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

Robert Monell & Alex Mendíbil Blog Alliance

Update on new UK RB Jess Franco Blu-ray releases from Stephen Thower

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An update by Stephen Thrower on the new Nucleus UK releases of two Jess Franco horror classics. I’ll be reviewing these on my Franco blog in the future. These look to be significant upgrades in terms of content, video, audio and bonus features, including alternate editions of each film making them two for oners.

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Stephen Thrower added 3 new photos.

THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN and THE DEMONS: two peak period Jess Franco movies that no serious fan should be without, now available from Nucleus Films (http://nucleusfilms.com/) and featuring on camera interviews with yours truly! I’d also say that these two films are well worth buying if you’re curious about Franco but uncertain about where to start. Some will counsel caution and recommend the slightly more sober and conventional 1960s titles, but to hell with all that. Why not throw caution to the wind and grab these two – they’ll give you a fantastic insight into his freewheeling style in the 1970s.

Nucleus majordomo Marc Morris has done a huge amount of extraordinary work restoring THE DEMONS in particular. Here’s a list of some of the work he’s done which viewers and reviewers may not otherwise be aware of:

1. Incorrect aspect ratios on numerous shots fixed throughout.
2. White line frames removed throughout.
3. The soundtrack was out of synch throughout (sometimes by as much as 6 seconds). Marc has fixed this.
4. The soundtrack was missing audio, and in these scenes had been badly looped. Marc has located audio from alternate sources and replaced the annoying looped audio with correct audio where possible.
5. There was some German dialogue on the French soundtrack, which Marc has replaced with the correct French dialogue.
7. There were numerous instances of actors speaking with no dialogue heard on the soundtrack – now fixed.
8. There were numerous instances of dialogue spoken, with the actors’ mouths not moving – now fixed.
9. The dissolve from face freeze frame to skull was completely missing – Marc has added this back.
10. He has also created from scratch an English language master, which is believed to match the original English language export version.
11. German Trailer – On the Kino Blu-ray, this was incorrectly dubbed with random French audio from the movie. This has been replaced with the original German soundtrack.
12. Marc has also corrected the frame rates from 23.976 fps to 24 fps, so if you have exquisitely perfect musical pitch the soundtrack will now match your LP record of Jean-Michel Lorgère’s Trafic Pop!

And finally, look out for the startling fx shot included in the French trailer for Erotic Rites of Frankenstein which as far as I can recall doesn’t appear in any currently available version of the film. Face-ripping!

Written by Robert Monell

18 enero 2018 at 12:16 AM

Coming on Blu-ray 2/6/18

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One of Jess Franco’s very best sci-fi/horror thrillers is very much in the mode of his early  black and white Dr. Orloff films. This time around a student of Dr. Orloff invents the Z ray, capable of altering the psyche of criminals. But it must be tested on human subjects. His insane daughter plots revenge when the mad scientist succumbs to scientific ridicule. Meet the sensuous deadly Miss Muerte (Estella Blain) a sexy nightclub performer who acts out perverse, slashing fantasies of bloody vengeance on unsuspecting male victims. First time on Blu-ray,  from a new master! 738329228620

Written by Robert Monell

16 enero 2018 at 2:12 AM

LAS CHICAS DEL TANGA (1983)

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Robert Monell & Alex Mendíbil Blog Alliance

Updated version by Robert Monell; translation by Nzoog (c) 2017

LAS CHICAS DEL TANGA (1983)*

Below: Main title of an anthropological Beach Party film, Jess Franco style.

»* Registration date on final credit. Probably released later.

This is a wonderfully droll, multi-story mosaic, done in the signature style of Jess Franco at his most satirical and ironic. The subject is the tourist city of Benidorm, Spain. A group of tourists arrive and interact with some of the locals in amusing, touching and curious ways. One of Jess Franco’s love-hate letters to the city which he obviously finds crass and tastelessly designed. The city is an abstraction, cubism gone Las Vegas, a Le Corbusier nightmare. At least as photographed by Jess Franco.

It also illustrates how he uses the camera, music, montage and his stock company for expressing his personal, very mixed, feelings about Spanish culture at a specific place and time. He finds Benidorm, its residents and visitors, exuberant, rude and funny. Antonio Mayans, also the production manager, along with his wife and children, play key roles in the film. In a way, this film reminds me of Robert Altman’s Country & Western music epic, NASHVILLE (1975), only done on a no-budget scale and shot in a few days. The overall multi-story structure, the equal focus on many characters instead of one or two, the cynical tone, the aesthetics are very similar. A group portrait of numerous individuals intersecting in a certain place at a certain time, with bittersweet results. Below is a translation by Nzoog from the opening narration, followed by a plot summary:

The summer season’s nearing its end and the sun now rises much later. The city awakens, slowly and sleepily. The police cars are doing their last round while the cleaning women are hurrying up, as the first customers, those foreigners who rise along with the cocks, will be arriving very soon. A few madmen practice jogging, while some visitors, presumably from the furthermost northern countries, have the courage to bathe at dawn. The dawn is a misty one; we’re Benidorm. And it will not take long for the sun to assert itself in its daily struggle against the mist. The first children can be seen in the streets; the departure of a circus troupe has been announced; and the first Benidorm girl starts her frantic day’s work. Also, the first tourist, camera in hand, starts taking pictures of the city’s most unusual corners. Her name’s Ana and she’s a typical product of Benidorm: one of many girls who came here and decided to stay. His name’s Philippe and he seems particularly interested in the city’s chaotic architecture. Also, hovering around the town’s leading hotels, the first local playboys have begun their quest for female tourists.”
[Plot Summary]
In the tourist town of Benidorm, at the end of the summer season, several parallel stories unfold. Among the city’s visitors is Lola Clavijo, a Spanish Song performer who, in keeping with her professional image, insists on speaking with an Andalusian accent although she is from Murcia. During her stay, she becomes smitten by the charms of Curro, a penniless hustler who claims to be a marquis’s son. Curro has recently been ditched by his gold-digging girlfriend Ana, due to his lack of money. While skating around town in search of wealthy tourists who may take her abroad, Ana has several chance encounters with Philippe, a Dutch architect who is writing his doctoral thesis on the buildings in Benidorm. Ana decides to settle for Philippe in the belief that she will take her to Holland, although he insists that he is far from wealthy and no good for gold-digging purposes. Soon, their diversity in tastes draws the two apart and Ana returns to Curro, who has made away with the money and other property Lola Clavijo kept in her hotel room. The latter is horrified when she learns about the theft, but is relieved when it turns out that Marga, her sullen secretary, had kept the singer’s jewels in hiding. Marga finally imposes herself on Lola, telling her that she is to have no other lover than her secretary. Lola reluctantly accepts. Meanwhile, Tony, a local, manages to pick up a Frenchwoman by the name of Muriel. Although they are initially practically unable to communicate with each other due to the lack of a common language, a love affair blossoms between them. Muriel eventually learns more Spanish although she is somewhat put off by the old-fashioned Tony’s jealousy. Later, Tony learns that Muriel is dying but the two are willing to pursue their affair to the very end. Another strand concerns Paco, a bouncer and muscleman who is preparing for a sports competition. The body-builder rescues Charo, a streetwalker he has become infatuated with, from being assaulted by two thugs. Paco offers Charo, who has just been ejected from her flat, a room in his apartment. After some time, he expresses his desire to have sex with her; when Charo suddenly reveals herself as a transvestite, Paco brutally throws her out. Finally, however, he repents and resumes his relationship with Charo, offering to finance the latter’s sex-change operation if he wins the competition. Another of the town’s visitors is Juana, who arrives with her two small daughters, both of whom are given to asking for money in the streets so that they can spend it on video arcade games. Juana, long abandoned by her husband, discovers that he has found success as the drag singer Ángel Antequera. The artiste finally finds himself face to face with his family and returns to them.
[Thanks to Nzoog for the translation and plot summary]
Hopefully this very personal essay on a topic unknown to those who don’t know Spain or Jess Franco, but is universal in its human insight, will get a HD release it deserves.  This episodic celebration of love and life in the sunny Costa Del Sol is lighthearted but serious in its engagement with spatial-temporal meditations on the city and the various characters who inhabit it. Analia Ivars as thedelightful roller-skating girl and frequent 1980s DoP Juan Soler Cozar are two of the focal points.

The cinematographer (Juan Soler Cozar) and the production manager (Antonio Mayans) share a moment at a sidewalk cafe below the cement beehive architecture of Benidorm. The shady capital of Costa Del Sol tourism is a favorite site  for cultural/aesthetic ridicule from Jess Franco. Hopefully I’ll be able to study this further on DVD or in HD at some point in the future. I’ve just seen it online a few times at this point and an upgraded, English subtitled digital release would be very nice. The planned release with CAMINO SOLITARIO didn’t happen, as CAMINO … is being prepared with a different co-feature [Franco’s JUEGO SUCIO EN CASABLANCA-1984).

Tanga torre

Las chicas del tanga

Earlier version: Written by Robert Monell Editar

19 junio 2015 at 11:08 PM

LAS CHICAS DEL TANGA (1983)

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This is a wonderfully droll, multi-story mosaic, done in the signature style of Jess Franco at his most satiric and ironic. The subject is the tourist city of Benidorm, Spain. A group of tourists arrive and interact with some of the locals in amusing, touching and curious ways. One of Jess Franco’s love-hate letters to the city which he obviously finds crass and tastelessly designed. The city is cubism gone Las Vegas, a Le Corbusier nightmare. At least as photographed by Jess Franco.

It also illustrates how he uses his camera, music, montage and stock company for expressing his personal feelings about Spanish culture. Very mixed feelings. He finds it exuberant, rude and funny. Antonio Mayans narrates and was also the production manager, his wife and children play key roles in the film. In a way, this film reminds me of Robert Altman’s Country & Western music epic, NASHVILLE (1975), only done on a no-budget scale and shot in a few days. The overall multi-story structure, the equal focus on many characters instead of one or two, the cynical tone, the aesthetics are very similar. A group portrait of numerous individuals intersecting in a certain place at a certain time, with bittersweet results.

Below is a translation by Nzoog from the opening narration:

The summer season’s nearing its end and the sun now rises much later. The city awakens, slowly and sleepily. The police cars are doing their last round while the cleaning women are hurrying up, as the first customers, those foreigners who rise along with the cocks, will be arriving very soon. A few madmen practice jogging, while some visitors, presumably from the furthermost northern countries, have the courage to bathe at dawn. The dawn is a misty one; we’re Benidorm. And it will not take long for the sun to assert itself in its daily struggle against the mist. The first children can be seen in the streets; the departure of a circus troupe has been announced; and the first Benidorm girl starts her frantic day’s work. Also, the first tourist, camera in hand, starts taking pictures of the city’s most unusual corners. Her name’s Ana and she’s a typical product of Benidorm: one of many girls who came here and decided to stay. His name’s Philippe and he seems particularly interested in the city’s chaotic architecture. Also, hovering around the town’s leading hotels, the first local playboys have begun their quest for female tourists.” [Thanks to Nzoog]
Hopefully this very personal essay on a topic unknown to those who don’t know Spain or Jess Franco, but somehow universal in its insight, really needs an HD release.

Below: The cinematographer (Juan Soler Cozar) and the production manager (Antonio Mayans) share a moment at a sidewalk cafe below the bizarre architecture of Benidorm. The shady capital of Costa Del Sol tourism is a favorite site  for cultural/aesthetic ridicule from Jess Franco.

By Robert Monell and Nzoog (C) 2017

Written by Robert Monell

30 diciembre 2017 at 5:29 PM

Jess Franco’s GOLDEN FILMS INTERNACIONAL, S.A.: HISTORIA SEXUAL DE O.

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Filmed in 1981, but released in 1983, this erotic drama gradually spirals into S&M territory and digs deeply into that dark landscape. It’s also one of the director’s most visually ravishing films. The beauty of the Costa Del Sol’s vegetation, coastal formations and dappled light emanating

from a tangerine Sun floating in a velvet sky. Actually, this erotic drama is another version of Sade’s PHILOSOPHY IN THE BOUDOIR (1795), which Franco had filmed with more or less success a number of times before (cf EUGENIE THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION-1970).

Below: Odile “O” reads from Norman Mailer’s novel THE NAKED AND THE DEAD.

 

All of the gorgeously framed and lit images have an almost supernatural glow to them, a radiance which often occurs in Franco’s Golden Films Internacional productions of the early to mid 1980s. Franco told me when I interviewed him that these films were “very poor” by which he meant low budget but that he had total creative freedom and the final cut while editing. So they are 100 percent pure Jess Franco, with no artistic or commercial compromises or producer interference.  Also at that time Spanish censorship had ceased pre-editing/rejecting submitted script proposals as they did with Franco’s screenplays of the 1960s and 70s period. THE SEXUAL STORY OF O was a clasificada “S” release, which indicated it was an Adult film.

Historia Sexual de O
1981 86 MINUTES European Trash Cinema and Video Search of Miami (U.S. import); Severn Films DVD. DIRECTED BY JESS FRANCO WITH: ALICIA PRINCIPE (ODILE), CARMEN CARRION, DANIEL KATZ, MAMIE KAPLAN, MAURO RIVERA

Odile, a beautiful but naive young woman vacationing in Spain, attracts the attentions of a voyeuristic couple who live across from her hotel. The couple spy on her as she lounges around naked, and when they invite her over for a session of grou sex, Odile gives in immediately.

After spending days enjoying this menage a trois, the couple take Odile to the villa of the wealthy Wanda Von Karlstein, where the sex continues. Wanda’s perverted husband (Daniel [MIL SEXOS TIENE LA NOCHE] Katz) drugs Odile’s drink and rapes her. When she awakens, Odile is chained to a bed, and her captors have sado-erotic torture and murder in mind. One of her abductors has a sudden attack of remorse before finding her mutilated body, murders the Von Karlsteins with a shotgun, and walks into the ocean carrying Odile’s dead body.  This final image echos the ending of Franco’s 1973 LA COMTESSE PERVERSE, which also featured a naive female character who is lured by a more experienced couple into the clutches of an older, depraved couple, who in that case were cannibals. Jacques Tourneur’s I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, the 1943 Val Lewton produced horror classic also had an ending where a male protagonist walked into the ocean carrying the murdered body of a beautiful young woman. It’s very likely Jess Franco was consciously or unconsciously referencing that RKO B movie in both films.

HISTORIA SEXUAL DE O is quite a bit more engaging than most of Franco’s sometimes tedious sex-a-thons of this period. The flowery, tropical locations and gorgeous cinematography offers a counterpoint to the downbeat melodrama. A melancholy female vocal, composed by Daniel White and first heard in Eurocine’s 1973 Paul Naschy medical horror CRIMSON, sets a sombre tone throughout,  which Franco maintains until the very last shot of the blazing sun beating down on the aftermath of violence and death. There are many effective visual and aural touches throughout, which amplify the theme of corrupted innocence. For instance, the victim is first seen wandering in an idyllic garden reading excepts from Norman Mailer’s “The Naked and the Dead,” literally her own fate.  As she reads we hear the text narrated by the melodious voice of frequent Jess Franco actor/dubber Antonio Mayans, although he does not play a physical role in the film. It is also significant that Odile’s abductors use Beethoven’s famous chorus from his Ninth Symphony to seduce her attention, underscoring the Henry James theme of Old World decadence preying on Odile’s New World American innocence/gullibility.

As Odile, Alicia Principe (a.k.a. Alicia Pedreira) offers sensuality and modernity with a tragic ignorance of the brutal ways of the world. Exotic looking Carmen Carrion and the gaunt, sinister Daniel Katz are well-cast as the wealthy tormentors. Katz’s impotent freak-out while raping Odile is especially blood-curdling.

There is also a subtle sociological subtext similiar to the situation in Franco’s 1973 THE PERVERSE COUNTESS, wherein owning class villains use a financially struggling middle-class couple to provide victims for their bloodlust. In both films, this class manipulation creates a scene in which a henchman turns on his vicious employers. The distance between classes is constantly exposed and illustrated in these films.

The long, excruciating sequence detailing Odile’s torture and slow, painful death are filmed through filters which create intoxicating red, blue and emerald halations which harshly contrast with the ugly actions, as chains, whips, and studded medieval-style weapons are used to strip away her flesh. Franco encourages us to become emotionally engaged with the victim while using this aesthetic distancing effect which ratchets the level of intensity even higher. But at the same time it’s as if he doesn’t want us to get too caught up in something which is only a story staged in a film. What matters most is the beauty of the light, the colors, the floral arrangements, the early journeys of the fishermen in their small boats who are totally obvious to the cruel fiction which is unfolding in the the villa on the shore.

This wouldn’t be the final time that Franco filmed a variation of this Sade story.

 

(C) Robert Monell 2017

Written by Robert Monell

29 noviembre 2017 at 5:15 AM

DRACULA CONTRO FRANKENSTEIN (Blu-ray) Review.

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Thanks to Francesco Cesari for additional  information and consultation on the making of this film and for helping me get a copy of this Blu-ray release.

I have managed to collect a good number of VHS and digital releases of this 1972 Jess Franco monster rally. There are several levels I want to discuss this film on: as a collector’s item; the film itself; this particular HD release; the legacy of the film, which is the first entry in an unofficial monsters-from-Universal Pictures, Jess Franco style, trilogy, the others being LA FILLE DE DRACULA (1972) and LA MALDICION DE FRANKENSTEIN/THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN (1972).

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First, it must be remembered that 1971-1972 was a very hectic time in Jess Franco’s already chaotic career. After the loss of his muse Soledad Miranda in mid 1970, the director was at loose ends. His “personal period” included films he made from the time when he left the Harry Alan Towers stable, NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT (actually made before his break with Towers), EUGENIE DE SADE (1970), the lost SEX CHARADE, VAMPYROS LESBOS and SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY (all 1970 and featuring Miranda). THE DEVIL CAME FROM AKASAVA, was also made with Miranda, her very last film before her untimely death in August 1970. But AKASAVA is hardly a “personal” project and despite its obsessive demonstration of the telezoom, could have been directed by any of the German Edgar Wallace specialists of that era, which was rapidly drawing to a close. It was as if Franco were using the zoom lens as a way to visually scream his visual imprint onto sub-standard material (cf Mario Bava’s equally zoom-ridden direction of FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON-1970).

Jess Franco was ready to get back into personal film-making again, although his film-making is always somehow personal in terms of his habit of twisting his attitudes and personality into the most commercial, prepackaged product (ie ROBINSON AND HIS SEXY SLAVES-1971).  His admiration for the Universal Pictures horror films of the 1930s and 1940s knew no bounds, it was as intense as his disdain for the Hammer remakes of the Universal classics, which he found “cold”.  He had made his own version of DRACULA, which was more of a Harry Alan Towers version in end result and only Pere Portabella’s experimental, on-set documentary CUADECUC-VAMPIR could be considered a successful by-product of that shoot.  With DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN he would go back to his own experimental approach, which can be seen in parts of VAMPYROS LESBOS, based on Bram Stoker’s DRACULA’S GUEST, but 100 per cent Jess Franco style.

Filmed in a period between early December, 1971 and January 14, 1972, this French,  Portuguese, Spanish co-production was filmed largely in Sintra and Cascais, Portugal, the exteriors were mainly shot in Sintra,* on many of the locations familiar from A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD, which was previously shot there earlier in 1971, with some exteriors in Alicante,  Spain. Francesco Cesari adds that the film was viewed by Spanish censorship on Feb. 4th, 1972 at a run-time of 87m. Most versions of the film now available on DVD/Blu-ray run about 82 minutes, the Divisa DVD from Spain is listed at 85 minutes. None of the extant versions contain nudity or uncovered takes as in the “director’s cut” of LA MALDICION DE FRANKENSTEIN (1972).**

The screenplay is obviously based on Franco’s enthusiasm for the 1940s “monster rally” films of Universal Pictures, particularly  HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945).  That film features the Frankenstein monster (Glenn Strange), Dracula (John Carradine), the Wolfman (Lon Chaney Jr.), who all gather at the castle of a scientist  (Onslow Stevens) who attempts to “cure” them using scientific methods, rather than religious/occult ones. That film, released on December 7, 1945, was a commercial success. But the next Universal monster rally was the 1948 comedy ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKSENSTEIN, which is actually quite amusing and also works as a fairly atmospheric Gothic horror film. The director of HOUSE OF DRACULA was Erle C. Kenton (ISLAND OF LOST SOULS) a more than competent craftsman whom Jess Franco sometimes mentioned in interviews as an inspiration, both being consigned to B, B minus or B plus productions and not generally taken seriously as auteurs. DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN was shown in France, Spain, Italy and sometimes in North American and the UK. One English language double bill was with Leon Klimovsky’s similar monster mash, WEREWOLF SHADOW/LA NOCHE DE WALPURGIS (1970), featuring Paul Naschy in the werewolf role Lon Chaney made famous. HOUSE OF DRACULA only lasts barely over an hour and Franco’s DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN has a similar programmer sense of dispatch, look and feel.

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I first encountered DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN as a grey market dupe titled DRACULA, PRISONER OF FRANKENSTEIN, then Wizard Video’s Big Box THE SCREAMING DEAD and Midnight Video’s VHS release of the Japanese video of the film, which was the only one properly framed at 2.35:1, but containing the English language export cut, complete with the post-production diary readings.  The Midnight Video version was the way to go for me for years simply because it preserved Franco’s compositions, executed by Jose Climent and Alberto Prous. Most disappointing were the IMAGE and DIVISA DVDs, which besides being distorted and incomplete, had the problem of watered down color and poor definition.

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However, only the Divisa and Image DVDs open with the “quote” from David Khunne about the nature of the monsters: “The Vampire, a sinister night dweller, was sleeping his eternal slumber, when Dr. Frankenstein decided to seize him. He unleashed a fight between two Titans of Death, and in its wake, the other monsters, nightmare creatures, would awaken from their lethargic sleep, as a terrifying and devastating chorus.– David H. Khunne–“. The David Khunne beard is the name Franco used to supposedly write pulp novels at various times in his career, none of which have ever surfaced. He sometimes signs his films with the name. For instance, his 1982 zombie horror film MANSION DE LOS MUERTOS VIVIENTES, is based on a David Khunne novel according to the opening credits. Here it acts as a personal epigraph for this experimental genre version of HOUSE OF DRACULA. Note that he uses the word “chorus” to describe the other monsters, The Wolfman and Lady Dracula here, played by Brandy*** and Britt Nichols. Referring to these characters as a chorus indicates again that Jess Franco, an accomplished musician and composer of music for his own and other director’s films, uses musical analogies when conceiving and directing his films. He has said that the considers himself a musician who makes films. Francesco Cesari, who has acquired many original Jess Franco screenplays, confirms that the one for DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN is written more like a prose novel than a conventional film, which is carried out in the finished film itself, which has very little dialogue, and no dialogue whatsoever in the first quarter hour or so. It was conceived as his personal, down market, pure cinema variation on the Hollywood and Hammer models of famous monster films.

Both the IMAGE and DIVISA DVDS are not framed at the 2.35:1 Techniscope ratio, but default to an approximately 1.90:1 ratio, cropping off crucial visual information. Both DVDs also end prematurely, abruptly cutting off Bruno Nicolai’s orchestral end music before it reaches it crescendo. The Blu-ray does retain the 2.35:1 ratio and does let the end music play out as the camera slowly zooms black from the castle nestled on the misty mountaintop. The Midnight Video tape also retains the correct aspect ratio and the complete ending, albeit containing the reworked English language release with the diary readings and additional dialogue written by Rome based English language dubbing director Richard McNamara.

If an “uncovered” version exists it has never surfaced, although there have been reports of screenings in France in the early 1970s. The extant director’s cut is very successful as a silent film style Gothic comic book, but one which will disappoint Hammer fans looking for the types of lavish sets and literate dialogue which characterize those efforts. And it must be remembered that Hammer was also a B budget operation. Franco’s film is obviously under-dressed and under resourced. Early in the film we see mid 20th Century automobiles and a motorized hearse in the cobbled streets of the picturesque Portuguese locations. The costuming of Dracula, the Frankenstein monster and Lady Dracula, along with Doctor Seward (Alberto Dalbes) is strictly 19th Century, as is the gentleman’s wardrobe of Doctor Frankenstein (played by a bloated, tired looking Dennis Price, who according to Franco began drinking alcohol on set in the early morning hours). He looks depressed and not wanting to be there, and he probably did the best he could under those desperate circumstances. But he’s a far cry from the poised, articulate elegance of Peter Cushing’s Doctor Frankenstein’s in the Hammer series, from THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN to FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL> Hence the derisive attitude hardcore Hammer fans often display toward Franco’s dilapidated looking efforts.  But Franco allows his passion for personal, experimental cinema to emerge in other ways.

DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN, when seen the way it was intended, is a no-budget fever dream of a committed cinephiliac. Franco is fast forwarding the Universal and Hammer models into his own personal parody/critique. It’s as if he were writing a scholarly critique on horror history using the zoom lens as his pen. The film opens and closes with zoom shots, a rapid zoom out from a Portuguese tower in the opening shot and closing with a zoom out from Frankenstein’s castle, after the monsters have been destroyed by Dr. Frankenstein himself, who spears Dracula through the heart, electrocuting Lady Dracula and the Frankenstein monster with his sub Strickfaden electronic power station. The electrical effects are on about the same level as Al Adamson’s 1971 DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN, which actually used some of the vintage equipment of  Kenneth Strickfaden (1896-1984), who created the elaborate control panels, ribbed ceramic insulators and blinking lights for such horror classics as FRANKENSTEIN (1931), THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (1932), THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974). Franco, of course, didn’t have a Hollywood budget, not even an Al Adamson one, so created his science fiction laboratory using colored lights, levers, dials and sound effects.

The monster make-up on Dracula and the Frankenstein monster is barely adequate, featuring painted and penciled in facial markings, scars, etc., with very ratty looking formal wear for Dracula, including the top hat evoking Baron Latoes in HOUSE OF DRACULA, and garbage dump rags for Frankenstein. The wolf-man facial make-up is quite pathetic and not lingered on. Only Britt Nicholl’s elegantly erotic Lady Dracula comes off as a credible, original creation. In fact, the actresses here, Josiane Gibert as the doomed cabaret singer, Genvieve Deloir as the gypsy and Paca Galaban’s mentally disturbed Maria are much more defined and interesting characters than the male leads. They have to react to the mad scientists and monsters, who are pretty much one-dimensional menaces in Franco’s raggedy mise-en-scene. But it’s all propelled by rather effective editing and the constantly propulsive zoom lens. At times the zoom shots seem almost synchronized with the impressive, rumbling Bruno Nicolai cues from EL CONDE DRACULA.

When I interviewed him in 2005 Jess Franco described his theory and practice of staging horror-fantastique scenes as one of working like a painter or opera director, using shapes, areas and colors as tools. He particularly emphasized his preference for the 2.35:1 Scope format, which he said allowed him to work as a muralist and have three different staging areas in one frame, center, right, left, and that he would attempt to have different actions going on simultaneously in each area within that frame during the duration of the shot. This is why the resulting film looks so jam packed with atmospheric architectural, geographical, topological, geometrical, sometimes geological detail, all of which permit the stylized movements of the deliberately unrealistic characters to unfold  against that backdrop, bathed in pools of crimson, gold and aquamarine light.  For instance, the striking image of the shadow of the vampire bats on a plush crimson carpet in the villa of the victim played by Antonio Da Cabo (DEVIL HUNTER). Another striking scene floods the screen with noxious red light as Morpho (Luis Barboo) molests the exsanguinated dead body of the cabaret singer. Then there are Maria’s garish water color paintings which evoke a child like attempt at a Van Gogh or Matisse canvas.  It’s all part of a nightmare world which refuses to awaken.

The Colosseo Film Blu-ray presentation utilizes a full 2.35:1 Italian Cinemascope print titled DRACULA CONTRO FRANKENSTEIN.  It does not have the sparkling luster of a transfer from original camera negatives. To finally see it properly framed, is something of a revelation. The colors are rich, saturated and as bold as they were intended. They have the eye popping quality of a freshly minted EC comic book. Unfortunately the image quality is rather dark and unsharp, although not as soft as the previous DVDs. There is also the odd issue of a light source which appears at variable intervals on the far right side of the scope frame, and then quickly disappears only to reappear again later. There is also some evidence of fading at the far edges of the side frames and an occasional color distortion in the same area, which also quickly disappears. Some cleaning has been done to remove scratches, lines and other marks from the image as illustrated in a Before and After Belspiele der Restauration featurette.  There is also a Jess Franco interview and a 6 page booklet by Gerald Kuklinski in German, along with a photo/poster gallery. The crucial audio options include German, Spanish and Italian language tracks, with English and German subtitles available. The way to go for me is the Spanish language track with English subtitles.

In the final analysis Dr. Frankenstein’s plan of world domination via the monsters is patently absurd and as unworkable as the mad doctor plots in DOCTOR X  (I932) and THE MAD MONSTER (1942).  But this is an enjoyably outre, comic book style operetta-monster rally as only Jess Franco could realize and bring to life. This Blu-ray debut of this title is a welcome, if somewhat flawed, edition, which at least is a complete HD 2.35:1 presentation of the director’s cut. I guess a 2 or 4K scan of original camera negatives would be the ultimate release, along with the legendary “nude” version, if it indeed exists.

DIE NACHT DER OFFENEN SARGE Blu-ray (2017)

(C) Robert Monell, 2017

[* In discussing this film Italian Jess Franco scholar Francesco Cesari notes that Sintra, which he visited, “…is a town out of time. You have the feeling of being in another time. The mood of Sintra is the film’s mood.”]

[** Jess Franco stated in my 2005 telephone interview with him that he preferred the uncovered, nude version, THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN, which he referred to as the “erotic version.” ]

[***Brandy is the name of the Spanish stunt actor who sometimes doubled for Paul Naschy as the werewolf in such films as THE WEREWOLF AND THE YETI (1976), a very different type of monster rally and a much more athletic one]

Written by Robert Monell

27 octubre 2017 at 10:41 PM

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