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