19 July, 2021

LES GRANDES EMMERDEUSES (Clifford Brown, 1974)



LES GRANDES EMMERDEUSES (Clifford Brown, 1974)

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Les Grandes Emmerdeuses
1974 82m. ETC Video (U.S. import). Directed by Clifford Brown. Produced by Robert de Nesle-C.F.F.P-Paris; Screenplay by David Khunne; DP: Etienne Rosenfeld; Louis Soulanes; Music: Andre Benichou [Robert Viger?]; P: Ramon Ardid. Eastmancolor.

ABOVE: Bach-rock composer-guitarist Andre Benichou; who also scored Jess Franco’s LORNA, THE EXORCIST (1974); THE OBSCENE MIRROR (1973); EXORCISME (1974); among other titles.

Cast: Lina Romay (Pina) Pamela Stanford [Monique Delaunay] (Tina), Willy Braque [Guy Peraud] (Insurance agent), Raymond Hardy [ Ramon Ardid] (Agent Perez), Monica Swinn (Kashfi), Lise Franval [Lisa Ferrera] (Martine), Richard de Conninck (Interpol Agent 0069), Fred Williams, Susuki (Radeck’s female friend), Jess Franco(Martin)

(a.k.a. LES EMMERDEUSES; LES PETITES VICIEUSES FONT; LES GRANDES EMMERDEUSES aka Sexy a Go-Go)

A couple of air-headed diamond smugglers, Pina (Lina Romay) and Tina (Pamela Stanford), disguised as Interpol agents, travel to Portugal to fence the jewels (guess where they hide the gems), as two Interpol agents track them. The women are captured by a criminal gang also on the trail of the diamonds. The women manage to elude their pursuers through the use of the oldest trick in the book: sex. A much more sexually explicit “Red Lips” style crime adventure than such titles as the 1960 LABIOS ROJOS or ROTE LIPPEN/ El caso de las dos bellezas (1967) [TWO UNDERCOVER ANGELS], this has never had a HQ video* or any DVD release of which I am aware.Les emmerdeuses.jpg

ABOVE: Lina Romay as Pina,  one of our charming diamond smugglers, in LES GRANDES EMMERDUESES/LES EMMERDEUSES.

This minor spy/sex comedy-adventure starts as an almost-hardcore romp with the camera zooming into close-ups of our heroines’ pudendum, as they talk directly to the audience and explain how they eluded ruthless international criminals and got away with a stash of diamonds. This kind of interactive cinema, a sexual come-on for the raincoat crowd, also can be found in Franco’s MIDNIGHT PARTY (1975), which opens with Lina Romay stimulating herself and the audience as she directly addresses them. Franco's films are more often than not about "performance" and the interaction between the audience and the performer both within the context of the film and in relation to the viewer of the film. The actresses verbally identify their characters as Interpol agents but it could be all a put-on. They even joke about "James Bond" as if to comment on the long running European Bond spoofs. Franco doesn't usually stay within the confines of whatever genre he is working in, he breaks its boundaries making yet another "Jess Franco" film, a genre in itself.

The film is amusing, mainly due to the charms of Lina Romay and Pamela Standford, who really  seem to be enjoying teasing the camera/audience. It’s a lot of harmless fun in a Eurospy masque. Franco also hams it up with his telezoom lens, which is as overactive as ever, zooming in on everything from jets passing overhead to more intimate places. Romay spends most the time nude (except for black gloves pulled up to her elbows), while Stanford dons an outrageous wrap-around cat mask and leopard skin tights in order to distract the enemy.

The Eurospy element is confined to the presence of, bumbling police agents,  played by Franco regulars Bigotini and Ramón Ardid, who both look like they had a ball during the shoot. There’s a mad scientist subplot (featuring a Doctor Radeck. Who else?) and even a kind of Frankenstein creature  (the Duranstein monster) who must be dealt with (cf THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN-1972, which, in comparison, looks like it was set, and made in 1872!).

Franco recycles some of the score from his sexy peplum LES GLOUTONNES (1973). Curiously enough, the music is credited to Robert Viger in that film, while here Andre Benichou is listed as the composer. The same haunting piano theme in LES GRANDES EMMERDEUSES can also be heard in several other Franco titles from that period, including the opening credit sequence in LE MIROIR OBSCENE (1974). It is repeated as a guitar-driven acid rock theme throughout the film.*  Some of the director’s freewheeling camera antics recall certain 16mm experimental features of the 1960s New York Underground (Jack Smith, Andy Warhol).

[Additional comments to my original 1999 published review:
Seeing this over 15 years later made me appreciate Franco’s sheer creativity in the face of dire poverty all the more. It looks like this was shot in Super 8mm, or maybe just regular 8mm! I highly doubt there was a formal script and most of it takes place in cheap looking hotel rooms (hmmm… where I have seen those rooms before?). The ladies search for jewels secreted in a phallus, which is also sought by the male agents. In the meantime the monster is deployed. The “thing” is created by yet another evil “Radeck” who uses it to threaten our heroines. It’s really just a very ugly guy (I hesitate to use the word “actor”).

Jess Franco appears as a sort of spy-master, but looks really spaced out or hyped up on something, pacing around yet another sleazy hotel room somewhere in Portugal or the South of France. Willy Braque (Guy Peraud), a familiar face from a number of Jean Rollin films (DEMONIACS, LIPS OF BLOOD), is even stranger looking than Jess Franco! This guy looks like he hasn’t had a decent meal in his life. In other words, he’s perfectly credible as the “connection” Kashfi.

Don’t expect to see this on R1 DVD anytime soon. But you never know…

And over ten years on I still can’t get over Pamela Stanford’s cat mask.

Filmed in Cascais, Portugal. 

*Thanks to the BACH CANTATA WEBSITE for crediting my musical research on this film’s score on my Jess Franco blog http://www.robertmonell.blogspot.com. It’s becoming a rare pleasure to be fully credited for Internet writing in our age of impatient Social Media hijacking, if not piracy. So, I tip my hat to them.

Andre Benichou (Electric Guitar, Arranger) – Short Biography

Source: Robert Monell Blog (2007); IMDB Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (July 2008)

New Version: (C) Robert Monell

 

André Bénichou: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works
Bach-Benichou: PT – Works | PT- Recordings

13 July, 2021

THE DEVIL CAME FROM AKASAVA (1970): Edgar Wallace, the zoom lens, Soledad Miranda....

Vintage ReTHE DEVIL CAME FROM AKASAVA (aka DER TEUFEL KAM AUS AKASAVA) (1970)
Directed by Jess Franco.
With Soledad Miranda, Fred Williams, Jess Franco, Howard Vernon.
A Spanish-West German co-production.
Available from European Trash Cinema.

 


Franco's last collaboration with the legendary Soledad Miranda. She would die in a car accident a few weeks after the completion of this supposed Edgar Wallace adaptation. The plot is basically generic Eurospy cliches strung end to end with the most interesting aspect being Miranda's participation. Based on the Wallace story "Keepers of the Stone" from the author's "Sanders of the River" collection, I doubt if the finished film closely adheres to the original story. The screenplay by Ladislas Fodor is pretty generic stuff. It looks like a launching pad for another Edgar Wallace item to be promoted on the German and international markets. 



British Agent Jane Morgan (Miranda) joins forces with undercover Scotland Yard investigator  Rex Forrester (Fred Williams) to locate a stolen mineral which has the capacity to transform base metal into gold. The downside is that it emits rays which turn all those who come into contact with it into toasty zombies. After a trip to the tropical country of Akasava, where the stone was discovered, the agents discover two eminent physicians ( Franco regulars Paul Muller and Horst Tappert) have secured the element and are planning to sell it to a corrupt philanthropist. The men are murdered by a counter-agent (Howard Vernon), who is blown up along with the stone in a plane crash while attempting to flee the country. The climactic plane crash is edited in an amusingly minimalist fashion, a sort of abstract montage.

 


Miranda's participation in this enterprise is highly erratic — she pops in and out of the story and her main role is to provide a romantic interest for the hero, indifferently played by the soporific Fred Williams, a dull actor who spends most of the film limping around in a debilitating leg cast and crutches. She doesn't really get a chance to project the obsessed sensuality which burned up the screen in her stunning turns in VAMPYROS LESBOS and EUGENIE (both 1970). She does get to perform some abstract strip teases during which she barely moves and doesn't even remove any clothing. No strip and a lot of tease, but its a very hot, dreamlike performance, directed by Franco in an obvious state of delirium. She is simply too talented to fit into a role any actress could have done, and she never only occasionally turns on that mysterious aura of narcotic eroticism which surrounds those indelible performances. Howard Vernon and Franco himself appear in small roles as agents and lighten up the proceedings with some humorous asides.

What saved the film for me were the whirlwind vocal and brass score by Manfred Hubler and Siegfried Schwab (available on CD) and Franco's frenetic camera style and pacing. The director really goes over the top with the zoom lens here (as many critics have complained), moving in and out of the action (or non-action) or suddenly zooming up to the top of palm trees and back down again for no particular reason. These rather personal and seemingly desperate directorial moves and become kind of amusing to watch for the sheer unpredictability of what Franco is going to focus (or unfocus) on next. 

The wild camera work is accentuated by the fast paced editing (unusual in a Franco film from this period) and heady music. Franco obviously knew he was involved in a lost cause and at least produced film with a few of his personal touches, a Eurospy quickie which his longtime fans can laugh at while regretting the fate of the doomed Miranda. As film historian, critic, Franco collaborator Alain Petit wrote of the film, "The zoom lens is king here." And Soledad Miranda was the soon to be lost queen. Franco continued his trademark use of the telezoom throughout the 1970s and into his 1980s Golden Films Internacional period. The use of zoom shots is now very out of fashion, but I find it a rather fascinating tool when employed by an auteur like Franco. He uses it here not only as a way to focus attention but to collapse conventional cinema space, explore dimensional unrelated to the story at hand, and to generally add brush strokes to his action painting. Cinema is, after all, movement, action and tension. 

An HD restoration of this Edgar Wallace/Eurospy adaptation would be very welcome. All the prints I've seen run short of a published 88 minute runtime.

view from 1999; published on Mobius Home Video Forums.

New Version (C) Robert Monell, 2021

27 June, 2021

Montserrat Prous interview link

One of Jess Franco’s most memorable early-1970s regular actresses, the elusive Montserrat Prous granted a rare interview to Jose Luis Salvador Estebenez and subsequently published in Issue 22 of Spanish fanzine El Buque Maldito several years ago. Ms. Prous discusses her background, career, working with Franco, and what she’s been up to since retiring from acting. Here is an abridged version of that interview, which, although condensed, is still an absolute must-read.

Interview in original Spanish:

Entrevista a Montserrat Prous – La abadía de Berzano (wordpress.com)

Interview translated into English:

Google Translate



Some thoughts on Diary of a Nymphomaniac

By Michelle Alexander

Nightclub stripper Linda Vargas (Montserrat Prous) seduces Ortiz (Manuel Pereio), a middle-aged man who had been watching her latest show, getting him hopelessly drunk in the process. They go to her apartment when, after he collapses on her bed in an alcoholic stupor, Linda calls the police anonymously to report a murder, slits her own throat, places the knife in Ortiz’s hand, and lays over him to die. Soon enough the cops turn up and immediately arrest a bewildered, protesting Ortiz. Rosa (Jacqueline Laurent), Ortiz’s wife, is in disbelief that her husband could be capable of murder and embarks on her own investigation to uncover the mystery. Rosa meets Countess Anna de Monterey (Anne Libert), one of Linda’s former lovers. The Countess reveals Linda’s tragic background – how she ran away from her uncaring family in a provincial village to the big smoke as a teenager, and what happened to Linda not long after arriving in the city. Wandering aimlessly around, painfully naïve and unaware of her surroundings, she fails to spot the creep who stalks her to a fairground – Ortiz. As she takes in the attractions, Ortiz approaches the innocent girl and offers to accompany on her on a Ferris wheel, where she is brutally raped, a nightmare she relives when she is raped once again at her first job by her boss. Deeply traumatised but not knowing how or where to seek help, the doomed Linda dives headfirst into a self-destructive sex and drugs lifestyle. Desperate to block out the pain and find true love and acceptance, Linda is instead used and abused repeatedly. Rosa meets another of Linda’s friends, fellow stripper and XXX-photographic model Maria (Kali Hansa), who reads Rosa excerpts from the deceased woman’s diary. The diary holds the key as to what led up to the fatal night of Ortiz’s murder…


Diary of a Nymphomaniac was filmed during Jess Franco’s manically busy early 1970s period, and is my favourite title of what I’ve viewed to date from that era. In fact, I would go so far as to say it’s one of Franco’s best movies, hands down. With its frank presentation of sexual exploitation, rejection, prostitution, drug addiction and suicide, Diary…, is also an undoubtedly downbeat affair. Even the rare moments where Linda is at her most happy and carefree – frolicking at the beach with the Countess, dancing at the nightclub she frequents, or in the arms of her various lovers – are dogged with a sense of morbidity, as the viewer knows death will be the inevitable end for Linda. The beautiful Montserrat Prous delivers a powerful performance as Linda, effectively injecting a combination of sexuality, naivety and pathos into the proceedings. Prous’ eyes alone are incredibly expressive, for example when she is raped by Ortiz – one of the most harrowing depictions of sexual abuse ever depicted on screen. Ortiz starts to molest Linda, her discomfort transforming into horror as she realises what is going to happen and is trapped on the Ferris wheel. The combination of haunting soundtrack music, fairground music simultaneously playing and the relentlessly spinning wheel juxtaposed with Linda’s violation creates a truly disorienting effect. The rape is depicted off camera, but Linda’s dazed appearance and haunted, frozen-in-terror eyes as the ride finishes and Ortiz rushes off to disappear into the crowd speaks a million words. Jacqueline Laurent is also notable as Rosa, the prim and proper middle-class wife of Ortiz who is dragged into a waking nightmare, as is the exotically stunning Kali Hansa as the permanently drugged-out exhibitionist Maria. Although clearly filmed on a limited budget, Franco seems to have taken extra care with Diary The opening club sex-show, with Prous and Hansa, is strikingly lit with blood-red lighting, and the womens’ simulated couplings are languid and sensual, as they are during scenes where they pose for X-rated photo shoots. The, again vastly limited, location settings are also pleasing to the eye, as are the actresses’ skimpy, colourful 1970s outfits – a plethora of cute mini-skirts, crop tops, shirt dresses and chunky platform heels. Special notice must also be given to the incredible acid rock-tinged progressive rock score by Jean-Bernard Raiteux and Vladimar Costa. At turns raunchy, at turns melancholy, the music perfectly complements the onscreen happenings perfectly.  


An often-used advertising heading in English-language theatrical promotional material for Diary… was (“Linda loves her work and her work was love”). Needless to say, any punters sucked in by the misleading tagline and fully expecting a frothy light-hearted sex romp would have been in for a rude shock with its depressing atmosphere (although probably mollified with the extensive nudity). Those who appreciated the film also as a serious low budget sex-drama and character study of an irredeemably broken person would have known they were onto a winner with Diary of a Nymphomaniac. Quite simply ESSENTIAL viewing for both Jess Franco devotees and novices.  



09 June, 2021

SEXY SISTERS/SWEDISH NYMPHO SLAVES retitling madness in Australia!!!

By Michelle Alexander

From mid-1981 and for several years following, Die teuflischen Schwestern aka Sexy Sisters made its way through drive-ins and less reputable cinemas around Australia, where it was inexplicably re-titled Swedish Nympho Slaves. Aside from plunging Jess Franco completists into confusion, as Die Sklavinnen is also known as Swedish Nympho Slaves in some territories, this alternate title appears, on the surface, to be utterly pointless as there are no Swedish characters nor actors in the film. The reason for this nonsensical decision appears to a canny marketing decision by distributor Filmways to cash in on the tail end of the Scandinavian softcore film craze in Australia (which had already been done to death by the early 1980s). Beginning with the 1970 release of Swede Mac Alberg’s Fanny Hill (1968), but particularly running rampant upon the remarkable success of Danish sex comedy specialist John Hildbard’s Bedroom Mazurka (1970) – at Melbourne’s Roma cinema it screened for an almost 2-year consecutive run, from March 1972 to December 1973 – a deluge of clunkily dubbed European softcore features were rechristened with new titles featuring the buzzword “Swedish”, regardless if the film was not from that nation. Ehepaar sucht gleichgesinntes (1969) materialised as Swedish Wife Exchange Club, Christa (1971) turned up as Swedish Fly Girls and Wilder Sex junger Madchen (1972) did the rounds as Love Play Swedish Style.

Changes in audience tastes and the advent of home video meant the “sexy Swede” stereotype was well and truly running out of steam by the time of Die teuflischen Schwestern’s rebirth as Swedish Nympho Slaves in Australia, with final attempts to wring out every last dollar from the trend via distribution of Walter Boos’ Drei Schwedinnen auf der Reeperbarn aka Three Swedish Girls in Hamburg and Erwin C. Dietrich’s High Test Girls aka Swedish Sex Service (both 1980). Notably, Australian comedians were parodying the dubbed Scandi sex film phenomenon up until the early 1990s, most prominently in the sketch comedy TV show Fast Forward.    


Australian Distributor Filmways Press Sheet




Australian Daybill




03 June, 2021

LES EBRANLEES aka La Maison du Vice/Vibrating Girls (1972).


I first encounted this film in an abridged (approx, 69m) French language version (original title: LES EBRANLEES, although the title card is missing on the version I saw, a transfer from French video to VHS). This fullscreen transfer looks like it came from a 35mm print which played every grindhouse in France for the last few decades, which somehow seems perfectly appropriate considering this is an utlra-sleazy, sweaty foray into a feral Euro-underworld investigated by Jess Franco's favorite private eye, Al Pereira. The fact that Al is incarnated by the legendary Howard Vernon, an elegant stylist who brought a haggard dignity to his work for Franco, Godard, Lang and many others, gives this grade Z Eurocrime obscurity a gravity amid its porno designation.


 

The plot synopsis published in OBSESSION-THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO bears little or no relation to the version under consideration here. But since the continuity is so choppy, it's hard to offer an alternative scenario. Periera seems to be investigating a drug/prostitution ring operating out of a number of hotels and clubs. After brushing off some pimps and thugs, he becomes involved with a stripper (Montserrat Prous) whom he uses to infiltrate the criminal organization. The boss turns out to be a club owner (Doris Thomas), who has an amazon girlfriend (Kali Hansa) also adept at kidnapping, torture and seduction.


 

As with so many Franco titles the action commences in the middle of an erotic performance (cf: SUCCUBUS (1967), EXORCISM (1967), to name just a couple). A trashy nightclub where trashy patrons gawk at one of the "vibrating girls" thrashing around on a red and white checkerboard stage to Janin and Hermel's electrified lounge score. A minimalist striptease by Montie Prous that seems all the more erotic because she removes nothing more than her black leather gloves. Hansa getting the drop on an exhausted looking Vernon by holding a gun against his private parts and threatening to pull the trigger. Vernon's slow burn when he discovers that the stripper he has been using has been tortured to death. These arresting, very brief encounters are afterimages which play in the mind long after the porno loop design burns itself out. Alternately hypnotic and narcotic, this is a rather grim tidbit which will be of interest to Franco collectors due to its long standing unavailability on video and those who need to see another chapter in one of the director's longest running roadshows- the Al
Pereira Chronicles.


 

Since originally reviewing this pre 2000 I have seen a longer version, in OAR, with English subtitles and it's still a very downbeat, sordid neo-noir with a very sleazy atmosphere. Franco's telezoom lens is as active as ever in determining a hectic authorial point-of-view. In the book THE JESS FRANCO FILES, Vol. 1 (Vial Books, 2017) by Robert Curti and Francesco Cesari, the film's source is traced to the script for the unfinished Franco film, RELAX BABY. That script is published in the book as A SHOT IN THE TEMPLE. That film was unfinished after commencing shooting in December 1972,

according to the authors, who also write, "....in the Canary Islands, Franco started shooting a French movie for Robert De Nesle, which would be released theatrically as LES EBRANLEES (La Maison du Vice). Actually, LES EBRANLEES isn't anything else than the erotic version of Un Tiro en la sien (A Shot in the Temple), retaining just the backbone and character's names from the Spanish script." *p.501. The published script even has the same tragic ending as was filmed in LES EBRANLEES, although some details are changed. It is instructive to read and then view the film and its later incarnations.

 

Hopefully, some day LES EBRANLEES will have a restored/HD release so the film can be enjoyed as the bitter neo-noir that it is and another adventure of Al Pereira. NOTE: LES EBRANLEES was somewhat remade as LAS CHICA DE LAS BRAGAS TRANSPARENTES/PICK-UP GIRLS (1980) and is an also an ancestor of BOTAS NEGRAS, LATIGO DE CUERO, both featuring Antonio Mayans as the unfortunate Private Investigator.

(C) Robert Monell, 2021


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14 May, 2021

TANZERINNEN FUR TANGER: To Be or Not To Be a Jess Franco film.....



TANZERINNEN FUR TANGER, a 1977 sexploitation drama/mondo thriller co-produced by Erwin C. Dietrich, features Josiane Gibert, as a World Health Organization reporter investigating an international white slavery operation in Europe and the Middle East. Directed by Guy Gibert, it's being sold as a "Jess Franco" film on Amazon. Curious, because it has the almost exact plot and characters as Franco's candy-colored BLUE RITA, made the same year. It also includes the actors who play the main roles in BLUE RITA, Dagmar Burger and Eric Falk. It also has the same music cues heard in BLUE RITA, by the same composer, Walter Baumgartner. The final scene in the film includes black mass footage, possibly made by Jess Franco, from the 1976 Dietrich production MONDO EROTICO (probably mostly directed by Dietrich), a film credited to Franco on the Jess Franco Goya Collection Blu-ray disc credits and packaging.
 
You've seen this scenario before in countless Jess Franco/Erwin Dietrich/Eurocine product. Open with an erotic performance in some sleazy Euro dive, proceed with police procedural style scenes of an inspector setting up an investigation of the club, stage more exotic dancing in the background as detectives watch the shows from preferred seating, have regular chases and fistfights here and there, end it all with Interpol and the local cops busting the villains. In Eurocine's UNE CAGE DOREE (1976), Franco was called in to direct some of the stage shows while footage from other Eurocine films (Paul Naschy's CRIMSON) and new scenes directed by Eurocine founder Marius Lesoeur told the tale. However, when Franco himself directed one of these Women In Peril films you could be sure that he'd shoot it all with distinctive camera set ups, Mario Bava style colored gels, and selective use of his patented power-zoom. There's none of that in TANZERINNEN FUR TANGER. 
 
                                                                Josiane Gibert aka P. Belair

This could all be explained that most of the films discussed above were produced by Dietrich, who was using the similar elements to sell different products. It's nonetheless good to see the talented Josiane Gibert in a lead role for once. She was involved as a supporting actress  in Franco's DEVIL'S ISLAND LOVERS and DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN (both 1971) and dubbed Soledad Miranda in EUGENIE DE SADE (1970). She is also known on various CD compilations and films as the Canadian voice actress/singer P. Belair.  She's can be found on Facebook.
 
Tanzerinnen Fur Tanger can be found for sale on Amazon or streamed on the Erogarga.com Adult website in German language only.  It's an interesting Franco-related oddity, but not a Jess Franco film.
 
(C) Robert Monell, 2021
 

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