A Jess Franco Blog.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Six Franco flicks that changed my life.

I just finished posting a blog on my MySpace page…
http://myspace.com/vincedamato
…Where I’d listed 20 movies that changed my life (or at least somewhat changed my outlook on Cinema and/or its various genres). So to that end, I thought it might be appropriate to list off a few infamous Franco flicks that had some kind of profound reworking on my psyche… for better or for worse. Well, here goes…

1. She Killed in Ecstasy – This is, I believe, where I fell in love with Soledad Miranda. It took me a while to warm up to both this film as well as Vampyros Lesbos, but I have to say it was the lesbian-death-by-inflatable-pillow that slam-dunked this one.

2. Succubus – I have to admit, I didn’t get much out of this one until Blue Underground’s new film transfer/DVD reissue. Definitely the best rediscovery of the lot.

3. Venus in Furs – Another Blue Underground DVD release, this one starring Maria Rohm (love her too) in a twisty jazz-laded psychedelic supernatural romp along the beaches of Spain. Also stars Klaus Kinski!

4. Two Undercover Angels (SadisterĂ³tica) – Boasting one of Franco’s favorite explorations; two women in a campy Bond-esque entanglement. For more of the same, you can also check out Kiss Me Monster, with the same two lead actresses, and the same go-go striptease in the middle of the film(s).
5. Exorcism (Exorcism and Black Masses) – A trippy, raw, voyeuristically clunky Catholic-based murder-mystery that involves a sociopathic Priest and a female newspaper reporter (Lina Romay) who moonlights as a stage performer who puts on sarcastic presentation of black mass ritualistic murders, grand guignol style. This is purportedly one of the films that got Franco into hot water with the Catholic Church in Europe, prompting them to label the sleaze auteur one of the most dangerous filmmakers to the Catholic Church. Go figure.

6. Female Vampire – I hated, hated this movie when I fist saw it. Then I didn’t hate it so much, after letting it fester for a while, and then even later I came to find it rather charming… It’s so inept and overtly voyeuristic, how could you hate this movie? Of course, it’s so inept and graceless, how could you love it? Or not love it? Ah, just find yer own copy and decide. (And by the way, it’s a way better deal to get the Jess Franco box set that includes this flick plus three others, for about the same price as this one DVD back on the original DVD release.)

-V.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Doom, Gloom & Zoom

Jess Franco’s Count Dracula is nothing of not strikingly faithful to Bram Stoker’s original material. Is it a good movie? Well, it lingers somewhere between great and okay, but good…? There are certainly good points. Point number one: Incredible casting. The classic Christopher Lee as the titular baddie, Herbert Lom as Van Helsing, Franco femme fatale Maria Rohm as Mina, Klaus freakin’ Kinski as the whacked-out Renfield, and the seminal role for cult icon Soledad Miranda as Miss Lucy Westenra.

As outlined in the DVD essay on Dark Sky Film’s new reissue of this Franco twist, Count Dracula was an extremely important film for Soledad Miranda’s performing career, having launched her into a brightening spotlight. And if sordid auteur Franco knows anything, he knows how to shoot this woman. She’s stunning, and Franco’s loving close-ups (mostly while she’s being bitten in the neck by Lee) exude a quiet and hypnotic ecstasy that is unlike anything else I’ve seen. What’s slightly peculiar is that the casting really works having Maria Rohm playing the heroine as opposed to the more captivating Miranda. (Maria Rohm is good, no doubt, though her role may serve musings of her other, better leading roles – like in Venus in Furs). Meanwhile, Kinski is the real scene-stealer in this outing, playing up the soul & mind-tortured Renfield, locking in his padded cell and eating flies while going madder with homicidal cerebral intrusions by the Count.
Adapting Bram Stoker’s sexually-charged piece of horror fiction would at first glance appear to be right up Jess Franco’s alley. Strange, then, that he would shoot the story as a mostly conversationally-motivated motion picture (a tad tedious in the first half hour as this takes place inside a drab castle decked with bricks and empty walls), and aside from the amorous close-ups of Miranda’s eyes and lips, there is no flesh or fetish on display at all in this Euro presentation. This being said, it is still of much higher quality and far, far more attractive than Franco’s luridly-titled “Killer Barbys meet Dracula”. (And not to worry too much, it does pick up after the initial half hour).
I remember years ago finding a clam-shelled VHS copy of Count Dracula in a ma-&-pa video store that was closing out. I purchased the tape with another Franco-on-VHS titled “Against All Odds” – which was actually a black-and-white version of The Blood of Fu Manchu – and how weird is that, to actually desaturate the color from a movie for the North American release? Anyway, I got these movies home, and wile I watched Count Dracula right away, I actually never watched the desaturated Franco movie, ever, finally watching Blood of Fu Manchu when it was properly released (in full color) on DVD. But those years back, the Dracula film had left me somewhat unimpressed. I actually didn’t really expect to like Dark Sky’s fancy new DVD a whole lot either, but after it was all said and done, I have to say that the fantastic film and audio transfer made a world of difference. I still can’t say the film is great while retaining a clear conscience, but I will say that the new DVD is indeed a great package from Franco collectors.
Check it out!
-V.