Whoever would have thought that a Jess Franco film would open with a quote by James Joyce? The quote vectors the film toward a slightly different entertainment plane and welcomes a new boatload of viewers, hipper, more literate, and more aware just who Jess Franco was and where he came from. There is a structural connection since Joyce's writing is unapologetically about language, its usages, boundaries and interpretations. Franco's films could also said to be about language, the language of cinema. Film and its various elements were subjects to be explored and played with, just as a Trickster plays games with minds, Jess Franco is always playing games with viewer expectations. So, that said, this is more or less a cannibal film, but it's also something else, it never defaults into genre banality as certain of the more infamous Italian cannibal films do.
As the title indicates, this was another cannibal movie in the then still expanding Franco filmography, only this time the 21st Century was right around the corner, ready along with video technology, to change Franco's strategies. He had new business partners and a new audience to potentially reach. The film opening scene, rendered by reflections in Lina Romay's sunglasses as her character interviews Paula (Amber Newman) for a job as a hostess/stripper at a palatial villa, tells us we're in Jess Franco territory, a place in Spain where optics are given priority over such elements as sound, plot continuity and character developement. That place in Spain is Malaga, a picturesque tropical plantation which is rendered well enough to make the film look more expensive than it actually was. The wealthy, depraved Radecks (Romay and previous Franco friend/associate Alain Petit) are most interesting and better played than the younger couple (Ms. Newman and Mikel Kronen) who will becomes victms of the final hunt. It replaces the occasional abstraction and subtle dark humor of COUNTESS PERVERSE, its obvious model. One can't imagine watching it in a cinema, it pretty much screams straight-to-video softcore horror-porn.
Recycling elements of his own COUNTESS PERVERSE and his "serious" l980s cannibal flicks (DEVIL HUNTER/THE MAN HUNTER, WHITE CANNIBAL QUEEN), it was made for an audience which no longer existed in the late 1990s. Partially shot on video, with the ending reverting to such 1960s television game-show gimmicks as a canned audience laugh track, this attempts a more upscale, partially American financed updating of elements from his earlier Euro-grindhouse films.
Above: Alice Arno is the title character who directs social class conscious cannibal games in COUNTESS PERVERSE, Jess Franco's first cannibal epic....
In TENDER FLESH the famous French chef Paul Radeck (Alain Petit) and his predatory wife (Lina Romay, in the Alice Arno role here) hire Carlos (Mikel Kronin) to find an uninhibited woman to join them in a sensual island vacation. Joining in the fun and games are international financier Kallman (Aldo Sambrell) and his domineering wife (Monique Parent). Paula (Amber Newman), an American tourist in Spain, is auditioned as a stripper and eventually paid to join this oddball group.
Once at the Radeck estate, the vacation turns into a twisted nightmare for her. Everyone wants to have sex with her. Paul constantly records the activities with a camcorder. The food for the feast is seasoned with Radeck's secret recipe, which includes human urine contributed by a live-in sex slave Furia (Analia Ivars). Petit also camcorded a Making of...featurette which is included on the DVD.
Things get really out of hand during a televised "treasure hunt" staged by the Radecks, in which Kallman puts up the cash prize, hidden in a briefcase on a boat, that has to be located within a specified time limit. Paula jumps at the chance, but she is hunted by the rest of the players. In addition to their other perverse habits, they are cannibals who cook and eat their prey after an elaborate stalk and kill.
Franco seems to have reinvented himself as a lightweight satirist with this irreverent comedy-of-manners. Shot in English as a USA-Spanish co-production, Franco combines contemporary American performers such as Amber Newman and Monique Parent with Euro-trash veterans Aldo Sambrell along with his veteran collaboraters Alain Petit and Lina Romay. The result is an odd culture clashing erotic adventure with glossy sex and violence interludes.
DEVIL HUNTER, an earlier (1980) cannibal adventure done in the Franco Primitivist modality....
After the opening Joyce reference Franco keeps his tongue firmly in cheek throughout. Monique Parent is wonderfully bitchy as the huntress while Romay, Sambrell, and Petit wisely underplay their sinister characters to good effect. It's more satiric than COUNTESS PERVERSE, but the game is still deadly, and bloody. The one completely over-the-top turn comes from by the statuesque Ivars, as the Super-Freak Furia, a mute (except for one hilarious word at the end) and scantily clad siren with a forever darting tongue. This lizard-woman is perhaps Franco's wildest creation since the bird-woman from EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN.
Remember the cannibal bird woman in EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN?
Also, Franco plays with the relationship between audience and movie. For instance, in the climatic hunt sequence he parodies himself with the aforementioned canned laugh track over the sequence, complete with audience whistles and catcalls as things turn bloody. One really can't imagine Franco using such a device in his earlier cannibal films, but he seems to be indicating that he's aware of changing times. TENDER FLESH may not be as "good" a Franco film as THE PERVERSE COUNTESS, but it's good fun while it lasts.
(C) Robert Monell 2022