09 September, 2022

DIARY OF A NYMPHOMANIAC/ LE JOURNAL INTIME D'UNE NYMPHOMANE (1972)

This Robert De Nesle production from Jess Franco's very busy early 70s period is a visually entrancing downer. Suicide, seduction, sexual abuse, prostitution, lesbianism, drugs, sex, rock n' roll, it's all here. Oh yes, and nymphomania. The delirious cubism of this film, along with the acid tinged Jean Bernard Raiteux electric guitar powered score (think early Pink Floyd), redeems the TV-movie-meets-Russ Meyers script (credited to Jesus Franco Manera), which moralizes every twist and turn, which Franco turns it into a typical "Clifford Brown" sexploitation epic of the era.


 The script's structure and final edit seem to indicate CITIZEN KANE as a possible influence, it makes sense considering Franco's history with Welles. The prying investigator here if female, and the film takes on a resolute Feminist tone while remaining sexploitation. Women are shown as pathetic objects of desire and the film exploits them as such. A parallel investigation is carried on by Jess Franco himself, as the clueless local police inspector. He just wants a signed confession. But the perpetrator is dead. In fact, the film examines the relationship between perpetrator and victim, sexploitation and Feminist critique of pornography. It's a candy colored 70s film noir-melodrama at baseline, though. 


Sexed up as much as possible. Filmed in long takes and plan-sequences, the most impressive being the stalking of Linda through an amusement part by the man who will destroy her life. The handheld camera floats past Linda and the predator taking in the garish booths and rides in the park, gliding by the customers who often stare into the camera stifling a smile. At one point the operator's shadow becomes visible on a street sign. It's an audacious sequence, looking forward to the plan sequences in GEMIDOS DE PLACER (1982) a decade later. OBSESSION: THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO cites an 86m version, which was later cut to 75m. 

It will be interesting to see if someone can find the longer version (see the LE CHAT DE FUME Blu-ray release, which became available after I first wrote this review). OBSESSION... also states that several scenes were cut and replaced with hardcore inserts, including a lesbian scene between Kali Hansa and lead actress Montserrat Prous. The film is like a fever-dream of and from the early 1970s. There's very little dialogue, except for Linda's narration from her journal. She speaks of her broken spirit and her sexual addiction. She must have constant stimulation from both sexes. She seems to trust and crave women more than men, though. She speaks of experiencing orgasm while watch a female object of desire dancing to the loud hard rock music. The film illustrates how her Sexual addiction is subtly related to her childhood trauma. She actually realizes this and pleads for love, understanding, writing that the man who destroyed her must pay. We hear her words as they are read by Rosa Ortiz (Laurent) who realizes that her husband is a monster who must be destroyed. In the film's finale Rosa must make a terrible choice which she does in a spasm of rage and pain.The final image of the journal sinking into the ocean is a near-perfect metaphor which pulls the themes and characters together into the moment of truth which Franco is always seeking. It's one of the director's best written and acted films.

And now, the remake. Franco inevitable remade, or perhaps creatively revisited, many of his films as his career and age progressed. He revisited DIARY OF A NYMPHOMANIAC during his two year stretch (1975-1977) working for the sexploitation factory of Erwin C. Dietrich in Switzerland.

 Robert Kuhn (Khunne?), a customer at an upscale strip club in Zurich watches a dancer closely one night. She comes over to his table and invites him to her apartment. After making love, the dancer suddenly jumps out of the upper story window. She is hospitalized and the customer is jailed. His wife (Pilar Coll) visits him, tells him it is over between them, but promises to help him.vlcsnap-2012-06-03-17h39m12s8

Above: the template?

 

The wife then visits the club where she meets the owner, Lena (Kali Hansa), who also performs there and was the lover of the hospitalized performer. She invites the wife to her apartment, they make love and she tells the story behind the attempted suicide of her lover.  The dancer-lover of Hansa (Diatta Fattou)  also appears in the opening credits of DIE SKLAVINNEN (1976), another Dietrich produced, Franco helmed softcore.

A severe, budget imposed minimalism was imposed by producer Erwin C. Dietrich on this quickly made softcore, which was also made into a hardcore variant, as was sometimes the case with Franco's Dietrich productions, most notably DAS BILDNIS DER DORIANA GRAY, also made in 1976.This is nowhere near the quality of that film. One gets the impression that the hardcore inserts, which inflate this films runtime by about 5 minutes, from 74/75 to 75/80m, were offered to various venues, depending on the law and clientele.

 

Basically a remake of the  much more personal LE JOURNAL INTIME D'UNE NYMPHOMANE (1972), this film represents yet another phase of the director's career, between the early 1970s burst of personal creativity and looking toward the 1980s Spanish restoration, including the verdant Golden Films Internacional period.

 

The only real acting comes from Kali Hansi,  an always welcome presence in Franco's universe, who tries her best to create a credible character, mostly succeeding. The budget limits the action to club, apartment, jailhouse interiors which all look like one constantly redressed set. Cheap. But the smoke and mirrors onstage performances, opening with the display of flesh and the gaze of the customer, refreshes memories of the director's primary theme of the dynamic between performance and watching. Basically, it's a series of rapidly composed, ingeniously placed cubist compositions within a minimalist framework. The hand of Jess Franco is visible, but the film was doubtless completed in post produced by producer Dietrich. Still, it's as throwaway as MONDO EROTICO, made the same year under the same circumstances. There's even a BDSM sequence of the stripper-hooker whipping a customer while he pleasures himself. Less stimulating are the hardcore inserts, see the Update below.

 

This film was thought to be a lost Erwin C Dietrich film (OBSESSION: THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO and other references) but was rediscovered and remastered in HD in 2014 by the producer and released as part of his JESS FRANCO GOLDEN GOYA COLLECTION. The package includes the soft and hard versions, along with interviews with Eric Falk and Franco.

This is definitely a Jess Franco film, if a decidedly minor effort in the workaday world of the Dietrich porn operation.

Update: I finally watched the hardcore version, which includes scenes of hardcore sex featuring numerous extreme close-ups of male and female genitalia and sex acts. These scenes add nothing of thematic importance of stylistic interest to the film. Franco was once again, as he did with Eurocine, Robert De Nesle, simply complying with the demands of his producer. 

(C) Robert Monell, 2022

22 August, 2022

A HD Jess Franco Double Bill from Vinegar Syndrome: Review.

Some screenshots from the recent 2022 Vinegar Syndrome release of two late 1960s Jess Franco oddities looking better than ever is lustrous HD.

(Above) Jess Franco producer/colleague Adrian Hoven, a then famous German actor and future producer of the notorious MARK OF THE DEVIL films, and French actor-director Michel Lemoine as a Pop Art werewolf created through psychotropic drug therapy. SADISTEROTICA is does indeed contain many Pop Art images. A twisted S&M tinged romp which dovetails into a Eurospy adventure featuring Franco's "Red Lips" female spies, played by Janine Reynaud (SUCCUBUS) and Rosanna Yanni (COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE), who are on the trail of a mad artist (Hoven) creating photos, paintings and installations of real murders which he engineered. 
The Red Lips team originated in the director's 1960 noir, LABIOS ROJOS and would return in future Franco features.

The other film in the set has even more of a Eurospy bent. KISS ME MONSTER, was also made by the Aquila Films-Montana Films consortium co-financed by actor-producer Adrian Hoven. The "Red Lips" female espionage team is joined by an Interpol agent (Adrian Hoven again) to locate a formula for creating artificial humans and the rogue scientist who created the monstrous concoction. This film contains more musical numbers, the girls have a saxophone duet (see above video), do a striptease to piano accompaniment, among other absurd adventures. 

Absurd is the key adjective here. The action is frenetic in the style of slapstick comedy and the director bends over backward to not take the goings-on too seriously. There's also an "esoteric" quality as Franco explains in an interview in the Special Features material, including a musical code which solves the mystery of the formula's whereabouts. As in TWO UNDERCOVER ANGELS Jess Franco appears as a buffoonish character who is killed off by the artificial freaks.

(Below) CASTLE OF THE CREEPING FLESH
Four Franco-related feature films were financed by Hoven's Aquila company. The first being NECRONOMICON/Succubus, one of the director's most arcane horror adventures built around the dream life of a possessed S&M performer. This was Franco's first film which was not filmed in Spain. It had to be shot in Portugal and Berlin to get around the strict Spanish censorship of the era. 
 
The fourth and final film of the Franco-Aquila quartet, which is out on Blu-ray from Severin Films, was the Gothic sex-horror period epic, CASTLE OF THE CREEPING FLESH (1968, English language title). By this time Jess Franco had left the company and producer Hoven took over as director. The production was filmed in a castle in Germany's Black Forest with Janine Reynaud, Michel Lemoine and Howard Vernon in the leading roles. Some sources credit Franco with the film's story. The plot concerns a medieval curse which plagues a local Baron. It's a fun example of Le Bad Cinema. Hopefully NECRONOMICON (1967), the first and best Aquila production, will see a much needed HD upgrade in the near future.
 


This is a fully loaded HD package containing six different ways to view these two delightful Jess Franco concoctions. One can watch both films in their German, English and Spanish versions, with alternate title sequences available; video and sound quality is top notch on both. Restored in 4k from 35mm negative elements, color, detail and definition are very impressive.  
 
Both of these Spanish-German productions close the first, very important decade of Franco's feature film career. The second stage would be a step upward to find him under the financial wing of British money man Harry Alan Towers, making bigger budget films (but still in the B-Cult category) with American and international movie stars whose names help sell the films to global audiences. Vinegar Syndrome's Blu-ray duet is both a good place for Franco beginners to start as well as a collectable item for longtime fans and Franco scholars.
(C) Robert Monell, 2022

03 August, 2022

Je Brule de Partout (1978) Pulse Video Blu-ray LE



I was lucky enough to score one of now OOP LE Blu-rays of Jess Franco's rarely seen crime drama, Je Brule de Partout ((1978). It sold out in record time from PULSE VIDEO, in partnership with Vinegar Syndrome. Queen of Euro-erotica Brigitte Lahaie emerges from a sea of grain in an X Pro-III grab from the opening disco scene.  A welcome indicator in this 2k scan from 35mm elements. The plot in rudimentary: A detective investigates the abduction of the daughter of an American diplomat in Lisbon. After swimming in the cultural cesspool of this film's depressing SexWorld, he comes up with results that punish the guilty and rescues the heroine (Susan Hemingway). A jazz filled, downbeat immersion into the director's familiar criminal netherworld of drugs, kidnapping, extortion, white slavery, sex, international intrigue and violence.


Robert de Nesle's last or next to last production, this crime film was made back to back with COCKTAIL SPECIAL using some of that film's cast and locations. Here's what I initally thought of the film after viewing it via a vey poor French language VHS dub about 30 years ago [From MHVD archive]:

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) who, along with her henchmen, bundles the girls aboard a ship fitted with an orgy room into which a sedating "love drug" is piped. The victims are arranged on mattresses and the "action" is viewed from overhead camera angles, locking the viewer into a voyeuristic POV.  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). 
Robert de Nesle (1906-1978). Producer and CEO of the legendary CFFP, a production house responsible for dozens of Peplums, Westerns, Eurospy, erotica and horror from the late 1950s onward. Died on April 21, 1978, at age 71. 

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 Franco filmography as early as THE GIRL FROM RIO a.k.a. SUMURU 2 (1968), and is also prominent in keeping Ursula Buchfellner as one of the 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. It's also interesting to compare this film to the Franco film made for Erwin C. Dietrich the year before, DAS FRAUENHAUS, which is almost full strength Franco, featuring an Op-Art style mise-en-scene illuminated with saturated color filters. 



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, brassy 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. It represents someone coming up for air following a deep sea dive (in this case the colorful rush of productions the director made in his two years with the Erwin C. Dietrich factory. 

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.


Is this essential Franco? Hardly. But it's not as dull and tacky as ELLES FONT TOUT, produced as part of the same Portuguese-lensed 1978 bundle (later remade as the superior HOTEL DE LUIGES during Franco's Golden Films Internacional period) and really doesn't deliver the hardcore action demanded by that market.

If you must see this film, see it as a tribute to the gorgeous Ms. Lahaie, even though she now rejects it as part of her catalogue and the best she can say in the Bonus interview is that it's not as bad as it could have been, an attitude shared by Stephen Thrower in his interview on the Blu-ray.

The cinematography is rather bland and straightforward, especially compared with the best of Franco's previous Dietrich productions. It lacks the Sadean tone/textual reference points and more transgressive content of COCKTAIL SPECIAL, culminating with incest while sharing its interiors and exteriors, shot in a coastal suburb of Lisbon, the White City ( IMDB: Cruise terminal of Rocha do Conde de Óbidos, view of the movable bridge and in the distance to the left the bell towers of Church of São Francisco de Paula.). It certainly looks better in this HD presentation than could have been imagined, given its rushed production, grungy settings, clinical staging and bottom-of -the barrel aesthetics.

(C) Robert Monell 2022

03 July, 2022

SNAKEWOMAN



SNAKEWOMAN

- Jess Franco, 2005, États Unis/Espagne

After the beginning of the 21st Century ess Franco didn't make "films" anymore, he made mostly video but the results are still, even in glossy HI-DEF, 100% Jess Franco. I spoke to Jess during the conception of this film and he was quite excited about attempting an updating of VAMPYROS LESBOS (1970), which this in essence is, but it's also more than that. 

Carmen Montes is the title character, a female vampire who wears nothing but a long red lined black cape and a tattoo of a double headed python which curls around her torso. She dominates a netherworld {Malaga, Spain} where "walk-ins" appear and disappear as suddenly as her attacks. Her most recent victim is a female reporter (FATA MORGANA), the Jonathan Harker character, and Christie Levin is the demented female Renfield who is kept in a private asylum by the mad Dr. Nostradamus (Antonio Mayans). The reporter has come to investigate the estate of the legendary actress-composer Oriana Balasz. The Snakewoman may be her descendant or her continuation. It begins and ends and is often interrupted by telezooms onto flocks of tropical birds which recall the kites in VAMPYROS LESBOS

.The music is spectral but will not enter the imagination in the same way as the ground breaking score for that 1970 cult classic. Carmen Montes does evoke the late, great Soledad Miranda and the film is filled with captivating images. Franco's director credit appears over an old b&w photo of Marlene Dietrich and this may be another subterranean homage to the cinema of Von Sternberg. There are a lot of lesbian interludes (Franco told me he wanted to call it VAMPIRE INTERLUDE) but not as many as in some of his recent work and they don't smother the film. The acting is above average and it's worth seeing on the SRS DVD where it is coupled with DR. WONG'S VIRTUAL HELL and some still galleries. 

(c) Robert Monell 2022 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

official site

25 June, 2022

(C) Robert Monell, 2020

Cocktail Special (1978)/Smoking cigarettes with Jess Franco….

with one comment

Photo credits:

1/ COCKTAIL SPECIAL

2/ Producer Robert De Nesle

3&4/COCKTAIL SPECIAL

5/LABIOS ROJOS (Jesus Franco, 1960)

Smoking cigarettes is an iconic activity in the cinema of Jess Franco, from the inspector lighting up during an investigation in his second feature, the 1960 LABIOS ROJOS, his marvelous monochrome Red Lips template [Picture #6]. Jess Franco himself was a prolific, notorious consumer of cigarettes from a very young age until his finals days. He enjoyed his addiction and it was part of his creative make-up.

In LOS BLUES DE LA CALLE POP (Aventuras de Felipe Marlboro, volumen 8), his wondrous 1983 Neo-noir/live action comic strip extravaganza, we meet cigarette man Sam Chesterfield, a wise-guy piano player played by Jess Franco himself.  He is an informer for the film's anti-hero, unlucky PI Felipe Marlboro (Antonio Mayans).The villain of the film is named Saul Winston! Characters named for popular cigarette brands all together in a marvelous, sleazy world called Shit City, in a film which plays like a candy colored music video and anticipates the Robert Rodriguez SIN CITY in both style and mood.

Franco himself was a lifelong smoker from his teenage years into his 80s. He smoked furiously while he directed onset, while offset and when acting before cameras. He appeared to enjoy every single puff he took. One of my favorite scenes of his onscreen smoking is when the torture expert he plays in THE MIDNIGHT PARTY (1975) stops directing the torture of Lina Romay to fire one up. 

I recently revisited Franco’s last film for producer Robert De Nesle (Picture #3) the 1978 hardcore COCKTAIL SPECIAL. It’s a micro-budgeted version of Sade’s PHILOSOPHY IN THE BEDROOM, earlier filmed  by Franco in 1969 as EUGENIE, THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION and more freely adapted in Franco's 1973, PLAISIR A TROIS.. It opens with images of women reading (The ultimate sin in a man’s world; Picture # 3) and continues with long sequences of Eugenie (Touxa Beni) and her friends lounging around a Portuguese villa, making love, drinking the disgusting title concoction [urine, sperm, whiskey] and… you guessed it, smoking cigarettes (Picture #1).  Robert De Nesle is credited with the script (as Robert Hugue). The film ends with Eugenie unknowingly having sex with her own father (Picture #5) during a masked ball. 

 Producer/director/writer Jacques Garcia (Aicrag) was also involved. But it’s still 100% Jess Franco.

Cigarettes also played a role in another 1978 Jess Franco film, OPALO DE FUEGO (TWO FEMALE SPIES WITH FLOWERED PANTIES) in which Lina Romay, who plays a stripper, has to undergo torture involving getting sensitive areas burned with cigarettes. Smoking is Cool in Jess Franco’s alternate universe, as cool as Humphrey Bogart smoking his way through a series of 1940s Film Noirs. The Howard Hawks version of THE BIG SLEEP opens with images of cigarettes in an ashtray. Photo #5 features of police inspector from Franco's 1960 noir, LABIOS ROJOS, lighting up another cigarette.

A few comments: Lina Romay, supposedly as "Martine", is not in the 71 minute version I saw of this film, which is from the Swedish Video, WET LIPS.  It was first released in France July 5, 1978. It was filmed in Portugal at some of the exterior locations use in Je Brule De Partout, also 1978. Touxa Beni is the prefect Sade heroine, delighted with herself as she is corrupted.

Robert De Nesle, Born: August 1, 1906. Died: April 21, 1978 (age 71) , died before the theatrical debut of this film. De Nesle was owner of the Production company CFPC (Comptoir Français de Productions Cinématographiques) [fr]. He produced/co-produced such peplums as HEROD THE GREAT, THE COLOSSUS OF RHODES, THE CONQUEST OF MYCENE, before moving into financing Eurowesterns (Mario Bava's THE ROAD TO FT. ALAMO), Eursopy films (the Agent Coplan series) and ordered porno versions of such Jess Franco films as LORNA, THE EXORICST, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MIRROR and THE PERVERSE COUNTESS. 

15 June, 2022


THE 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.

This may seem, on first viewing or by someone just looking for a well-made spy action-adventure, to be a totally inept rush-job. It was, sadly enough, Franco's last collaboration with his legendary discovery, Soledad Miranda. She would die in a car accident shortly after the completion of this supposed Edgar Wallace adaptation. The plot is basically generic Eurospy cliches strung end to end with the main interesting aspects being Miranda's participation and the director's stylistic solutions to make the then-flailing Edgar Wallace franchise compete with numerous Bond imitations.


 

British Agent Jane Morgan (Miranda) joins forces with a Scotland Yard investigator (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 barbecued zombies. After a trip to the tropical country of Akasava, where the stone was discovered, the agents discover two eminent physicians (well played by 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 ultimately blown up along with the stone in a plane crash while attempting to flee the country.


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 handsome, dull actor who spends most of the film limping around in a debilitating leg cast. 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 DE SADE (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. Cubist eroticism, Jess Franco, style. She is simply somewhat wasted in a role any actress could have done, and whenever offstage she never 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 desperate directorial moves become kind of amusing to watch for the sheer unpredictability of what Franco is going to focus (or un-focus) 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. It's a Eurospy quickie which his longtime fans can laugh at while regretting the fate of the doomed Miranda. 

There is also an English language dub of this film. Would anyone know who dubbed Soledad Miranda in this version? Please answer in comments, thanks.

(C) Robert Monell, 2022 (new version)

04 May, 2022

MIDNIGHT PARTY (1976)

 f

aka La Coccolona (Italian release), Heisse Beruhrungen (German version). LADY PORNO (Spanish version) Directed by Tawer Nero (Julio Perez Tabernero) for Titanic Films. This is a sexy spy film once directed by Jess Franco in just a few days at a hotel in Southern France. A typical Franco strategy. Around the same time, he shot two other films there (Le Grand Motte) with the exact same rooms, casts and crews (DE SADE'S JULIETTE, SHINING SEX). The version under consideration here has the onscreen title Lady Porno, a Spanish variant of Franco's original MIDNIGHT PARTY. Julio Perez Tabernero, an actor turned producer-director (he can be seen in Franco's own SADISTEROTICA/Two Undercover Angels)acquired it for his Titanic Films (Julio, your company needs a new handle!) and reconstructed it as an "American-Belgian" co-production. It's very amusingly redubbed and rescored with lewd comments, bawdy music and direct-to-the-viewer takes. --Sylvia is a very hot stripper who carries on an affair with a cheap detective, Al Pereira (Olivier Mathot) behind the back of her longtime squeeze Red Nicholas. This is not really another of Franco's Al Pereira episodes, as he is mainly a player in Sylvia's story. Approximately 15 minutes of original footage are missing from the longest version, MIDNIGHT PARTY.


VHS of JUSTINE, a 1979 composite edited and rescored by Joe D'Amato from 3 different Jess Franco films, MIDNIGHT PARTY, SHINING SEX, and DE SADE'S JULIETTE (all 1975). 

This is kind of like a live action cartoon (cf LUCKY, THE INSCRUTABLE) with Lina Romay giving it all she has as the resourceful Sylvia. This might actually be my personal favorite of her performances, she mercilessly teases the viewer directly as the interactive approach allows her to pose, stick her tongue out, and make alluring remarks to the audience before turning back to the scene and players at hand, resuming in the traditional fourth wall mode. It's all a lot of goofy fun. Except that the subject is torture. Torture that really hurts! Sylvia is taken by Radeck/Agent 008 (Jess Franco himself), a spymaster and professional torture mogul who takes his business very seriously indeed. Look at the way he abuses poor Sylvia: after being stripped and sexually abused by hench-persons Monica Swinn and Ramon, she's poked, punched and cigarette burned by the ingrates under the very close supervision of Radeck. They take her to the "torture clinic" which, this being a Jess Franco shoot, merely means another hotel room (or the same hotel room slightly redressed and shot from a different angle). Choosing a metal tool they try pulling out her toenails, as Radeck is beginning to lose his patience. At this point one of my favorite moments in Franco's monumental filmography occurs, and it only last a few seconds--Radeck simply puts a cigarette in his mouth and lights it. That's it! The exact way which actor Jess Franco jabs the smoke into his mouth and fires it up has to be experienced first hand. It's a grand bit a business, something small made into something very special by a seasoned professional. Radeck drops the pose at the end, as Sylvia and Al are escaping he faces the camera and admits to us that it was all an illusion. We have been spectators. But what are we doing at this venue? Of course, that question is implied rather than asked.


 

 Alain Petit is very droll as the Marxist jazz singer, Nicholas. Billed as "Charlie Christian" (cf JUSTINE, the 1979-80 Joe D'Amato composite where he is likewise billed as his footage here is rolled over with scenes from SHINING SEX into a unique reedit) he performs his infamous "La Vie est une Merde", also heard in a blues rendition during Franco's 1982 EMMANUELLE EXPOSED and in Petit's documentary THE MAKING OF TENDER FLESH (1997). 

Lina Romay, as the doomed lover in Franco's lost 1975 feature DE SADE'S JULIETTE, featured along with scenes from MIDNIGHT PARTY in Joe D'Amato's 1979 composite JUSTINE.

The Spanish language version which was screened for this review (subtitled in English) is very much in keeping with the joker/trickster impulses which frequently bubble to the surface of Franco's work. The finale, a shootout with the cops (a minimalist debacle) followed by shots of birds flying in the distance as our couple floats away on a pleasure craft, is post-ironic in the sense that it delivers on expectations which Franco obviously considers bogus while gleefully curving past the generic demands of representational, grade B sexploitation production methodology. In other words: don't worry, be happy, it's only a movie. 

Below is an image of the R0 DVD I picked up from Ebay. No extras, but HQ, if not HD, video quality. Just under 90m. It may be from the same source as the Italian and German discs. Seeing it in English, usually not conducive for a Franco screening, is interesting as the slapstick style physical comedy, played to the hilt by Lina Romay, is emphasized. Franco plays the torturing spy master as a clockwork sadist but Franco the director obviously enjoyed presenting the torture of Lina Romay as humorous, breaking its intensity. Monika Swinn and Ramon Ardid seem to be moving in fast-motion as they strip, sexually assault and virtually rape their victim. When Franco-Radeck faces the audience, breaking the fourth wall, he seems to be exasperated that we, the audience could have taken it all so seriously. Franco, the director, certainly returned again and again to the Eurospy format as a way of having fun with genre cinema and asserted its artificiality. 


It's especially interesting to watch this "comedy" with the intense, morbid SHINING SEX, made the same year, withe the same main cast, on the same locations in Southern France, sometimes using the same hotel rooms, shot from the same camera angles. There is a perverse atmosphere of toxic sexuality, perhaps anticipating Franco's unreleased Sida, la peste del siglo XX (1986), a drama about the dissemination of an AIDS like plague. The secret agents in SHINING SEX, though, are inter-dimensional invaders investigated by a paranormal scientist, Jess Franco again. A truly mind-melting experience would be to view both and then JUSTINE, which composites footage from SHINING SEX, MIDNIGHT PARTY and Franco's lost JULIETTE DE SADE into one Sadean blow-out. 

(C) Robert Monell, 2022

12 March, 2022

LUST FOR FRANKENSTEIN (Jess Franco, 1998)

LUST FOR FRANKENSTEIN/Lady Frankenstein (1998)
Written, Produced and Directed by Jess Franco, US/Spain.
With Lina Romay, Analia Ivars, Carlos Subterfuge, Michelle Bauer, Amber Newman, Robert King.
93min. A One Shot Production.

Franco's first Frankenstein was emodied by the gigantic
Spanish character actor, familiar from Spanish-Italian Eurowesterns, Fernando Bilbao (DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN (1971).

Astounding, obsessively personal, ultra-bizarre, morbid, perverse and maddening are terms which come immediately to mind while or just after watching this most recent entry into the Frankenstein file of Jess Franco. Earlier drafts include such grade Z mixes of horror, sexploitation and experimentation as THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN (THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN -1972 ) and DRACULA, PRISONER OF FRANKENSTEIN filmed with the same cast, crew and sets the same year. The monsters in those films, played by Fernando Bilbao as a silver skinned, moronic killing machine, have nothing on Michelle Bauer in this new version. Casting the American scream queen in this legendary role was a stroke of genius, as her always nude (except for combat boots!) creature is a riveting, pathetic creation as the lover-slave of sex-starved scientist Moira (Lina Romay), the frustrated daughter of Dr. Frankenstein. 


American filmmakers were also having fun with Frankenstein in the 1970s after Mel Brooks YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN hit it big.....

Jess Franco would tell me when I interviewed him in 2005 that THE CURSE (EROTIC RITES) OF FRANKENSTEIN was his personal favorite in his Frankenstein series ("the erotic version," he specified) and one can see why. It's tone is one of transgressive glee, as if he were giggling at the silver skinned creature in that penniless presentation. The tone here is one of more morbid humor with a touch of primal fear.

Jess Franco would have approved of this 1965 William Beaudine-directed Frankenstein mash-up featuring cowboys vs. the vengeance seeking daughter of Baron Frankenstein.
 

The plot is minimal, as usual in Franco's post 1980's work, narrative elements are pushed to very edges of what can best be described as a nonstop barrage of digital delirium delivered at full metal intensity to the eye, ear and libido. The violent nightmares of Moira include bloodly visions of Dr. Frankenstein and his female composite. The monster (whom may or may not be Moira's erotic fantasy) shows up, becomes her lover and her instrument of revenge, killing everyone else in the cast. They end up in bed together at the end, as Moira wonders if it all really happened. The action (or non-action) begins and ends with a famous quote from Hitchcock's REBECCA (1940), an Academy Award winning classic and one of the numerous direct and indirect references to films made by others as well as Franco's own previous work (Romay is seen wearing T-Shirts with logos from SUCCUBUS and THE DEVIL CAME FROM AKASAVA- late 1960's thrillers featuring - respectively - Janine Reynaud and Soledad Miranda, two legendary and hypnotic sex stars the likes of which we will probably never again experience).


The lack of a sustained/coherent plot is likely to deny many access to the visual/aural delights which abound as is the obsessive focus on sex (nothing new for Franco). What is new here is the fact that the production was shot at least partially on video and is layered with what seems like miles of digital effects courtesy of the director's collaboration with the technicians at the Centro de Tecnologia de la Imagen-University of Malaga, Spain. Imagine the "Beyond the Infinite" final passage of Kubrick's 2001... redone by Salvador Dali, Charles Manson and the Marquis de Sade and you get some kind of idea what is in store. The digital imaging appears in virtually every scene and many shots have numerous layers of highly saturated colors, incongruent form, jarring structures and other visual noise playing over the erotic encounters between the scientist, the monster, a dominatrix from hell (the white-hot Analia Ivars) and everyone else in sight.

The return of Frankenstein in the Franco-verse. And this time it's a woman played by an American Scream Queen.
Pink Floyd, one of Jess Franco's favorite prog-rock groups, joins in the madness....

Add to all this a throbbing, jacked-up neo-heavy metal score by Mikel Sagues and Franco himself and you have the ingredients for a mind reeling spiral which forever seems on the verge of spinning out of control and sometimes does. Sex and more sex at a thousand miles high, but somehow seeming to occur at the rate of events at the bottom of the ocean floor. Sound impossible? Welcome to the parallel universe called Jess Franco. Why has it taken you so long to get here?

04 March, 2022

HISTORIA SEXUAL DE O/THE SEXUAL STORY OF O


  Odile, a beautiful but naive young woman vacationing in Spain, attracts the attentions of a voyeuristic couple who live across from her hotel. The couple spy on her as she lounges around naked, and when they invite her over for a session of grou sex, Odile gives in immediately.

After spending days enjoying this
menage a trois, the couple take Odile to the villa of the wealthy Wanda Von Karlstein, where the sex continues. Wanda's perverted husband drugs Odile's drink and rapes her. When she awakens, Odile is chained to a bed, and her captors have sado-erotic torture and death in mind. One of her abductors has a sudden attack of remorse after finding her mutilated body, murders the Von Karlsteins, and walks into the ocean carrying Odile's dead body.




HISTORIA SEXUAL DE O is quite a bit more immersive than some of Franco's more tedious sex-a-thons of the 1980s. The florid, tropical locations and gorgeous cinematography offers a counterpoint to the downbeat melodrama. A melancholy female vocal sets a sombre tone throughout, which Franco maintains until the very last shot of the blazing sun beating down on the aftermath of violence and death. The character of Odile immediately resonates and she might be compared to Henry James' Daisy Miller, although the milieu here is a century, a culture and miles removed. The locations here are familiar from other Franco Golden Films Internacional productions. Franco's concentration of multi-colored flowers makes this one of his most visually gorgeous films of that period.

There are many effective visual and aural touches throughout, which amplify the theme of corrupted innocence. For instance, the victim is first seen wandering in an idyllic garden reading excepts from Norman Mailer's "The Naked and the Dead," foreshadowing her own fate literally. It is also significant that her abductors use Beethoven's famous Ode to Joy from his Ninth Symphony to seduce her attention, underscoring the theme of Old World decadence preying on Odile's gullibility.

As Odile Alicia Principe offers sensuality a la 1981 tourist quality, with a tragic ignorance of the brutal ways of the world, at least the world according to sexual hipsters in post Francisco Franco Spain.

Exotic looking Carmen Carrion and the gaunt, sinister Daniel Katz are well-cast as the wealthy tormentors. Katz's impotent freak-out while raping Odile is especially blood-curdling. There is also a subtle sociological subtext similar to the situation in Franco's 1973 THE PERVERSE COUNTESS, wherein upper caste villains use a financially struggling lower-class couple to provide victims for their blood lust. This inequity creates a scene in which a henchman turns on his vicious employers.

The scene in which the only survivor of the massacre carries Odile's body into the water is also lifted from the end of THE PERVERSE COUNTESS. The long, excruciating sequence detailing Odile's torture and death is painful to watch, as chains, whips, and studded medieval-style weapons are used to strip away her flesh. Franco encourages us to become emotionally engaged with Odile, which ratchets the level of intensity even higher. The fact that it's shot in soft focus with hallucinatory, multi-colored light emanations decorating the sado-erotic action makes it all the more disturbing.

The stuff of nightmares, HISTORIA SEXUAL DE O is highly recommended and has been released on DVD by Severin Films. That 2007 DVD includes an interview with the director
, finding Jess in an unusually self- critical state of mind we learn that the production was more than modest, "two cents" rather than usual two dollars and that Franco was less than pleased with Principe (whom he terms "stupid") and Mauro Rivera (BLACK CANDLES). He saves his praise for Carmen Carrion and Daniel Katz, noting the latter actor simply disappeared after acting in a few of his films. He also manages to wave off Just Jaeckin's STORY OF O, suggesting the director is more of a high fashion photographer than a real director. More to the point he notes that Sade, rather than Pauline Reage, was his real influence here and encourages critics to actually "read" the oft condemned author rather than moralize about him. Even more fascinating is his discussion of his use of water symbolism as a kind of portal to another reality.   It is hoped that an updated, HD release will appear asap.


Sadean, but not Sade, or an official Sade adaptation. The film was certainly heavily inspired by the writings of  "The Divine Marquis", as are many of Franco's films, whether Women in Prison, horror, crime-noir, or whatever genre he is working. Nor is it an official adaptation of the Pauline Reage novel. It is closer to such earlier Franco Sade adaptations as EUGENIE, HISTORIA DE UNA PERVERSION or LE COMTESSE PERVERSE. It's very much in the Sade wheelhouse, a modality which Franco continually returned to throughout his long, busy career.

Robert Monell   2022

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Historia Sexual de O
1981 86 MINUTES European Trash Cinema and Video Search of Miami (U.S. import) DIRECTED BY JESS FRANCO WITH: ALICIA PRINCIPE, CARMEN CARRION, DANIEL KATZ, MAMIE KAPLAN, MAURO RIVERA
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14 February, 2022

Lina Romay (1954-2012), 10 Years Later....

Lina Romay in Jess Franco's LA COMTESSE NOIRE (FEMALE VAMPIRE)



Lina Romay was born in 1954 in Barcelona, Catalonia, in the year of the Chinese zodiac Horse. She died on February 15, 2012 in Malaga, Spain, 10 years ago today. I remember feeling lost in time for a moment when I heard about her premature death at the age of 57. Someone was gone who couldn't be replaced. Acting was her art, and she was a great artist. 


She was still a teenager when she met and started acting in films directed by her longtime companion and husband, director Jess Franco (1930-2013). Even in her early roles she was eye-catching. Her first major role was in Franco's iconic, erotic horror-drama, FEMALE VAMPIRE (1973). Without any dialogue she dominated the screen and the rest of the cast for that film's runtime. She was breathtakingly sensual and had a natural magnetism which immediately drew attention to her mute, lonely character. Many leading roles followed, including some for other directors, including Erwin C. Dietrich (ROLLS ROYCE BABY), Carlos Aured (APOCALIPSIS SEXUAL), Ricardo Palacios and Jorge Grau. She also helped Franco as a sometime assistant director, editor and constant inspiration. She is also listed as the director of some of his productions (INTIMATE CONFESSIONS OF AN EXHIBITIONIST). She was an unabashed exhibitionist as a performer. You could feel her joy and intensity as she performed for Franco's voyeuristic cameras. It could be said that she was the probably first totally sex-positive movie star. She didn't hide or downplay her sexuality onscreen. There was no shame or egocentric persona on display. She was a force of nature who blew away all boundaries and stepped over all taboos, both soft and hardcore.

Her final role was as Jess Franco's loyal, unselfish and omnipresent helper as she guided her wheelchair-bound mate around the world and on the sets of his final films. My only contacts with her was when she patiently answered my email questions about obscure details of her and his careers and on the phone during my marathon long-distance interviews with Jess. I immediately got the feeling of warmth and friendship in her distinctive voice as she handed the phone to Jess. 

Thank you, Lina Romay. You are now immortal and live on in your many indelible film performances. It is now 10 years on, and you are missed!


(C) Robert Monell, 2022