12 September, 2023


Revisiting Jess Franco's LES GLOUTONNES recently I was struck by how its radical changes in tone and basic incoherence (the latter courtesy of "comedy" inserts insisted on by Robert de Nesle) don't completely destroy its stylistic charm. Once a "somber", according to Alain Petit, erotic adventure becomes a take-off on the peplum genre complete with slapstick antics by Bigotini (Patrick de Conninck), the servant of Howard Vernon's return as Cagliostro, and wise cracking voices coming out of the abyss. The one hardcore insert, featuring Alice Arno performing fellatio on a nude actor and receiving a squirt of white fluid which may or may not be male semen, is absurd and unerotic as possible. In my interview with featured American actor Robert Woods, he confirmed that no hardcore was shot while he was around during the shoot sometime during the Summer of 1973, back to back with YUKA, shot with the same cast on the same settings on the island of Madeira.
Directed under his French nom de plume Clifford Brown, this is a fascinating mess due to the fact that Robert de Nesle, or somebody, took a supposedly "serious" film and made it into a delirous collage of peplum, adventure, comedy, erotic and fantasy motifs. It's Wal Davis as Maciste vs. Robert Woods as the evil Caronte who attempts to overthrow and kill the Queen of Atlantis, played by Alice Arno. Maciste prevails with the help of "the gobblers" the women of Atlantis. Howard Vernon makes an appearance as Cagliostro (cf. LA MALDICION DES FRANKENSTEIN), who observes the antics with his horny attendant, played by the puckish Rick Deconninck/Bigitoni. A very interesting, eclectic score by Robert Viger [?] is an atmospheric bonus.
Mark Forest was supposed to play Maciste, according to Franco.* The opening shot, panning down a misty valley, and the first view of the stormy coast of the remnants of Atlantis, are outstanding images, but unless you are a Franco completist or a peplum enthusiast you the ragged montage of this film rather tying. Franco also made YUKA/MACISTE CONTRE LA REINE DES AMAZONES (also 1973 with Davis/Waldemar Wohlfaart and Robert Woods playing the male leads opposite Alice Arno and the Queen of the Amazons in another erotic "peplum" set in the Middle Ages.
What we have left as of this writing are VHS dupe level DVDs/DVDRs of this film and YUKA, both damned to the lowest levels of home video. Without any HD restorations in sight it is what it is, they are what they are. Softcore knockoffs made to be exhibited in theaters in tenderloin districts of whatever metropolis you lived in or near in the 1970s. Fans of le bad cinema, genre anarchists or those interested in quasi-experimental cinema hiding beneath a Z budgeted porn package might provide some interest and amusement. They both are exercises in unconscious mise-en-scene existing in the absence of conventional genre respectability or "art" film pretension. A favorite scene features the emergence of white shrouded beings during a ritual sacrifice staged by Caronte and Parka (Kali Hansa).
Given the poverty of means, the lack of reliable representation of its proposed world and the intrusion of "comedy" interludes this porno-peplum establishes itself on a bizarre wavelength. Most of the main cast, sans Emma Cohen, is also featured in Franco's unabashedly emotional masterpiece, AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO (1973), also largely shot on Madeira but infused with realistically sketched characters caught up in an other-worldly murder mystery. The power of that film is in being drawn into the destruction of an attractive, vulnerable, relatable person as she conducts a murder spree on all the men who enter her web. But is the web woven by her, or the toxic spirit of her dead father? We're never sure. That ambiguity is the film's strength. We're struck by how good the performances by Emma Cohen, Howard Vernon and the supporting plays are at creating credible people in the midst of an eerie tragedy. There's none of that in LES GLOUTONNES, its interest lies in its cinema-degree-zero mise-en-scene with its often cubist compositions and its absurdist tone, which replaces the reportedly "somber" tone of the original cut. Every zoom shot is strangely compelling and seem somehow necessary. At the end its suggested to all be an erotic fantasy of Alice Arno, who lies in bed, overseen by a skull, lost the daydream which is LES GLOUTONNES.
(C) Robert Monell, 2023

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