23 December, 2020

JULIETTE DE SADE (Warren Kiefer, 1969) Jess Franco and Beyond.....

Vintage poster for the Italian release version of JULIETTE DE SADE


Recently I had a chance to finally see Warren Kiefer's obscure, shot-in-Italy feature film, JULIETTE DE SADE (1969).*  Kiefer (1929-1995) was an American novelist, screenwriter and director who managed to make four largely forgotten films during the 1960s. It's a modern take on the writings and philosophy of the Marquis de Sade which unfolds in 1969, in the midst of the era of peace, love, Woodstock, hippies, Manson and the emergence of an international counter culture. In cinema it was the era of breaking sexual boundaries, ultra-violence on the big screen (Sam Peckinpah's THE WILD BUNCH was also released in 1969), and exploring once forbidden subjects. JULIETTE DE SADE was not the only Sade film released in 1969. There was Jess Franco's big-budget (for him) JUSTINE AND JULIETTE, produced by Harry Alan Towers and  American International's biopic, DE SADE, featuring Kier Dullea in the title role. The 1967 Peter Brook film of the play MARAT/SADE, in which Sade himself was a character putting on a historical drama, had already refreshed the memory of Sade in the pop culture of that decade. It was to be expected that exploitation products based on the works of Sade would follow.

 


Franco would release several more Sade adaptations in the 1970s, the best being EUGENIE DE SADE, starring the fated Soledad Miranda. EUGENIE, THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION, based on Sade's novel PHILOSOPHY IN THE BOUDOIR, featuring Maire Liljedahl and Christopher Lee,  opened in the U.S. in 1970. More Franco-directed Sade films would appear throughout the 1970s (PLAISIR A TROIS, SINFONIA EROTICA, COCKTAIL SPECIAL), into the 1980s (EUGENIE: HISTORIA DE UNA PERVERSION,  GEMIDOS DE PLACER), and his 21st Century digital period (HELTER SKELTER, 2000). 

 Above: Body painting in JULIETTE DE SADE.



Sade's 1798 1000 plus page epic is a companion to, and second part of LE NOUVELLE JUSTINE, OUR LES MALHEURES DE LA VERTU (1797).  It's a first person, episodic narrative, in which Juliette travels the world, getting educated in :he Sadean philosophy as she participates in a cornucopia of sexual perversions. At the end, she announces, "...the truth itself, and the truth alone, lays bare the secrets of Nature, however mankind may tremble before those revelations. Philosophy must never shrink from speaking out." And speak out it continuously does in six long, detailed sections. The most surprising element of Kiefer's film is that it ends with a refutation by the heroine of Sade's philosophy as she flies away to a far more conventional lifestyle and mindset. 



Opening with Juliette (Maria Pia Conte) attending body painting sessions, orgies, sexy dancing parties, we're immersed in La Dolce Vita,  Rome 1969 style. She finally meets a distinguished looking expert of the philosophy of Sade. Played by familiar Euro-genre character actor John Karlsen, a gaunt, elderly looking actor who appeared as authority figures, villains, and professional types like the doctor who ran the insane asylum for women in Fernando Di Leo's Italian slasher SLAUGHTER HOTEL (1971). Karlsen looks like he's in his 80s here, even with a very 1969 Fu Manchu mustache. The actor would go on to appear in dozens of other Rome based European Cult/Trash cinema genre films and sometimes mainstream Hollywood titles like BILL AND TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE.  

Above: Prolific Eurocult actor John Karlsen
 

The Sade enthusiast hosts a dinner in which one of Juliette's friends does an enticing erotic dance in close contact with a miniature of Michelangelo's "David." This is the most erotic scene in the film, and despite it being supposedly based on a Sade novel, contains no scenes of sadomasochistic violence. It's more like Franco's VENUS IN FURS,  the title of which suggests a famous book which explored masochism. another 1969 release, which did contain scenes of whipping, torture and had a much darker tone and an appropriately  ambiguous ending.

Juliette's Sadean instructor even gifts her with an ultra sleek, high ticket Lamborghini, in which she speeds around from one Roman hot spots to another until a bad Roger Corman-like LSD trip (in a museum!) results in a change of consciousness . Suddenly aware of the superficiality of her lifestyle, represented by her throwing the keys to the Lamborghini back to her guru, her rejection of both him and the philosophy of The Divine Marquis seems complete and permanent. But, you never know. This was still the 1960s, albeit on the cusp of the more unpredictable 1970s. The feeling of wanting more thematic exposition is the film's main problem. Perhaps a more visual/ironic representation of the perversions and contradictions illustrated in the writings of Sade would have been appropriate. One wonders if censorship were an issue. The print consulted for this review was more than 10 minutes shorter than the original runtime.
Above: Dirty dancing with a Michelangelo masterpiece.
 
 
Even Roger Greenspun's review in The New York Times, published December 27, 1969**(see below), complains that the heroine is never allowed to completely disrobe on camera. You know you're in trouble when The New York Times is suggesting more nudity was necessary for authenticity.  Greenspun makes some good points in the review, but I find it overly dismissive and has an annoyingly superior tone. Flaws and all, JULIETTE DE SADE is a rarely seen oddity, worth seeing over 50 years after it was made. Kiefer was a talented novelist and an interesting, if under-productive,  filmmaker. His Italian-shot horror film, CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD (1964), is a macabre, atmospheric, Gothic period piece. That film featured Christopher Lee as a castle bound aristocrat with a morbid obsession with the science of embalming. An actor with the agency of Lee would have provided needed grounding and authorial presence in JULIETTE DE SADE, rather than a voice-over. Nonetheless, this film deserves to be rediscovered, restored to its full length English language version and given an HD debut.

Here's a link to Robert Curti's excellent article on the writing and film career of Warren Kiefer. https://offscreen.com/view/warren_kiefer 

*Thanks to Jeremy Richey for helping me see this film.
 
 
** THE NEW YORK TIMES review of EUGENIE DE SADE, which opened in New York City on December 26th, 1969.
 
REVIEW by Roger Greenspun. Dec. 27, 1969. "For perhaps two minutes, at the beginning and again at the very end, "Juliette de Sade," now playing at the Rialto East and the Rialto West, succeeds as erotic movie making. In those minutes we are offered close-ups of the star's thighs, her lips, a poised cigarette, her invitational eyes—put together in slow, straightforward montage as a kind of monumental tease. Such moments of colossal intimacy, of passionate secrets shared with a movie screen, are of course their own reward. But in "Juliette de Sade" they are too meager and too few to validate the film.For the 81 intervening minutes, the same young lady, Maria Pia Conte, offers us almost nothing at all. This is the first time I have seen a movie with pretensions to pornography in which the principal actress never disrobes for the audience.
 
Because she leads a life of willing sin and dissolution, she is continually in situations (bed, for example) where she ought to be undressed. But she never visibly is, and the resulting calisthenics devoted to holding the sheets up under the chin or keeping the beach towel from falling off would have done credit to, say, the athletic purity of Doris Day in her most embattled moments.Based, according to the distributor, on Sade's "Juliette," the film concerns a precocious young thing who leaves her convent school quickly behind and comes to conquer mad, mod, swinging Rome. She finds a roommate, buys a lot of new clothes and meets an evil old man with a walrus mustache. He declares himself a follower of the divine Marquis de Sade, a name that from, the pleasure principles the old man elaborates, might as well be a pseudonym for Jeremy Bentham. He promises to instruct Juliette in his "philosophy." Connoisseurs of the genre will recognize that "philosophy" is always a dirty word when muttered in the presence of a leggy blonde, but in this film it might as well be a system of Kantian imperatives for all the bad that comes from it.So the old man gives her a new car, has her over to dinner with some friends and plays a game of chess with her. For a time she accepts this corruption. ("I had Rome where I wanted it, in the palm of my hand. And I wasn't going to let go until I had squeezed it dry," exults Juliette's voice, English-dubbed, while her yellow-green Lamborghini P400 zips past St. Peter's.) 
 
And it is here, on the beaches and in the middle-class apartments of Rome, that the film's imaginative poverty (not depravity) shows itself to worst effect."Juliette de Sade" means to suggest a sensualism of rich ornamentation and of plastic surfaces. Like most movies of its type, the film pretends to private knowledge in addition to sex, and to forbidden mysteries beyond the body.But, unlike most movies of its type, it supports those pretenses with fairly classy production values and handsome photography. It falls victim to its own aspirations, and to a tone of prissy elegance. Typically, Miss Conte, though she never strips, does indulge in a singularly unexciting fashion show.Before she breaks away from her sponsor—to set up in business for herself—Juliette suffers an LSD trip and an orgy. Nothing in the trip (the worst in a miserable tradition) deserves description. But during the orgy, which consists of two men and three women eating grapes, etc., Juliette's roommate does an erotic dance around, over and up against a pint-sized reproduction of Michelangelo's "David." The scene is supposed to be tense with energy and illusion, but the girl slithers without conviction, and the little David, a model of outmoded decorum, hides his plaster with a fig leaf.
   
The Cast: Juliette . . . . . Maria Pia Conte  Toni . . . . . Lea Nanni Clarissa . . . . . Christine . . . . . Angela de Leo. JULIETTE DE SADE, directed by Warren Kiefer; produced by Ninki Masiansky; released by Haven International Pictures. At the Rialto East, Broadway near 42d Street, and the Rialto West, 42d Street west of Broadway. Running time: 83 minutes. (Not submitted at this time to the Motion Picture Association of America's Production Code and Rating Administration for rating as to audience suitability.)

(C) Robert Monell, 2020


13 December, 2020

LA ESCLAVA BLANCA (Clifford Brown/Jess Franco. 1985)

la esclava blanca, 1985- source: Video Search of Miami (Spanish VHS-U.S. import) DIRECTED BY "CLIFFORD BROWN" (JESS FRANCO) WITH: JOSÉ LLAMAS, MABEL ESCAÑO, JOSE MIGUEL GARCIA MARFA, AUGUSTÎN GIL, LINA ROMAY, CONCHI MONTÉSa, JAMES TALL. 87 minutes


 

 Of the eight other films Franco made in 1985 (half of them hardcore porno features), this very low budget adventure stands out because of an absorbing, multi-layered script by ace Spanish screenwriter Santiago Moncada. Beside writing Mario Bava's HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON, Claudio Guerin Hill's THE BELL FROM HELL and Juan Antonio Bardem's THE CORRUPTION OF CHRIS MILLER, Moncada has written and produced screenplays for a variety of European genre directors. Manuel Cano's SWAMP OF THE RAVENS, TARZAN'S GREATEST CHALLENGE and VOODOO BLACK EXORCIST were all based on Moncada screenplays, not to mention the ultra-violent Spanish western CUTTHROATS NINE. This film was co-produced by Moncada and Franco's Manacoa company.

                                       Above: Prolific Spanish screenwriter Santiago Moncada


.As for Jess Franco, 1985 wasn't his best year, but it was a busy one, offering a variate of micro-budgeted genre projects. In LA ESCLAVA BLANCA, Moncada gives us three separate stories that gradually interweave and come together in the final scene. The first story seems to have elements of MACBETH and B movie programmers. A weak-willed jungle guide is manipulated by his domineering wife into committing a series of crimes. During a safari, he leads a honeymoon couple (José Llamas and Conchi Montés) into a trap laid by the Tobonga, a Stone Age tribe that worships a giant lizard god. The bride is tied to a sacrificial altar for later sacrifice. The second story starts out in the city, where a female karate student (Lina Romay and two of her instructors accidentally discover the secret of the Tobonga. In the third story, two separate expeditions make their way back to the Tobonga camp. One of these groups includes the original guide, who has been abducted by the karate instructors (they have also killed his wife). The other consists of the husband of the abducted woman and the female karate student (Lina Romay) who has split off from the school. During the long trip back, the guide has a change of heart and decides to repent, turning against his captors and helping the people he originally betrayed.

 The climax of the film, shot and edited with dispatch despite the budgetary restrictions, may remind some viewers of a miniature version of the final scene in THE WILD BUNCH. The very last scene, in which the Tobonga gold is abandoned by the survivors, echoes THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE. Franco's film, of course, is a lot less ambitious than those two classics, but maybe that's why it works so well. The massacre at the Tobonga camp, the abduction scene, and the opening safari are as well-staged as anything Franco has ever done. There's also an amusing dose of voodoo dancing thrown in for good measure. He takes it all seriously, even though it's bascially juvenile comic-strip pulp. But, then again, Jess Franco had a life long passion for comics and pulp fiction. 

Daniel White's pulsating drum and vocal score is familiar from some of Franco's other jungle adventures (MACUMBA SEXUAL, DEVIL HUNTER), but this is by the most unpretentious of the lot. Jose Miguel Marfa and Mabel Escaño are both very effective as the safari guides from hell. With its karate scenes, voodoo rituals, adventure story, literary and film references, LA ESCLAVA BLANCA seems like a kind of compendium of Franco's 1980's output (minus the XXX sex material). I

If one can get past his other sub-standard jungle/cannibal fare, this one is most definitely provides 90 minutes of undemanding entertainment. I would be pleasantly surpised if this fogotten mid 1980s programmer showed up on a Bllu-ray release, but stranger things have happened. I I had some behind the scenes photos of the shoot supplied by Senor Marfa but haven't yet been able to transfer them here. The Spanish locations will be very familiar to seripusJess Franco collectors.

 (C) Robert Monell Updated 2020

09 November, 2020

LOS BLUES DE LA CALLE POP (Jesus Franco, 1983)

Los Blues De La Calle Pop 1983 80 MINUTES Galan Video (Spain) European Trash Cinema (U.S. import). Written, Photographed and Directed by Jess Franco. Cast: Robert Foster (Antonio Mayans), Candy Coster (Lina Romay), Jose Llamas, Trino Treves, Mary Sad, Analia Ivars, Jess Franco, Augustin Garcia. -------------------------------------------------------------------- (a.k.a. AVENTURAS DE FELIPE MALBORO, VOLUMEN 8) Felipe Marlboro, ideally incarnated by Franco mainstay Antonio Mayans ("Robert Foster"), is a seedy private investigator who takes up a missing person case in punk infested Shit City, a sub-Fellini nightclub world in which all the males seem to hang out in a smoky bar decorated with posters of Bogart and Mae West, waiting for trouble to erupt. The residents of this corrupt town all look like they base their fashion sense on MTV. The men look like either Sid Vicious or a member of A Flock of Seagulls, and the women sport the slutty attire and pouty sexuality of Robert Palmer's female back-up in his music video "Addicted to Love." Likewise, (as the visual style of the film is a whacked-out array of shimmering primary colors and weird camera angles.
The plot has Marlboro enlisting the aid of piano player Sam Chesterfield (played by Jess Franco himself) in an all out effort to bust the town's drug and dirty money kingpin Saul Winston (Trino Trives). This witty and visually striking neo-noir parody is one of Franco's personal favorites, and it's easy to see why. Almost every shot in the film is a loving homage to 1940s private eye cinema (such as THE MALTESE FALCON and THE BIG SLEEP) filtered through a 1980s MTV-style lens. It's also retro-punk and looks forward to more familiar cine-comic books, such as SIN CITY. Franco has stated that he attempted to sustain a comic-book look in many of his genre efforts. He totally succeeded in this film as he did in his amusing 1967 spy spoof, LUCKY THE INSCRUTABLE. He also pulled it off in his 1971 answer to a 1940s Universal Pictures monster rally, DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN. Our guide through the punk nightmare world of POP STREET BLUES is the director's trusted actor-collaborator-friend Antonio Mayans, who is the perfect fall guy in Franco's off-world of pimps, whores, killers, and thugs. Sexy Analia Ivars makes for a perfect lean and mean femme fatale.
Franco stages the well worn private eye cliches in his usual iconoclastic fashion. For instance, when Marlboro gets a beating for asking too many questions, the guy who kicks the living daylights out of him is a flashy flamenco dancer who performs his dance steps in between each punch and kick. Most amusing of all is the twisted ending, which finds Marlboro seduced by the woman who has set him up for extinction.
Franco adorns this very personal project with a quick-paced editing style, brightly colored comic book frames, seedy locations shot through diffusion lenses, and a rousing New Orleans style jazz score by longtime Franco friend-collaborator Fernando Garcia Morcillo. LA BLUES DE LA CALLE POP is a continual delight to see and hear. Franco's experimental deployment of colored filters is especially interesting (as is Franco's stylistically similar 1986 punk-Eurospy adventure ESCLAVAS DEL CRIMEN) and makes me wonder why he didn't continue in this style. Instead, his next several films (leaving aside such purely commercial projects as FALO CREST and FACELESS), such as DARK MISSION (1987), ESMERALDA BAY (1989), FALL OF THE EAGLES and DOWNHEAT HEAT (1990), mostly display much more conventional visual aesthetics.
Seen in today's cult-music/movie friendly age, LOS BLUES DE LA CALLE POP could be designated as "retro-punk" in style, tone and theme. One gets the feeling that Muddy Waters would have understood it. There's even a touch of CASABLANCA, including the iconic poster for that 1943 classic. With the director himself as the reliable piano man one waits for someone to say, "Play it again, Jess." (C)Robert Monell, 2020 Franco index

03 September, 2020

BANGKOK, CITA CON LA MUERTE (1985, Directed by Clifford Brown [Jess Franco])

Robert Monell & Alex Mendíbil Blog Alliance

BANGKOK, CITA CON LA MUERTE (Clifford Brown, 1985)

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BANGKOK, CITA CON LA MUERTE is fascinating to the serious Jess Franco student but may not engage interest as a serious action film with Jess Franco-style martial arts interludes included. The formulaic plot combines drug running, Thai pirates (led by Lina Romay), karate fighting, kidnapping, comic relief and tourist footage which on first viewing looks cribbed from an unknown source.*  [Update: the DoP of this film, Juan Soler Cozar, read this review and kindly informed me that he was actually sent to Bangkok to shoot some street footage, and that it does appear in the film. I was very surprised that they went to the expense and trouble to do this, especially considering the production’s obvious micro-budget.]

The yacht-going daughter of a millionaire is kidnapped by pirates. Her father (Eduardo Fajardo) hires a bumbling private eye named Panama Joe (Bork Gordon) to locate her. The daughter’s boyfriend is also on the kidnappers’ trail. Panama Joe discovers the crooks are led by a drug smuggler (Antonio Mayans), who is in turn being double crossed by Queen Amania (Lina Romay). The detective roams around the faux Asian locations, tries to play both sides against the other, while uncovering deeper layers of corruption and double dealing.BANGKOK is dialogue and plot heavy to no good end, and Gordon’s imitation Inspector Columbo ramblings just do not spark enough interest. The characters are shown talking in cartoon dialog balloons during the opening credits, but Franco unaccountably drops this unusual device immediately and never picks it up again. What’s left is a C-minus adventure with some comic relief and sloppily staged karate stand-offs, in which the participants miss each other by miles. Then again, given the budget and assumed rushed shooting schedule this could be understandable. It also could indicate the director's disdain for those perfectly choreographed martial arts films of Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan, Sonny Chiba, etc. 

Gordon (Christian Borck) just seems a disheveled guy, actually a German comedian/television actor, who wandered in. Like the karate stuff, comedy-parody needs timing. The lines and martial arts blows rarely connect. Actually, I managed to find some amusement in the martial arts showdowns where the fighters miss contact with each other by such obvious distances that it looks like children playing at karate fighting. This is all likely due to a crushing schedule/lack of budget. Nonetheless the colorful cinematography frames the locations with skill and makes the Canary Islands seem like Southeast Asia, at least for 90 minutes.

    BANGKOK, APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH (VSOM dupe from Spanish television broadcast)      


A colorful, amusing mix of Kung Fu fighting, Asian aesthetics, modern day pirates, BANGKOK CITY OF THE DEAD (1985) mixes comic book-style imagery with crime film elements, some self parody and a adventure plot with a not-so-happy ending. Franco has tried this before, notably in the delightful LOS BLUES CALLE POP…. (1983) and La sombra del judoka contra el doctor Wong (1985).

Lina Romay has a few touching moments as the pirate leader, but she is once again miscast, and her familiarity as Lina Romay distracts from her performance. In one embarrassing scene, shes dances around in a tight swimsuit accompanied by a mechanical band. The result might been cute in 1973, but at this late date it is unfunny and unflattering to the talented Ms. Romay. Veteran character actor Fajardo (DJANGO)  turns in a professional but unexceptional performance as the millionaire.

The movie benefits from its luminous cinematography and occasionally hectic energy but needs a more interesting focal point.. The Far Eastern locations, represented via the aforementioned stock footage are given an atmospheric boost by Pablo Villa’s (Franco and Daniel White) brassy score, some of which recalls music heard in Franco’s earlier FU MANCHU AND THE KISS OF DEATH/KISS AND KILL (1967). Given the negatives I’m at the stage where I can still engage with and enjoy even an understandably flawed genre mashup such as this one. It’s obvious that Jess Franco took it serious enough to attempt to deliver a multi-faced entertainment package under impossible circumstances. As he told me when I interviewed him on his Golden Films Internacional period, these productions were “poor” i.e. made at very low coast, with little or no resources and rushed out to theaters or hidden away in the offices of producer Emilio Larraga to be lost forever. I had some fun watching it but have no idea where one could see it outside of fan websites. I am not aware of any DVD release, although it may have appeared on Spanish VHS.

The version I saw was from the wretchedly unreliable VSOM and had no English subtitles. A good quality HD transfer from a print or negative with  language options is required for a more in-depth consideration, but it’s an example of Franco’s 1980s exotica.

*Thanks again to Juan Cozar for additional information on the production of this film.
(C) Robert Monell [1998: New Version: 2020

Bangkok, Cita con la Muerte
1985; 87 Minutes; Spanish TV broadcast                                                                                     Director:  “Clifford Brawm” sic (Jess Franco)/ Director of Photography: Juan Cozar./ Produced by Golden Films Internacional S.A. in Alicante and Bangkok, Thailand.
 

28 August, 2020

DEAD MAN'S HAND (Rarely seen precredit sequence in the Spanish version of THE SADISTIC BARON VON KLAUS (1962)

 
Here is a video (please excuse the quality) of the rarely seen precredit sequence for LO MANO DE UN HOMBRE MUERTO (1962), the Spanish language version of THE SADISTIC BARON VON KLAUS. A 2.35:1 scope film, the French version had been released on Blu-ray. Unfortunately, this Spanish version has not had a HD release. Also, the later sequence, featuring Hugo Blanco torturing and murdering Gogo Rojo, was censored in this version.

This sequence features a white masked killer in black, anticipating the sadistic "shape" in Mario Bava's Giallo foundation stone, BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964).




31 March, 2020

VAYA LUNA DE MIEL: In Search of the Trivial. Finding Jess Franco in a rediscovered film.




At first glance this long unseen 1980 film is another Jess Franco adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's THE GOLD BUG. But is this frenetic comedy-adventure something more or something less than what it appears to be? In fact VAYA LUNA DE MIEL (What a Honeymoon!) is very similar in plot and style to Franco's 1981 LAS NOCHES DE LOS SEXOS ABIERTOS, which is a jaunty, erotically charged adventure-comedy about a couple in search of a hidden treasure, and it's one of several  films which he loosely based on that Poe story. But VAYA... lacks the nonstop sex, nudity and violence of LAS NOCHES.... it seems to have been deliberately made to appeal to more general mainstream Spanish audiences rather than the grind-house brigade. Franco was obviously in a very playful mood when he made it. So put on your white jungle hats and join in the fun.


                                                                   Jungle raiders

It opens with a pan shot over a crowed beach as Simon (Emilio Alvarez, who had previously appeared in Amando de Ossorio's "S" film PASION PROHIBIDA)), a clean cut young man, sits in the sun reading THE THERMOPYLAE. Yolanda (Lina Romay) walks past him, catching his eye. She then comes over and asks him to unfasten the top of her very skimpy bikini. They are married after a a brief flirtation and disembark for a tropical isle named Bananas, presumably a Banana Republic where the remainder of the film is set. All this occurs, along with a discussion of ancient Greek history, before the opening credits, signaling that the honeymoon is the kind of oneiric holiday from reality which often replaces any serious attempts at realistic verisimilitude in a Jess Franco film. A complicated honeymoon provides a perfect plot for a romantic comedy, Jess Franco style, in which the director is as much of a sight-seer as the characters. As the action proceeds Franco finds all manner of odd details in the local hotel and the streets of Benidorm, Elche, Alicante on which to focus his nervous lens.


                                             
                                                     Las Noches De Los Sexos Abiertos

Once on the island our couple become almost immediately embroiled in a search for a hidden treasure which has been already initiated by several separate parties, including a local group who want it for their town's coffers, a vacationing gangster (singer-director Max Boulois), another criminal group who closely track the couple, and a secret agent (Antonio Mayans). As in the Poe story the couple come across a series of clues which have to be carefully pieced together to reveal the location of the treasure. The first clue is discovered in the capital of the island, A dingy town which seems to be largely overtaken by a sprawling amusement park. The park is outfitted with various attractions, shopping markets, carnival rides and a Funhouse out of which stumbles a suspicious character (played by Jess Franco) who has just been shot by several gangsters. The couple is given a piece of blank paper as the dying man dying man repeats the word "beetle", which turns out to be the golden bug of the story. A Chinese inscription later appears on the paper after it is left in the sun while the couple are at a beach.

Of primary concern to Franco in this sequence are the various sculptures, images and icons of animals, demons and other bizarre figures which are everywhere in sight around the park. A sculpted vulture and a pink clad devil, among other odd figurines, seem to observe the confusion and pursuit of the couple by the gangsters and other dodgy looking individuals.. Franco's ever-active zoom lens keeps closing in on these objects as if they were as important as the human characters and the story itself. In fact, it could be intuited that they are more important in the director's obsessive, esoteric mise-en-scene. Codes, either musical or linguistic, are a favorite Jess Franco stratagem to bypass conventional narrative, they are consistent elements in the plots of KISS ME, MONSTER, LAS NOCHES DE LOS SEXOS ABIERTOSand other films throughout his career.


                                                                 Carnival Demons


The action proceeds to a series of encounters between the various gold seekers in the hotel room of the couple. Simon has a recorder with which he can summon help by playing several notes as did Al Periera (Eddie Constantine) in Franco's ATTACK OF THE ROBOTS (1966). In fact, miniature robots are also part of the plot here, appearing out of nowhere to give the couple coded directions and warnings before self-exploding. These brightly colored plastic creations seem like something out of a child's fantasy world, part of the fantasy-play matrix in which the characters are embroiled. At the end there is a hint that the entire outlandish, if somewhat silly, plot is something to enjoy before the newlyweds endure the daily realities of normal married life. Whatever it is, Franco is more interested in every tiny detail of the environment rather than any kind of real suspense, intrigue or meaning. The only meaning is Franco's desire to make another film, whether it's finished or released is of secondary importance. In fact, this film wasn't released at all and was discovered by Franco scholar Alex Mendibil in the Filmoteca Espanola.



                                                        Attack of the (toy) Robots

My first thought after seeing this long lost, never released title was that it was like one of those 1960s Walt Disney live action comedies, only conceived and directed in secret code by a mad poet whose only wish was to amuse himself. This is actually as personal, subversive and esoteric as any title in the extensive Franco collection. It's just that's not what it appears to be on its rather glossy (for Jess Franco) surface. One has to leave expectations and perceptions behind to get it, but not to enjoy it. Franco doesn't have any messages for viewers of his films, but he does offer endless, amusing subterfuges, in-jokes, auto-critiques, arcane references and genre satire which one can take or leave. He's a master of artful ridicule of subjects which deserve to be ridiculed, especially criticism in search of profound truths in cinema. This film is structured like the amusement park location, it's there to explore and have fun in. Franco's direction acts as a carnival barker, shouting "Look at the gewgaws, ride the ferris wheel, go into the Funhouse."


After viewing it I thought of my 2004 interview with Jess Franco (published in ART DECADES # 13) in which the director praised surprisingly Walt Disney and the fantasy world he created, stressing that he admired the man as a pioneer in entertainment and the universe created under his name. But he qualified that by saying the multi-million dollar Disney corporation was not something he admired. One recalls the Mickey Mouse mask wearing killer in BLOODY MOON. Disney characters also appear on t-shirts and props in such otherwise grim epics as BARBED WIRE DOLLS, LINDA and EUGENIE, THE STORY OF A PERVERSION (1980). KILLER BARBIES VS. DRACULA is like a horror musical unfolding in Disney style alternate world.The idea here is that our seemingly wholesome young couple have the kind of naivete one associates with Disney product, even if the actor who plays Simon looks to be about 15 years old (he was actually in his mid twenties as was Lina Romay at the time of shooting). Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse don't appear but the live-action cartoon quality is prominent. Franco fans expecting scenes of morbid sex and violence might be pleasantly surprised by this other side of the director's world.


So what exactly is this film which fell off the radar 40 years ago? Like many of Franco's unreleased films it may have encountered quota/tax issues and was withdrawn from the market. The production company/potential distributors might simply have decided it didn't have the commercial potential needed to insure a successful theatrical run. Given that there is no serious violence, only brief nudity and one mild seduction scene it probably would have been rate 14 in Spain (only 14 or over admitted, the next rating up from "Todos los Publicos", everyone admitted). Certain 1970s popular films which had increasing levels of sex and violence were driving international mainstream tastes to demand more of that kind of content, especially in Spain, which by 1980 had largely transitioned away from the stricter censorship of the General Francisco Franco era. Maybe VAYA... was just too genteel for rapidly changing audience tastes. That seems odd since we are talking about a Jess Franco film, after all. What emerges instead is an eccentric romantic comedy-adventure about how the honeymoon educates the newlyweds about each others foibles and the fact that the world around them is place of danger and intrigue which can best be navigated with some apprehension along with a wide open mind.


                                                           The Gold Bug

This was a rare production of the Magna sound studio which created the soundtracks for such Franco films as EL SADICO DE NOTRE DAME, SINFONIA EROTICA, DEVIL HUNTER, among others. Lina Romay is dubbed here by Mari Pe Castro, the wife of the studio''s artistic director. The film was shot on locations in Benidorm, Alicante and Elche, familiar from other Franco productions.


Thanks to Nzoog.for research assistance.

(C) Robert Monell, 2020

29 March, 2020

21 February, 2020


THE NIGHT OF OPEN SEX/ LA NOCHE DE LOS SEXOS ABIERTOS (1981) Blu-ray REVIEW by Robert Monell

 

"It is clear that Kidd-- if Kidd indeed secreted this treasure, which I doubt not--it is clear that he must have had assistance in the labor. But this labor concluded, he may have thought it expedient to remove all participants in his secret. Perhaps a couple of blows with a mattock were sufficient, while the coadjutors were busy in the pit; perhaps it required a dozen--who shall tell."   Edgar Allan Poe, The Gold Bug



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 counter-agents 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 profilic 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 period and his recent films show Franco is at his best when he is
allowed to be Franco.

LA NOCHE... opens with a deliriously filmed striptease by Lina Romay, performed in the driver's seat of a classic fifties 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. It's all so much fun, Jess Franco style. 

Inspired by Poe's "The Gold Bug" Jess Franco presents a Eurospy tinged mystery build around a secret code. As always, Franco is obsessed with secret codes in popular literature and cinema and developed his own as a filmmaker. The code in the Poe story leads adventurers to a fortune in pirated gold buried on a remote atoll. The code here is part literary, a poem, part musical, Liszt's composition, which when followed or played, open a vault of gold bars. The search for Nazi gold triggers thoughts of the gold guarding zombies in Franco's LA TUMBA DE LOS MUERTOS VIVENTES aka OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES, also filmed in the Canary Islands around the same time. But this is super sexy, light-hearted (with staggering doses of nudity, sex, erotic dancing displays) Eurospy fun all the way. 
This is not a horror film and it's one of the few Golden Films Internacional productions which is not a remake of an earlier Jess Franco film. That said, Severin Films has done another spectacular job delivering a sparkling presentation, scanned in 4K from the origina negative. The colors and definition are breathtaking. It looks delicious and has an intoxicating soundscape. Previously released on Spanish VHS (KING VIDEO), this is the film's official home video debut in North America. New English subtitles are provided for the Spanish Mono track.

Special Features include two hosted by Franco author Stephen Thrower: In the Land of Franco Part 2, a tour of multiple Franco locations; The Night of Open Jess, an interview with Thrower on the film. 

Also included is Part 2 of Donald Farmer's 1993 interview with Franco and Lina Romay during the shooting of JUNGLE OF FEAR. Fascinating stuff. 

Highly Recommended!
(C)
Robert Monell, 2020

20 February, 2020

Orgies Revolutionaires- Jose Benazeraf 1983

https://tubepornclassic.com/videos/28859/orgies-revolutionnaires/


A 1983 hardcore war adventure as Gabriel Pontello and Olinka star as a military dictator who is visited by a sexy advernturess in the midst of an armed revolution. Benazeraf's subversive humor and a sense of visual detail make this worth a look. 

17 February, 2020

CRIES OF PLEASURE/GEMIDOS DE PLACER: Blu-ray Review by Robert Monell

It opens with the mute  houseboy Fenul (DP Juan Soler Cozar, whose feverish thoughts are voiced by the film's director, Jess Franco), playing what at first seems an easy listening afternoon sonata on an acoustic guitar, as the camera zooms back from a pleasure cruiser cutting across Alicante bay. The camera then zooms back further to an elevated view of the bay from the swimming pool patio. It then zooms into Fenul stringing the notes and ultimately down into the aquamarine pool water in which the recently murdered Antonio (Antonio Mayans) floats. Based on a story by the Marquis De Sade the credits over the image tell us. But adapted by Jess Franco for a daring stylistic experiment. Franco's models were obviously Touch of Evil by Orson Wellels and Hitchcock's extended-take murder mystery, Rope.


As usual in the films of Jess Franco sound and music is as important, possibly more so, than the the images he usual to illustrate his chronicles. One must always keep in mind that Franco has said that he considered himself to be a musician who made films. He worked in cinema because it offered more financial security than being a jazz musician. Just consider the fates of the musicians whose names he used to sign his films, short-lived jazz men Dave Tough and Clifford Brown. Franco was also an actor, both in his own and other's films, and his quivering voice here, representing the frenzied thoughts of Fenul, add a constant audio anxiety to the depraved proceedings.


Cut to the important fact here: The new SEVERIN 4K scan of this Jess Franco adaptation of Sade's sex and death game is absolutely stunning. It's like a gorgeous nightmare from which you can't awaken. Be bold. Do not hesitate to order. It's one of Franco's best films and now looks brand new. CRIES OF PLEASURE actually is from a Sade episode filmed at least twice before by the director, as a sequence in Franco's first Sade epic JUSTINE (1969) and in an expanded version as the 1979 SINFONIA EROTICA.

Below: A female predator (Rocio Freixas) moves toward a fateful encounter in Jess Franco's GEMIDOS DE PLACER (1982), "based on the writings by the Marquis de Sade." The impressive villa where the action is set was provided by the film's producer, Golden Films Internacional S.A. founder/CEO, Emilio Larraga. The villa is exotic in design, with a spiraling staircase, but it becomes more oppressive and claustrophobic as the film progresses.


Franco has said there are approximately 20 shots in this film, but I have counted over 30 at various times based on my viewings of the old Caliente Video from Million Dollar Video Corporation (cropped at 1.33:1) Spanish language VHS and this 2006 Spanish DVD. A later Spanish DVD version is part of the CINE EROTICO ESPANOL series- CLASIFICADA "S", licensed from VIDEO MERCURY FILMS S.A., Formato 4:3 [non-anamorphic, and it shows]; Mono; Multizona "0"; DVD5; approx. 83 min. Genero: Erotica; Boutique Multimedia S.l. Grupo Edider 88, S.L. there's even a Madrid ground mail, and this web address www.internacionaldersa88.com

"REMASTERIZADA DIGITALMENTE CALIDAD"

"Una presumible orgia con un desenlace soprendenta" [or, as I said to Jess when we first met: "Lo siento, no hablo Espanol"]

Back copy: [Un liberal matrimonio quieren probar a realizar un trio sexual con una amiga de ambos. Pero en relaidad la utilizan para matarse el uno al otro con argucias y todo tipo de artimanas. El desenlace es sorpendente."]

Anyone who has seen it knows this is a hypnotic film, one of Franco's most personal and experimental works. It unfolds in flashback, narrated by mentally challenged guitar player, Fenul (DP Juan Soler Cozar, dubbed by Jess Franco himself). The extended takes suggest a link to Hitchcock's ROPE, also a story of murderers and their victims. The opening take, zooming slowly back from a yacht in Alicante Bay to pan over the villa, its swimming pool and a floating dead body (cf SUNSET BOULEVARD), is a tour de force.  A tale told by an idiot signifying the corruption of its four main characters, two of whom will die in paroxysms of sexual violence during the course of the film.

As pointed out above this opening immediately recalls the stunning plan sequence which opens Orson Welles' noir masterpiece TOUCH OF EVIL. The constantly probing camera here is as much of a character as the occupants of the villa. Like Hitchcock and Welles, the director wants to make us complicit in the following action, which is a study in casual amorality. The camera is always a voyeur in cinema, but Franco takes this concept to its absolute limit here. With very little dialogue and an overwhelmingly toxic ambiance, offset by Fenul's wandering guitar improvisations, the film becomes a kind of Sadean daydream ending in death, decay and a silent scream recorded from a final God's-eye camera angle.

As the mesmerizing instigator of the increasingly complex erotic games, Rocio Freixas, as the recently discharged mental patient Martina, emanates a powerful ambiguity which immerses the proceedings with a slow burning sense of danger. At any given moment she seems capable of anything and appears to exert a kind of mental control over the participants. She's also in two other impressive Jess Franco films from this period, EL SINIESTRO DR. ORLOFF and BOTAS NEGRAS, LATIGO DE CUERO, both 1982 Golden Films Internacional Productions in need of HD upgrades. In all Franco filmed around a dozen of films in the busy year of 1982 for producer  Larraga, who left him alone to make the film he wanted in the way he wanted. "I had complete freedom," the director told me when I interviewed him in 2005, adding that what he didn't have was large budgets. This film, in particular makes up for the lack of big bucks with the elegant, expansive, abstract, beyond conventional time and space mise-en-scene.

One could write a book on this film alone and Franco author Stephen Thrower is on hand for two Special Features, In the Land of Franco Part 1, a tour through familiar Portuguese locations for such Franco films as A Virgin Among the Living Dead, and Jess Franco's Golden Years, a consideration of the unique Golden Films Internacional features he made during the 1980s. There's also a subtitled interview with Franco and Lina Romay conducted in 1993 by Filmmaker Donald Farmer, during which the couple discuss their relative anonymity in the Spanish film market and such subjects as budgets. Franco even singles out director Martin Campbell as a worthy contemporary film director!

Severin's 4K scan from the original negative reveals layers of light and color which make the dreamlike film even more rapturous. Presented in Spanish with English subtitles, the soundscape is as enveloping as the imagery.

CRIES OF PLEASURE is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Severin Films, who are also releasing another fascinating Franco film produced by Golden Films Internacional, the erotically charged spy thriller NIGHT OF OPEN SEX, which I hope to review here soon.

(C) Robert Monell, 2020.

25 January, 2020

Viaje a Bangkok, ataúd incluido (1985) [Castellano] rare Jess Franco Edgar Wallace film, Spanish with Programable English subtitles.




This films is not an Edgar Wallace adaptation. It is, rather, a remake of Franco's 1966 Eurospy, CARTES BOCCA ARRIBA/CARTES SUR TABLE/ATTACK OF THE ROBOTS, released on Blu-ray in 2019, in French with English subtitles and an English language track option. Commentary track by Tim Lucas. It begins as a scene by scene remake of the earlier film, but changes the story to bring in a mind-control cult which uses drugs and rituals instead of a technological system to turn victims into robot-assassins. There's a lot less action in this film, which is in color. The black and white 1966 film somewhat suffers because the skin of the robots does not change color when shut down.


15 January, 2020

CRIES OF PLEASURE/GEMIDOS DE PLACER (Jess Franco, 1982)

Severin Films has announced a new Blu-ray release of this unique Jess Franco erotic drama. One of his key films produced by Emilio Larraga's Golden Films Internacional S.A. company in the early 1980s. The Blu-ray will be a new 4K scan from the original negative.


These are some thoughts on the film after viewing the Spanish DVD release from Cine Erotico Espanol. The film's release is dated as 1982 on the box. It's 4:3 format, Mono. 83m, Spanish language only. No subtitles available. This is an updated post from 2016.

GEMIDOS DE PLACER: [Spanish DVD] and other releases.



A female predator (Rocio Freixas) moves toward a fateful encounter in Jess Franco's GEMIDOS DE PLACER (1982), a remake of PLAISIR A TROIS (1973), "based on the writings by the Marquis de Sade." The impressive villa where the action is set was owned by the film's producer, Golden Films Internacional S.A. founder/CEO, Emilio Larraga. The villa is exotic in design, with a spiraling staircase, but it becomes more oppressive and claustrophobic as the film progresses.

Franco has said there are approximately 20 shots in this film, but I have counted over 30 at various times based on my viewings of the old Caliente Video from Million Dollar Video Corporation (cropped at 1.33:1) Spanish language VHS and this 2006 Spanish DVD. This DVD version is part of the CINE EROTICO ESPANOL series- CLASIFICADA "S", licensed from VIDEO MERCURY FILMS S.A., Formato 4:3 [non-anamorphic, and it shows]; Mono; Multizona "0"; DVD5; aprox. 83 min. Genero: Erotica; Boutique Multimedia S.l. Grupo Edider 88, S.L. there's even a Madrid ground mail, and this web address www.internacionaldersa88.com

"REMASTERIZADA DIGITALMENTE CALIDAD"

"Una presumible orgia con un desenlace soprendenta" [or, as I said to Jess when we first met: "Lo siento, no hablo Espanol"]

Back copy: [Un liberal matrimonio quieren probar a realizar un trio sexual con una amiga de ambos. Pero en relaidad la utilizan para matarse el uno al otro con argucias y todo tipo de artimanas. El desenlace es sorpendente."]

Anyone who has seen it knows it's a hypnotic film, one of Franco's most personal and experimental works. It unfolds in flashback, narrated by mentally challenged guitar player, Fenul (DP Juan Soler Cozar, dubbed by Jess Franco himself]. The extended takes suggest a link to Hitchcock's ROPE, also a story of murderers and their victim. The opening take, zooming slowly back from a yacht in Alicante Bay to pan over the villa, its swimming pool and a floating dead body (cf SUNSET BOULEVARD), is a tour de force.  A tale told by an idiot signifying the corruption of its four main characters, two of whom will die in paroxysms of sexual violence during the course of the film.

This opening immediately recalls the stunning plan sequence which opens Orson Welles' noir masterpiece TOUCH OF EVIL. The constantly probing camera here is as much of a character as the occupants of the villa. Like Hitchcock and Welles, the director wants to make us complicit in the following action, which is a study in casual amorality. The camera is always a voyeur in cinema, but Franco takes this concept to its absolute limit here. With very little dialogue and an overwhelmingly toxic ambiance, offset by Fenull's wandering guitar improvisations, the film becomes a kind of Sadean daydream ending in death, decay and a silent scream recorded from a final God's-eye camera angle.

As the mesmerizing instigator of the increasingly complex erotic games, Rocio Freixas emanates an powerful ambiguity which immerses the proceedings with a slow burning sense of danger. At any given moment she seems capable of anything and appears to exert a kind of mental control over the participants. She's also in two other impressive Jess Franco films from this period, EL SINIESTRO DR. ORLOFF and BOTAS NEGRAS, LATIGO DE CUERO, both 1982 Golden Films Internacional Productions in need of HD upgrades.

Once again, eagerly awaiting the upcoming Severin Blu-ray, scanned in 4K.

(C)Robert Monell, 2019

09 January, 2020

Collected Jess Franco Film Reviews from Dark Waters: links included.

THE NIGHT OF OPEN SEX/ LA NOCHE DE LOS SEXOS ABIERTOS (1981) 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 electonically 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 profilic 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 period and his recent films show Franco is at his best when he is
allowed to be Franco.

LA NOCHE... opens with a deliriously filmed strip by Lina Romay, performed in the driver's seat of a classic fifties 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.

Robert Monell