20 April, 2021

Women In Peril: Brigitte Lahaie; Jess Franco; Alain Robbe-Grillet.

EDEN AND AFTER/L’Eden et apres (1970):   The shot captured below appears for less than one second of screen time and acts as a subliminal flash which doesn’t register immediately to the eye but is retained in the mind. The image is highly stylized, a depiction of a nude woman lying a bath of red liquid, signifying blood. The picture on the raised portion of the tub is of the lead actress, Catherine Jourdan.

The positioning of the pistol suggests that the woman has shot herself. But there is no realism here outside of what is arranged as a transgression.  An aesthetic shock of flesh, red, white, like an abstract painting. The fact that it registers subliminally rather than as readable image completes the transgression.  And it illustrates how Robbe-Grillet was an abstract painter in his writing and films.  It’s also an example of the influence of Sade on his prose and cinema. img_20180330_001130.jpg

When discussing Sade in cinema it’s difficult to minimize the filmography of Jess Franco. He returned to “The Divine Marquis” as an inspiration again and again, adapting his novel Justine (1791), his story Eugenie De Franval (1788). Sade's epic “Dialogues” Philosophy in the Bedroom (1795) was filmed by Franco as EUGENIE, THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION, released in 1970, featuring Christopher Lee as the Sadean narrator Dolmance. Other Sade adaptations followed until the end of his career in 2013

Image result for N Pris le des

I recently streamed N. A PRIS LES DES… an intriguing 1971 feature by novelist-filmmaker-theorist Alain Robbe-Grillet on the Fandor Amazon channel. It was well worth it since the film is an experimental restructuring of his 1971 L’EDEN ET APRES (EDEN AND AFTER), which was also filmed in Bratislava and Tunisia with the same cast and a similar plot. But plot is not as important as image and soundtrack in ARG’s universe, where character and story are one or two dimensional pulp devices. All of his films have a pulp fiction quality which is very upfront and intentional. (I have since acquired the excellent Kino Classics Blu-ray of EDEN AND AFTER which contains N. A PRIS LES DICE as a bonus feature. It's highly recommended.) N... can accurately be described as a totally self-reflexive work in which an onscreen narrator deconstructs and comments on the film as we watch it. 

ARG was a contemporary and kindred spirit to Jess Franco. Both were immersed in the literature, imagery and philosophy of the Marquis de Sade. Franco actually adapted several of his books, including JUSTINE, JULIETTE (unfinished), PHILOSOPHY IN THE BOUDOIR and EUGENIE DE SADE, to name a few. ARG’s films are awash in Sadean imagery, in which sadomasochism is visualized and discussed throughout.
 
Robbe-Grillet’s name is mentioned during the word game in SUCCUBUS/NECRONOMICON (1967) and Franco’s VENUS IN FURS is a virtual remake of ARG’s debut feature, L’IMMORTELLE (1963). Both films feature a search for an elusive woman who represents and delivers death to the man who finds her. N. A PRIS LE DES… and its template both feature a woman (Catherine Jourdain LE SAMOURAI) who ends up imprisoned in a Tunisian torture complex, where women are kept in hanging cages by pirates with clandestine motives. Misogynist? Maybe. Is it Art? It depends on personal definitions. What is art to one person, may be mere pornography to others. Where does eroticism end and pornography begin? What Robbe-Grillet does as director is arrange aesthetically endowed S&M tableaux in various sequences.
 
The key question is: can eroticism be a subject and technique in art? I think most would answer yes to that. It's been an artistic device since the art and literature of antiquity.  Robbe-Grillet never worked in the hardcore sex mode, as did Jess Franco, but he did create a series of erotic conundrums in his books and films which transgress common definitions of taste and are pornographic to some. His film SUCCESSIVE SLIDINGS OF PLEASURE (1974) actually was the subject of criminal litigation in Italy, was subsequently banned there and ordered destroyed. 

ARG is mainly interested in presenting films and books as experiments in anti/non/multi linear-narrative and alternate literary/film forms. Conventional representation is critiqued, ridiculed and turned inside-out.  Eroticism is often a portal to a dangerous type of personal/political freedom, although his films don’t deal with specific political matters, as do those of Jean-Luc Godard. It’s all a game, which the viewer is invited to enjoy, one which allows and encourages reader/viewer participation. The meaning is provided by the reader viewer, as the narrator assures us in the last moments of N. A PRIS LE DES, a film which directly addresses the audience with respect and conspiratorial intimacy.  N…. projects the film we are watching as a game of chance, and is a separate film from EDEN AND AFTER.
 
In 1975 I had the chance to see EDEN AND AFTER presented with a following Q&A by Robbe-Grillet. The second feature was the even more transgressive, SUCCESSIVE SLIDINGS OF PLEASURE, an eyeful for the first time viewer. . I was somewhat shocked by the intensity of the sadomasochistic imagery in the latter, and it had trouble finding wide release in France or any release in North America at the time. Robbe-Grillet was teaching in New York at the time and was a most interesting host for his films, appearing bemused as he answered questions politely and gratefully.
 
So, how does Jess Franco, generally considered a commercial hack with a penchant for arty pornography, fit into this dangerous game?

Consider his 1978 I'M BURNING UP ALL OVER, one of his last films produced by Robert De Nesle.
 
 
 

 De Nesle, who achieved fame and fortune producing sword and sandal films in the early 1960s (SAMSON, HERCULES VS. MOLOCH) by this time was targeting the French porn circuit with his productions. He went so far as to order Franco to shoot post production hardcore porn inserts for such films as LA COMTESSE PERVESE (1973). 

Here's what I thought of I'M BURNING UP ALL OVER when I reviewed it on Mobius Home Video Forums over 20 years ago: 
I burn all over 1979 Je brûle de partout
 aka JE BRULE DE PARTOUT. Directed by Jess Franco (credited as Jacques Aicrag). Jenny Goldstone (Susan Hemingway) is abducted after a night at a popular discotheque. She is the most recent victim to fall into the hands of an international white slavery cartel. The point person is the beautiful, blond Lorna (Brigitte Lahaie/Van Meerhaegue) who, along with her henchmen, bundles the girls aboard a ship fitted with an orgy room into which a sedating "love drug" is piped. They are transported to a brothel in Portugal where one of Jenny's customers will turn out to be her own father, ironically revealed to be the financier behind the ring. But there is someone else on the trail of the abductors, a certain investigator whose name will be familiar to those familiar with the filmography of Jess Franco, Al Pereira. 

One of Jess Franco's more obscure sexploitation efforts, this one is of note mainly for the alluring presence of Ms. Lahaie who would go on to be featured in several memorable Jean Rollin titles (FASCINATION, NIGHT OF THE HUNTED). Lahaie, like Rita Calderoni or Rosalba Neri, is one of those Euro-cult actresses whose stunning beauty is equaled by a formidable acting talent. She can play a mean bitch (as here, or in FACELESS) or a pathetic victim (cf NIGHT OF THE HUNTED), and sometimes a bit of both (cf FASCINATION). This was shot in less than a week and really looks it. The "love drug" sequences are represented by smoke being forced through crudely cut rubber tubes. The love drug concept also turns up in the JF filmography as early as THE GIRL FROM RIO asa SUMURU 2 (1968), and is also prominent in CAPTIVE WOMEN aka LINDA/NAKED SUPERWITCHES OF THE RIO AMORE (1980) {see the self-explanatory still on p 143 of OBSESSION: THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO to get a taste of the latter title}. 
 
I term all the above mentioned titles as Women-In-Peril, a related offshoot of the Women-in-Prison genre, also a goldmine for JF. Some plot elements, especially the father-daughter erotic complications, are also present in Franco's COCKTAIL SPECIAL, another adaptation of Sade's PHILOSOPHY IN THE BEDROOM, also made in 1978, the reported year of Robert De Nesle's death. 

Ms. Lahaie apparently quarreled with Franco on set and she doesn't look like a happy camper, but she does look terrific and can act, as she verified forever in Jean Rollin's NIGHT OF THE HUNTED and Franco's FACELESS (1988)! My favorite part was the opening, set in a glittering disco. Franco pans up from Lahaie's black leather boots to the neon colored-light show and you immediately know you're in Jess Franco territory (despite the use of one of his rarer pseudonyms during the amusing spoken credits). The director even manages to work in his trademark Al Pereira P.I. character, but Jean Ferrere's thug-like visage is no match for the more ambiguous mug of Antonio Mayans, my own favorite interpreter of JF's favorite Private Eye. Daniel J. White's moody jazz score adds a dash of much needed atmosphere. 

This rather obscure title was one of three hardcore quickies produced by the late Robert de Nesle and directed by Franco in 1978, the year of the producer's death and one of the director's less than favorite years.

NOTE: I have recently come across this quote from Brigitte Lahaie in a 2009 interview on the website PSYCHOVISION "Jess [Franco] who has a certain talent unfortunately ruined by some confusion [...]." This was about 20 years after Franco give her role of the female villain in his gore epic FACELESS (1988), in which she was absolutely terrific. I guess she was thinking of her more negative experiences on JE BRULE DE PARTOUT. by Robert Monell at Mon, May 01, 2000, 18:04:23
--modified by Robert Monell at Mon, May 01, 2000, 18:57:19.


It has been 20 years since I first published this review and there is still no HD/OAR/English friendly DVD/BD (of which I'm aware) to be found anywhere. You may be able to find it on some Internet torrents with English subs. One thing is for sure, both Franco and Robbe-Grillet were endlessly fascinated by images of captive women in chains, bondage or in cages. Franco formalized this interest in his Women-In-Prison films for Harry Alan Towers, Eurocine, Erwin Dietrich and in his 1980s films. The most noticeable difference is Franco's WIP films are never arty or slick whereas Robbe-Grillet's images of women in cages in EDEN AND AFTER and some other of his films are almost suitable for framing. Seeing I'M BURNING UP... again recently I was struck by how little dialogue there is in the film. It opens with a long scene in a disco as Ms Lahaie dances it up while recruiting women for future capture. The victims are kidnapped and taken to an offshore cargo ship by speedboat. No dialogue needed here. It's all very straightforward.
 
(C) Robert Monell, 2021
 

14 March, 2021

The Making of Return of the Bloodsucking Nazi Zombies/OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES, a video by Robert Monell

A video written and narrated by Robert Monell for the web series RETURN OF THE BLOODSUCKING NAZI ZOMBIES (Alex Bakshaev, 2010); footage from L'ABIME DES MORTS-VIVANTS/OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES (Jess Franco, 1981).  The web series was released on the Spanish CAMEO DVD (PAL, 2013). The web series used to be on YouTube but has since disappeared. I am still hopeful for an All Region release in the future.




16 February, 2021

CASTLE OF THE CREEPING FLESH (Adrian Hoven, 1968) Blu-ray Review

Castle of the Creeping Flesh-Im Schloß der blutigen Begierde | Appointment with Lust |  Directed by Adrian Hoven.  1968-84m Severin Films  

It's hunting season in the Austrian mountains where the rich and bored attend an endless array of wild parties held in various Gothic castles.  A particularly rowdy party is unfolding in the sprawling domain of the decadent Baron Brack (Michel Lemoine), who leaves the castle early with an attractive female guest. At his private villa the drunken Baron rapes the guest, who just happens to be the second victim of a sexual attack which recently occurred in the woods nearby. The first victim was the daughter of the widely feared Earl of Saxon (Howard Vernon), who has released a bear into the woods to hunt down the rapist. When it is revealed that the same person is responsible for the crimes a cycle of brutal revenge takes place which may be the result of a 300 year old curse on the Barony.   For a film which was obviously made as a light entertainment for adventurous moviegoers of the late 1960s, this film has a cruelly complicated plot which constantly reminds us that the wealthy also have their problems. It all builds up to the kind of WTF ending which 1960s tales of the uncanny thrive upon. I first saw this film on video in the early 1990s when I found out that Jess Franco had some kind of involvement. He's listed as an uncredited writer on the IMDB, but back then I had first read about it in OBSESSION: THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO, only to be made aware that it wasn't really a Franco film. It was directed by Austrian director, producer, singer Adrian Hoven, who makes ample use of the Austrian locations and the wonderfully atmospheric Castle Kreuzenstein.   

I enjoyed watching the collection of odd trailers, alternate credit sequences and featurettes in the loaded BONUS features folder of the new SEVERIN HD release of this 1968 Satansbraten of cursed castles, decadence, rape, insanity, open heart surgery, murder, wild animal attacks, and Gothic sleaze. OBSESSION: THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO mentions in the film's review, "According to Howard Vernon...this film...was based on an original script or idea by Jesus Franco."*  Indeed, it's very much in the demented Franco wheelhouse and features the main cast and composer from his marvelous SUCCUBUS/NECRONOMICON (1967). It's certainly a welcome uncut restoration from the original German negative of a unique oddity which might make a good party film in the 21st Century.  It looks terrific in HD, with rich colors and sharp definition.  German and English language options are available.  Also included are two interviews with the widow and son of Hoven, conducted by Uwe Huber, they discuss this film and his Mark of the Devil films. 

 This was released in North America in a crudely dubbed, cut down edit on VHS, under the title CASTLE OF THE CREEPING FLESH, in the late 1980s.  Howard Vernon, Michel Lemoine and his then-wife Janine Reyaud are featured. They were all in SUCCUBUS, directed by Jess Franco and co-produced by the same company, Hoven's Aquila Films.

My interest was piqued since Franco reportedly came up with the original treatment (written on a bar napkin?) for this German exploitation, directed by producer Hoven himself under his Percy G. Parker beard. On paper it must have seemed a sure bet, one of those Grindhouse-bound surveys of Euro-decadence which were so popular, post LA DOLCE VITA, in the 1960s. The budget conscious Hoven managed to get four feature films out of the same cast, including future director Michel Lemoine (SEVEN WOMEN FOR SATAN), who were also in the trio of Franco-directed Aquila films (including KISS ME, MONSTER and SADISTEROTICA/TWO UNDERCOVER ANGELS). Lemoine here plays the wild-eyed rapist who gets the aforementioned rough justice at the hands of the Earl of Saxon. He's almost a figure out of a Sade novel. I think Franco may have given the idea for this to Hoven as a thank you for bankrolling and letting him direct NECROMONICON just the way he wanted.

Actor-producer-singer Adrian Hoven, would go on appear in several Rainer Werner Fassbinder films (WORLD ON A WIRE, FOX AND HIS FRIENDS) in the 1970s and produced with the infamous MARK OF THE DEVIL films, appearing in and directing the second installment, WITCHES (1972). He died in 1981, at the age of 58.

IM SCHLOSS DER BLUTIGEN BEGIERDE is fun, but nowhere near as layered or unique as a Jess Franco film. It's kind of a Gothic-Eurotrash fantasia which unfolds in the late 1960s and the 17th Century, far from the madding crowd. Howard Vernon holds the show together, and it's always good to have Janine Reynaud on hand as a party girl. In any case, enjoy this witches brew. 

(C) Robert Monell, 2021

26 January, 2021

FLORES DE PERVERSION (2005)

The Divine Marquis... *FLORES DE PERVERSION is based on the posthumous Sade text "Augustine de villeblanche, ou le stratageme de l'amour: HISTORIETTES: CONTES ET FABLIAUS de Donatien-Alphonse-Francois, marquis de Sade, publies pour la premiere fois sur les manuscrits autographs inedits par Maurice Heine. A Paris, pour les members de la Societe du Roman Philosophique, 1926. 4to , 340 pages. 

A Manacoa Film Production Filmed in Malaga, Spain PAL R2 X-Rated-Kult DVD Spanish & German language options with removable English subtitles. Photo Gallery Original Trailer X-Rated Kult Trailers.  

 Mme Villeblanche (Lina Romay) operates an upscale prostitution empire located in a office tower somewhere in Spain. She spends most of her days frolicking in bed with her assistant (Rachael Sheppard), occasionally interrupted by business calls on her cellphone. Two new hookers are hired to lure clients into the torture chambers of Mme... a one-way trip for the customers. Jess Franco has returned to Sade again and again since JUSTINE in 1968. That adaptation of Sade's infamous 1791 novel was scripted by producer Harry Alan Towers, this 21st Century shot-on-Hi-Def direct-to-DVD item, along with its 2005 [onscreen (C) 2003] sister project FLORES DE PASION, has yet to make it to R1 Blu ray. Just as he brought Sade into the 20th Century with works like EUGENIE DE SADE (1970), PLAISIR A TROIS (1973) and EUGENIE...THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION (1970), he's now brought him into the early 21st Century, an age of cellphones, shaved pubic hair and the Internet. This is a situational rather than "plot" film, with Fata Morgana, Carmen Montes acting out bondage, whipping, castration scenarios which climax with sexual cannibalism under the direction of Franco's Princess of Eroticism, Lina Romay. 

This isn't a "nice" movie; approach with caution. Once again, it's all shot in anonymous apartments, hotel rooms and what looks like a brick-walled parking garage... minimalist indoor settings in which the "perverted" tableau unfold. The pubic shaving, lesbian groping and whippings go on and on until "duration" becomes just a term. Nothing often happens in Jess Franco films. That's not a typo. There's no fresh air in this perverse, enclosed universe. Sunlight is replaced by onscreen production lamps, pink, green, yellow electronica and colorized digital noise. We don't even have the comfort of continuous full color, sometimes the image turns b&w, with blood-red highlights. 

 

A nude man is crucified upside down and another (Ezequiel Cohen) is flayed, then castrated before his [obviously fake] genitalia are eaten by the hungry whores of the Mme... It's an artificial paradise, a vivid, unapologetic alternate reality presented for your consideration.... the Divine Marquis would be proud. Obsessively interactive with the ladies teasing the camera lens and the viewer beyond while the Franco favorite "Life is Shit" (THE MIDNIGHT PARTY) and other familiar JF tunes are heard on the soundtrack as if caught in a maddening loop. Will the future be a world without men, just languid, intelligent women who control finances and themselves and enjoy using sex as power? Is Jess wanting us to squirm amidst the sexual terrors? It's disturbing, amusing, boring, fascinating all at the same time. I changed my mind about it. You might hate it. You might, like myself, be unnerved to watch our blissful daughters of Sappho, their faces stained with a jet of the recently castrated victim's blood, look into the camera with an evil smile and assert, "And you...will be next." Jess really knows how to hurt a guy. And one can almost see his wicked smile superimposed over the unsavory doings. You get the distinct impression that Franco wants you to take it personally and will break up laughing when you do. It will be knowing, conspiratorial laughter. As I stated on my FACEBOOK homepage, I didn't enjoy it on first viewing. But seeing it again, well... let's just say it takes repeat viewings, if you can take it. ... and that's a BIG if! Jess Franco, you're beautiful, piss me off any time you want. I love it.... Thanks to Francesco Cesari for suggesting I might want to think twice.... Thanks to Eric Cotenas for helping me see the R2 German Kult DVD. Watch it in Spanish with English subs if you can get it. A German language track is also available. I wonder what my reaction will be to FLORES DE PASION? 

(C) Robert Monell, 2009

05 January, 2021

AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO (1973, Jesus Franco)

(a.k.a. THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MIRROR; LE MIRIOR OBSCÈNE; LO SPECCHIO DEL PLACERE)

AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO is the Spanish-language version of this twisted psychological thriller, which also exists in a more explicit French-language version.

Though the production looks rushed and is somewhat incoherent, it is one of the busy director's most effective and moving examinations of mental illness, as well as the possible connection between insanity and the world of the occult.

Ana (Emma Cohen) is a musically talented but repressed woman who, though in her twenties, still lives with her parents. The day Ana announces her engagement, her overprotective father (Howard Vernon) suddenly and inexplicably commits suicide. Ana leaves home to forget the tragedy and finds companionship and work in a jazz band in Lisbon.

After awhile, she experiences disturbing visions of her father's death. Also, she hears his voice calling her from a haunted mirror that appears in her room. Inside this strange mirror-world, she encounters several men trying to win her affections. She brutally murders them at her dead father's command.

Coming back to reality, she attempts suicide but is saved at the last moment. Despite a therapeutic rest period, her psychosis persist and she commits more murders. Finally, there is a deadly supernatural reckoning when the magic mirror is destroyed.



This unique addition to the Franco canon keeps the viewer emotionally engaged in Ana's tragedy, mostly due to Cohen's excellent performance. Thankfully, the film lacks the clinical, ultra-close-up quality that sometimes keeps the viewer at arm's-length in some of Franco's other thrillers.

Most fascinating is how Franco relates Ana's problem to religion, visually correlated by repeated shots of churches, religious statues, and evocative paintings. Ana's father is shown to be a devout Catholic who uses
faith to hide from his darker impulses. The plot's mystery is never really solved, but a final "vision" in the magical mirror suggests a possible explanation.

In addition, Franco populates the movie with a lot of Freudian imagery (cf. Hitchcock's SPELLBOUND), some of it bordering on the surreal: one almost subliminal image (in the French version) shows a goldfish transforming into a knife that Ana uses on one of her victim. The horrifying and repeated image of the father's corpse leads Ana again and again into the realm of madness and death. This same image also appears in Franco's VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD, another study of a family tragedy.

Vernon is chilling in his role as the ambiguous father. Unfortunately, much of his performance is lost in the French version in favor of added erotic scenes featuring Lina Romay and Alice Arno.

The Spanish version also has a haunting music theme, which is replayed at different tempos, tracking the downward spiral of Ana's madness. The island of Madeira provided a breathtaking location for this nightmarish story, as it also did for THE BARE BREASTED COUNTESS, filmed
in the same year. Ana's personal mirror world, the reality on the other side of the mirror, is filled with both psychological and occult symbols. A fish out of water becomes a knife with which Ana will murder his current suitor. Jacques Lacan's theoretical STATE DU MIRIOR (Mirror Phase/State) comes to mind. Ana's father has a perhaps unconscious sexual obsession with his daughter, which is also glimpsed in the mirror phase. His spirit has seemed to have psychologically or supernaturally embedded itself in her subconscious, and it wants her to kill her lovers, which are competitors for the dead man's desperate, evil spirit. Or is it all due to Ana's disturbed emotional state, which is immersing her into violent fantasies?

Above: The specter of Luis Bunuel haunts AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO>

The final image of Ana in her wedding gown brings up visual memory of the title character in Luis Bunuel's macabre 1961 dark satire VIRIDIANA in her bridal gown which she has put on to cater to the perverse desires of her hypocritical guardian. In the case of the Bunuel film the older guardian of the heroine also hangs himself when he is about to lose control of the object of desire. When I mentioned this to Jess Franco when I interviewed him he denied any direct influence, adding "he [Bunuel] was free; I was not." Which was technically true, Bunuel was given carte blanche by the Spanish censor and Francisco Franco government. It was only when they saw the finished film that they moved to withdraw and ban the film in Spain for years. Franco, who claimed to just be a director of a "commercial project" had no such guarantee. 

Seen in it's uncut version, the film has a more focused emphasis on Ana's musical career and several sidebars featuring the more normal aspects of her daily life. This result in making her final fate more tragic.

al otro lado del espejo

1973 80 Minutes Q Video (Spain)/95 Minutes DVD (France). Director: Jesus Franco.
Cast: Emma Cohen, Howard Vernon, Robert Woods, Ramiro Oliveros, Waldemar Wohlfahrt,, Jess Franco, Philippe Lemaire, Franciose Brion, Alice Arno,Adela Tauler, Carmen Carbonnel< . Music: Adolfo Waitzman. Songs: Roger Sarbib. Produced by Robert De Nesle-CFFP-Paris,
Jose Manuel Herero Producciones Orfeo S.A. Madrid. DP: Antonio Milan. Editor: Gerard Kikone, Mercedes Alonso. Asst. dir: Ana Maria Settimo de Esteva. Art dir: Luis Vasquez. Stills: Mario Lippert (Howard Vernon), Francesca Da Silva.   

The additional cast in the French version: Lina Romay, Monique Delaunay, Roman Ardid. 

Note: The Andre Benichou music for the French version is downbeat and largo tempo compared to the jaunty opening piano theme of the Spanish version. The Gerard Brissaud cinematography in the additional French scenes lacks the style and polish of the Spanish shot scenes.  

 

(C) Robert Monell 2021