SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY- Severin Bluray review.
To cut to the chase, given the fact that it’s a complete, stunningly restored HD presentation, one should not hesitate to order the beautiful to behold new Blu-ray of Jess Franco’s furiously paced, sexually charged 1970 erotic thriller featuring the immortal Soledad Miranda, giving one of her most ferociously committed performances. Severin Films has given this title a definitive presentation.
Featuring mad scientists, necrophilia, seduction, murder, mutilation and bloody vengeance acted out by Miranda, SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY has never looked this good on any previous US video/disc presentation. More later on this gold standard release of another Jess Franco excursion into sado-erotic horror. Another essential HD release from Jess Franco’s Soledad Miranda canon which makes all previous US releases obsolete.
ABOVE: abstract painting in a visually abstract film…
The above painting, supposedly created by one of Soledad Miranda’s vengeance fueled role plays in the plot, displayed in order to seduce and destroy one of her late husband’s tormentors, is a good example of the highly stylized visual atmosphere Jess Franco created for this tale which might have been adapted from a story by Edgar Wallace. A prolific author whom Artur Brauner, the German producer of this film, adapted into a number of highly successful W. German films in the 1960s.
Dr. Johnson (Fred Williams) is happily married to his beautiful wife (Miranda) but spends most of his time conducting illegal and ethically suspect, at least to the local Medical Council, experiments on human embryos. He is censured by the board and barred from practicing medicine. The inflexible officials include Howard Vernon and Jess Franco himself. Dr. Johnson reacts to the verdict by lapsing onto catatonia, eventually committing suicide. The remainder of the film details the relentless, sexual/sadistic vengeance which Mrs. Johnson visits on the officials, stalking, seducing and slashing each the three men to death, after sexually mutilating them. The female board member (Ewa Stromberg-VAMPYROS LESBOS), is the victim of a lesbian seduction and eventual suffocation by a plastic designer pillow. Outside of Miranda’s intense performance, mood swinging from melancholy to coolly seductive, she turns her grief into violent fury, cutting throats, castrating and slashing the men to death with thrust after thrust of her knife as a bottomless fury burns in her almond eyes. After EUGENIE DE SADE (1970) this is probably Miranda’s most accomplished performance in the titles made in the months leading up to her tragic death in August, 1970. SEX CHARADE and JULIETTE are still MIA. She appears briefly in Franco’s 1960 QUEEN OF THE TABARIN and NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT (1970). She also turns in a passionate performance as Lucy in the Towers-Franco EL CONDE DRACULA (1970).
Fred Williams, as Franco points out in the bonus interview, is not a dynamic actor, and the director would have preferred Klaus Kinski as the mad scientist. He’s notably dull opposite Miranda, but Howard Vernon and Jess Franco make amusing heavies as the nasty medical officials and Paul Muller (EUGENIE DE SADE) probably gives the best male performance here as a guilt stricken, fear wracked board member who knows he is being targeted.
What’s most interesting about this obviously hurried, low budget production is how visually striking it manages to be at almost every moment. Opening with close ups of the experimental embryos crushed into rectangular glass containers and proceeding through a series of geometrical locations, most notably the cubist Ricardo Bofill house near Alicante, also the main location for LA COMTESSE PERVERSE and EUGENIE, HISTORIA DE UNA PERVERSION (1980), two later visually striking entries. Franco is always more interesting when working out scenes as pure cinema rather than blocking out expository dialogue sequences, as he does here in routine police procedural interludes featuring the always grinning local inspector played by popular German actor Horst (DERRICK) Tappert.
The zoom lens is in full metal fury here as it crashes into the vertical towers lining Spain’s sun coast, as if the director wanted to fill the screen with their high rise solidity in the midst of the sexual melodrama. It’s also interesting that the inquiry into the experiments is blocked out and edited as if it were a criminal court proceeding or a witch trial during the Inquisition, the latter which was referenced in Franco’s THE BLOODY JUDGE, THE DEMONS and other titles.
The wedding of the Johnsons is also staged in a noticeably abstract manner with the bride and groom facing the camera, immobile with slight smiles on their faces, as if uncomfortably posing for a wedding photographer. The blocking is deliberately unrealistic and the camera /editing seem anxious to bring more geometrical objects, shapes, areas, structures, to attention. The pristine 1080p Full HD resolution allows us to “see” the film for the first time. The 1.66:1 transfer offers razor sharp detail and the gorgeous color patterns of clothing, the pop art/early 70s furniture/decor all spattered with bright crimson as the the blonde/ redheaded/brunette Miranda slashes her way through the villains as she races toward oblivion. “The shapes are so hard..” “It’s a play of colors” as a conversation discussing the abstracts of Mrs. Johnson’s blonde alternate identity goes.
In a way the candy colored mise-en-scene, another brassy, upbeat Hubler-Schwab score, this time with some moody choral themes added by Bruno Nicolai, and the psycho-sexual intensity all add up to a personal take and updating on the thriller formats Franco and Brauner worked in the 1960s in their horror/krimi projects. The final Franco-Brauner-Miranda film, THE DEVIL CAME FROM AKASAVA, made immediately after this and completed days before the death of the actress, who by that time had become the director’s muse, was rather generic and conventional, but still energetic and with personal touches, by comparison.
Severin’s Special Limited 2-Disc Collectors Edition can’t be recommended highly enough. Loaded with pertinent bonus materials, including an interview with the ancient but still game Paul Muller discussing the joys and frustrations of working with the director, and a CD containing the scores for this film, VAMPYROS LESBOS and THE DEVIL CAME FROM AKASAVA, Jess Franco collectors and cult cinema enthusiasts just can’t go wrong. It should be noted that the previous UD DVDs, from SYANPSE and IMAGE, were incomplete, censoring the bloody sex killings of the Howard Vernon and Jess Franco characters, incidental other footage at the end and beginning of scenes was also missing. Those cuts and trims have all been discovered and restored here.
(C) Robert Monell, 2015