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