EL FRANCONOMICON / I'M IN A JESS FRANCO STATE OF MIND

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KILLER BARBYS (Jess Franco, 1996) on Blu-ray

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EL FRANCONOMICON / I'M IN A JESS FRANCO STATE OF MIND

“Comic books showed me the way.” COMIC BOOKS, by Killer Barbies.

Killer Barbys [Blu-ray]lovesofirina-privatescreenings1-vhscollector-com

ABOVE: Vintage Jess Franco female vampire

After a high-energy appearance in a crowded nightclub, Spanish punk band Killer Barbies take off through the Spanish countryside in their van. Soon they have a breakdown and are greeted by a strange man, Arkan (Spaghtetti Western veteran Aldo Sambrell) who invites them to spend the night within the walls of the mist enshrouded Gothic castle of the Countess Von Fleidermaus (Mariangela Giordano), who is actually a centuries old vampire who stays young, like Elizabeth Bathory, by bathing in the blood of the young. She depends on Arkan to deliver thethe band member’s body fluids as her next skin treatment.

Essentially an extended promo/music video for the Spanish punk/hard/garage rock band, formed in 1994 by Silvia Superstar (Silvia Garcia Pintos) and Billy King (Arturo Dominguez), this was the first of two films directed…

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Written by Robert Monell

9 octubre 2017 at 6:50 PM

KILLER BARBYS (Jess Franco, 1996) on Blu-ray

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“Comic books showed me the way.” COMIC BOOKS, by Killer Barbies.

Killer Barbys [Blu-ray]

lovesofirina-privatescreenings1-vhscollector-com

ABOVE: Vintage Jess Franco female vampire

After a high-energy appearance in a crowded nightclub, Spanish punk band Killer Barbies take off through the Spanish countryside in their van. Soon they have a breakdown and are greeted by a strange man, Arkan (Spaghtetti Western veteran Aldo Sambrell) who invites them to spend the night within the walls of the mist enshrouded Gothic castle of the Countess Von Fleidermaus (Mariangela Giordano), who is actually a centuries old vampire who stays young, like Elizabeth Bathory, by bathing in the blood of the young. She depends on Arkan to deliver thethe band member’s body fluids as her next skin treatment.

Essentially an extended promo/music video for the Spanish punk/hard/garage rock band, formed in 1994 by Silvia Superstar (Silvia Garcia Pintos) and Billy King (Arturo Dominguez), this was the first of two films directed by Franco which were build around the image and music of the band. They cut a few albums but their popularity was limited and this film, although Franco’s first theatrical release in Spain in several years, only had about 100, 000 patrons and grossed a mere 100.000 in USD. This would be the last theatrical release of a new Jess Franco film in Spain. It’s also one of his last filmed in 35mm.  The title of the film had to be changed because the name Barbie was trademarked by Mattel manufacturing, which by the 21st Century had become a Fortune 500 company.

Filmed in one month (Jan. 8 to Feb. 8, 1996) in Valencia and other locales, it’s not a bad looking film, especially on the new Redemption Blu-ray, and the Spanish language soundtrack, with English subtitles, is the way to go, since the English track features horrendous voice-casting and muffled English-dubbed voicing. The scenes featuring Aldo Sambrell (VOODOO BLACK EXORCIST) and Ms. Giordano (BURIAL GROUND) come off the best, atmospherically lit and composed by 1970s Franco cinematographer Javier Perez Zofio (SINNER, NIGHT OF THE SKULLS). It’s actually very much a kind of Punk-Gothic comic book, just as EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN was an Adult-Horrorcomic book in 1972, indebted to the kind of sexy/violent comic strips (DIABOLIK, KILLING, SATANIK) which were popular in Europe in the 1960s and 70s. But the film didn’t make much of an impact by the mid 1990s when Spanish audiences were more likely interested in US produced, larger budgeted, mainstream horror offerings.  The Killer Barbies song COMIC BOOKS, states the band’s and the film’s aesthetic, as well as affirms Jess Franco’s lifelong obsession with all kinds of comic book/comic strip characters in his filmography, LUCKY THE INSCRUTABLE (1967) and LOS BLUES CALLE POP (1983), being the most obvious examples. The finale, featuring cult figure Santiago Segura, getting flattened by a steam roller, is something that might be found in an EC Comic infused with punk attitude, which is a good description of this film.

The blood bathing scenes are fairly gory and Ms. Giordano is fully up to the lusty requirements of the scenario. But the scenes don’t have the same sensual-emotional impact as such Jess Franco female vampire operettas as VAMPYROS LESBOS (1970) or FEMALE VAMPIRE/LA COMTESSE NOIRE (1973).  Nonetheless, they work well within the limited context of this film and will be highlights for horror movies fans.  There’s not much viable eroticism in this film, considering Jess Franco’s career long expertise in that realm. Some of the comedy scenes involving the band members in the haunted castle aren’t very amusing and perhaps clash in tone.  Jess Franco had at least one good  vampire film in his future, VAMPIRE JUNCTION, which overall works much better as erotic horror and seems to have a more authorial voice than this.

Also included on the Blu-ray are an audio commentary by Troy Howarth, and a trailer along with the Spanish, French and the dire English language tracks. The 4K scan from the original elements features the film looking the best it could possibly look, with generally good color, definition and detail, considering the often soft-focus original cinematography.

Thanks to Nzoog for additional information

(C) Robert Monell, 2017

Written by Robert Monell

7 octubre 2017 at 8:58 PM

EL SEXO ESTA LOCO (1980): The Mirror and the Exhibitionist. 

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Made during the very productive year of 1980, during which he worked on at least nine films for three different production companies- Lisa Films-Munich, Eurocine-Paris and J. E. Films-Madrid, this cyclical film was produced by Joaquin Dominguez for Triton P.C.-Madrid. It is a cyclical film, the kind of “broken lineage” or non-linear work which was a favorite Luis Bunuel format in his most surrealistic films, UN CHIEN ANDALOU, L’AGE D’OR (1930), THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE (1972) and THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY (1975).

In others words, a film which has no individual story with a beginning, middle and end, but a series of macabre tales, tales within tales, and sidebars, all performed by a small cast playing ever morphing characters. A surrealist vaudeville structure in which Spanish anarchists like Bunuel and Franco could cut loose from censorship and the commercial demands of producers and make a highly personal transgression. It also relates back to Franco’s lost 1970 SEX CHARADE.*wp-image-506837742jpg.jpg

In fact, EL SEXO ESTA LOCO is also Franco in his role as a maestro of Spanish ridicule, a tone which was adopted by such writers as Cervantes and filtered down to such Spanish satirists as Bunuel and Luis Garcia Berlanga (EL VERDUGO)

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El sexo está loco

, both of whom one can imagine being able to appreciate what Franco was doing here.  As the lyrics in a Bob Dylan song go, “There’s something happening here, but you don’t know what it is… . ” No, we really don’t,  because Jess Franco’s authorial voice, in GRITOS EN LA NOCHE, THE CASTLE OF FU MANCHU or EL SADICO DE NOTRE DAME, no matter the context, is always heavily inflected with irony and carefully encoded.  But before we can decipher the code, we must contend with the structure, the interrupted journey with which we presented. This time the subjects seem to be considered in the realms of light comedy and science fiction, Franco had seen STAR WARS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (both 1977) by this time.  But the light comedy keeps getting gently strangled by the science fiction element, which has a horrific, rather than family-friendly style we know from the feel-good science fiction of George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg.

It opens, as with so many Jess Franco films, with a nightclub performance. Silver skinned aliens carry a scantily clad young woman (Lina Romay) to the stage, place her on the floor and proceed to rape her, one alien male at a time, each time producing an instant child. We only hear an infant’s cries, representing each birth, on the soundtrack. The set is at the center of a seeming labyrinth of mirrors. Nude silver skilled female aliens call out orders, “Pito uno”, “Pito tres”, calling out each male to do their sexual duty. They’ve come to kidnap and impregnate Earth women!  As the births commence, the audience, who all have grotesque monster faces, applaud and the players arise and take their bows. It’s all been a show, but the audience is definitely not of this earth. They would be at home in the cantina sequence, checking out Hans Solo, in STAR WARS.

The acting troupe are the exhibitionists, a breed apart in Jess Franco’s alternate universe. GRITOS EN LA NOCHE, MISS MUERTE, EL SECRETO DEL DR. ORLOFF, all establish the performer as designated victim early in Franco’s horror movie career, and the mirrors which surround them in this film are the deceptive mise-en-scene, the Wellesian smoke-and-mirrors (CITIZEN KANE onward)  which make up the alienating texture of his films. We’re never confronted with “reality” in a Jess Franco film, only reflections, and sometimes, as in NECRONOMICON, NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT and VENUS IN FURS, reflections within reflections. But the alienating surfaces can also quickly become seductive as in the sex-and-sadism shows of the bewitching “Miss Death” and Lorna in NECRONOMICON/SUCCUBUS.

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Above: the audience of monsters watch the science-fiction sex charade in EL SEXO ESTA LOCO

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The cinema of Jess Franco is a hall of mirrors where the self and the contents of the unconscious will be revealed.

The Cucufate cult…..

    

FIN is  Spanish for The End, but The End in this cyclical context is just another Jess Franco joke, using the punctuation of cinema as a tool for his own personal brand of ridicule. The show will continue, on or off camera. It started as a “show”, became a dream, evolved into another reality and ended as another dream which might be an alternate reality where sinister aliens actually invade and impregnate Earth women in a plot for world domination. It’s your choice in a menu which allows for audience participation. Interrupted narratives make up the bulk of the film, with a bemused narrator introducing the always nude “Rosalinda, the girlfriend of the producer.”  There’s even a sort of devil cult,  played by all the cast members, who chant in unison and have the letters c-u-c-u-f-a-t-e painted on their naked bodies. It’s another vaudeville sketch in the lively revue.

The mirror is a key object in numerous Jess Franco films. The object which defines cinema as a reflection of reality, but cinema is never, ever reality itself. The first victim in GRITOS EN LA NOCHE is startled by her own reflection in the dark mirror, then she is taken by Morpho to be an experimental candidate in the laboratory of Dr. Orlof (Howard Vernon). Omnipresent mirrors in EL SEXO ESTA LOCO reflect and reveal the presence of Jess Franco and his film crew who are shooting the actors in the stories which we see. Franco himself is seen operating the camera, as he often did during the production of his films. In one scene he comes out from behind the scenes, from the other side of the mirror, to give last minute instructions to Lina Romay and other cast members. Then he goes back to his role and the scene continue being filmed. All the unfinished films, never stated projects didn’t really matter to him as much as the fact that he got to keep filming even as he was dying in 2013.

There is never a finished film in this context, only an endless process. And process always interests Franco more than completion, more than results. The idea, the obsession, is to keep filming at all costs. Nothing else matters, not death, illness, alien invasion or the lack of resources, Just keep filming. The resources here include a supply of spray paint, a hall of mirrors, an elliptical building which represents the flying saucer/nightclub, various monster/demon masks. Some bizarrely titled  Spanish comic books are seen being read by Antonio Mayans, Lina Romay, Tony Skios and the late Lynn Enderrson during the “group marriage” sequence. There were always plenty of comic books on the sets of his films.  Sometimes the films themselves were animated comic books BANGKOK CITA CON LA MUERTE, LUCKY, THE INSCRUTABLE, complete with dialogue balloons.

The entertainment is non-stop, and it’s all presented in the lighthearted vein of American screwball comedy of the 1930s, 40s, 50s, BRINGING UP BABY, THE GIRL CAN”T HELP IT, SOME LIKE IT HOT, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Mel Brooks (THE PRODUCERS, HIGH ANXIETY) is even mentioned by one of the actors as source of inspiration. Is it SPACEBALLS or SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR? Only Jess Franco knows for sure…

*Thanks to Francesco Cesari for relating some details of the lost SEX CHARADE feature, which will be discussed in future blogs.

(C) Robert Monell, 2019

Written by Robert Monell

20 septiembre 2017 at 1:04 AM

Jess Franco and Claude Chabrol

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A DOUBLE TOUR (Claude Chabrol 1959)In the above image, from A DOUBLE TOUR/LEDA, the seemingly respectable aristocrat Richard Marchoux  reclines as he contemplates the murder of his father’s mistress (Antonella Laudli). This was Chabrol’s first thriller which examined and subtly satirized the French bourgeoise. The family unit here is a gradually imploding, quietly dysfunctional system which results in alienation and violence. The quiet, gentle heir to a rural estate, is a monster created by the class regulations and repressed violence of the rural bourgeoisie.

The bucolic area of France’s wine region is the backdrop for this film which set the template for Chabrol’s moody series of subversions of the mystery genre, which would achieve an apex with LE BOUCHER (1970) and LA RUPTURE (1971).  Chabrol always cloaked his work in the clothing of genre which he bored into with the slow persistence of a probe making its way through subterranean layers to find the truth of a scene or a character. This disturbing, gorgeously shot film was streaming on the Amazon channels recently.

EL SECRETO DEL DR. ORLOFF has a similar theme and characters, and I thought of EL SECRETO as I watched A DOUBLE TOUR for the first time recently.  In the strikingly similar shot below, Dr. Fisherman, estranged from his wife and the world, quietly contemplates murdering local women with the help of Andros, the radio controlled living dead robot he has created. He’s the generic “mad scientist” but there’s something else going on underneath the surface. As with many Jess Franco scenarios the fear of and desire for women turn some men into monsters.

There are numerous interesting parallels here and in the filmography’s  of both auteurs. A Chabrol film has a certain look, feel, vibration, conceit which is personal and recognizable, as do the horror thrillers, erotica and comedies of Jess Franco. Both of these films are very much worth seeing and make a fascinating double bill. We’ll be examining more films by both auteurs here in the future. The French version of EL SECRETO DEL DR. ORLOFF is available on Blu-ray from REDEMPTION FILMS. 

I would recommend attempting to track down a copy of the Spanish version of this follow up to GRITOS EN LA NOCHE (1961), which is also preferable in its Spanish variant. Both films were recut and had post-production erotic inserted for export.  In any case EL SECRETO.. is infused with nightmarish monochrome frissions which resonate through his four early 1960s black and white horror films, the other two being THE SADISTIC BARON VON KLAUS (1962) and MISS MUERTE/THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z (1965). All are required viewing.

(C) Robert Monell, 2017

Written by Robert Monell

25 agosto 2017 at 5:29 AM

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Written by Robert Monell

24 agosto 2017 at 2:11 AM

THE BLOODY JUDGE (1970)

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Directed by Jess Franco. Cast: Christopher Lee (Lord George Jeffreys), Leo Genn (Earl of Wessex), Maria Schell, Maria Rohm, Margaret Lee, Howard Vernon, Milo Quesada, Hans Hass Jr, Peter Martell, Vincente Roca. Alternate titles: NIGHT OF THE BLOOD MONSTER, IL TRONO DI FUOCO, DER HEXENTOTER VON BLACKMOOR, EL PROCESO DE LAS BRUJAS.

This luridly titled Spanish/West German/Italian co-production is one of the more fascinating, if less personal, of the films Franco helmed for the notorious writer-producer Harry Alan Towers. This review is based on the Dutch video, one of many variants which are available on VHS. It is important to note that it is now available on DVD in its proper 2.35:1 format (in PAL) from England’s Salvation company. The Dutch version runs slightly shorter than the reported 89m of Salvation’s DVD, but the crucial difference is the aspect ratio. The Dutch print is letterboxed at what looks like 1.85:1, but a lot is cropped offscreen. For instance, when Judge Jeffreys propositions the character played by Maria Rohm, only about half of her figure can be seen, the rest, including her crucial reactions to the sexual blackmail, is beyond the edge of the frame. This is one of the Franco’s most carefully composed films and really needs to be seen in its correct format.

 

A relatively lavish production (by Franco standards), the art direction (by none other than SUCCUBUS’ Jack Taylor-as George O. Brown) and cinematography maximize what were probably limited resources. Just a few paintings hanging and the right camera angles give Judge Jeffrey’s chambers the appearance of a sumptuous set. The exteriors, taken in Portugal, are convincingly “English” and, overall, we are able to suspend disbelief that this is England in 1685. This is a rather big deal in a Franco film, especially a period piece. Just consider how Towers and Franco totally bumbled the period atmosphere of the infamous EL CONDE DRACULA (also 1969).

 

This is usually reviewed as an inferior copy of Michael Reeves THE CONQUEROR WORM/WITCH-FINDER GENERAL (1968), probably because both were released by AIP (in retitled, altered versions) in the U.S.. Despite the historical setting and the consideration of the motives of the sexually obsessed Witch-finder, Franco’s version takes a little more care with historical accuracy and tries (at the very end) to give the devil his due. Matthew Hopkins dies in the midst of yet another atrocity in the Reeves film, whereas Jeffreys collapses in his cell after witnessing a brutal hanging/beheading. The implication being that he has suddenly come to an understanding of the human misery resulting from his mad campaigns. His tortured visage and haunted eyes are a lifetime away from the early scenes where he is seen in his crimson robes and white wig delivering “witches” and “traitors” to death sentences in his kangaroo court. Jeffreys did indeed die in prison, but it is unknown if he ever repented. Lee is excellent in this role, considering that it could have easily lapsed into a one-dimensional cliché. His arrogant demeanor and menacing movements are often undercut by his furtive glances at the bosoms of the women he condemns to be burned alive. As with the best actors, Lee is able to combine body language with voice to indicate a conflicted character, and it is a considerable accomplishment that he is able to make us feel a sense of pity for this monster. He obviously put considerable thought in this performance.  Leo Genn is also fine as the crafty Earl of Wessex. Some of the high points of the film occur during the subtle back and forth between Wessex and Jeffreys, where both of these veteran performers cleverly employ almost imperceptible inflections to get a point across:

JEFFREYS: “We do our best…”
WESSEX: “Then, may God save us from your worst.”

The film is at its best during the interludes involving because Lee and Genn, a formidable actor in his own right,  obviously respect the material and each other. Less successful are the frankly sexploitative torture scenes (the reason for the film), reduced in this version to tableau style depictions of stretching and flaying of scantily clad women. Franco icon Howard Vernon is not really onscreen long enough to make an impression as the black hooded executioner. Milo Quesada’s weasel (who ends up getting chewed to death by freed inmates) is a hateful villain, while Margaret Lee is wasted in the role of the doomed Alicia. Maria Rohm is very appropriately cast as the tormented heroine whom Jeffreys lusts after. She really looks the part and its one of her strongest performances in a Franco film.

In the shorter/cropped versions, the battle scenes still look well mounted but either cut short or minimized by being placed under the opening credits, for example. According to OBSESSION:THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO, the longest version of this title is the Italian (at 98m), but Franco has claimed in interviews that his original cut ran nearly two hours. The BLUE UNDERGROUND DVD contains a 104 m version with a scene of Maria Rohm being rescued from drowning which lasts an additional 6 minutes, which brings it to about 110 minutes. Franco told me when I interviewed him in 2005 that he would make his own cut of the films he made for Towers with the producer’s editors, but that he had no subsequent control of other versions made by distributors, exhibitors or further edits by Towers.  Often, when dealing with the films of Jess Franco, the exact “director’s cut” is elusive. Nonetheless, this is corrected to 2.35:1 OAR and looks magnficent in terms of framing, color, definition, almost Blu-ray quality and doubtless a HD release is pending.

An even longer Spanish version reportedly exists but could not be screened for this review.

(C) Robert Monell, 2017

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Written by Robert Monell

28 julio 2017 at 4:00 PM

NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT

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maxresdefaultLES CAUCHEMARS NAISSENT LA NUIT, 1970, LIECHTENSTEIN

Zagreb, Yugoslavia: Every night Anne (Diana Lorys) performs an extremely bizarre slow-motion strip tease at a sleazy nightclub. She is watched by Cynthia (Collete Jack) who ensnares the vulnerable dancer into a world of deception, crime, madness and death.

A Zero budget crime-noir with an onieric atmosphere which at times recalls the subject matter and imagery of such avant garde classics as Cocteau’s BLOOD OF A POET and Bunuel L’AGE D’OR, possibly best defined by Sigmund Freud as “the imaginary gratification of subconscious wishes.” On the surface it’s a sexy/gritty crime film which also functions as an almost ontological study of Anne, a case history as told by a Jim Thompson or a William Irish. According to OBSESSION: THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO, the director claims this was his lowest budgeted film as of 1973*. It really looks down and dirty, but that look only cements its feel of an erotic fever-dream involving seduction, mind control and murder. Mirrors, mirrors within mirrors, birds, knives and jewels play a large role in the nightmare scenarios which drive Anne to madness and self destruction. The minimalist strip club sequences consist of little more than a couch, a statue, a featured boa, and the narcotic presence of Lorys. This is all the mise en scene necessary for Franco to create a soulfully sleazy reverie where Anne’s painfully slow execution of erotic poses hold her audience while Nicolai’s humid sax atmospheres illustrates Anne’s melancholy narration. Lorys gives a terrific, body and soul baring performance as the anxiety ridden victim, and Paul Muller delivers another one of his subtle turns as her ambiguous psychiatrist,a villain with a conscience. It’s really their show and Franco closely observes their tormented interaction while ever so slowly moving in for the final kill.

Lorys’ final epiphany for the lost souls of the world, which she delivers in her “Princess of Istria” persona in front of a full-length mirror, is one of her, and Franco’s, finest moments. It’s the polar opposite of Soledad Miranda’s** self absorbed dances, also performed in front of a large mirror, in VAMPYROS LESBOS. Anne’s performance here is the result of selfless suffering which transcends self pity whereas Miranda’s female vampire is transported into a realm of narcissistic self stimulation. From its rapid fire credit sequence to its knockout double twist ending this is an absolute must for both Franco enthusiasts and those needing proof positive that a poverty row budget can act as a creative stimulus. Josiane Gibert voices Lorys and her soulful, pleading tone floods each and every moment of this film with a mood of deep melancholy.

Bruno Nicolai’s mercurial, dissonant score fits the film like a glove, constantly shifting between the music of dark dreams and the jarring sounds of deceptive realities. Suddently phasing from lyrical interludes to startling piano chords and guitar meanderings, strip club jazz to sitar interludes, rich organ riffs and outre lounge cues which will make you want to get up and dance the dance of the damned. A once lost item in the annals of Euro-bis, LES CAUCHEMARS NAISSENT LA NUIT is a voluptuously nasty suite of surprises. Remember: “Life is all shit.” Robert Monell

*VAMPIRELLA No. 13, Interview with Jess Franco
**Soledad Miranda appears in a small role her along with her future costar from EUGENIE DE SADE and VAMPYROS LESBOS (both 1970, Andres Monales/Andre Montcall. They play two associate members of the jewel robbery gang, headed by Paul Muller. All the scenes with Miranda appear to have been shot during a separate shooting period than the bulk of the film, Aug-Sept. 1969, perhaps just before the January 1970 production of EUGENIE DE SADE in Berlin. If one looks closely at the area around the house-for-sale in which they are hiding out, it appears to be late fall-early winter while the scenes involving the lead players are flooded with sunlight and foliage.

Written by Robert Monell

24 julio 2017 at 11:52 PM