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

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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 a 5:15 AM

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