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

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DRACULA CONTRO FRANKENSTEIN (Blu-ray) Review.

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Thanks to Francesco Cesari for additional  information and consultation on the making of this film and for helping me get a copy of this Blu-ray release.

I have managed to collect a good number of VHS and digital releases of this 1972 Jess Franco monster rally. There are several levels I want to discuss this film on: as a collector’s item; the film itself; this particular HD release; the legacy of the film, which is the first entry in an unofficial monsters-from-Universal Pictures, Jess Franco style, trilogy, the others being LA FILLE DE DRACULA (1972) and LA MALDICION DE FRANKENSTEIN/THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN (1972).

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First, it must be remembered that 1971-1972 was a very hectic time in Jess Franco’s already chaotic career. After the loss of his muse Soledad Miranda in mid 1970, the director was at loose ends. His “personal period” included films he made from the time when he left the Harry Alan Towers stable, NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT (actually made before his break with Towers), EUGENIE DE SADE (1970), the lost SEX CHARADE, VAMPYROS LESBOS and SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY (all 1970 and featuring Miranda). THE DEVIL CAME FROM AKASAVA, was also made with Miranda, her very last film before her untimely death in August 1970. But AKASAVA is hardly a “personal” project and despite its obsessive demonstration of the telezoom, could have been directed by any of the German Edgar Wallace specialists of that era, which was rapidly drawing to a close. It was as if Franco were using the zoom lens as a way to visually scream his visual imprint onto sub-standard material (cf Mario Bava’s equally zoom-ridden direction of FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON-1970).

Jess Franco was ready to get back into personal film-making again, although his film-making is always somehow personal in terms of his habit of twisting his attitudes and personality into the most commercial, prepackaged product (ie ROBINSON AND HIS SEXY SLAVES-1971).  His admiration for the Universal Pictures horror films of the 1930s and 1940s knew no bounds, it was as intense as his disdain for the Hammer remakes of the Universal classics, which he found “cold”.  He had made his own version of DRACULA, which was more of a Harry Alan Towers version in end result and only Pere Portabella’s experimental, on-set documentary CUADECUC-VAMPIR could be considered a successful by-product of that shoot.  With DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN he would go back to his own experimental approach, which can be seen in parts of VAMPYROS LESBOS, based on Bram Stoker’s DRACULA’S GUEST, but 100 per cent Jess Franco style.

Filmed in a period between early December, 1971 and January 14, 1972, this French,  Portuguese, Spanish co-production was filmed largely in Sintra and Cascais, Portugal, the exteriors were mainly shot in Sintra,* on many of the locations familiar from A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD, which was previously shot there earlier in 1971, with some exteriors in Alicante,  Spain. Francesco Cesari adds that the film was viewed by Spanish censorship on Feb. 4th, 1972 at a run-time of 87m. Most versions of the film now available on DVD/Blu-ray run about 82 minutes, the Divisa DVD from Spain is listed at 85 minutes. None of the extant versions contain nudity or uncovered takes as in the “director’s cut” of LA MALDICION DE FRANKENSTEIN (1972).**

The screenplay is obviously based on Franco’s enthusiasm for the 1940s “monster rally” films of Universal Pictures, particularly  HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945).  That film features the Frankenstein monster (Glenn Strange), Dracula (John Carradine), the Wolfman (Lon Chaney Jr.), who all gather at the castle of a scientist  (Onslow Stevens) who attempts to “cure” them using scientific methods, rather than religious/occult ones. That film, released on December 7, 1945, was a commercial success. But the next Universal monster rally was the 1948 comedy ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKSENSTEIN, which is actually quite amusing and also works as a fairly atmospheric Gothic horror film. The director of HOUSE OF DRACULA was Erle C. Kenton (ISLAND OF LOST SOULS) a more than competent craftsman whom Jess Franco sometimes mentioned in interviews as an inspiration, both being consigned to B, B minus or B plus productions and not generally taken seriously as auteurs. DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN was shown in France, Spain, Italy and sometimes in North American and the UK. One English language double bill was with Leon Klimovsky’s similar monster mash, WEREWOLF SHADOW/LA NOCHE DE WALPURGIS (1970), featuring Paul Naschy in the werewolf role Lon Chaney made famous. HOUSE OF DRACULA only lasts barely over an hour and Franco’s DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN has a similar programmer sense of dispatch, look and feel.

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I first encountered DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN as a grey market dupe titled DRACULA, PRISONER OF FRANKENSTEIN, then Wizard Video’s Big Box THE SCREAMING DEAD and Midnight Video’s VHS release of the Japanese video of the film, which was the only one properly framed at 2.35:1, but containing the English language export cut, complete with the post-production diary readings.  The Midnight Video version was the way to go for me for years simply because it preserved Franco’s compositions, executed by Jose Climent and Alberto Prous. Most disappointing were the IMAGE and DIVISA DVDs, which besides being distorted and incomplete, had the problem of watered down color and poor definition.

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However, only the Divisa and Image DVDs open with the “quote” from David Khunne about the nature of the monsters: “The Vampire, a sinister night dweller, was sleeping his eternal slumber, when Dr. Frankenstein decided to seize him. He unleashed a fight between two Titans of Death, and in its wake, the other monsters, nightmare creatures, would awaken from their lethargic sleep, as a terrifying and devastating chorus.– David H. Khunne–“. The David Khunne beard is the name Franco used to supposedly write pulp novels at various times in his career, none of which have ever surfaced. He sometimes signs his films with the name. For instance, his 1982 zombie horror film MANSION DE LOS MUERTOS VIVIENTES, is based on a David Khunne novel according to the opening credits. Here it acts as a personal epigraph for this experimental genre version of HOUSE OF DRACULA. Note that he uses the word “chorus” to describe the other monsters, The Wolfman and Lady Dracula here, played by Brandy*** and Britt Nichols. Referring to these characters as a chorus indicates again that Jess Franco, an accomplished musician and composer of music for his own and other director’s films, uses musical analogies when conceiving and directing his films. He has said that the considers himself a musician who makes films. Francesco Cesari, who has acquired many original Jess Franco screenplays, confirms that the one for DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN is written more like a prose novel than a conventional film, which is carried out in the finished film itself, which has very little dialogue, and no dialogue whatsoever in the first quarter hour or so. It was conceived as his personal, down market, pure cinema variation on the Hollywood and Hammer models of famous monster films.

Both the IMAGE and DIVISA DVDS are not framed at the 2.35:1 Techniscope ratio, but default to an approximately 1.90:1 ratio, cropping off crucial visual information. Both DVDs also end prematurely, abruptly cutting off Bruno Nicolai’s orchestral end music before it reaches it crescendo. The Blu-ray does retain the 2.35:1 ratio and does let the end music play out as the camera slowly zooms black from the castle nestled on the misty mountaintop. The Midnight Video tape also retains the correct aspect ratio and the complete ending, albeit containing the reworked English language release with the diary readings and additional dialogue written by Rome based English language dubbing director Richard McNamara.

If an “uncovered” version exists it has never surfaced, although there have been reports of screenings in France in the early 1970s. The extant director’s cut is very successful as a silent film style Gothic comic book, but one which will disappoint Hammer fans looking for the types of lavish sets and literate dialogue which characterize those efforts. And it must be remembered that Hammer was also a B budget operation. Franco’s film is obviously under-dressed and under resourced. Early in the film we see mid 20th Century automobiles and a motorized hearse in the cobbled streets of the picturesque Portuguese locations. The costuming of Dracula, the Frankenstein monster and Lady Dracula, along with Doctor Seward (Alberto Dalbes) is strictly 19th Century, as is the gentleman’s wardrobe of Doctor Frankenstein (played by a bloated, tired looking Dennis Price, who according to Franco began drinking alcohol on set in the early morning hours). He looks depressed and not wanting to be there, and he probably did the best he could under those desperate circumstances. But he’s a far cry from the poised, articulate elegance of Peter Cushing’s Doctor Frankenstein’s in the Hammer series, from THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN to FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL> Hence the derisive attitude hardcore Hammer fans often display toward Franco’s dilapidated looking efforts.  But Franco allows his passion for personal, experimental cinema to emerge in other ways.

DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN, when seen the way it was intended, is a no-budget fever dream of a committed cinephiliac. Franco is fast forwarding the Universal and Hammer models into his own personal parody/critique. It’s as if he were writing a scholarly critique on horror history using the zoom lens as his pen. The film opens and closes with zoom shots, a rapid zoom out from a Portuguese tower in the opening shot and closing with a zoom out from Frankenstein’s castle, after the monsters have been destroyed by Dr. Frankenstein himself, who spears Dracula through the heart, electrocuting Lady Dracula and the Frankenstein monster with his sub Strickfaden electronic power station. The electrical effects are on about the same level as Al Adamson’s 1971 DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN, which actually used some of the vintage equipment of  Kenneth Strickfaden (1896-1984), who created the elaborate control panels, ribbed ceramic insulators and blinking lights for such horror classics as FRANKENSTEIN (1931), THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (1932), THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974). Franco, of course, didn’t have a Hollywood budget, not even an Al Adamson one, so created his science fiction laboratory using colored lights, levers, dials and sound effects.

The monster make-up on Dracula and the Frankenstein monster is barely adequate, featuring painted and penciled in facial markings, scars, etc., with very ratty looking formal wear for Dracula, including the top hat evoking Baron Latoes in HOUSE OF DRACULA, and garbage dump rags for Frankenstein. The wolf-man facial make-up is quite pathetic and not lingered on. Only Britt Nicholl’s elegantly erotic Lady Dracula comes off as a credible, original creation. In fact, the actresses here, Josiane Gibert as the doomed cabaret singer, Genvieve Deloir as the gypsy and Paca Galaban’s mentally disturbed Maria are much more defined and interesting characters than the male leads. They have to react to the mad scientists and monsters, who are pretty much one-dimensional menaces in Franco’s raggedy mise-en-scene. But it’s all propelled by rather effective editing and the constantly propulsive zoom lens. At times the zoom shots seem almost synchronized with the impressive, rumbling Bruno Nicolai cues from EL CONDE DRACULA.

When I interviewed him in 2005 Jess Franco described his theory and practice of staging horror-fantastique scenes as one of working like a painter or opera director, using shapes, areas and colors as tools. He particularly emphasized his preference for the 2.35:1 Scope format, which he said allowed him to work as a muralist and have three different staging areas in one frame, center, right, left, and that he would attempt to have different actions going on simultaneously in each area within that frame during the duration of the shot. This is why the resulting film looks so jam packed with atmospheric architectural, geographical, topological, geometrical, sometimes geological detail, all of which permit the stylized movements of the deliberately unrealistic characters to unfold  against that backdrop, bathed in pools of crimson, gold and aquamarine light.  For instance, the striking image of the shadow of the vampire bats on a plush crimson carpet in the villa of the victim played by Antonio Da Cabo (DEVIL HUNTER). Another striking scene floods the screen with noxious red light as Morpho (Luis Barboo) molests the exsanguinated dead body of the cabaret singer. Then there are Maria’s garish water color paintings which evoke a child like attempt at a Van Gogh or Matisse canvas.  It’s all part of a nightmare world which refuses to awaken.

The Colosseo Film Blu-ray presentation utilizes a full 2.35:1 Italian Cinemascope print titled DRACULA CONTRO FRANKENSTEIN.  It does not have the sparkling luster of a transfer from original camera negatives. To finally see it properly framed, is something of a revelation. The colors are rich, saturated and as bold as they were intended. They have the eye popping quality of a freshly minted EC comic book. Unfortunately the image quality is rather dark and unsharp, although not as soft as the previous DVDs. There is also the odd issue of a light source which appears at variable intervals on the far right side of the scope frame, and then quickly disappears only to reappear again later. There is also some evidence of fading at the far edges of the side frames and an occasional color distortion in the same area, which also quickly disappears. Some cleaning has been done to remove scratches, lines and other marks from the image as illustrated in a Before and After Belspiele der Restauration featurette.  There is also a Jess Franco interview and a 6 page booklet by Gerald Kuklinski in German, along with a photo/poster gallery. The crucial audio options include German, Spanish and Italian language tracks, with English and German subtitles available. The way to go for me is the Spanish language track with English subtitles.

In the final analysis Dr. Frankenstein’s plan of world domination via the monsters is patently absurd and as unworkable as the mad doctor plots in DOCTOR X  (I932) and THE MAD MONSTER (1942).  But this is an enjoyably outre, comic book style operetta-monster rally as only Jess Franco could realize and bring to life. This Blu-ray debut of this title is a welcome, if somewhat flawed, edition, which at least is a complete HD 2.35:1 presentation of the director’s cut. I guess a 2 or 4K scan of original camera negatives would be the ultimate release, along with the legendary “nude” version, if it indeed exists.

DIE NACHT DER OFFENEN SARGE Blu-ray (2017)

(C) Robert Monell, 2017

[* In discussing this film Italian Jess Franco scholar Francesco Cesari notes that Sintra, which he visited, “…is a town out of time. You have the feeling of being in another time. The mood of Sintra is the film’s mood.”]

[** Jess Franco stated in my 2005 telephone interview with him that he preferred the uncovered, nude version, THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN, which he referred to as the “erotic version.” ]

[***Brandy is the name of the Spanish stunt actor who sometimes doubled for Paul Naschy as the werewolf in such films as THE WEREWOLF AND THE YETI (1976), a very different type of monster rally and a much more athletic one]

Written by Robert Monell

27 octubre 2017 at 10:41 PM

KILLER BARBYS (Jess Franco, 1996) on Blu-ray

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

“Comic books showed me the way.” COMIC BOOKS, by Killer Barbies.

Killer Barbys [Blu-ray]lovesofirina-privatescreenings1-vhscollector-com

ABOVE: Vintage Jess Franco female vampire

After a high-energy appearance in a crowded nightclub, Spanish punk band Killer Barbies take off through the Spanish countryside in their van. Soon they have a breakdown and are greeted by a strange man, Arkan (Spaghtetti Western veteran Aldo Sambrell) who invites them to spend the night within the walls of the mist enshrouded Gothic castle of the Countess Von Fleidermaus (Mariangela Giordano), who is actually a centuries old vampire who stays young, like Elizabeth Bathory, by bathing in the blood of the young. She depends on Arkan to deliver thethe band member’s body fluids as her next skin treatment.

Essentially an extended promo/music video for the Spanish punk/hard/garage rock band, formed in 1994 by Silvia Superstar (Silvia Garcia Pintos) and Billy King (Arturo Dominguez), this was the first of two films directed…

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Written by Robert Monell

9 octubre 2017 at 6:50 PM

KILLER BARBYS (Jess Franco, 1996) on Blu-ray

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“Comic books showed me the way.” COMIC BOOKS, by Killer Barbies.

Killer Barbys [Blu-ray]

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ABOVE: Vintage Jess Franco female vampire

After a high-energy appearance in a crowded nightclub, Spanish punk band Killer Barbies take off through the Spanish countryside in their van. Soon they have a breakdown and are greeted by a strange man, Arkan (Spaghtetti Western veteran Aldo Sambrell) who invites them to spend the night within the walls of the mist enshrouded Gothic castle of the Countess Von Fleidermaus (Mariangela Giordano), who is actually a centuries old vampire who stays young, like Elizabeth Bathory, by bathing in the blood of the young. She depends on Arkan to deliver thethe band member’s body fluids as her next skin treatment.

Essentially an extended promo/music video for the Spanish punk/hard/garage rock band, formed in 1994 by Silvia Superstar (Silvia Garcia Pintos) and Billy King (Arturo Dominguez), this was the first of two films directed by Franco which were build around the image and music of the band. They cut a few albums but their popularity was limited and this film, although Franco’s first theatrical release in Spain in several years, only had about 100, 000 patrons and grossed a mere 100.000 in USD. This would be the last theatrical release of a new Jess Franco film in Spain. It’s also one of his last filmed in 35mm.  The title of the film had to be changed because the name Barbie was trademarked by Mattel manufacturing, which by the 21st Century had become a Fortune 500 company.

Filmed in one month (Jan. 8 to Feb. 8, 1996) in Valencia and other locales, it’s not a bad looking film, especially on the new Redemption Blu-ray, and the Spanish language soundtrack, with English subtitles, is the way to go, since the English track features horrendous voice-casting and muffled English-dubbed voicing. The scenes featuring Aldo Sambrell (VOODOO BLACK EXORCIST) and Ms. Giordano (BURIAL GROUND) come off the best, atmospherically lit and composed by 1970s Franco cinematographer Javier Perez Zofio (SINNER, NIGHT OF THE SKULLS). It’s actually very much a kind of Punk-Gothic comic book, just as EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN was an Adult-Horrorcomic book in 1972, indebted to the kind of sexy/violent comic strips (DIABOLIK, KILLING, SATANIK) which were popular in Europe in the 1960s and 70s. But the film didn’t make much of an impact by the mid 1990s when Spanish audiences were more likely interested in US produced, larger budgeted, mainstream horror offerings.  The Killer Barbies song COMIC BOOKS, states the band’s and the film’s aesthetic, as well as affirms Jess Franco’s lifelong obsession with all kinds of comic book/comic strip characters in his filmography, LUCKY THE INSCRUTABLE (1967) and LOS BLUES CALLE POP (1983), being the most obvious examples. The finale, featuring cult figure Santiago Segura, getting flattened by a steam roller, is something that might be found in an EC Comic infused with punk attitude, which is a good description of this film.

The blood bathing scenes are fairly gory and Ms. Giordano is fully up to the lusty requirements of the scenario. But the scenes don’t have the same sensual-emotional impact as such Jess Franco female vampire operettas as VAMPYROS LESBOS (1970) or FEMALE VAMPIRE/LA COMTESSE NOIRE (1973).  Nonetheless, they work well within the limited context of this film and will be highlights for horror movies fans.  There’s not much viable eroticism in this film, considering Jess Franco’s career long expertise in that realm. Some of the comedy scenes involving the band members in the haunted castle aren’t very amusing and perhaps clash in tone.  Jess Franco had at least one good  vampire film in his future, VAMPIRE JUNCTION, which overall works much better as erotic horror and seems to have a more authorial voice than this.

Also included on the Blu-ray are an audio commentary by Troy Howarth, and a trailer along with the Spanish, French and the dire English language tracks. The 4K scan from the original elements features the film looking the best it could possibly look, with generally good color, definition and detail, considering the often soft-focus original cinematography.

Thanks to Nzoog for additional information

(C) Robert Monell, 2017

Written by Robert Monell

7 octubre 2017 at 8:58 PM

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

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Made during the very productive year of 1980, during which he worked on at least nine films for three different production companies- Lisa Films-Munich, Eurocine-Paris and J. E. Films-Madrid, this cyclical film was produced by Joaquin Dominguez for Triton P.C.-Madrid. It is a cyclical film, the kind of “broken lineage” or non-linear work which was a favorite Luis Bunuel format in his most surrealistic films, UN CHIEN ANDALOU, L’AGE D’OR (1930), THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE (1972) and THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY (1975).

In others words, a film which has no individual story with a beginning, middle and end, but a series of macabre tales, tales within tales, and sidebars, all performed by a small cast playing ever morphing characters. A surrealist vaudeville structure in which Spanish anarchists like Bunuel and Franco could cut loose from censorship and the commercial demands of producers and make a highly personal transgression. It also relates back to Franco’s lost 1970 SEX CHARADE.*wp-image-506837742jpg.jpg

In fact, EL SEXO ESTA LOCO is also Franco in his role as a maestro of Spanish ridicule, a tone which was adopted by such writers as Cervantes and filtered down to such Spanish satirists as Bunuel and Luis Garcia Berlanga (EL VERDUGO)

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El sexo está loco

, both of whom one can imagine being able to appreciate what Franco was doing here.  As the lyrics in a Bob Dylan song go, “There’s something happening here, but you don’t know what it is… . ” No, we really don’t,  because Jess Franco’s authorial voice, in GRITOS EN LA NOCHE, THE CASTLE OF FU MANCHU or EL SADICO DE NOTRE DAME, no matter the context, is always heavily inflected with irony and carefully encoded.  But before we can decipher the code, we must contend with the structure, the interrupted journey with which we presented. This time the subjects seem to be considered in the realms of light comedy and science fiction, Franco had seen STAR WARS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (both 1977) by this time.  But the light comedy keeps getting gently strangled by the science fiction element, which has a horrific, rather than family-friendly style we know from the feel-good science fiction of George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg.

It opens, as with so many Jess Franco films, with a nightclub performance. Silver skinned aliens carry a scantily clad young woman (Lina Romay) to the stage, place her on the floor and proceed to rape her, one alien male at a time, each time producing an instant child. We only hear an infant’s cries, representing each birth, on the soundtrack. The set is at the center of a seeming labyrinth of mirrors. Nude silver skilled female aliens call out orders, “Pito uno”, “Pito tres”, calling out each male to do their sexual duty. They’ve come to kidnap and impregnate Earth women!  As the births commence, the audience, who all have grotesque monster faces, applaud and the players arise and take their bows. It’s all been a show, but the audience is definitely not of this earth. They would be at home in the cantina sequence, checking out Hans Solo, in STAR WARS.

The acting troupe are the exhibitionists, a breed apart in Jess Franco’s alternate universe. GRITOS EN LA NOCHE, MISS MUERTE, EL SECRETO DEL DR. ORLOFF, all establish the performer as designated victim early in Franco’s horror movie career, and the mirrors which surround them in this film are the deceptive mise-en-scene, the Wellesian smoke-and-mirrors (CITIZEN KANE onward)  which make up the alienating texture of his films. We’re never confronted with “reality” in a Jess Franco film, only reflections, and sometimes, as in NECRONOMICON, NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT and VENUS IN FURS, reflections within reflections. But the alienating surfaces can also quickly become seductive as in the sex-and-sadism shows of the bewitching “Miss Death” and Lorna in NECRONOMICON/SUCCUBUS.

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Above: the audience of monsters watch the science-fiction sex charade in EL SEXO ESTA LOCO

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The cinema of Jess Franco is a hall of mirrors where the self and the contents of the unconscious will be revealed.

The Cucufate cult…..

    

FIN is  Spanish for The End, but The End in this cyclical context is just another Jess Franco joke, using the punctuation of cinema as a tool for his own personal brand of ridicule. The show will continue, on or off camera. It started as a “show”, became a dream, evolved into another reality and ended as another dream which might be an alternate reality where sinister aliens actually invade and impregnate Earth women in a plot for world domination. It’s your choice in a menu which allows for audience participation. Interrupted narratives make up the bulk of the film, with a bemused narrator introducing the always nude “Rosalinda, the girlfriend of the producer.”  There’s even a sort of devil cult,  played by all the cast members, who chant in unison and have the letters c-u-c-u-f-a-t-e painted on their naked bodies. It’s another vaudeville sketch in the lively revue.

The mirror is a key object in numerous Jess Franco films. The object which defines cinema as a reflection of reality, but cinema is never, ever reality itself. The first victim in GRITOS EN LA NOCHE is startled by her own reflection in the dark mirror, then she is taken by Morpho to be an experimental candidate in the laboratory of Dr. Orlof (Howard Vernon). Omnipresent mirrors in EL SEXO ESTA LOCO reflect and reveal the presence of Jess Franco and his film crew who are shooting the actors in the stories which we see. Franco himself is seen operating the camera, as he often did during the production of his films. In one scene he comes out from behind the scenes, from the other side of the mirror, to give last minute instructions to Lina Romay and other cast members. Then he goes back to his role and the scene continue being filmed. All the unfinished films, never stated projects didn’t really matter to him as much as the fact that he got to keep filming even as he was dying in 2013.

There is never a finished film in this context, only an endless process. And process always interests Franco more than completion, more than results. The idea, the obsession, is to keep filming at all costs. Nothing else matters, not death, illness, alien invasion or the lack of resources, Just keep filming. The resources here include a supply of spray paint, a hall of mirrors, an elliptical building which represents the flying saucer/nightclub, various monster/demon masks. Some bizarrely titled  Spanish comic books are seen being read by Antonio Mayans, Lina Romay, Tony Skios and the late Lynn Enderrson during the “group marriage” sequence. There were always plenty of comic books on the sets of his films.  Sometimes the films themselves were animated comic books BANGKOK CITA CON LA MUERTE, LUCKY, THE INSCRUTABLE, complete with dialogue balloons.

The entertainment is non-stop, and it’s all presented in the lighthearted vein of American screwball comedy of the 1930s, 40s, 50s, BRINGING UP BABY, THE GIRL CAN”T HELP IT, SOME LIKE IT HOT, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Mel Brooks (THE PRODUCERS, HIGH ANXIETY) is even mentioned by one of the actors as source of inspiration. Is it SPACEBALLS or SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR? Only Jess Franco knows for sure…

*Thanks to Francesco Cesari for relating some details of the lost SEX CHARADE feature, which will be discussed in future blogs.

(C) Robert Monell, 2019

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