Looking at the very best of Jess Franco’s films made for producer Erwin C. Dietrich’s Elite Film co. in Zurich, I would count the visually delirious DAS FRAUENHAUS aka BLUE RITA as one of the most original in terms of the “look” alone, along with my own favorite, DORIANA GRAY (1976). Of course, JACK THE RIPPER and LOVE LETTERS OF A PORTUGUESE NUN (both also 1976) are also superior to the welter of WIP and Women in Peril Franco entries made mostly in 1976-1977.
Franco made at least 15 films in a two year period for the producer, including two which only surfaced in the last few years (WEISSE HAUT UND SCHWARZE SCHENKEL, long thought a Dietrich-directed hardcore from 1976, will be covered here in the future). BLUE RITA could be called a Women In Peril subgenre item but it’s porno-comic book aesthetic, seemingly painted by Andy Warhol in his Campbell Soup can phase or photographed by Richard Avedon, qualifies it as a more personal remake of the failed Adult Comic Book THE GIRL FROM RIO/SUMURU 2, a 1968 shot in Rio Eurospy adventure (without a real Eurospy!) written and produced by the clever Harry Alan Towers.
Shot in erotic sci-fi interiors including see-through plastic furniture, ubiquitous mannequins, secret torture cages wherein drugged diplomats and spies are sexually stimulated, blackmailed and controlled through a tease and denial regimen which include a green slimy fluid which is poured over their chained, naked bodies during sado-erotic interrogation. This all occurs within the walls of the Blue Rita club, located in a once upscale area of Paris. A men’s club where women perform exotic dances to lure the customers into the clandestine brothel located in the upper floors. It’s all very much like NAKED SUPER WITCHES OF THE RIO AMORE aka CAPTIVE WOMEN (1980), complete with the “love drug” from that and other Jess Franco adventures.
The phosphorescent colored smoke, tropical color gel lighting, weird control panels complete with red, green and yellow lights, stainless steel doorways leading to canary yellow love chambers, are all part of the dream-fantasy. There is no reality here whatsoever. It’s James Bond’s worst nightmare, or maybe his most closest guarded fantasy. Rita (Marine Flety) has a violet hairdo, a mean streak and is sexually frustrated to the point where she has to be given regular vaginal injections. The always welcome Pamela Stanford (“Standford” in the German credits; there’s also a reported hard French version titled BLUE RITA instead of DAS FRAUENHAUS. Anyone have any information on that alternate?) appears as the club hench-woman Gina, who is introduced wearing a gas mask and ruthless runs down a sex worker.
It’s all very other dimensional, West German soft-core graphic novel lightweight but that’s OK. It’s Uncle Jess making another European Trash Cinema erotic comic book filled with nonsense adventures acted out by seductive, dangerous women where the males of the species are dummies, dupes and sex objects.
DP Ruedi Kuttel gives it all a day glow sheen and at times it seems to want to open up into full 3 D delirium. Big brute Eric Falk appears as Iron Curtain spymaster Janosch Lasssard who becomes the focus of the intrigue when an Interpol double agent is introduced. Catherine Coutet appears as The Princess, who has a third eye painted on her forehead and seems a kind of spiritual red herring. Franco regular Olivier Mathot is a victim of the sex trap and Henri Guegan is yet another Inspector Tanner, the universal representation of Law and Order in the world of Jess Franco. LORNA, THE EXORCIST’s Guy Delmore also is a welcome presence as Bergen, another typical Franco henchman.
I would say this is a must-see for the Jess Franco initiate and those wanting to experience the director’s aesthetic range. His cine comic books are live action representations of the pulps he devoured as he came into his own. There are comic book elements in most key Franco films, from LABIOS ROJOS (1960), KISS ME MONSTER, ROTE LIPPEN, SUCCUBUS/NECRONOMICON, LUCKY THE INSCRUTABLE (all 1967), CARTES SUR TABLE (1966), LOS BLUES DE LA CALLE POP… (1984), SLAVES OF CRIME (1986), the aforementioned SUMURU 2, THE CASTLE OF FU MANCHU (1969), DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN, LA MALDICION DE FRANKENSTEIN (both 1972), DR. WONG’S VIRTUAL HELL and many more. Let’s face it, Jess Franco was way ahead of the pop cultural game, he got there before SIN CITY, MTV, FACEBOOK, et. al. And all the time he was basically trying to be himself, make a living, a make films the way he wanted to make them. And sometimes, just make films any way he could. The more comic book in style, the better. But he could also do more, much more….
Thanks to Pamela Stanford (Monique Delaunay) for confirming that Robert De Nesle was indeed the co-producer of this for his C.F.F>P. Paris company and showed up on the Paris set to rush things along and deal with a soaked-in-green-slime Olivier Mathot exiting the set in disgust.
VOODOO PASSION (1977) is a good example of Jess Franco making films just for the sake of making films. A pointless remake of Les Cauchemars Nasssent la Nuit (1970), which would he later again revisit in the much more personal, dynamic, Golden Films Internacional Production, MIL SEXOS TIENE LA NOCHE (1982). This one appears to have been again shot in Dietrich’s Zurich studio interiors with added inserts including a group of topless black women engaged in a ritual “voodoo dance’ on a beach under the opening credits. This seems to be from another film as do several other inserts, mostly long shots establishing the tropical locations. Some versions add an English language narration to the opening which speaks about the nature and origin of Voodoo.
The Haiti setting is unconvincing from the outset and another Eurospy subplot is added by making Jack Taylor, in what may be his very last Franco appearance, a Russian agent posing as the British Consul in Port-au-Prince, who is using his gullible wife (Ada Tauler) in a plot to start World War Three by hypnotizing her into murdering a series of locally posted international officials. It’s all very unbelievable and one would think that Franco is having fun, but it’s all played dead serious, or at least deadpan. But it’s not deadpan black comedy. Olga (Karine Gambier), as Taylor’s sister, is having a none-too-clandestine affair with her brother and Ines (Vicky Adams), a tall, menacing retainer knows about it and where all the bodies are buried, and as it turns out, will be buried.
Ms. Tauler is not a very accomplished actress, to say the least, and appeared to even less effect in the equally disappointing LOVE CAMP (1977). She has only one expression, that of open mouthed shock at the arcane goings-on and she appears noticeably uncomfortable in her numerous sex scenes with Taylor and Karine Gambier. The only credible performance is given by Ms. Gambier, as the confused, highly sexed Olga who turns out to be smarter than anyone realizes. The nightmare wcenes are staged with a visual flair, accompanied by voodoo drumming, shot through with reflections, bright colors, jarring angles and sudden violence, which somewhat distinguish them from the otherwise flatly presented proceedings.
The ridiculously frenzied voodoo dancing in the these scenes, with heightened colors, ritual slaughter of animals and atmospheric dislocations therein, are the only point of interest here and it doesn’t appear if the director had the interest to put his full energy into it outside of the occasionally striking camera set up.
Ruf de Blonden Gottin registers as definite Tier Three Jess Franco, for the curious completest only. “Vicky Adams” is sometimes identified as Nadia Van Bergen, but other information suggests that is not her actual identity, since she is not the same “Nadia Van Bergen’ as the wardress in the hapless LOVE CAMP. Does anyone know her actual name and/or any other information about her additional filmography, if any?
(C) Robert Monell, 2015