been absent on U.S. video or DVD. The story of the film, written by Franco and Eurocine founder Marius Lesoeur, anticipates the mid 1990s crisis in Panama, when dictator Manuel Noriega was deposed with the intervention of a U.S. military invasion. Noriega was captured by U.S. forces and imprisoned in the U.S. Franco had a good cast for this, a larger than usual budget, but it's not one of his more personal films. In other words, it's crafted for a certain international action-adventure market, which was already drying up at the time it was released.

TEXT (C) Robert Monell, 2019

14 August, 2019

Jess Franco is The Tormentor!

One of Jess Franco's most personal projects, because he plays the lead character and recycled 75% of another of his self starring vehicles EXORCISME (1974) into it, is EL SADICO DE NOTRE DAME (1979). A mad slasher melodrama shot in Paris, Portugal and Barcelona. The very first Jess Franco video which I rented out of a store in the mid 1980s was Wizard Video's DEMONIAC, a radically cut 79 m version of a film which ran 20 minutes longer! It made an impact much more profound than earlier viewings of Franco's COUNT DRACULA and THE CASTLE OF FU MANCHU. 

Self advert time, here. If anyone is interested in seeing this film on Blu-ray, check out the Severin release which features the crucial Jess Franco dubbing of his character on the Spanish soundtrack, making it the director's cut. It also restores the full run-time. I also had the opportunity to write and narrate a brief video essay on the film's key scenes. Another personal point of interest is that same video store I mentioned carried another European slasher film which was graced with the image of Jess Franco in THE SADIST OF NOTRE DAME on the cover and had stills of the film on its spine and back cover. The film itself, TORMENTOR, is a disappointingly dull Italian giallo which does Not feature Jess Franco or his inimitable sytle. .

Note the cover image features a likeness of Jess Franco in his 1979 auto-slasher THE SADIST OF NOTRE DAME. The back cover of this Wizard Big Box features a still from the end of that film. 
TORMENTOR a.k.a. DEATH CARRIES A CANE was the US re titling of a 1972 Italian giallo starring Susan Scott (Below)!

Despite the always alluring Ms. Scott PASSI DI DANZA SU UNA LAMA DI RASOIO is pretty mediocre, if not downright dull, in comparison with Franco's personal fever dream. George Martin, as the police inspector, seems literally dead on his feet. It does have a nice voyeuristic murder scene but doesn't follow up on the idea.Instead, there's a lot of talking, instead of showing, various ex positional and logistical information. It is pretty sleazy, though.   Maurizio Pradeaux reportedly graduated into directing after working as chauffeur for an influential producer. I doubt even a 4K Blu-ray would upgrade my approval of TORMENTOR. But, you never know. 

(C) Robert Monell, 2019

06 August, 2019


Highly Recommended!

Released by Redemption-Kino Lorber, June 2019, # 57

Several things make this HD release, from sparkling Gaumont elements, a must-have. The presence of the legendary Eddie Constantine playing the equally legendary Jess Franco PI (here a retired secret agent) Al Pereira, and the pleasure of watching a vintage Jess Franco Europsy adventure (his final black and white production). Most importantly the 1920X 1080p (1.66:1) presentation illustrates just how layered and fascinating the mise-en-scene of this spy spoof really is. For instance, it can be read as a film noir, a sci-fi film, a Eurospy spoof. It works as all three, as did ALPHAVILLE, but that film was aimed at the Arthouse circuit rather than the Grindhouse one.

ABOVE: The "robots" await programming....

Made at the apex of the popularity of secret agent adventures such as GOLDFINGER and IN LIKE FLINT, Franco demonstrates his love for the spy genre. The James Bond series is even mentioned within the film's diegesis, but he as director he can't, or won't maintain a straight/serious tone. The last few minutes contain possibly one too many slapstick routines, but it's nonetheless a fun, stylish Eurospy affair, especially seen upgraded in HD.
ABOVE: Eddie Constantine is Al Pereira, Jess Franco's favorite investigator in such films as LA MUERTE SILBA UN BLUES (1962), LES ERANLEES (1972), BOTAS NEGRAS, LATIGO DE CUERO (1982), CAMINO SOLITARIO (1983) and AL PEREIRA VS THE ALLIGATOR LADIES (2012. Constantine was famous for his role as Lemmy Caution in a series of French spy films and in Jean-Luc Godard's ALPHAVILLE (1965). Franco himself can be heard reading an enthusiastic advert in Spanish for the Godard film during the scene in ATTACK... when Pereira gets into a fist fight with Ricardo Palacios in the Alicante bus station. The soundtrack on the Blu-ray is French (with an English option) but the Jess Franco-voiced advert remains in Spanish on the soundtrack.

The French soundtrack on this REDEMPTION release is the preferred option. The advert is Franco's way of paying an homage to Godard, a filmmaker he obviously admires, and also a way to sneak his own presence in, kind of like an audio equivalent of Hitchcock's cameos, although he does an actual cameo as the keyboard player in the nightclub where Sophie Hardy performs sleazy dance routines.

When I first saw CARTES SUR TABLE it looked like a cheap Bond imitation, with some corny humor added. Viewing the film in pristine HD refurbishes its surface and allows for a more detailed, atmospheric presentation of the sleazy, self satirizing, downmarket comic book world Franco created. Franco had made color films earlier in his career, VAMPIRESAS 1930 (1960) has that Odd Hollywood Technicolor glow. Eurospy films are usually filled with colorful locations and costumes. Franco goes in the opposite stylistic direction, giving his spy comedy a noir look which is only reinforced by this HD transfer.

The secret lab where kidnapped tourists are turned into "robots" is particularly sinister but probably would have looked cut rate in color. There were indications that a color film, or scenes, were planned, and the discussed pigment changes of the human robots just isn't apparent in black and white. The visual style is more in line with Godard's ALPHAVILLE, which was shot was specially manufactured ultra-sensitive film stock, to capture the natural light of Parisian interiors/exteriors with minimal use of artificial illumination. At its best CARTES SUR TABLE seems to take place in that alternate reality. Sometimes that mood is broken by the insistence on Rube Goldberg-style slapstick sequences which often contain one pratfall too many. This is particularly true of the final scene.

The mind control element, featured in EL SECRETO DEL DR. ORLOFF (1964) and MISS MUERTE (1965), both of which revolved around humans turned into murderous robots by a frustrated scientist, leads to amusement, rather than horror. The robots are clumsy when not in kill-mode and easily brushed aside. The opening scenes of politicians and religious authorities targeted by the robots are staged like Bunuel gags in L'AGE D'OR (1930) or THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE (1972). It matters that the co-writer of this,, Jean-Claude Carierre, was the then-frequent screenwriter of Luis Bunuel (THE MILKY WAY). The humor is deliberately juvenile, rather than the sophisticated type in a Bunuel film like THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY. It's as if Franco were winking at the audience and whispering, "It's only a movie." But it's a very enjoyable spoof due to its fast pace and vaudeville type structure. The jazz score of Paul Misraki, who also scored ALPHAVILLE the previous year, ranges from Big Band, Swing, to nightclub mood.

The commentary track by Tim Lucas traces Constantine's career from singer to star of the French Lemmy Caution films, to his serious turn in ALPHAVILLE, along with notes on Franco's nonstop whirlwind of references. Franco would direct another Eurospy feature film starring Constantine, the Istanbul set RESIDENCIA PARA ESPIAS, which, despite some humorous touches, has a distinctly somber tone in comparison. RESIDENCIA... has yet to make it to U.S. DVD or Blu-ray and an English language version has not materialized. .

(C) Robert Monell: 2019

13 June, 2019

Jess Franco's NAKED SUPERWITCHES OF THE RIO AMORE Disco soundtrack.


Yes, I'm a disco fan and can appreciate this vintage Gerhard Heinz music for Jess Franco's Linda/Orgía de ninfómanas/Naked Superwitches of the Rio Amore!

Below: The scorpion woman (Raquel Evans) seduces Ron, played by Antonio Mayans. A breezy, enjoyable, softcore "women in peril" epic from the maestro).

28 April, 2019

Conrado San Martin (1921-2019)

Conrado San Martín Prieto (20 February 1921 – 24 April 2019)

Above: Conrado San Martin as Agent 069, in Jess Franco's LA MUERTE SILBA UN BLUES.

You have to marvel at the 75 year length of actor Conrado San Martin's film career, with over 130 film roles. He had already been acting in Spanish films for over twenty years when he appeared in two significant Jess Franco films, GRITOS EN LA NOCHE (1962), as Inspector Tanner, and in Franco's stylish Europsy/Noir LA MUERTE SILBA UN BLUES/077-OPERATION SEXY (1964), as Agent 069/Jao.

He also appeared in other Europsy films (TARGET GOLDSEVEN ), as well as Spaghetti Westerns directed by Sergio Leone (ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST; DUCK, YOU SUCKER) and others (IN A COLT'S SHADOW). He also appeared later in his career in Jose Ramon Larraz's US shot horror film, THE EDGE OF THE AX (1988) and the Spanish remake of VAMPYRES (2015). A reliable actor, certainly better known in Spain than in North America. He's especially effective as the persistent inspector in GRITOS EN LA NOCHE and the manipulative villain in Sergio Leone's peplum spectacular THE COLOSSUS OF RHODES (1961).

(C) Robert Monell, 2019

25 April, 2019


Release dateSpain Feb 23, 1983
Country  Spain
Runtime94 min
Technical details2.35:1

Moira (Lina Romay) is a sexy cabaret stripper by night and a secret agent by day. She is attempting to gain information on the Segunda Guerra Mundial, an international criminal group who are about to locate a hidden consignment of gold bars which was secreted beneath the desert during the last days of the Nazis.

Club music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYSknGwtG3A

Private detective Al Crosby is also on the trail of the gold and teams up with Moira. Eventually, Prof. Von Klaus provides a complex code which, when deciphered, will reveal the location. Moira is briefly captured by the opposition, tortured, and then freed by Al. They make a concerted effort to break the word puzzle, and finally succeed in locating Von Klaus's desert villa, in which there is a secret room containing the gold.

First though, the right notes have to be played on an organ which will electronically trigger the lock mechanism. It involves musical notation from a Franz Liszt composition.* When Moira performs the piece, the door opens and the treasure awaits them. The only problem is that the counter-agents have pursued them by helicopter and plan to relieve Al and Moira of their newly found fortune.

When I mentioned how much I admired the style of this film to Jess Franco when I interviewed him he seemed very surprised that I had seen it and liked it. He thanked me and asked why I had like it so much. I simply said that it was a visually gorgeous film about very sordid happenings in a world of strip clubs filled with Eurospies and criminals. He termed it one of his "black films" (film noir) and thanked me again for singling it out. Considering the fact that Jess Franco has returned to Euro-spy genre again and again throughout his career, it would seem the genre holds a special fascination for him, as well as providing the prolific director with narrative action that functions as a necessary backdrop to his trademark erotic scenes, personal touches, visual spirals, and private jokes.

It is impossible to separate the sex from typical generic conventions at this point in Franco's career. His later Euro-spy feature DARK MISSION (1988), offers evidence that he could leave aside the obsessive focus on eroticism and make a relatively straight commercial product. However, as this more personal early 1980s period and his recent digital era films show, Franco is at his best when he is allowed to be himself and do as he pleases.

LA NOCHE... opens with a deliriously filmed strip by Lina Romay, performed in the driver's seat of a classic 1950s American car. This all takes place in an ultra-glitzy night spot, where the sexy action is bathed in gorgeous neon hues. Lina's gyrations and Franco's camera work and lighting design seem in perfect harmony this time around, and the sequence is hypnotic.

There are many shootings, double crosses, torture sessions (one outrageously borders on a XXX level of sado-erotic intensity), exotic locales, and Lina Romay has never looked sexier. The idea of a treasure located by a linguistic/musical code also played a key role in the scenario of an earlier Franco Eurospy related effort, KISS ME MONSTER (1968).

There is no known official North American VHS/DVD/Blu-ray release of this film as of this writing. 

*Liebestraum  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KpOtuoHL45Y

Thanks to Bluray.com & Sir Alex Lindsay...

(C) Robert Monell, 2019

14 March, 2019

DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN: Dracula's first victim (uncovered version).

Below is a clothed image of actress Anne Libert in Jess Franco's DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN. Below that we see her nude in what appears to be the same shot in the same scene, where the character is startled after seeing Dracula (Howard Vernon) peering through her window, illuminated by a bolt of lightning during a thunderstorm. This could suggest there was indeed a nude version of the film, or at least a partially nude version, including some nude takes of scenes in which actors/actresses are fully clothed.

An unclothed image could be an on-set photo intended for promoting the film in certain venues or shot as a test. It does appear to be a filmed terror scene intended for an alternate feature film version.. The firts image of Ms. Libert below is from the German Blu-ray, fully clothed, titled DIE NACHT DER OFFENEN SARGE; the onscreen title is seen in the screenshot below the two images of Ms. Libert. It's some further evidence that a more explicit, nude, version may have been shot, but either not released or had a very limited release and somehow disappeared. Two versions of its companion Jess Franco Frankenstein film, LA MALDICION DE FRANKENSTEIN, also featuring Dennis Price as Dr. Frankenstein and  Alberto Dalbes as his nemesis, were filmed shortly after DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN in 1972, and both are extant on a number of  video/digital/Blu-ray releases.The nude image appeared in the horror magazine CREEPY IMAGES, Vol. #10, May 2012, p.44.

When I interviewed Jess Franco he emphatically stated that the "erotic" version of LA MALDICION was one of his personal favorites, but not the clothed version, intended for Spanish censorship guidelines. He also detailed how he approached composing the Techniscope framing of DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN and how much he enjoyed using the 2.35:1 format. But he gave no indication that there was a nude version of it which wasn't released.

It must be noted that DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN, LA FILLE DE DRACULA and LA MALDICION DE FRANKENSTEIN were intended as a thematic/stylistic trilogy inspired by the Universal monster rallies of the 1930s and 40s. LA FILLE DE DRACULA also contains numerous nude scenes. At this late date it's unlikely an uncovered/nude version of DCF will appear, but you never know. The German Colesseo Blu-ray stands as the most complete, properly framed release of DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSETIN.

Thanks to Francesco Cesari and Elena Enale

*The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein.

(C) Robert Monell, 2019

05 March, 2019

VAYA LUNA DE MIEL-- Notes on the theatrical debut and making-of a once lost Jess Franco film. By Francesco Cesari

VAYA LUNA DE MIEL--Reviewed by Francesco Cesari 

[NOTE: This is the first-ever review of this recently recovered film to appear anywhere in any language. Thanks to Francesco Cesari for covering the showing in Madrid--Robert Monell, editor]

The world premiere of Vaya luna de miel (Wow, what a honeymoon) at Cine Doré in Madrid, on February 28th, was definitely a major Jess Franco event.

Previously known under the shooting-title El escarabajo de oro (The Gold-Bug), the film was considered lost or unfinished. At least until, last year, Franco scholar Álex Mendíbil discovered the original negative in the Filmoteca Española archive. The plot tells the adventures of Yolanda and Simón (Lina Romay and Emilio Álvarez), a couple spending their honeymoon in the imaginary tropical Isle of Bananas. Simón is mistaken for a spy and given a sheet which hides the secret to access a gold mine. Once again, a sort of hermetic code in a Jess Franco film. Coming into the sights of a sadistic couple (Craig and Greta, played by Max-B and Susy Boulais), the newlyweds are protected by a band of Orientals. Until the real Simón pops out … actually a Matt Simón, played by Franco’s regular and right-hand man Antonio Mayans, who introduced the film at Cine Doré together with Mendíbil.

Before talking about the movie, let’s try to clarify, as far as possible, its adventurous genesis. On 3 September 1979, José Luis Martin Berzal, the manager of Magna Films S.A., a well-known Spanish sound Company, announces the oncoming production of El escarabajo de oro, passing it off as a cinematic reduction of the famous story by Edgar Allan Poe. Filming should start on September 10th, but the cast is still incomplete. The male protagonist and Antonio Mayans are missing. At this time the character of Craig is assigned to Eurociné’s regular Olivier Mathot, for the stated purpose of selling the movie in France. Franco scholar Lucas Balbo found some documents that confirm the indirect involvement of the Parisian company, who as usual intended to re-edit the Franco footage: «Apparently Eurociné wanted to release it, re-edited with a pirate prolog and more special effects in a project titled Trilogie fantastique

Soon, however, things took a different turn. On October 1st, Mathot was replaced by Antonio De Cabo, and the filming locations were moved from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Madeira to the province of Alicante (Elche, Benidorm, Alicante – even if a minor part of the footage seems to be shot in Portugal). Considering that on December 6th Magna and Eurociné signed the contract for La diosa de los caníbales (White Cannibal Queen), the filming of which would start next January, Vaya luna de miel’s was likely shot in autumn 1979.

Shooting had already started when Max-B (aka Max-Henri Boulois) and his wife Susy Boulais (aka María Gonzales) came into play, probably still in order to sell the film to Eurociné. The actor was a black French singer who in '70s had some success with the song Bananaticoco.

As Craig and Greta, the couple took over from Antonio De Cabo and Ana María Rosier, a Spanish revue actress. In return, Franco assigned her the role of an oriental female-spy by fusing three different characters from the original script: a male spy and two female agents – Olga and Paula – in the pay of Craig. The only problem was that Antonio De Cabo had already played Craig in the scenes set in the fair. In Franco’s philosophy, repeating the shooting meant only wasting money and time. So, he kept the old footage and found the way of inserting new takes with Max-B. As strange as it may seem, the final editing works, except that the viewer will never know who the classy boss played by De Cabo is and why he later disappears into nothingness. The script describes Craig as «a kind of Peter Lorre, elegantly dressed»: certainly not the portrait of the gigantic Max-B, who looks rather like somebody halfway between Bud Spencer and Mr. T.

Editing and dubbing were efficiently completed, but Magna Films didn’t ask for the distribution license and the film was never released in Spain. According to Mendíbil, the negative found at the Madrid Filmoteca «comes from Fotofilm, where sometimes Franco left the laboratory expenses unpaid. Maybe the reels were confiscated until the debt would be paid, which never happened. We have found an invoice stating that the film was sent to a cinema in Barcelona, ​​but it wasn’t given any screening.» Until proven otherwise, Vaya luna de miel was not even sold to Eurociné. Nonetheless, the same year, interviewed by Augusto M. Torres, Franco included it among his best works.

We don’t know why the producer renounced the distribution. Maybe the answer lies in the anomaly of a sound company which suddenly became a production company. Magna wasn’t even listed in the register of film production companies. Its position was normalized only on December 12th, 1979, at the request of the Ministry. Moreover, Joaquin Dominguez, the production manager of Vaya luna de miel, was the director and the owner of Triton Films, the label that produced the four previous Franco films, entrusting the sound to Magna. So, it’s possible that Magna acted on behalf of Triton (maybe to recover some credit?). The fact is that, shortly thereafter, the newborn producer moved away also from La diosa de los canibales, which was converted into a Franco-Italian co-production.

The change of title was surely decided in extremis and was never communicated to the Ministry. The 91-page script still bears the title El escarabajo de oro, the only one used by the director when interviewed. However, that of Vaya luna de miel was surely Franco’s idea, as it quotes the Spanish title of a 1947 U.S. movie (William Keighley’s Honeymoon) featuring the “original” Lina Romay, whose name he used as nom de plume for his muse and partner Rosa María Almirall.

The production history may make one think of a marginal, minor work in the huge Jess Franco filmography; a hypothesis partly supported by the original script, with its fresh but light comedy tone. But the result on the screen is very different. The rhythm of the editing and the freshness of the shots make the difference. Give a child a basket full of bizarre puppets, toy cars, monsters, strange objects, and be sure he will build a crazy, thrilling story. Franco does the same. He takes what he has at his fingertips: first of all his puppets-actors, all strongly characterized as in a comic-book, then a small golden scarab, a sunny fair full of merry-go-rounds, some funny toy-monsters, a cheap ferris-wheel, a petulant robot-bonsai, some “exotic” guys taken from the road (the grotesque “Barbudo” – the Oriental head-honcho – is really extraordinary), brand new plastic-skeletons, hot lingerie and kinky dresses, a tiny magic flute, some 1970s automobiles … and he makes all of them interact with one another as in a daring bumper car ride. Even the Daniel White prerecorded music, heard in other Franco films, tends to break into the story to change the "point of view", to displace the viewer (most memorably with the romantic cello solo while “sweet” Craig takes away his treacherous half by clasping and lifting her like a pile of twigs).

The fair scene – filmed with his restless hand-camera and edited with great sense of rhythm – is the peak of the movie. Yolanda and Simón flee from the bandits by climbing on a ferris-wheel, while the crowd gathers to observe them as if watching a movie. Actors and passers-by merge. The effect, realistic and estranging at the same time, is typical of Franco at his best. Similar scenes can be found in Le journal intime d’une nymphomane (1973) and Las chicas del tanga (1984).

The spirit of the fair is the spirit of Vaya luna de miel. The pleasant comedy background (a mischievous one, “à la Billy Wilder”) works pretty well, mainly thanks to Lina Romay, wilder, hotter, and more charming than ever; but it is the surprises, the syncopations that make the film alive. When the viewer begins to relax, suddenly Franco takes him off guard. You can have fun like crazy (the arrival of the robot-bonsai is perhaps the drollest scene in Franco’s cinema), get mad by some unsuccessful gags (Craig's death, for instance) or by a gold mine made of aluminum foil, and wonder where and why Antonio De Cabo vanished, but you are always forced to interact with the screen, to leave your comfortable seat and enter inside the film to play with Jess and his puppets.

This is the very heart of Franco’s anarchic cinema. Even though its plot seems to refer mainly to the later ¿Cuanto cobra una espía? (1984 – another honeymoon couple surrounded with spies) and En busca del dragon dorado (1983 – still another fake transposition of the Poe's tale), Vaja luna de miel must be placed among his most crazy works – in the same spirit of his debut feature film, Tenemos 18 años (1959), Sex Charade (1969 – of which only the script remains), El sexo está loco (1980), the brilliant early 1960s script Sangre en mis zapatos, alas yielded to Tulio Demicheli (Misión Lisboa) who destroyed it like Vaya luna de miel’s toy-robot destroys everybody.

Well supported by the Filmoteca Española’s team and managers, Álex Mendíbil had the job of identifying the film and advocating its cause. Thanks to his passion and perseverance, more unknown Franco titles could surface. Mendíbil had also the idea of projecting two trailers after the film. One of them was Fu Manchú y el beso de la muerte, the Spanish version of Franco's The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968). Fresh from the vision of Vaya luna de miel, also the images of this mainstream work, acted out by Christopher Lee and other “classical” actors, assumed in my eyes a completely new meaning, I believe a more authentic one: the fake-Chinese actors, the poisonous snakes, the caves, the explorer hats, the bad guy’s size are the same as in Vaya luna de miel, as well as the director’s playful attitude.

The February 28th evening celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Filmoteca Española in the presence of José Guirao, the Spanish Minister of Culture and Sport. No doubt that the decision of associating this prestigious event with a work by Jesús Franco, a long-ostracized Spanish filmmaker, and in particular with a disengaged film such as Vaja luna de miel would have made him smile with a mixture of joy and mischievous irony. The original script, in this regard, foresaw a gag in three chapters and three cartels dedicated to the film classification system in post-Francoist Spain, which is absent in the film. Maybe Franco renounced it, but as you will see, the cartels couldn’t be inserted before the film classification, which never happened. The first cartel was supposed to appear while Yolanda and Simón are going to make love in their hotel room:


The second appears after a passionate kiss between Craig and Greta:


The third pops up toward the end, when the sadistic Greta bites Simón on his lips:


It’s at this point that the producer – «a man of humble appearance, crestfallen» – enters the image to beg the censor: «Authorize it at least for 18 y.o. and 14 y.o. accompanied». But «a hand with a big cigar and a big ring» appears and a voice off replays with the most sadistic pleasure: «No! ha, haha, hahaha ... NO!!»

© 2019 Francesco Cesari

22 February, 2019

WHAT A HONEYMOON! (Jess Franco, 1980) Rediscovered Jess Franco Film to screen in Madrid!

Jess Franco scholar/creator of the Facebook Group/Blog EL FRANCONOMICON, Dr. Alex Mendibil, has announced that a previously unknown (by me, at least)/unreleased/never reviewed Jess Franco film will have its world theatrical premiere in Madrid, Spain on February 28th, 2019, at the Cine Dore. Alex discovered a complete 35mm negative of this obscure jungle adventure in the vaults of the Filmoteca Espanola and convinced the library to create a positive of the film from the camera negatives.

From EL FRANCONOMICON Facebook Group: "Time for the news... WORLD PREMIERE!
VAYA LUNA DE MIEL (What a Honeymoon aka The Golden Bug/ El escarabajo de oro, 1980) se estrena el 28 de febrero en el Cine Doré, cortesía de Filmoteca Española que la ha recuperado tras encontrarnos el negativo en sus sótanos. Es una comedia romántica slapstick, con aventuras en la selva y robots de broma, entre cosas como La noche de los sexos abiertos, Sangre en mis zapatos o ¿Cuánto cobra un espía?

Filmoteca Española has restored the negatives we found in its vaults and a big premiere is scheduled for February 28 in Madrid! It's a slapstick rom-com mixed with jungle adventure and toy robots, between the likes of La noche de los sexos abiertos, Sangre en mis zapatos or ¿Cuánto cobra un espía?

Time for the news... WORLD PREMIERE!

What a honeymoon (what a honeymoon aka the golden bug / the golden beetle, 1980) premieres on February 28 at the cinema doré, courtesy of Spanish film library that has recovered it after finding the negative in its basements . It's a romantic comedy comedy, with adventures in the jungle and joke robots, between things like open sex night, blood on my shoes or how much does a spy charge?

Filmoteca Española has restored the negatives we found in its vaults and a big premiere is scheduled for February 28 in Madrid! It's a slapstick rom-com mixed with jungle adventure and toy robots, between the likes of La noche de los sexos abiertos, Sangre en mis zapatos or ¿Cuánto cobra un espía?"
"I talked to the CEOs at Filmoteca and let them know about the importance of the finding, and they agreed to to make a positive print and release it as part of the 30th anniversary of the Filmoteca on Feb. 28th. ," Alex explained. " I hadn't heard of the film before and asked Alex for some details of its history. "It was registered in 1980, but no record of a premiere at that time can be found. Working at the Filmoteca I asked for the negative to check. I found the title credits as "VAYA LUNA DE MIEL [What a Honeymoon in English] and that the films was already edited, the sound post-production was also done." 

The film features Lina Romay, Max Boulois, Antonio Mayans, Antonio de Dabo and Emilio Alvarez. It was photographed by Juan Soler and Produced by Joaquin Dominguez. This is one of a number of Franco adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe's story THE GOLD BUG; but set in modern day Spain.
Alex describes the film as a romantic comedy-adventure, "It's about newlyweds who find paper with magic ink from Poe's story. It quickly becomes a jungle adventure romp, with the couple being chased by fake Chinese villains and Max Boulois as a corrupt consul. There is also a fair with a spooky train, a scene on a ferris wheel, toy robots that self-destruct, and an ending in the style of GOLDEN TEMPLE AMAZONS (1984), with skeletons and the golden scarab. We have the typical music themes by Daniel White, a cameo by Jess, and the locations from BLOODY MOON (1980)."

"The movie has a very fast pace" Alex adds "and a very cool tone. It's a very small project, without ambitions, but also very effective." 

Since this film has had no theatrical, VHS, Laser disc, DVD/Blu-ray release anywhere this theatrical display of a 35mm projection will be its world premiere. It's sounds like a fun, serial type affair, Jess Franco style. Alex describes his Jess Franco archaeology at the Filmoteca as "a slow process. The Filmoteca may have 3000 unregistered titles!" One can only hope some enterprising DVD/Blu-ray company will step up and arrange for a belated HD release. A review of this film will appear here asap.

Thanks to Alex Mendibil, keep up the good work! 

(C) Robert Monell, 2019

11 February, 2019


Reviewed by Robert Monell

Moira (Lina Romay) is a sexy cabaret stripper by night and a secret agent by day. She is attempting to gain information on the Segunda Guerra Mundial, an international criminal group who are about to locate a hidden consignment of gold bars which was secreted beneath the desert during the last days of the Nazis.

Private detective Al Crosby is also on the trail of the gold and teams up with Moira. Eventually, Prof. Von Klaus provides a complex code which, when deciphered, will reveal the location. Moira is briefly captured by the opposition, tortured, and then freed by Al. They make a concerted effort to break the word puzzle, and finally succeed in locating Von Klaus's desert villa, in which there is a secret room containing the gold.

First though, the right notes have to be played on an organ which will electronically trigger the lock mechanism. It involves musical notation from a Liszt composition. When Moira performs the piece, the door opens and the treasure awaits them. The only problem is that the counteragents have pursued them by helicopter and plan to relieve Al and Moira of their newly found fortune.

Considering the fact that Jess Franco has returned to Euro-spy genre again and again throughout his career, it would seem the genre holds a special fascination for him, as well as providing the prolific director with narrative action that functions as a necessary backdrop to his trademark erotic scenes, personal touches, visual spirals, and private jokes.

It is impossible to separate the sex from
any generic conventions at this point in Franco's career. His later Euro-spy feature DARK MISSION (1988), offers evidence that he could leave aside the obsessive focus on eroticism and make a relatively straight commercial product, but as this more personal early 80s/Golden Films Internacional period, and his recent digital films illustrate, Franco is at his best when he is
allowed to be absolute freedom to be himself.

LA NOCHE... opens with a deliriously filmed strip by Lina Romay, performed in the driver's seat of a classic 1950s era American car. This all takes place in an ultra-glitzy night spot, where the sexy action is bathed in gorgeous neon hues. Lina's gyrations and Franco's camera work and lighting design seem in perfect harmony this time around, and the sequence is hypnotic.

There are many shootings, double crosses, torture sessions (one outrageously borders on a XXX level of sado-erotic intensity), exotic locales, and Lina Romay has never looked sexier.

13 January, 2019

What Jess Franco films do you want to be released on Blu-ray in 2019

Here's the ones which top my HD wish list:

Image result for Jess Franco films posters

Best Jess Franco releases of 2018: THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z (Redemption Blu-ray)

A woman whose face has been hideously disfigured with burn tissue is seen through a surgical mirror. She is lying on a hospital bed as if prepared for surgery. Suddenly she picks up a scalpel with a white gloved hand and begins to cut the scar tissue away in bloody close up. This is just one of the arresting images in Jess Franco's 1965 medical horror classic MISS MUERTE (THE DIABOLICAL DR.Z). It's an image which might recall a canvas by Salvador Dali, Francis Bacon or Rene Magritte. A jarring, surreal composition which can't be dismissed once it is seen. Welcome to the world of Jess Franco...

Austria: The aging Doctor Zimmer (Antonio J. Escribano), a student of the notorious Doctor Orloff ( one f in GRITOS EN LA NOCHE-1961), has been experimenting on animals with electro-magnetic energy he terms Z-rays, which are supposed to alter the chemical processes which control good and evil impulses in the human organism. A noted Chemistry Professor and independent thinker, he visits a local medical conference to gain permission from organizer Doctor Vicas (Howard THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF Vernon) to begin experimenting on humans. When he is violently repudiated by the committee, Zimmer collapses, suffering a fatal attack as a result of the public rejection. His daughter, Irma (Mabel Karr), also a scientist, vows to her dying father that she will continue his work. In the meantime, medical ethics be damned, she secretly plans deadly vengeance on the members of the medical board.

THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z was Jess Franco's fourth black and white horror film, and the third in which the transgressive medical theories and practices of "Doctor Orloff" (who is only mentioned in the dialogue here) play a key role in the plot. After the rather uneven EL SECRETO DEL DR. ORLOFF (1964), MISS MUERTE (Spanish title) registers as the aesthetic perfection of Franco's 1960s mad scientist series. By making the mad scientist a woman the director confirms his predilection for focusing his attention on female protagonists (cf his feature debut TENEMOS 18 ANOS) in a hostile, male dominated world. The stern, disturbing presence of Mabel Karr as the criminal with a complicated agenda is very effective, looking forward to such future Franco female super criminals/dominatrices/femme fatales as Lorna in SUCCUBUS/Necronomicon and LORNA, THE EXORCIST, Sumuru in THE GIRL FROM RIO, Irina in FEMALE VAMPIRE, Countess Zaroff in THE PERVERSE COUNTESS, the female prison wardens in 99 WOMEN, BARBED WIRE DOLLS, SADOMANIA, Tara Obongo in MACUMBA SEXUAL,  the daughter of Fu Manchu is ESCALAVAS DE CRIMEN (1987), the wild women in CRYPT OF THE CONDEMNED (2102) and many more deadly females. 

So, what is it with Jess Franco and wicked, transgressing women? There's much evidence throughout his filmography that he finds women much more fascinating and magnetic than men, even mentally unstable women, like Ana, the unconscious killer in AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO (1973), a film which Franco had originally planned to make around the time he made MISS MUERTE. Estella Blain, also an unconscious killer in this earlier scenario (co-written by Luis Bunuel scenarist Jean-Claude Carriere BELLE DE JOUR), has a vulnerable aura and a mysterious factor beneath her appearance as a beautiful young blond here. She's perfectly cast as the instrument of Irma's revenge, and reflects Irma's quiet resentment of women more desirable to men than herself.. Her performances in tight, glittering spider gear, seen from an overhead camera angle looking down at a spider webbed stage as she writhes toward a male mannequin, are the high points of this film. Other striking scenes include the stalkings and killings of Howard Vernon, in a Hitchcockian dining car (cf NORTH BY NORTHWEST),and the portly actor who played the mad scientist character in EL SECRETO DEL ORLOFF (Marcello Arroita-Jauregui, who was also a member of the Spanish censorship in the 1960s!). Scenes set in trains moving through the night and the dark alleyways of the small Austrian town also add Film Noir style ambiance, all superbly lit and framed by the masterful Alejandro Ulloa (COMPANEROS, THE DEVIL'S HONEY, EL CAMINANTE). His high contrast black and white lighting schemes really shine in this stunning presentation
Dr. Zimmer's weird, secret operating theater, filled with automatized operating tables equipped with retractable, metal claws, electronic generators, caged animals, blinking Strickfaden-style laboratory lighting, brings to mind both classic Universal Horror ( BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN) and Al Adamson's DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN. They seal the film in its own unique, monochrome, mid-1960s Euro-horror atmosphere. Such William Castle style horror gimmicks as the needles which are inserted into human flesh, gender bending disguises and plastic surgery interludes add to the macabre environment. The Edgar Wallace like lead inspector is played by Jess Franco himself, in a high spirited, if world weary manner. The film's composer, the prolific Daniel White, a longtime creative partner of the director, appears as a visiting Scotland Yard observer. They both seem to be relaxed and having fun with playing their roles. Their presence may have been a typical Jess Franco in-joke or likely dictated by cost cutting considerations.  All this and much more make this a top tier entry in Franco's long,  twisting filmography. This works as a headlong thriller told in a sometimes Expressionist, sometimes Surrealist mode, and a continuation with Franco's career-long obsession with those who break medical and other ethical codes. He would use the exact same plot again, with Soledad Miranda as the sexy, robotized avenger, in the 1970 SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY. It was the penultimate film of Miranda, who, like Estella Blain would die a tragic, premature death. 

This shimmering HD 1080p transfer from Gaumont's 35mm element marks a significant upgrade of this key title, and is definitely the best it has ever looked on digital media, with bottomless backs, appropriate grain, with not much visible DNR on display. Much detail, depth and resonant definition are revealed, and each image is razor sharp. This HD presentation of the film is going to be a must for the serious Jess Franco student, cult movie collectors or anyone who wants to be introduced to his work via a demonstration quality presentation.

Special Features include a detailed, informative commentary by OBSESSION: THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO co-writer Tim Lucas, who focuses on the themes of mind-control and gender in the film, the English and (preferred) French language tracks with English subtitles, along with the original theatrical trailer.
87 min, 1920x1080p (1.66:1, with some added information on both sides, top and bottom).
Daniel White's moody jazz music and both language tracks sound vibrant and crystal clear.

Highly recommended.
(2018) (C) Robert Monell