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.

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