Jess Franco Countdown to Halloween
It’s the Halloween season and I’m going to watch as many related Jess Franco films as possible and post some thoughts on them here.
Tonight I’m revisiting one of the first of his films I saw on video, way back in 1986, A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD. I saw this surrealistic fever dream of longing and death via a much cut/altered/censored version, on WIZARD VIDEO. It was in an oversize box and the back was illustrated with stills from a different movie. I believe the stills were from THE INVISIBLE DEAD, a 1970 Eurocine effort directed by Pierre Chevalier and featuring Howard Vernon. Or were they stills from Jean Rollin’s abysmal ZOMBIE LAKE (1980), or another Franco release from WIZARD? The memory fades but even in that highly compromised presentation I was intrigued enough to collect numerous other alternate versions, each one more interesting than the previous, until the REDEMPTION Blu-ray gave it the treatmetn it deserved. It was close as possible to a “Director’s Cut” and lost all those tedious, ineptly staged (by Jean Rollin again) zombie attacks. It was a wonderful feeling to finally have it in hand. It also had the longer, zombie enhanced version, as a Special Feature, just in case one gets an attack of nostalgia, WIZARD VIDEO style. The Blu-ray wasn’t perfect but it’s the best yet presentation and includes an interesting, informative audio commentary by Tim Lucas, the English dubbed version, the superior French language track with English subtitles, an extra erotic scene with Alice Arno and Eurocine co., a 16m interview with the director on the making of the film, a documentary on the various alternate versions, and much more.
In any version my favorite part remains the mind bending final reel where the main character is led into the underwater realm of the dead by the “Queen of the Night” (Anne Libert), the entire cast, Jess Franco’s subnormal Basilio included, follow her into the land beyond life, between Heaven and Hell, a non-place where one spends eternity. Filmed inexpensively and quickly, with an experimental edge, using wide angle lenses, H.G. Lewis style splatter and Jungian symbolism, this is like no other Jess Franco film. It stands alone.
Basilio (Jess Franco) guides Christina (Christina Von Blanc) into the realm of the living dead, in this case the dysfunctional family from Hell. Filmed on oneiric, overgrown, architecturally stunning locations near Sintra, Portugal, this film is more like a short story by Poe, or Becquer (according to the director), or a macabre poem by Baudelaire, than typical horror product, but one infused with the personal poetry and bizarre iconography of Jess Franco. It could be described as Jacques Lacan meets Ted V. Mikels. A monograph could be composed on the use of water imagery. With a great, somber, lyrical score by Bruno Nicolai.
I would never have thought when renting the ancient WIZARD VIDEO 30 years ago that the film would ever get this deluxe treatment. And there are more Jess Franco films to come in 2016, remastered in HD. from Bret Wood and the folks at REDEMPTION. Happy Halloween!
(C) Robert Monell, 2015