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

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EL SEXO ESTA LOCO (1980): The Mirror and the Exhibitionist. 

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Written by Robert Monell

20 septiembre 2017 at 1:04 AM

Jess Franco and Claude Chabrol

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A DOUBLE TOUR (Claude Chabrol 1959)In the above image, from A DOUBLE TOUR/LEDA, the seemingly respectable aristocrat Richard Marchoux  reclines as he contemplates the murder of his father’s mistress (Antonella Laudli). This was Chabrol’s first thriller which examined and subtly satirized the French bourgeoise. The family unit here is a gradually imploding, quietly dysfunctional system which results in alienation and violence. The quiet, gentle heir to a rural estate, is a monster created by the class regulations and repressed violence of the rural bourgeoisie.

The bucolic area of France’s wine region is the backdrop for this film which set the template for Chabrol’s moody series of subversions of the mystery genre, which would achieve an apex with LE BOUCHER (1970) and LA RUPTURE (1971).  Chabrol always cloaked his work in the clothing of genre which he bored into with the slow persistence of a probe making its way through subterranean layers to find the truth of a scene or a character. This disturbing, gorgeously shot film was streaming on the Amazon channels recently.

EL SECRETO DEL DR. ORLOFF has a similar theme and characters, and I thought of EL SECRETO as I watched A DOUBLE TOUR for the first time recently.  In the strikingly similar shot below, Dr. Fisherman, estranged from his wife and the world, quietly contemplates murdering local women with the help of Andros, the radio controlled living dead robot he has created. He’s the generic “mad scientist” but there’s something else going on underneath the surface. As with many Jess Franco scenarios the fear of and desire for women turn some men into monsters.

There are numerous interesting parallels here and in the filmography’s  of both auteurs. A Chabrol film has a certain look, feel, vibration, conceit which is personal and recognizable, as do the horror thrillers, erotica and comedies of Jess Franco. Both of these films are very much worth seeing and make a fascinating double bill. We’ll be examining more films by both auteurs here in the future. The French version of EL SECRETO DEL DR. ORLOFF is available on Blu-ray from REDEMPTION FILMS. 

I would recommend attempting to track down a copy of the Spanish version of this follow up to GRITOS EN LA NOCHE (1961), which is also preferable in its Spanish variant. Both films were recut and had post-production erotic inserted for export.  In any case EL SECRETO.. is infused with nightmarish monochrome frissions which resonate through his four early 1960s black and white horror films, the other two being THE SADISTIC BARON VON KLAUS (1962) and MISS MUERTE/THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z (1965). All are required viewing.

(C) Robert Monell, 2017

Written by Robert Monell

25 agosto 2017 at 5:29 AM

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Written by Robert Monell

24 agosto 2017 at 2:11 AM

THE BLOODY JUDGE (1970)

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Directed by Jess Franco. Cast: Christopher Lee (Lord George Jeffreys), Leo Genn (Earl of Wessex), Maria Schell, Maria Rohm, Margaret Lee, Howard Vernon, Milo Quesada, Hans Hass Jr, Peter Martell, Vincente Roca. Alternate titles: NIGHT OF THE BLOOD MONSTER, IL TRONO DI FUOCO, DER HEXENTOTER VON BLACKMOOR, EL PROCESO DE LAS BRUJAS.

This luridly titled Spanish/West German/Italian co-production is one of the more fascinating, if less personal, of the films Franco helmed for the notorious writer-producer Harry Alan Towers. This review is based on the Dutch video, one of many variants which are available on VHS. It is important to note that it is now available on DVD in its proper 2.35:1 format (in PAL) from England’s Salvation company. The Dutch version runs slightly shorter than the reported 89m of Salvation’s DVD, but the crucial difference is the aspect ratio. The Dutch print is letterboxed at what looks like 1.85:1, but a lot is cropped offscreen. For instance, when Judge Jeffreys propositions the character played by Maria Rohm, only about half of her figure can be seen, the rest, including her crucial reactions to the sexual blackmail, is beyond the edge of the frame. This is one of the Franco’s most carefully composed films and really needs to be seen in its correct format.

 

A relatively lavish production (by Franco standards), the art direction (by none other than SUCCUBUS’ Jack Taylor-as George O. Brown) and cinematography maximize what were probably limited resources. Just a few paintings hanging and the right camera angles give Judge Jeffrey’s chambers the appearance of a sumptuous set. The exteriors, taken in Portugal, are convincingly “English” and, overall, we are able to suspend disbelief that this is England in 1685. This is a rather big deal in a Franco film, especially a period piece. Just consider how Towers and Franco totally bumbled the period atmosphere of the infamous EL CONDE DRACULA (also 1969).

 

This is usually reviewed as an inferior copy of Michael Reeves THE CONQUEROR WORM/WITCH-FINDER GENERAL (1968), probably because both were released by AIP (in retitled, altered versions) in the U.S.. Despite the historical setting and the consideration of the motives of the sexually obsessed Witch-finder, Franco’s version takes a little more care with historical accuracy and tries (at the very end) to give the devil his due. Matthew Hopkins dies in the midst of yet another atrocity in the Reeves film, whereas Jeffreys collapses in his cell after witnessing a brutal hanging/beheading. The implication being that he has suddenly come to an understanding of the human misery resulting from his mad campaigns. His tortured visage and haunted eyes are a lifetime away from the early scenes where he is seen in his crimson robes and white wig delivering “witches” and “traitors” to death sentences in his kangaroo court. Jeffreys did indeed die in prison, but it is unknown if he ever repented. Lee is excellent in this role, considering that it could have easily lapsed into a one-dimensional cliché. His arrogant demeanor and menacing movements are often undercut by his furtive glances at the bosoms of the women he condemns to be burned alive. As with the best actors, Lee is able to combine body language with voice to indicate a conflicted character, and it is a considerable accomplishment that he is able to make us feel a sense of pity for this monster. He obviously put considerable thought in this performance.  Leo Genn is also fine as the crafty Earl of Wessex. Some of the high points of the film occur during the subtle back and forth between Wessex and Jeffreys, where both of these veteran performers cleverly employ almost imperceptible inflections to get a point across:

JEFFREYS: “We do our best…”
WESSEX: “Then, may God save us from your worst.”

The film is at its best during the interludes involving because Lee and Genn, a formidable actor in his own right,  obviously respect the material and each other. Less successful are the frankly sexploitative torture scenes (the reason for the film), reduced in this version to tableau style depictions of stretching and flaying of scantily clad women. Franco icon Howard Vernon is not really onscreen long enough to make an impression as the black hooded executioner. Milo Quesada’s weasel (who ends up getting chewed to death by freed inmates) is a hateful villain, while Margaret Lee is wasted in the role of the doomed Alicia. Maria Rohm is very appropriately cast as the tormented heroine whom Jeffreys lusts after. She really looks the part and its one of her strongest performances in a Franco film.

In the shorter/cropped versions, the battle scenes still look well mounted but either cut short or minimized by being placed under the opening credits, for example. According to OBSESSION:THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO, the longest version of this title is the Italian (at 98m), but Franco has claimed in interviews that his original cut ran nearly two hours. The BLUE UNDERGROUND DVD contains a 104 m version with a scene of Maria Rohm being rescued from drowning which lasts an additional 6 minutes, which brings it to about 110 minutes. Franco told me when I interviewed him in 2005 that he would make his own cut of the films he made for Towers with the producer’s editors, but that he had no subsequent control of other versions made by distributors, exhibitors or further edits by Towers.  Often, when dealing with the films of Jess Franco, the exact “director’s cut” is elusive. Nonetheless, this is corrected to 2.35:1 OAR and looks magnficent in terms of framing, color, definition, almost Blu-ray quality and doubtless a HD release is pending.

An even longer Spanish version reportedly exists but could not be screened for this review.

(C) Robert Monell, 2017

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Written by Robert Monell

28 julio 2017 at 4:00 PM

NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT

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maxresdefaultLES CAUCHEMARS NAISSENT LA NUIT, 1970, LIECHTENSTEIN

Zagreb, Yugoslavia: Every night Anne (Diana Lorys) performs an extremely bizarre slow-motion strip tease at a sleazy nightclub. She is watched by Cynthia (Collete Jack) who ensnares the vulnerable dancer into a world of deception, crime, madness and death.

A Zero budget crime-noir with an onieric atmosphere which at times recalls the subject matter and imagery of such avant garde classics as Cocteau’s BLOOD OF A POET and Bunuel L’AGE D’OR, possibly best defined by Sigmund Freud as “the imaginary gratification of subconscious wishes.” On the surface it’s a sexy/gritty crime film which also functions as an almost ontological study of Anne, a case history as told by a Jim Thompson or a William Irish. According to OBSESSION: THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO, the director claims this was his lowest budgeted film as of 1973*. It really looks down and dirty, but that look only cements its feel of an erotic fever-dream involving seduction, mind control and murder. Mirrors, mirrors within mirrors, birds, knives and jewels play a large role in the nightmare scenarios which drive Anne to madness and self destruction. The minimalist strip club sequences consist of little more than a couch, a statue, a featured boa, and the narcotic presence of Lorys. This is all the mise en scene necessary for Franco to create a soulfully sleazy reverie where Anne’s painfully slow execution of erotic poses hold her audience while Nicolai’s humid sax atmospheres illustrates Anne’s melancholy narration. Lorys gives a terrific, body and soul baring performance as the anxiety ridden victim, and Paul Muller delivers another one of his subtle turns as her ambiguous psychiatrist,a villain with a conscience. It’s really their show and Franco closely observes their tormented interaction while ever so slowly moving in for the final kill.

Lorys’ final epiphany for the lost souls of the world, which she delivers in her “Princess of Istria” persona in front of a full-length mirror, is one of her, and Franco’s, finest moments. It’s the polar opposite of Soledad Miranda’s** self absorbed dances, also performed in front of a large mirror, in VAMPYROS LESBOS. Anne’s performance here is the result of selfless suffering which transcends self pity whereas Miranda’s female vampire is transported into a realm of narcissistic self stimulation. From its rapid fire credit sequence to its knockout double twist ending this is an absolute must for both Franco enthusiasts and those needing proof positive that a poverty row budget can act as a creative stimulus. Josiane Gibert voices Lorys and her soulful, pleading tone floods each and every moment of this film with a mood of deep melancholy.

Bruno Nicolai’s mercurial, dissonant score fits the film like a glove, constantly shifting between the music of dark dreams and the jarring sounds of deceptive realities. Suddently phasing from lyrical interludes to startling piano chords and guitar meanderings, strip club jazz to sitar interludes, rich organ riffs and outre lounge cues which will make you want to get up and dance the dance of the damned. A once lost item in the annals of Euro-bis, LES CAUCHEMARS NAISSENT LA NUIT is a voluptuously nasty suite of surprises. Remember: “Life is all shit.” Robert Monell

*VAMPIRELLA No. 13, Interview with Jess Franco
**Soledad Miranda appears in a small role her along with her future costar from EUGENIE DE SADE and VAMPYROS LESBOS (both 1970, Andres Monales/Andre Montcall. They play two associate members of the jewel robbery gang, headed by Paul Muller. All the scenes with Miranda appear to have been shot during a separate shooting period than the bulk of the film, Aug-Sept. 1969, perhaps just before the January 1970 production of EUGENIE DE SADE in Berlin. If one looks closely at the area around the house-for-sale in which they are hiding out, it appears to be late fall-early winter while the scenes involving the lead players are flooded with sunlight and foliage.

Written by Robert Monell

24 julio 2017 at 11:52 PM

GRITOS EN LA NOCHE (1961): a note on the Spanish DVD.

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TG

 

 

 

 

I realize it looks very dark, but this is how GRITOS EN LA NOCHE, Jess Franco’s first horror film,  should look in terms of contrast. Very dark with light highlights. Not like the previously released DVDs/Blu-rays of the reworked French version, English title: THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF, released in 1964. This is how it looks on the 2012 Spanish Regia DVD.

Also, recently watching the Spanish version on that DVD, I noted that the first female victim staggers across the room to confront her own image in the upright mirror as the credit Director JESUS FRANCO appears. A kind of mission statement from the newly born auteur, who featured increasingly intensive mirror imagery in his subsequent filmography.

DVD/Blu-ray releases have a tendency to brighten everything up and add light where none or very little was intended. ” State of the art technology” also has a tendency to subject every image to DNR [Digital Noise Reduction] which reduces grain and other textures to nothingness while the bottomless, overwhelming blacks of GRITOS EN LA NOCHE are presented in 50 shades of gray.  No longer vintage Black and White.

You really haven’t seen the film as it was intended until you’ve seen this longer Spanish version (R2 DVD runtime: 93m, 40s), which is available on Spanish DVD. Very preferable to the previous DVDs in release of the abridged French language version. Horror reaching out of the darkness, toward light it never quite finds. Also, the music commentary is very different, in a more upbeat tone at times, as in the music hall gala in the final shots as the inspector and his friends walk away.  Needless to say, this is a highly recommended must-have for the serious collector of Jess Franco films.

  • Gritos En La Noche [DVD]
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Gritos En La Noche [DVD]

Thanks to Nzoog for helping me see the Spanish DVD of the original version.

(C) Robert Monell, 2017

Written by Robert Monell

2 julio 2017 at 3:03 AM

The Erotic Universe of Div For’e

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www.twilightwomen.com

The videos of Div For’e can be found exclusively on the Adult webiste TWILIGHT WOMEN

Les Vampires – Monique’s Story Part Six

Kathy, Monique and Others

Emily, seeking pleasure, is pulled further into the lesbian vampire world of Kathy and Monique.

20 Clips – Total running time: 1 hr. 45 min.
25 May 11

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Preceding his 2012 Vampire interlude, The Feed:Parts 1 & 2, Div For’e shot the Seven Part erotic epic, LES VAMPIRES: Monique’s Story. Just a quick dip into the opening of Part 6 illustrates his style. Unlike many of his videos, this one features some fascinating, ambiguous, evocative dialogue between two of the main characters, Kathy and Emily.
Having reviewed NIGHT PICK UP (2013) and LES VAMPIRES-THE FEED 1&2 (2012), available on the TWILIGHT WOMEN website, I knew what to expect from Div For’e in terms of a lesbian vampire series, but the 7 part, that’s over 12 hours of clips and scenes, of LES VAMPIRES-MONIQUE’S STORY, continues and expands into another dimension. This one features dialogue. But not the kind one would expect in a soft porn film. The dialogue here is mysterious, penetrating and poetic. It has a hypnotic quality, with an emphasis on ellipsis. “I’m a vampire” Kathy announces as she walks into the bedroom, gently confronting the somewhat reluctant, and visibly frightened Emily. The line is delivered with a sultry edge..  There’s a sense erotic mystery in that line reading, which underlines the subtext of vampire mythology from Bram Stoker’s DRACULA to all the books and films dealing with the subject. Kathy and Emily have roles to play, possible victim and predator, in this scene where the vampire attempts to educate her pupil in the ways of the vampire life. Some are killed, some are used to feed upon. We don’t know which way this will go for Emily. She speaks of her fear of death. Kathy responds that death is relative, there are many kinds of death. The death of the normal life, the death of social/intellectual conformity. This is not dialogue heard in the usual vampire film. But these are not typical vampire films. Div For’s vampire films unfold in a parallel reality. They take on added interest when examined in reference to the horror y sexo vampire films of Jess Franco.
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The eroticism is in the slow burning build up to sex, blood letting or something intangible. This five to seven minute clips, are not about nudity or even soft-core sex. When watched in streaming continuity they are a time spend in an alternate zone. The glances exchanged between the women, as Monique enters and watches, tell a different story, or adds another level of reality. The Female Gaze is established and explored, as it is in all of Div For’e’s erotic videos. Men are a supporting cast to these dangerous, unpredictable, fascinating women. There is no King Vampire or Van Helsing type vampire hunter here, the types usually played by Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in such classic Hammer films as HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).
Watching is a key element to the LES VAMPIRES videos and there is almost always a person, or a group, watching the seduction unfold. Div For’e often slowly pans from character to character, following the gaze of the participants. There is no sense of conventional editing, time and space become blurred, irrelevant. The effect is hypnotic. The invisible magnetism which exists between the vampires and the humans is defined in this style. The camera seems to float into areas unknown, where words are not necessary. This technique is very similar to the aesthetics found in the vampire films of Jess Franco (FEMALE VAMPIRE) and Jean Rollin (REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE), made in the early 1970s. Those films had very little dialogue and played as almost silent films, in color, with nudity and sex conducted in misty European landscapes. It also reminded me of Joe Sarno’s 1973 VEIL OF BLOOD, a shot in Germany fever dream where a lesbian vampire cult stalks a group of international tourists, obtaining blood to resurrect a 300 year old vampire queen. More on MONIQUE’S STORY in future editions.
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BLOOD is a series of short scenes shot for a possible feature or series of features. These scenes feature the brunette Christine, Ann Ampar and Robin Joy as participants in a blood orgy. Set in a castle dungeon style set, also used in THE FEED, it opens with Christine and two men slowly reclining on a giant pillow where a middle aged man in a 1950s style wardrobe vampirizes Christine while a younger, long haired man in 1970s style clothing watches along with an older man in a more conservative business-casual wardrobe. Watching and waiting become key tropes in Div For’e videos. There is no dialogue in the 50 or so minutes of vampire sensuality. The men drink her blood and she drinks theirs. It’s a mutual sharing scenario observed by Robin Joy, who is placed off to the side of the space. Once again the camera pans hypnotically, obsessively, from the viewer to the participants. Time seems suspended. No words are needed. One senses that Robin wants to get involved, which she does eventually. Again, total nudity and hardcore sex aren’t part of the scenario. The erotic quality is generated by the actor’s movements and the dreamy camera work.
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Ann Ampar arrives, placed in the same space where Robin was watching the action. The watcher-performer dynamic once again is asserted, silently and inexorably. Seated off to the side of action again, anxious but patient, wearing a long skirt, with her legs crossed, Ann’s intense interest in the action is telegraphed by her subtle movements and her intent gaze. Will she become involved, or remain at a distance? That question arises in the mind of the viewer, creating more erotic tension. The uncertainty becoming a drawn out prelude. The scenes described above equal only about one hour of the dozens of hours of erotica, visualized by Div For’e and acted out by the talented performers on Twilight Women. It’s important to note that the performers are not professional actors.
As in the LES VAMPIRES series, the vampire films of Jess Franco are a key influence, as Div For’e himself has confirmed in interviews. From LA COMTESSE NOIRE to DAS BILDNIS DER DORIANA GRAY to VAMPIRE BLUES to VAMPIRE JUNCTION to SNAKEWOMAN, the sense of suspended animation is palpable as the players move from seduction to seduction. The erotic atmosphere overwhelms whatever plot exposition or reality which is present. A dream-time is established which replaces the seconds, minutes and hours of conventional waking time. The fourth wall of closed off space within set time is removed and the viewer is able to enter an interactive space. A negative space which can’t be pre-scripted.
More on these two series and other Twilight Women video clips will be published here in the future.
(C) & Text by Robert Monell, 2017test1

Written by Robert Monell

27 junio 2017 at 9:13 PM