A Jess Franco Blog.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Romina Power is Justine

Romina Power, daughter of Tyrone Power, plays the titular character in Jess Franco's adaptation of the Marquis De Sade's story. If “Die Nonnen von Clichy” is Frano's nunsploitation masterpiece, "Justine" is undoubtedly his De Sade masterpiece. Filled with insane zoom-shots and a kinetically impulsive racking of camera focus, at least this time Franco's creation was expertly edited so that all of this cinematographic insanity comes across with the semblance of artistic intent. Which marries well with the actually artistically shot erotic elements of the movie - and believe me, there is quite of a bit of that. Too bad the movie seems padded with lingering exterior shots which only serve to extend the running time to a surprising two hours and four minutes. Well, I guess that's why god made fast-forward buttons (but I suggest you only use that power after you've seen the film at least once, if you don't know what to expect it is rather nicely shot). Rumor has it that Romina Power was only sixteen when she shot this film, mostly nude (and involved with simulated torture), the back of the Blue Underground DVD box clearly states she was indeed 18, yet the date of release states 1968... with Romina having been born in '51. Sounds like sixteen to me, considering they would've shot the film prior to the actual release. Curiously, if you research "Justine" on the internet, there you will unearth not one, but two different release dates for the film, depending on which site you come across. Some say 1968, some say '69 (which would somewhat more conveniently make Romina 17 or 18 when she did the picture).

Alas, should this controversy get away from me, it should not be forgotten that this is a solid film based on De Sade's work, from any filmmaker. Philip Kaufman went and created a story based on the man himself in a version called "Quills" with Kate Winslett, the same year a Canadian film was released directly to video, simply called "Sade". This latter videotape was released while I was still working at a local Blockbuster video. It made it to the new release shelf for 2 days before all the Blockbuster stores received a memo... to pull it from the shelves. End of story. These tapes sat in the back room of Blockbuster for months, before they were finally ordered destroyed.

Ironic, as Marquis De Sade faced the same fascist censorship with his writings, no...?

-V.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A post on-the-fly

I'd mentioned in the last series of posts (the "Immoral Tales" series, and by the way, thanks for the comments about that) that I was looking forward to seeing some hi-definition Franco soon. Well, here I sit, still waiting, though I admittedly do still have more to literally spew about in my current collection -- a collection that is, at this point in my life (as in this summer), taking much of my time and efforts out of me. I have realized, much to my chagrin, that my one-bedroom apartment is only so big and the constant accumulation of stuff, as exuberantly cool as said stuff might actually be, is not going to fit forever in this pad. I just finished reading Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, and if I also had a wall that could defy the laws of earthly physics and heed my ever-expanding cinematic collection, I would be indeed a happy man. My wife would argue that I owned over one thousand movies (on various formats). I always disagreed, thinking it was likely half of that at most. When I did switch to the newer Blu-ray format, I became a member of a website, a community of blu-ray enthusiasts (blu-ray.com if you're interested) and on this site you are able to track your blu-ray inventory. It's easy to track if you start right away, because obviously one would start with a handful of films, and grow from there at usually small increments at a time. I was actually quite surprised to see that in only 18 months, and mind you this is including a six-months hiatus on purchasing anything tangible as I was doing an anti-consumerism self-experiment from September 2009 till spring of this year, that my blu-ray collection had somehow multiplied while my back was turned. It went from the beginning handful to nearly three hundred titles. I remember watching Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds in the theatre where during some Sam Jackson narration it's said that the lead character Shoshonna had a collection of 300 films in her cinema. I figured that was a good-sounding number to have tagged to a collection. So, I thought, with the ever-decreasing space in our digs (stupid walls obeying the laws of physics), it might be time to relieve myself of some of the older-format titles. In effect, some of my DVDs.

Now before anyone cries "Crazy Person", and to which side of the coin you may cry this I care not so much, I will say I never intended to purge my collection of ALL the DVDs. I figured I'd keep 100 DVD titles, and with 300 hi-def titles, that sounded like a good round number to me, too. And then everything would actually fit on my shelves, to boot, instead of having our apartment look like it's inhabited by some obsessive cinematic artistic schmuck with pretensions of cinematic intelligence, or something as soul-staining as the like, at least. "No, no, I'm too busy to consider placing those titles on actual shelves, who do you think I think I am?" Okay, so that might be a bit of a charcter exaggeration, plus it's super-hot out right now and I'm quite sure I'm developing some form of heat stroke as I'm typing away.

Okay, so I couldn't get it down to 100 DVD, despite my best efforts. But I got it down to 200. Which means I got rid of four-hundred & thirty (plus/minus) DVDs. So, let's take a second to tally here:

Wife's guess: 1,000 movies owned by moi. My own guess, based of having actually bought all of the films (and watched most of them - and a lot of them more than twice) -- 500.

And the actual amount... 200 DVD kept in collection + 430 sold + 258 blu-ray titles =

888.

And yes, I just used the calculator for that. Evidently, the scorching heat affects simple mathematical calculations in my brain as well.

Anyhoo, my current collection is now a much-more simplified 458 titles, and I figure that's a good-sounding number. Of course, this will be fluctuating, but as I buy I also intend to sell. However, I have not yet let go of any of my Franco titles. Or Luis Bunuel, or George Romero, Dario Argento, Michele Sovai, Lamberto Bava or his brilliant father, Stuart Gordon, John Carpenter, and I still have most of my Criterion, Blue Underground, half my original Anchor Bay collection, and you can clearly see by now why it was so tough (impossible, actually) to hold only 100 DVDs. Considering the size/amount of what I'd owned, I think I did pretty well. And whichever way it is you might consider me a Crazy Person (having started the collection in the first place, letting it get out of control, or selling half of it outright), I can say with all sincerity that dumping half of my collection was actually a relief. Trust me, don't start getting possessed by your possessions.

That being said, I'm still on the hunt, the journey, the epic walk to find some hi-def Franco. Hell, I'd love to see one of his films in the theatre, translated or not, I wouldn't actually care. Until then, this little exercise has given me some new-found appreciation for the part of my cinematic collection I've held onto, and I'm more likely now to re-discover gems like "Justine" and "99 Women".

To be posted soon...

-V.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Immoral Tales, The Final Chapter: Eva Stromberg

So, I’ll finish off this mini-series of Immoral Tales with one of Franco’s most recognizable actresses, Eva Stromberg (or Ewa), most notable for being Solidad Miranda’s lesbionic vampyros sidekick in the infamous Vampyros Lesbos (see one of the most famous VL stills on the left sidebar, featuring Stromberg’s blood-splattered face). Like Miranda, Stromberg was involved with a slew of Franco’s production from the late sixties to early seventies (and most of the along side of Miranda), including She Killed in Ecstasy (in which her death scene happens to be one of my all-time Franco faves), the Devil came from Akasava, and the Miranda-less X312 – Flight to Hell and Dr. Mabuse; before she slipped quietly out of the Franco spotlight, likely when Franco turned to doing the many (read: insane amount of) Erwin Dietrich/German productions in the mid-seventies. Actually, not long after leaving the Franco spotlight, she left the cinema spotlight altogether following a couple of sexploitation flicks for director Hubert Frank (Virgin Wives and Wedding Night Report, both circa 1972, and neither of these films have I seen or heard much about). With her striking features and on-screen presence, it’s hardly a wonder that she’s stuck in my mind all these years since discovering the wonder world of Franco films, it’s actually somewhat of a disappointment that she was relegated to the supporting roles in the light Franco’s muse’s presence. Not that Miranda didn’t deserve her spotlight – on the contrary – I only wish we’d had an opportunity to see Stromberg shine in her own leading role. At any rate, I’m glad we got what we got of this attractive German actress, and at least she made a small dent for herself in the anarchic cult cinema of the era.










-V.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Immoral Tales 7: More Spanish Insanity

Within the lengthy introductory pages of Immoral Tales, there is a striking image from a film that years ago I had never heard of. The image in the Immoral Tales book stayed with me for years; the film in question was Accion Mutante, by a director I'd also never heard of until just last year, when one of my neighbors was over at our place visiting and he asked if we'd ever heard of “Day of the Beast” by a Spanish filmmaker named Alex De La Iglesia. I told him I hadn't. Evidently most of this guy's films were at one time in print and available on DVD in North America, though that time appears to have long passed. Keeping this in mind, I kept an eagle's eye out for any of this filmmaker's movies in the UK last year, and lo and behold if I didn't find Accion Mutante and Dance with the Devil on the bargain racks at a London HMV. I picked them up immediately and when I got back home the first ine I watched was Day of the Beast. This was a strange and awesome film about a pair of homicidal devil-worshiping (and Federally wanted) kidnappers – Rosie Perez and Javier Bardem (from No Country for Old Men) – who take a couple of young white kids hostage and subject them to torture, rape and bloodletting while taking them on a cross-country roadtrip as they're being chased down by James Gandolfini (who did his best non-Sopranos work right here, in my opinion). Laden with sex and devilishly dangerous shenanigans, this was something I can honestly say I've never quite seen before... or since... until I threw in Accion Mutante just last week in the interest of continuing with this Immoral Tales blog series.

Like Dance with the Devil, Accion Mutante explores the themes of kidnapping, torture and The Stockholm Syndrome not only head-on, but wildly over-the-top. Set in the future (and in space and on another planet) Accion Mutante is about a group of militant freaks and cripples who kidnap the daughter of a wealthy company owner for ransom, staple her mouth shut, cuff her to a chair and take off in a spaceship with her. Aboard the ship, mutiny abounds when the crew finds out their fearless leader has lied to them about the amount of the ransom they're to receive when they arrive at the meeting place (on another planet). To combat the mutiny, the leader then begins murdering his lackeys in such a way to ring in flashbacks of Peter Jackson's gorifying comedy “Braindead”, and then pinning the murders on each of the other lackeys, creating an atmosphere of comedic paranoia. Of course, the only person on the ship who knows that the real traitor is el capitan himself is the kidnapped heiress, but her mouth's been stapled shut. Awesome. And if you think I've given anything away here, think again – this is only the first third of the nutzoid movie! Although the unfortunate lack of any graphic sex makes me wonder why it was even brought up in Immoral Tales – but the over-the-top mayhem more than makes up for anything that might be lacking – though lacking might not exactly be the right word for a film so entertainingly insane...

I'm seriously going to have to find a copy of Day of the Beast, and PDQ.

-V.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Immoral Tales Interruptis

I was seriously, seriously intending to write the For-Real next installment of the Immoral Tales series (concentrating on another Spanish filmmaker and his infamous Accion Mutante, so that's obviously been unceremoniously postponed for the next post) when the series of articles came to to a sideways skid into a roadside telephone pole after I decided to take ten days off of work to “catch up” on a few things. Ironically, one of those things was supposed to be my intake of films and books. But unfortunately, instead of Exorcism & Black Masses or Accion Mutante or even the requisite Vampyros Lesbos re-watch, my catching-up has involved the likes of Snakes on a Plane and Schwarzenegger's Red Heat. This Wednesday morning in particular I found myself with a little more time than I'd expected to have between reading the Dark Tower novels in the waiting rooms of passport offices and performing script overhauls at the local pubs, and I happened to throw on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – a good thing too, as it reminded me that I should be keeping up with my own self-imposed journalistic responsibilities, pretentious as they may be. At any rate, I can't get back to the pub right now anyway, as it's not even eleven in the A.M. yet. But I'm not going to talk about Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, obviously, this is a Jess Franco blog, and as of late I've been stretching the thematics of that nearly to the breaking point already. I did, however, have a chance to check out a couple of my own immoral tales that have been sitting by the DVD player collecting dust for the last few months, the first being the Megan Fox horror vehicle Jennifer's Body, the other one being a Shriek Show-produced in-house exploitation horror flick Wicked Lake. I thought at least this last one would be somewhat thematically linked to the main focus of this blog (Jess Franco, lest I forget) as this distribution company (Shriek Show) has has the great fortune (both good and bad) to have released Franco's most commercially accessible films, being Faceless and Killer Barbys; as well what have to be two of Franci's most perfunctory efforts ever: Diamonds of Kilimanjaro and Golden Temple Amazons, these last two being nothing more that ultra-light naked-women-romping-through-the-jungle exploitation flicks with absolutely nothing to set them apart from any other sort of mundane dreck by any other filmmaker. Honestly, they're a waste of time. However, I'm sure at some future point in time I'll be talking more about Faceless and Killer Barbys (although I'd recommend you don't spend too much time seeking out its shot-on-video sequel, The Killer Barbys vs. Dracula – you ask anyone who's seen it). Getting back to the waste of time, allow me now to save you some of that expense: Forget about Jenifer's Body (unless you're a 20-year-old East Coast hipster, in which case you might dig it) the only thing it had going for it was Megan Fox explaining how she was no longer a “back-door virgin”. Other than that, this was strictly for the Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist crowd, only drunk and possibly not quite as educated. It's a movie that wants to make fun of it's own exploitation genre, only it's not funny, clever, or very satisfying overall, as it shies away from its own all-out exploitation (I have the feeling Jennifer's Body is a film that thinks it's too good to have to stoop to that level). If you like your exploitation pretentious, then by all means... The next one on this exploitation double-feature , however, was completely free of pretension. Unfortunately, it was also free of a good script, good acting, good editing and good directing.

“Look over there... there's two women fucking a polar bear!”
“Don't tell me these things right now.”
-Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas.

The one and only thing Wicked Lake did have going for it was the first forty minutes where the four leading female romp around naked. In their house, at the lake, in the lake, with each other, in an art class... but at the end of the day, it was all for naught, as Wicked Lake was ultimately boring, boring, and then boring some more. Completely unlike Shriek Show's other in-house features Flesh for the Beast, Shadow Dead Riot or Machine Girl. If you weren't going into Wicked Lake ready to compare that to these other (far more entertaining and way better) films, then I'd have to wonder how Wicked Lake ended up in your DVD player in the first place. I wanted to end this blog on a higher note, which is actually why I brought up these other Shriek Show productions, and it's my hope that the company goes back to producing these entertaining exploitation productions without dangerously sacrificing their scripts with the thought that sheer exploitation alone would make up (or cover up) for the otherwise sever lack of story planning. And as Shriek Show gets into releasing more of their titles on the Hi-Def Blu-Ray format, we can hope that some of their Franco films like Faceless makes its way to this better format. Unfortunately, the next Hi-Def release on Shriek Show's slate is their own Wicked Lake this summer. Trust me, you can skip it.

-V.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Immoral Tales 6: Immoral Women

“Immoral Women” is actually not one of my favorites of Walerian Borowczyk's erotic cinematic repertoire – though it does the job well enough, it is definitely erotic and his retains that cutesie-amusing way Borowczyk has about his films. Immoral Women is actually an anthology, and while the fairy-tale style of the medieval erotic stories have been copied by American low-budget film producer Charles Band for his own erotic anthology (Fairy Tales) the result is pretty low-brow, a little more sleazy (while simultaneously being less explicit!) and not nearly as charming as Borowczyk's sure-handed and lighthearted style, and the way he handles the beauty, nudity, naughtiness (sometimes extreme naughtiness) and erotic qualities with verisimilitude. It's these qualities that actually make a Borowczyk film worth watching.

(Okay, how many times can you say “erotic” in one paragraph, right? I think we all get the idea)My favorite of Borowczyk's films is without a doubt “The Beast” (La Bete), and small-time distribution company Cult Epics releases such a great edition a few years ago, a three-disc spectacular packaged in a black box with awesome front-cover artwork, this was the first Borowczyk film I'd ever seen at all – which brings me around to another observation (/opinion):

I believe that as good as Borowczyk's sex-shenanigan films are, it's really the first one you see that's going to stick with you (if you have a place in your mind – or perhaps somewhere else – for his films). All his films are of upper-quality production value, which makes it seem even more like your watching a piece of erotic cinema, not just a low budget T&A flick (see the Charles Band film if that's more your slant). This juxtaposes severely with the type of eroticism seen in Jess Franco's films, in my opinion. In Franco's films, the sex and nudity appear to be there simply because it's the central visual themes for his film, they're there because they're there, and without it there would be no film at all. Borowczyk's films are far more lush, and I'm not entirely convinced it's merely because he might have had bigger budgets to work with (although judging by the look of his films, that may well be the case), however, Borowczyk's films, or rather the eroticism within his films, appear to have much more of an artistic purpose for being committed to celluloid, which is actually sort of funny because we all know damn well there's as much artistic purpose behind it as Franco's intentions with his sex films. But when it comes down to it, Franco's sex films (or the sexual scenes in his films, however you want to look at it) seem stuck on some perfunctory level of film-making. The sex is there, well, because it is, and that's it. Borowczyk seems much more interested in showing us something genuinely erotic, something that will illicit some sort of response with his audience, which will forever elevate his cinematic erotica above the rest of the crowd, making everyone else's erotica seem like cheap exploitation.

Not that cheap exploitation is a bad thing.

Funny, I really was going into this blog to yak about the “Immoral Women” film – I suppose I got away from myself there talking about the director. Anyway, check it out, check out all of his films, and enjoy.

-V.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Immoral Tales 5: Kiss Me Monster!

This title always reminds me of the best nudie-cutie in the world; Peter Perry's “Kiss Me, Quick!” Truthfully, if I had to choose one of these two films to be stuck on a desert island with, it would be the latter one. Years ago, when I was first getting into Jess Franco's extensive (massive) filmography, I started out with Franco-Lite, this pair of secret-female-agent films were among the first five of Franco's films I'd seen, and I immediately took to them the quickest. Now, I think there are far better films in the Franco cannon, and definitely more entertaining ones, those it isn't for lack of trying on the parts of these film (Kiss Me Monster and it's sister-production, Sadisterotica). And back then, so many years ago, I found I'd enjoyed Sadisterotica a lot more than Kiss Me Monster, the one I'd initially found slightly more boring than the other – now, I find my opinion reversed. I actually found Kiss Me Monster (now eleven years after the initial discovery) to be a lot more fun that its predecessor, but having said that, and even with the inclusion of some bubbly cartoonish Jekyle-and-Hyde-style lab experiments, Janine Reynaud's boobies in a “naughty” peek-a-boo stage number, and some relatively harmless Pit of Bloody Horror-type sadomasochism-lite (all of which brought back thoughts of Perry's “Kiss Me Quick”) this pair of Franco flicks fails to live up to their own kitsch and go-go- sensibilities. Put another way, the idea of these cute flicks far outweigh the actual results. Re-watching these films admittedly felt somewhat like a waste of time, but it was also a somewhat amusing waste of time. Again, this entry stars the two loveably sexy goofball female detectives, played by Rosanna Yanni and Janine Reynaud.


Rumor has it that Janine Reynaud was married when she did Franco's films, but slept with the financier in order to help secure the film's budget and keep him pacified during the production. Not only was she a trooper, but her husband, one of the actors in these films as well, understood that she was doing it for the sake of the film. To him, it was just good business. Those Europeans are so damned artfully minded! Puts us to shame. Reynaud was in one of Franco's best films (in my opinion, obviously), the lush 1969 slice of psychedelic cinema called Succubus, which evidently was Franco's biggest claim to fame as it was arranged for Fritz Lang to see the film at a European film festival screening, where he publicly proclaimed the film to be some kind of erotic arthouse masterpiece (you can read more about that in the Immoral Tales book under Franco's chapter). And while Reynaud would act in at least a couple of dozen films in her decade-long career between the late sixties and the late seventies, her three Franco films and her stint with Sergio Martino in his Italian giallo “The Case of the Scorpion's Tale” (which came out the year before “Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key” – I love Giallo titles!) are probably the most notable genre offerings she participated in. There is something about this statuesque androgynous beauty.

(Last still from “Succubus”)

-V.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Immoral Tales 4: Two Undercover Angels (aka Sadisterotica, or, “The Much Cooler Title”)

Sadisterotica is one of a pair of Franco films in which a pair of sexy female detectives give it their all to crack the hard cases. In this particular cutesie-poo flick the case concerns some stolen art and a string of models who go missing (i.e. kidnapped by some sort of wolfman who might be right at home in a sixties' Scooby-Doo episode) and wind up in an assortment of bloody photographs. The models, not the wolfman. Starring as the lead investigators are Janine Reynaud, no stranger to Franco films, and Rosanna Yanni. Oh, and also, Jess Franco himself has some artsy-fartsy art stolen from his pad, for which he calls on the police. And then Rosanna Yanni steels a sculpture herself. I can't remember exactly why, but she ends up dragging it halfway across Europe with her as they're trying to track down the model killer. That, actually, is pretty amusing. But for all this go-go murder/art heist-mystery, the film ends up, at best, as simply cute and rather inoffensive. At worst, even the quick 80-minute running time can get a little long as the humour that draws the script out is so lighthearted it's often a tad on the boring side. It may sound like I'm putting it nicely, but with this film, that's the only way to put it. The film has its moments, here and there, and there is some cool go-go dancing to be seen (and some of it naked, too) and the usual Franco-inspired kitsch décor is always good for a decent distraction, if that's what you're after. That's probably what you should be after, as the “jokes” get kinda old kinda fast. Although the lead actresses are nice to watch, too. Alas, the best part of this one is the poster art. I hate it when that happens.

One might be wondering where else they could see Rosanna Yanni (she is quite captivating – she's the blonde one), whose only other Jess Franco appearance that I'm aware of was Sadisterotica's companion film “Kiss Me Monster”, though she did also act in Paul Naschy's films and Tombs of the Blind Dead director Amando De Ossorio's “Fangs of the Living Dead”, a film which she also co-produced according to Allmovie.com.

-V.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Jose Larraz' Vampyres

Continuing with the “Immoral Tales” miniseries of blarticles, this week I decided to take a look at the first (and only thus far) HiDef release of any of the Immoral Tales directors' films. While I'm happy that Larraz' erotic and violent vampire film has made it to Blu-ray (in what's actually a beautiful grainy transfer from Blue Underground) I can't say I'm not just a little disappointed that we're still waiting on something Jess Franco to be released in this new-ish format. Keeping tabs on what's coming out in the near future, it doesn't seem that Franco's films are even on the horizon, yet I remain optimistic that his films are still somewhere on the radar of the smaller distribution companies. Even Lloyd Kaufman is putting his films out on the HiDef format as of this year, so I do hold out hope that Blue Underground will get a couple of its Franco titles to Blu-ray sometime, before the format changes yet again and we have to watch them in seizure-inducing 3-D.

Not to take away from the celebration of Larraz' minor masterpiece, mind you. His film Vampyres would appear on the surface to be another low-budget exploitation piece of its era (circa 1974, I believe), and there is abundant nudity and some good, bloody shock scenes (in this uncensored release, anyway), but watching this film now for the third time in my life, I really had a chance to appreciate it for the gem it really is. Not only is Vampyres one of the epitomized example of erotic horror, not only is it oozing with gothic tone, not only is it surprisingly well-edited, tantalizingly structured, sumptuously shot, not only... well, I hope you get the idea because I've run out of things to describe the reason it's picked up a cult following since Anchor Bay first released it onto DVD years ago. A well-deserved cult following, I should say, too. Director Larraz had no illusions as to what his film was about: a pair of bisexual female vampires, sexual and violent. On the surface, again, it seems like the mere description of an number of exploitation films. And that's where Vampyres throws its cult audience for a loop. Other than a couple of awkward shots where the lead actresses seem a little hesitant to fully entangle each other's tongues together, for the most part, the eroticism is genuinely... well, erotic. The violence and editing are nicely shocking and jarring when the film calls for it, while at times the film and the camera movements seem to wallow in the gothic aesthetic (and sometimes just the sheer creepiness of it all), in many instances evoking the gothic feel of the classic vampire films that have preceded it. As much as Vampyres could have fallen into camp, it's the verisimilitude of all the performers that help keep the film set firmly in the erotic horror sub-genre, creatively ensuring that the film retains its intended tone throughout. That's not to say, of course, that Vampyres is without humour. There is plenty of dark humour permeating the proceedings, though not through the scripted dialog, per se, but rather by the way the film's plot is constructed. (More on that in a minute). Put another way, it's all done without grabbing for explicit guffaws, and in my opinion a lot of the darkly humorous tone (when it appears) is kind of unsettling (sort of in the way American Werewolf in London was able to distort its humour within its horror) – which then keeps it from going camp. The big difference between Vampyres and American Werewolf (other than the obvious) is that the dark humour in Vampyres comes more from the situations and the intercutting of parallel scenes than from intentionally scripted jokes (as in American Werewolf) that are verbally intended for the actors. No, in Vampyres, not one actor actually cracks a honest to goodness joke, yet there are scenes that are played out with such sublimely sure-handed ridiculousness that you're almost mercilessly forced to enjoy what's happening. As in the scene when a wine connoisseur playboy is invited to the mansion by one of the vampiresses, and he hears their captor screaming in the night, she turns and tells him, “Oh, that's just Fran's boyfriend. He gets like that when he's drunk.” Yeah, I hate getting like a screaming bloody captive when I've had a few too many beers, too.

But I have to say, getting back to the Blu-ray format that Blue Underground had released, one of the most enjoyable things is actually the main menu, where a veiled loop of the Vampyres' shenanigans is set to the pounding title soundtrack. So cool, I could've kept the menu playing for half an hour and been severely entertained.

But don't do that. Watch the movie. It's good. Really.

-V.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Jean Rollin II

I feel inspired to continue on with this “Immoral Tales” series through this blog, and fully in the spirit of doing just that, I had my first look at Jean Rollin’s “Iron Rose” last night, a little tale circa 1973. I was pleasantly surprised by this film, it’s not quite like the artistic and erotic aesthetics of Lips of Blood or Fascination, but is has a solid attraction and beauty all of it its own.

The story opens up on a beach where along the tide, a young girl is mesmerized by a black iron rose that has washed up on the edge of the rocky shore. Rollin shoots a lot on the beach, and the beginning of this film looks like it could’ve picked up mere moments after the finale of The Nude Vampire. As we follow this young woman, we begin to get into a surprisingly mundane (for a Rollin film, anyway) aspect of her life, in a school classroom, where she is being wooed by a not particularly handsome fella. I suppose he has his own charms, and hey, he is European and it's the seventies. He finally talks her into going on a bike ride with him, and they wind up at a gorgeous country cemetery, one of the kind you’d really only be able to fully appreciate in Europe, and Rollin does a mesmerizing job of bringing the beauty of the cemetery to the screen. As you might have been able to tell from the description thus far, this film is very deliberately paced, Rollin is far more concerned with cinematic aesthetics than with creating any kind of intricate plotting. The plot itself, from this point, is simple – boy wants to fuck around, talks the girl into it, they get stuck/lost in the cemetery after dark, they get in a fight, and ultimately she goes mad – yet the plot possesses the power to hypnotize, and the deliberation of the plot (or really, it's the deliberation of the characters' actions – as in walking around aimlessly, hopping over gravestones, etc. – while the plot is pretty much put on hold altogether) is nearly completely overshadowed by the simple fluidity of the film itself. None of the physical meanderings ever seem like they're in place to stretch time, rather the meandering of the characters through the film's timeline seems to be exactly what the film is about. It is a gorgeous sight to behold, in a slightly bizarre sort of way.

The visuals, especially towards the last third of the short 75-minute movie, evoked for me thoughts of the French new wave films from the mid-to-late sixties, the beautiful handheld camerawork and the juxtaposing cutting, and the whole sure-handed execution of the entire thing really started to give The Iron Rose the feeling of a sort of new wave horror film.

The more I sit with this simple film, the more I think it might be creeping up there with my tip-top Euroshock favorites.
-V

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Actually, Jean Rollin.


I thought long and hard before writing this post, after years (it’s been since 2006!) of posting exclusively on Jess Franco and his amazing –from various points of view- films, I never, ever waned to post something of another filmmaker on this site in a way that takes a diversion from Jess Franco. I believe this does not fall into the category of diversion, rather, after having just seen The Nude Vampire, I think that Jean Rollin shares a special place along side of Jess Franco, and I’m not just talking about the time they co-directed that horrifically abysmal “Zombie Lake”!

To further this train of thought, I also own a comprehensive and nearly encyclopedic essay on the films of Jess Franco, Jean Rollin, José Ramón Larraz and three other European directors who were extremely prolific in the Euroshock and erotic sub-genres. The book in question, before I forget to mention it, is “Immoral Tales”, and I’m sad to say it’s been out of print for a while, as far as I know. I was lucky enough to find a copy at a mere 25% of (not off) the cover price at a local bookseller who was (also sadly) going out of business a few years ago. This is actually the book that got me into both Jess Franco and Jean Rollin in the first place. (When it came to Jose, I’d have to credit Anchor Bay for releasing his kick-ass 1974 flick “Vampyres” as the means to my introduction to this director.) At any rate, as these fine European directors share space (whole chapters, in fact) in Immoral Tales, I have thus found it fitting, not contradictory, to include some words about them once in a while on this platform. I hope, as much as I’m sure, Jess Franco wouldn’t mind.

And after finally seeing Rollin’s The Nude Vampire last night, which showcases the talents of a young French actress who bares a shocking resemblance to Miley Cyrus (did I even spell that right?), I could see the erotic influences here that were also evident in Franco’s Blue Rita and She Killed in Ecstasy, as well as… hold on, here… Francis Ford Coppola’s envisioning of Dracula. Yes, as soon as I watched The Nude Vampire, I knew exactly where I’d seen those sheer pastel dresses wrapped around our vampiresses' naked bodies while they ran around the exterior sets. And although the wardrobe choices in The Nude Vampire (as with many others of Rollin’s films) were much more transparent than the ones worn by Winona Ryder or Sadie Frost in Dracula, at least Coppola had the good sense to soak the actresses in rain as they ran around their nineteenth century hedge maze.

Granted, The Nude Vampire seems burdened with being one of Rollin’s earlier works, as he seems to have not quite ironed out the fluidity, eroticism and groovy arthouse presentation his later (even in the more immediate sense) films achieved. The Nude Vampire is pretty swell, sure, but for myself, even being a little familiar with Rollin’s work, it just made me think back in the first time I saw Fascination, Night of the Hunted and Requiem for a Vampire. Even his themes of Vampirism in The Nude Vampire are needlessly heavy-handed and create too many expository scenes, especially at the end, giving this movie more the feeling of American b-movie than French arthouse eroticism. Do I still think it’s worth a look? Surely I do. It is fun to watch. Then again, would we expect anything less than that from a movie titled The Nude Vampire?

-V.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2. The Die Nonnen von Clichy Xrated Nunsploitation Series #5 (Spine 90)

“Die Nonnen von Clichy”
(or: Jess Franco’s “Les Demons”)

Well, the back of the box for this X-Rated Kult DVD release promised a German dialog track with English Subtitles, or an alternate Spanish track. What I got, very much to my chagrin, when I popped the DVD into the player was one German dialog track with NO subtitles and one French track with GERMAN subtitles. Ach! No Englisch Untertitel! After realizing the reality of my situation, I proceeded with the film nonetheless, intending to simply fast-forward to the sexy bits, and I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that some of the more artistic aspects of the film caught my eye and kept my finger off of the FF button. Indeed, this is without a doubt Mr. Franco’s undisputed nunsploitation EPIC. Running in at just a few minutes shy of a full-on two hours, I was witness to a lengthy plot (if only by my eyes, as my ears are not formally trained in German and my French is a tenth-grade failure at best – and that was well over 20 years ago) concerning a high-society man/woman couple who arrive at a convent equipped with a sprawling torture dungeon used by the Spanish Inquisition. In this dungeon, there is a brunette female prisoner who manages to escape and find sanctuary in the arms of a high-society artist, who paints portraits of nude models. The brunette is discovered and re-captured and brought back to the torture dungeon where the high-society man becomes seduced by her. Meanwhile, the high-society woman (who had spent her days wallowing in the voyeurism of the torture sessions) is seduced by another high-society girl, only this girl used to be a nun until she was fucked by an intruder in her bedroom and visited by, and then possessed by, the ghost of a condemned witch who had been burned at the stake at the beginning of the movie. Contrary to X-Rated Kult DVD’s nunsploitation classification of this Jess Franco gem, the nunsploitation element is abruptly dropped halfway through when one of the sisters dives off the convent balcony. But you hardly notice the transition from true nunsploitation to sumptuous period-piece sexploitation in the midst of all the sexually-demonic, Spanish Inquisition goings-on. Amusingly, Franco-regular Howard Vernon (The Awful Dr. Orloff) has a role here too, though I can’t comment on the import of this role as I was unable to understand any of his German-dubbed dialog. Still, Les Demons was seriously fun, if a little too un-gory at the most inopportune times. But hell, it’s Franco, right? If you’ve seen Vampyros Lesbos you’ll expect nothing less, and truthfully, you’ll probably get a little more.

-V.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Jess Franco Marathon part 9: final words.

I can’t believe it took two months to run and review The Jess Franco Marathon; I was off to such a rollicking start I though this would be a single-week session, and over before I knew it. But before I could say “Exorcism and Black Masses” one week turned into two, and soon I was sure all I’d need was three weeks, tops. Then three and a half. By the time December rolled around, I got a fire under my Franco-loving ass and figured, well, five and a half weeks ain’t so bad…

Needless to say now, it’s all done up eight weeks later and I finally got some closure on the box set in review, and here it is only a technical decade after I’d started the damned project. I’m stilling reeling a little over the fact that it’s 2010. In the meantime, the last eight weeks has shown me that this self-proclaimed cinefile can’t survive on Jess Franco alone, just as I’d love to be able to survive on nothing but beer, it ain’t gonna happen. I do have a healthier respect for Franco’s repertoire, and the massive injection of his films has nicely counterpointed the other cinematic fair I’ve alternately ingested, both foreign and domestic, both recently produced and those with solidified cult stature, and also those in-betweens that may or may not be waiting to achieve such cult status. In the midst of discovering Martyrs, Timecrimes, and the hard-to-find semi-cult achiever Massacre at Central High, Hollywood’s The Perfect Getaway and Tony Scott’s Taking of Pelham 123 remake, the classical Last Year at Marienbad, and my most recent and highly pleasing re-discovery of Richard Stanley’s awesome freshman film Hardware (and all the while trying to FORCE myself into liking Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds*), I have found Franco’s input into cinematic culture more important than I’d previously imagined, along with the likes of Jean Rollin and Alex “Day of the Beast” De La Iglesia. As usual, I completely digress, so now I’ll interlude with a recount; super-quick-like:

Barbed Wire Dolls **1/2
Blue Rita ***
Ilsa the Wicked Warden ***1/2 (and the undisputed masterpiece of this collection)
Jack the Ripper ***
Love Camp **
Love Letters from a Portuguese Nun **1/2 (reminding us why the Catholic Church might’ve been so freaked about Franco the filmmaker)
Sexy Sisters **1/2
Voodoo Passion (pretty damned entertaining but no further scoring applied by this guy)

As for the rest of 2010, I might be inclined to review the likes of a Killer Barbys double-feature, and perhaps a rediscovering of 99 Women could be in order. But for the first year of this millennium’s second decade, I’m particularly excited to see which Franco classic might be the first to make its way into the hi-def world via the blu-ray format. Time will tell…


-V
(*Still hasn’t happened)

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Jess Franco Marathon, 8 of 8

“Voodoo Passion”

I had just finished watching the Mila Jovovich/ Steve Zahn thriller The Perfect Getaway prior to throwing in this Franco cult item, unwittingly subjecting myself to a double-feature of exotically-located mayhem. The Perfect Getaway was surprisingly not too shabby. And, neither was Voodoo Passion; though other than being set on a beach in the heat of the summer, the two films were obviously as artistically far apart from each other as one could get. While I felt slightly disappointed at the “artistically” obscured nudity of The Perfect Getaway, Franco’s own artistic romp down exploitation alley more than made up for that.

Voodoo Passion kicks off with a four-minute naked voodoo ritual dance on an open beach (supposedly in Haiti) under the morning sun and over a scorching jazz score. In fact, throughout the whole film I think this is one of the best Franco scores laid down. After the enjoyable jazz/voodoo dance intro, we see a couple of white girls (or ladies), one of them dressed deliciously in super-high cut-off short-shorts. Being a Franco film one is comfortable with the assumption that the short-shorts would sooner or later give way to bare flesh. Sure as shizzles, that happened almost immediately. Girl 1 arrives at house where girl 2 lies naked in bed. Girl 1 is waiting for her boyfriend, but before he arrives, Girl 1 and girl 2 have already taken a bath together. After Boyfriend arrives, girl 1 and boyfriend fuck while girl 2 watches and masturbates with a champagne bottle. There’s a lot of fucking going on. Which is why I was slightly confused as to why girl 1 would need to be led through the jungle by girl 3 (also naked) into a daylight naked voodoo ritual that apparently was intended to make girl 1 even hornier than she already was. Everything, after we see girl 1 arriving at the house on the edge of the jungle/beach at the beginning of the movie, happens completely in the buff. (That is, save for one brief dinner scene that occurs about forty-two minutes in) I’ve honestly never, ever witnessed a legit feature film play out almost entirely in the nude by every man and woman in the cast. Save for the high heel shoes that girl 1 wears in nearly every scene, even while she’s sleeping in her bed under the covers as well as when she’s later sleepwalking naked through the jungle. Girl 3, who meets her in the jungle prior to the voodoo ritual, is also naked but for wearing high heels. Guess that’s the way they roll in the Haitian jungles.

If you haven’t gathered yet, if you like naked people, you will dig this movie. This Franco flick actually had the feeling of some of those Italian “Mondo” documentary-style films of the sixties, and mixed with the killer jazz score, somehow this unfortunately made me think this could be some fantasy voodoo-exploitation opening sequence to The Cosby Show in a crazy alternate universe.

72 minutes into Voodoo Passion’s 80-minute running time, Franco throws us a curveball through the plot concerning some kind of British Special Ops double-cross… but seriously, if you’ve made it this far already, it isn’t for the wanting of a deeper plot point.

While I definitely can’t bring myself to score this feature on its merits as a legitimate foreign film release, I can say that the exploitative elements (i.e. the whole thing) made it one of the most compulsively watchable Franco flick I’ve reviewed. I wonder, also, is it coincidence that this appeared to be the highest-quality DVD transfer in the whole set of films from this collection? Hmm…