- Directed by Dan L. Simon (Jess Franco)
- “A superior force obliges me to love you and then to kill you.”
- It’s not insignificant that Jess Franco’s name is nowhere to be found onscreen in this film’s credits. It was “Directed by Dan L. Simon” suggesting an anonymous employee of Eurocine, Paris and Brux Inter Film, Brussels.
- SHINING SEX , released in both soft and hardcore versions, could have been just another cheap continental sex film. Jess Franco’s experimental erotica is set in an alternate reality anticipating Jonathan Glazer’s 2013 UNDER THE SKIN. As in that film the female protagonist is both the seductive force who lures victims (male and female here) to their doom, and finally a victim herself. Franco himself plays the disabled Dr. Seward, who tries to help the hapless Cinthia (Lina Romay), but cannot save her.
- Abstract mise en scene, an eerie Industrial style score and an excellent performance by Lina Romay, make this the most interesting of the two Jess Franco films shot back to back in 1975 at Le Grande Motte, the hotel-casino complex in Southern France. The two were micro-budgeted features, sharing the same cast members and locations . The other film is the interactive comedy THE MIDNIGHT PARTY. The geometrical architecture of the structures along with the alien factor place this adjacent to the Fantastique sub genre. Highlights include a memorable encounter between Romay and Monica Swinn framed in a mirror and the dialogue-free ferry sequence. Franco remade this in the mid 1980s as AIDS, THE 20TH CENTURY PLAGUE, with Francoise Blanchard, Ricardo Palacios and US actor Bill Hoverstein, partiality funded by Golden Films Internacional. That apparently completed film languishes in a laboratory somewhere in Spain. SHINING SEX could perhaps be seen as rough draft. Of course, that could be said about many of the director’s films.
- Franco abstracts every moment of the film, from the reflections in the sunglasses of human turned alien Andros (Ramon Ardid), to the cubist wallpaper of the hotel room where Cinthia and Alpha (Evelyn Scott) have an erotic encounter while the camera lingers on a rose placed on a pedestal. Encounter is probably a better word than sex here, because the act is clinically observed and occurs within an environment which is both recognizable, hotel rooms mainly, and uncanny. True close encounters of another kind.
- The fact that Franco’s wheelchair bound occult expert is named Dr. Seward and a victim of the alien plot (Olivier Mathot) is a biologist named Van Helsing* speaks to the insistence on genre hooks within this airless allegory. Character names from Bram Stoker’s DRACULA, echoing into the late 20th Century post-modern genre exploits of a notorious director.
- Cinthia is an exotic dancer at a decadent resort. A performer, as are the main characters of the majority of Jess Franco’s key works. Franco himself appeared as a piano player, performing for drunken slugs in his first horror film, GRITOS EN LA NOCHE (1961). Cinthia is introduced applying make-up and then performing her act, which is called “Shining Sex”. She is avidly watched by Dimension X invaders Alpha and Morpho, who plan to use her until she is used up. Dr. Seward has his own psychiatric clinic, but spends most of his time engaged in para-psychological research. He is “connected” with Cinthia, as is Doriana Gray to her insane sister, and provides her with temporary shelter after her first deadly mission.
- One also thinks of another performer from an earlier period of the director’s career, Miss Muerte (Estella Blain) in the 1965 film of the same name, who is also a remote control killer sent by someone with a special agenda. Lorna (Janine Reynaud) in Franco’s SUCCUBUS/NECRONOMICON is another significant example. A female Faust doing a devil’s bidding. Franco himself inhabits the center ring and gives his most vital performance, raging against the dying light, in his last completed film, AL PEREIRA VS THE ALLIGATOR LADIES (2012).
- Jess Franco, like Seward, would end up in a wheelchair, as he continued directing in his waning years. The important point is that the wheelchair didn’t slow him down or stop him. Seward can only move in straight lines, in perfect concert with the geometry around him. Characters live in, enter, exit from triangles, rectangles, parallelograms, rhomboidal areas in this science fiction universe. Cinthia is destroyed and abandoned at the end, but Seward lives on to tell her narrative to a world which considers him at best irrelevant, a dubious crank.
- Not much seems to happen in the 100 of so minutes of SHINING SEX. Hardcore scenes were added for that market, which necessitated the removal of much atmospheric footage. Even so, that version is about 15 minutes shorter and seems rather pointless. It somehow works better in its longer, English language version. As in UNDER THE SKIN, aliens are all around us, but everyone is too distracted to be aware of them, and in both that film and SHINING SEX, they are an unaddressed threat. Seduction is just a means to an end, a bad end. One might say the message is “Wake up”. But Jess Franco would leave messages to Western Union, adding that it’s only a very low budget erotic film, made at a French resort over 40 years ago.
- Look for this on Blu-ray, maybe later this year, hopefully with both versions available. It will be nice to be able to see this in its original 2.35:1 Techniscope format
- *Kallman in some versions.
Robert Monell, 2017
LA COMTESSE NOIRE Versions: LUSTERNDE VAMPIRE IM SPERMARAUSCH
A confused Ramon Ardid is the hotel masseur who gets a full service blow job by the Countess Irina in the hardcore versions while in others just gets teased before it cuts to his body being carried away by helpful female vampire butler Luis Barboo!
How many versions are there of the 1973 Jess Franco project best known as FEMALE VAMPIRE? Countless!
Filmed under the title, LA COMTESSE NOIRE, as a non hardcore erotic vampire film set on the island of Madeira, this popular title had alternate scenes shot of bloody vampire attacks (for EROTIKILL) and still later hardcore scenes were added for that market. Franco/Eurocine obviously wanted different versions for different venues.
I’m going to attempt to do a single blog on each and every version I have on video/DVD or have heard about.
LUSTERNDE VAMPIRE IM SPERMARAUSCH [onscreen title]: version under EROTIKILL/LADY DRACULA 2 on the X RATED KULT DVD BOX #24/ LAUFZEIT GESAMT: 105+9 Minuten
Deutsch [German language] Dolby
Extras: Trailers for Jean Rollin’s ZOMBIE LAKE; JF’s DIAMONDS OF KILIMANJARO (tinted); MONDO CANNIBAL; others.
This version contains all the hardcore footage but none of the straight bloodsucking footage seen in EROTIKILL [Force Video] and in the IMAGE FV extras folder.
VIDEO: Fair. Soft, generally unsharp, somewhat faded color, visible print damage.
AUDIO: Fair to poor- The most unusual, and annoying, aspect of this presentation is that the German dubbers have added various sounds made by the supposedly mute Countess Irina, she goes “Uh…”, “Oh…” and “Umm…”, moans and emits other atmosphere destroying noises. Why this was done is beyond me. She’s supposed to be completely silent! At least the movie works best that way.
I would be interested to know how many distinct versions of LA COMTESSE NOIRE blog readers have in their own collections and which are the favored ones. Don’t try to collect them all. Remember, there’s a recession on!
Three films in HD plus a CD! Thanks to Cinema Arcana:
Coming this April from our friends at Mondo Macabro — a Limited Edition set featuring HD upgrades for two of Jess Franco’s more twisted efforts from his Robert de Nesle period, plus some new surprises!
First up is the much requested Blu debut of Franco’s COUNTESS PERVERSE (1974). Restored to its director’s cut and scanned from the original negatives, the film is a sort of Most Dangerous Game by way of De Sade, as swingin’ couple Bob and Moira pick up beach bunnies from the sunny shores by day, and spend their nights seducing the same. However, things take a dark turn when their new friends are introduced to the Count & Countess Zaroff, who have their own idea of a good time. Showcasing great turns from Franco regulars Robert Woods, Howard Vernon, Alice Arno, and, of course, Lina Romay, COUNTESS PERVERSE is a disturbing mixture of sex and death, and has long been a fan favorite, for good reason — its legendary nude hunt is easily one of the most iconic sequences from the director’s vast filmography. Definitely one not to miss.
The second feature here is HOW TO SEDUCE A VIRGIN (aka Plaisir à trois, 1974). The Countess de Bressac returns home from a forced nuthouse stint, the court-appointed result of castrating her former plaything. Greeted by her hunchbacked gardener, mute maid and enabling husband, she immediately retreats to her dungeon, surrounded by human statues formed from past conquests. Her spouse proposes a new game, involving the seduction of the wealthy heiress next door, but when things don’t go as expected… Another of Franco’s examinations of the perversion of innocence, PLAISIR A TROIS is likewise one of the provocateur’s darker efforts, and it’s presented here scanned from the original negatives looking better than ever.
With these titles being previously released by Mondo Macabro on DVD, the company’s obviously porting over their existing special features, including a pair of excellent analyses by Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jess Franco author Stephen Thrower, and great chats with COUNTESS PERVERSE actor Robert Woods and HOW TO SEDUCE A VIRGIN screenwriter Alan Petit.
But wait, there’s more! This collection also contains the English-friendly disc debut of SEXY NATURE (1974), the complete 101-minute Adults Only variant of COUNTESS PERVERSE! Throw away those bootlegs; as with the other films here, it’s presented in HD from the original film elements — no tape inserts or anything of the sort.
Guess what? That’s not all! The outfit is additionally including a bonus CD featuring Blue Phantom’s 1971 psych-rock classic DISTORTIONS, containing several of the memorable tracks that popped up in both COUNTESS PERVERSE and the director’s SINNER: THE SECRET DIARY OF A NYMPHOMANIAC (1973). If you’re a fan of those films’ soundtracks, this is an incredible inclusion, and one I guarantee will be in heavy rotation at the ol’ Arcana HQ. Last, but certainly not least, there’s a printed booklet with liner notes from MM’s own Pete Tombs.
This Region A set is limited to 1,000 numbered copies, and will be an exclusive to Mondo Macabro’s webstore (mondomacabro.bigcartel.com). Pre-orders are set to go live Friday, March 3rd, with a ship date in early April. Pricing is expected to be set at $45 with free shipping, which may seem a bit high, but the company is really attempting to give Franco fans the kind of release they’ve been asking for, and it should be a great addition to our collections — whether or not you think it’s worth it is up to you. Viva la Franco!
(Note: I censored the cover art for Facebook; the actual release will be untouched.)
Jess Franco’s delirious, candy colored Pop Art comedy-thriller was filmed in early 1967 right after Necronomicon (Succubus) with the same main cast, sans Jack Taylor. It was produced by Adrian Hoven in Munich and Alicante. Hoven also plays the villain, Pop Art painter Radeck, who creates a werewolf-slave to kidnap women who will become models for his sado-masochistic canvases and sculptures. Once again the Artist-as-killer theme is the matrix in Franco’s second Red Lips film. Avoid the severely cut English language export, TWO UNDERCOVER ANGELS. BESAME MONSTRUO, also featuring the Red Lips detective team, would follow, with the same cast. This film was also influenced by the 1960 Italian Gothic MILL OF STONE WOMEN and has a scene involving “water boarding” torture. A rousing jazz score by Fernando Garcia Morcillo boosts the action. Thanks to Francesco Cesari.
This, of course, would look terrific in High Definition. Let’s hope for an English release of the longer Spanish version, the English language TWO UNDERCOVER ANGELS is missing about 15 minutes of footage. This is a visual delight, a time-trip straight back to the 1960s of Andy Warhol canvases and Jean-Luc Godard genre deconstructions. I always thought this film would make a great double bill with Joseph Losey’s OP-ART Eurospy confection, MODESTY BLAISE.
(C)Robert Monell 2017
DR. ORLOFF’S MONSTER: Here’s my capsule review of the new Blu-ray release from Redemption Films
(C) Robert Monell:
Melissa (Agnes Spaak) arrives at the family castle in Holfen for a reading of her late father’s will. She is greeted by a local suitor (Pepe Rubio) and her uneasy Uncle, the scientist Dr. Fisherman (Marcel Aroita-Jauregui), who has just perfected a radio controlled creature, Andros (Hugo Blanco) who is actually his brother and the reanimated dead father of Melissa . Fisherman hides this fact from Melissa while sending Andros out on a murderous crime spree, targeting local women, who are performers in local nightclubs, as a way of proving his experiment works and of gaining satisfaction by acting out his hatred for women, which started when he caught his wife cheating on him with his brother.
This Blu-ray release is the French version (onscreen title LES MAITRESSSES DU DR. JEKYLL) with an added erotic insert which replaces the first murder scene in the Spanish version, EL SECRETO DEL DR. ORLOFF. Which means it’s still a murder scene depicting robot Andros killing a female employee of a local pub in Holfen, but the the actress who plays the victim in EL SECRETO… is replaced by a more scantily clad actress who performs a topless strip tease at the bar for a patron before she returns to her dressing room, disrobes further and is strangled by another body double who is supposed to be Andros. Another French version, broadcast by Australian’s SBS in the 1990s, has another erotic insert, depicting a second murder, featuring Jess Franco playing a piano in a sleazy hotel room while a female with him applies make up to a stuffed bird. She exits, goes up a flight of stairs, behind which Andros is lurking, and is strangled, again by a body double, as she takes a bath. Part of this scene, a view through a doorway of the victim’s unclothed body on the floor, remains in the eleven minutes of alternate, more sexually explicit, footage in the Special Features on the Redemption Blu-ray. Franco also plays a piano player in a nightclub in all other versions, as he does in his first horror film GRITOS EN LA NOCHE/THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF (1961). It’s obvious that Franco shot these alternate scenes, but not quite with the skill of the other, less explicit murders in the original Spanish versions, suggesting they were done quickly after being requested by the French co-producers (Eurocine aka Eurocineac) for the French market.
I noticed some details in this HD upgrade I hadn’t noticed over the course of many viewings, in particular the rough textured, cracked, dry skin of Andros mentioned by Tim Lucas in the very informative commentary. The exotic-erotic dance performances in the special features folder are full strength Euro-trashy, more Eurocine than Jess Franco. It fails the Howard Hawks test of a good film–three good scenes, no bad scenes (there are a number of very bad scenes)–but it’s very much worth seeing as a progress report. The main problem I have with the film itself is the beefy Spanish actor who plays Dr. Fisherman/Jekyll, he’s just a very bland performer and adds an unwelcome note of unintentional absurdity which breaks the somber mood. A horror film is as good as its villain and this has one of Franco’s most uninteresting villains. It’s a pretty rough hewn print, with noticeable scratches and marks throughout but the enhanced detail, commentary and additional scenes make it a worthwhile purchase. Transfer/video & Audio: B: Bonus material: B; Film: B-.
Soledad Miranda, left, in her first Jess Franco film, the 1960 musical comedy starring her mentor Mikaela Wood, right. A very colorful, Spanish inflected genre piece.
This is an absolutely delicious looking candy colored musical which was originally scheduled to be directed by the reliably workmanlike Leon Klimovsky, whom Franco worked with as a writer and assistant. The delightful mise en scene is entrancing from the opening shots, which are focused on the rooftops of a working class section of Madrid. It’s almost a cubist approach with pastel hues. The camera swoops down from an overhead angle on Mikaela Wood doing a whirling folk dance for the street people. As in so many of his films it begins in the midst of an erotic performance.
It’s a Universe away from the Gothic black and white nightmare world in the forthcoming GRITOS EN LA NOCHE (1961), where even the dancing girls seemed stifled by the imprisoning male gaze of Dr. Orloff (Howard Vernon). But there are no such malignant male gazes here, only gorgeous costumes, romantic intrigues and happy songs. It’s easy to get lost in this beautiful haze only equaled by the Hollywood musicals of Minelli and Donen. The longer Spanish version must be seen to be appreciated by Jess Franco enthusiasts and those who claimed Franco was a sloppy craftsman. Not here.
This would greatly benefit from a full 4k restoration. Music becomes the language of cinema and vice versa here. An essential starting point in the Jess Franco curriculum.
(C) Robert Monell, 2017