07 January, 2023

LA ESCLAVA BLANCA

LA ESCLAVA BLANCA Cast: YVONNE MANUEL, JOSÉ LLAMAS, MABEL ESCAÑO, JOSE MIGUEL GARCIA MARFA, AUGUSTÎN GIL, LINA ROMAY, CONCHI MONTÉS, JAMES TALL; Manacoa Films--Santiago Moncada Prod. NOTE: This was my first Internet published review (1998) of a Jess Franco film, written when I was the US associate editor of the DARK WATERS website. It has since been updated.  
-------------------------------------------------------------------- Jess Franco enjoyed everything pulp. He loved comic books, comic strips, pulpy television, pulp culture, pulp fiction (but not the QT film). What's more Pulp than an adventure set in a jungle involving a young couple tricked by corrupt guides into going on a honeymoon safari which results in the bride being sold as a sacrifice to a stone age tribe's lizard god? White slave trade is a familiar trope in the history of cult movies. Even Black Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) got involved, courtesy of Joe D'Amato. Then there's the plot of Franco's 1978 JE BRULE DE PARTOUT, previously reviewed here and out on an attractive Blu-ray. Don't forget the white slavers busted by Lina Romay in TWO FEMALE SPIES IN FLOWERED PANTIES. So, this was already an oft treaded Jess Franco trail by 1985. This time he mounted an ethnographic/antropological variant and placed it within his cine-comic format.
The 1980s were busy years of abrupt aesthetic and commericial transition for Jess Franco. Of the eight films Franco released (exluding several incompleted projects) in 1985, half of them hardcore porno features, this very low budget jungle adventure stands out because of an entertaining, multi-layered scenario by the estimable Spanish screenwriter Santiago Moncada. Beside writing such outstanding films as Mario Bava's HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON (1969), THE BELL FROM HELL (1973) and THE CORRUPTION OF CHRIS MILLER (1972), Moncada had written screenplays for a variety of European genre directors (Manuel Cano's THE SWAMP OF THE RAVENS, TARZAN'S GREATEST CHALLENGE, and VOODOO BLACK EXORCIST were all based on Moncada scripts). LA ESCLAVA BLANCA started out as a programmer conceived very much in the Saturday morning serial mode.
Santiago Moncada-- In LA ESCLAVA BLANCA, Moncada gives us three separate stories that gradually interweave and come together in third act. The first story can be described as a variation on Macbeth. A weak-willed jungle guide is manipulated by his domineering wife into committing a series of crimes. During a safari, he leads a honeymoon couple (José Llamas and Conchi Montés) into a trap laid by the Tobongas, a Stone Age tribe which worships a giant lizard god. The bride is tied to a sacrificial altar for later sacrifice. The guides are piad by the Tobanga with diamonds.
牋牋 The second story starts out in the city, where a karate student (Lina Romay) and two of her instructors accidentally discover the secret of the Tobonga. The instructors decide to attempt to steal the tribe's diamonds. In the third story, two separate expeditions make their way back to the remote Tobonga camp. Sprawling yet minimalist this is a true absurdity, yet somehow a wholesome entertainment. Talky parrots crack jokes overhead as the action progresses into Tobonga hell. One of these groups includes the original guide, who has been abducted by the karate instructors (they have also killed his wife). The other consists of the husband of the abducted woman and the female karate student who has split off from the school. During the long trip back, the guide has a change of heart and decides to repent, turning against his captors and helping the people he originally betrayed.
牋 The climax of the film, rather expertly shot and edited despite the severe budgetary restrictions, may remind some viewers of a miniature version of the final scene in THE WILD BUNCH. The very last scene, in which the Tobonga gold is discarded, echoes THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE. Franco's film, of course, is a lot less ambitious than those two classics, but maybe that's why it works so well. The massacre at the Tobonga camp, the abduction scene, and the opening safari are as well-staged as anything Franco has ever done. It's all done on such a miniature scale that the action fits together like a children's board game. There's also an amusing dose of voodoo dancing thrown in for good measure. Daniel White's pulsating drum and vocal score (Carlos Franco does his familiar voodoo chanting) is familiar from some of Franco's other jungle adventures, but this is by far the best of the lot. Miguel Ross (Marfa) and Mabel Escaño are both very effective as the safari guides from hell. With its karate scenes, voodoo rituals, adventure story, literary and film references, LA ESCLAVA BLANCA seems like a kind of compendium of Franco's 1980's output (minus the XXX sex material). And if one can get past his other standard jungle/cannibal fare, this one is most definitely worth seeking out. This delightful entertainment still lacks an official North American, English friendly DVD or HD release.
(C) Robert Monell: New Version, 2023

24 November, 2022

TENDER FLESH

(a.k.a. BOCCATO DI CARDINALE)
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

01 November, 2022

ROLAND, THE WORLD'S SEXIEST MAN (1974)

Roland, the World's Sexiest Man 1974 104 MINUTES European Trash Cinema (U.S. import) DIRECTED BY CLIFFORD BROWN (JESUS FRANCO) WITH: FRED WILLIAMS, LINA ROMAY, BIGOTINI, WILLY BRAQUE, OLIVIER MATHOT, PAMELA SANFORD, MONICA SWINN, ANNA GLADYSEK, RAMÓN ARDID, VICTOR COSTA, VICTOR MENDÉS, SUZUKI, CAROLINE RIVIÊRE.
(a.k.a. ROLAND, L'HOMME LE PLUS SEXY DU MONDE; LE JOUISSEUR; DER SEX PLAYBOY) I've expanded this look at this very droll 1974 sex farce.I once called this one of JF's "finest" De Nesle efforts but I've changed my mind as it doesn't hold up very well despite an admirable premise.... A wealthy ex-playboy, Roland (Fred Williams) tires of married life and decides to return to his old ways. He poses as a butler and becomes a servant to rich and beautiful women, but many complications ensue. His "wife" is the imposing Barbara Bolt (Brigitte Monnin) is a frisky career woman, the President of an International Organization of porno stores, whose demands cannot be met by the intimidated Count Roland. An interesting class-gender conflict ensues, allowing Roland to have numerous erotic encounters to satisfy his bruised ego, the paying porn cinema customer but not necessarily the average fan of Jess Franco's outre vision. The title of this sly comedy of manners indicates Franco wanted to infuse this amusing trifle with a sense of irony. Roland may be handsome but as played by Williams behaves like a run-of-the-mill male model, albeit with a little more humor and liveliness than this usually dull actor musters in his other Franco roles from this period. He's especially inadequate as the hobbled super spy in THE DEVIL CAME FROM AKASAVA. Franco aims for the tone of a Howard Hawks screwball comedy, but verbal and visual puns, not physical comedy, are more his forté. And as the only available videos on the U.S. mail-order circuit are in French, those unfamiliar with that language will miss the satiric barbs at male chauvinism and French upper-class arrogance. As Roland's pudgy, mischievous manservant Malou, Richard de Conninck aka Bigotini, a familiar Franco actor who often worked as the director's assistant, just about steals the show from Williams. Most of the footage follows Roland as he is seduced by various women, and in an especially amusing scene, tries to avoid the advances of one husband who also happens to like men. The cinematography is colorful, with occasionally interesting camera angles, but the lack of any action other than sexual may bore those who are not Franco enthusiasts. This 1974 sex farce is one of Franco's least screened Robert De Nesle features, although released on French VHS [Videobox] it is not available in anything near HD in any format. A sometimes subtle, somewhat tender look at social roles and the presence of invisible class barriers which cut people off from erotic expression. It almost makes one wonder what the result would have been played straight.... Actually, this is the kind of French bedroom farce at which Blake Edwards excelled. Andre Benichou's swinging Jazz score is wonderful and the sun dappled, color intensive, cubist frames of the opening credits remind one of Cezanne with a touch of Impressionist color patterns. And no film with Pamela Stanford, Monica Swinn and Lina Romay (as Lulu Laverne) in the cast can be all bad. It remains, alas, rather tiresome at its full length. However, it's worth noting that the version under review is reportedly cut from 120 m! Don't hold your breath for a Blu ray restoration.... but you never know. * It should be noted that the hardcore succubus comedy La Draguese, features a shot of the Paris marquee (Le Jouisseur) of a local theater showing this film. (c) Robert Monell NEW VERSION-2022 (c) Robert Monell, 2022 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Older Review: A wealthy ex-playboy, Roland (Fred Williams) tires of married life and decides to return to his old ways. He poses as a butler and becomes a servant to rich and beautiful women, but many complications ensue. The title of this sly comedy of manners indicates Franco wanted to infuse this amusing trifle with a sense of irony. Roland may be handsome but as played by Williams behaves like a run-of-the-mill male model, albiet with a little more humor and livliness than this usually dull actor musters in his other Francos roles from this period. Franco aims for the tone of a Howard Hawks screwball comedy, but verbal humor, not physical comedy, is more his forté. And as the only available videos on the U.S. mail-order circuit are in French, those unfamiliar with that language will miss the satiric barbs at male chauvanism and upper-class arrogance, and French disgust with lack of proper manners. As Roland's pudgy, mischievous manservant Malou, Bigotini, a familiar Franco actor who often worked as his assistant, just about steals the show from Williams. Most of the footage follows Roland as he is seduced by various women, and in an especially amusing scene, tryies to avoid the advances of one husband who also happens to like men. The exterior cinematagraphy is colorful, with interesting camera angels, but the lack of any action other than sexual may bore those who are not Franco enthusiasts. It should be noted that the 1974 hardcore succubus comedy La Draguese, features a shot of the Paris marquee of a local theater showing this film. (c) Robert Monell NEW VERSION-2022

12 October, 2022

La Noche De Los Sexos Abiertos

La Noche de los Sexos Abiertos 1981 90 MINUTES Video Resources: European Trash Cinema and others (U.S. import); King Home Video (Spain); Severin Films-Blu-ray DIRECTED BY JESS FRANCO WITH: ROBERT FOSTER (ANTONIO MAYANS), LINA ROMAY, EVA PALMER, ALBINO GRAZIANI, TONY SKIOS, JESS FRANCO =======================================
This sadistic-comedic Eursopy/crime cocktail has become a favorite since I acquired it about 20 years ago from European Trash Cinema. It has since made it to Blu-ray from Severin Films, deservedly so since it's one of the director's most visually dazzling films. I reviewed and discussed this film in past posts but it continues to fascinate and entertain on repeat viewings. I even had the chance to praise it to Jess Franco when I interviewed him in 2005. He humbly thanked me, sounding surprised I actually knew of, watched and appreciated what he called his "black cinema"/film noir.
Moira (Lina Romay) is a sexy cabaret stripper by night and a secret agent by day. She is attempting to gain information on the Segunda Guerra Mundial, an international criminal group who are about to locate a hidden consignment of gold bars which was secreted beneath the desert during the last days of the Nazis. Private detective Al Crosby is also on the trail of the gold and teams up with Moira. Eventually, Prof. Von Klaus provides a complex code which, when deciphered, will reveal the location. Moira is briefly captured by the opposition, tortured, and then freed by Al. They make a concerted effort to break the word puzzle, and finally succeed in locating Von Klaus's desert villa, in which there is a secret room containing the gold. First though, the right notes have to be played on an organ which will electonically trigger the lock mechanism. It involves musical notation from a Liszt composition. When Moira performs the piece, the door opens and the treasure awaits them. The only problem is that the counteragents have pursued them by helicopter and plan to relieve Al and Moira of their newly found fortune.
It opens with soldier-of-fortune Al Crosby (aka Al Pereira) driving along the balmy coast of the Canary Islands location on his way to a rendezvous at a rowdly nightculb. At the club Moira (Romay) does a hot dance in which she acts out having hot sex with a classic American car, or shall we say dry humps the vehicle anticipating the 21st century post-feminist thriller, TITANE. Romay really throws herself into the action, literalizing the concept of exotic dancing. This deliriously filmed sequence is Franco at his best, doing what he most likes, filming erotic performances in nightclubs. The latin club beats, familiar from previous Franco films, are contrasted with the serene vocals of Carlos Franco which accompany Crosby's evening drive. Music, as always in the cinema of Jess Franco, drives the action, characters, and is as important as the imagery. Of course, the performance of a very different piece of music will resolve the plot and end the pursuit of gold bars by Crosby, Moira and another team of fortune hunters.
Considering the fact that Jess Franco has returned to Euro-spy genre again and again throughout his career, it would seem the genre holds a special fascination for him, as well as providing the profilic director with narrative action that functions as a necessary backdrop to his trademark erotic scenes, personal touches, visual spirals, and private jokes. It is impossible to separate the sex from any generic conventions at this point in Franco's career. His later Euro-spy feature DARK MISSION (1988), offers evidence that he could leave aside the obsessive focus on eroticism and make a relatively straight commercial product, but that film is dull as direct compared to this gliettering gem. As this more personal early 80s period and his recent films show, Franco is at his best when he is allowed to be himself.
There are many shootings, double crosses, torture sessions (one outrageously borders on a XXX level of sado-erotic intensity), exotic locales, and Lina Romay has never looked sexier. She's as hot as the color scheme and 3rd degree lighting. In the end the plot is not as important as the style in which it is shot, it's too late to be called Pop Art or Op Art, it is best described as art object which celebrates its triviality by treating it as a hidden treasure. Robert Monell 2022

26 September, 2022

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MIRROR (Jess Franco, 1973) Mondo Macabro Blu-ray review by Nathaniel Thompson/Mondo Digital: link

https://www.mondo-digital.com/sidemirror.html

Here is a link to the Mondo Digital review of the Mondo Macabro Bluray release of Jess Franco's THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MIRROR (1973), the first English friendly HD release of the director's cut in North America. 

I was pleased to be able to contribute a commentary track with Rod Barnett as part of this essential release. It's certainly one of my top 10 favorite Jess Franco films. Thanks to Mondo Macabro.



 

 

 

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 is 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 film suceeds as artfully crafted sexploitation. But sexploitation with a moral conscience. 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)