A Jess Franco Blog.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The BoXing Day Xploitation Feature

The BoXing Day Xploitation Feature

Private Collections; a 1970s anthology film of eroticism and the fantastique, directed by three of the most prolific and professional erotic cinema auteurs of that (and this) time.
I had such a great time with my Xmas Xploitation Triple-Feature that I went ahead and tried to replicate it this holiday season. Of course, as anyone knows, when you try to replicate something that had been absolutely amazing to you... well, you just can't. That's okay. It fully cements the amazing experience in your memory; and whilst you commence the futile journey of existential replication, you will inevitably wind up with new, different, and yet just as valuable experiences. So while I did not have the life-changing experience of viewing a trio of amazing world exploitation films in a single night, this reaching journey did take me to one film – a DVD – that had been obtained and had been sitting idly in my personal collection for a few months now; a hard-to-find (at a reasonable price) DVD copy of

Laura Gemsar stars in the first fable of the anthology's trio of half-hour shorts, directed by Just Jaeckin, which in itself holds several ironic retro pop-culture connotations – firstly, starlet Laura Gesmar starred in a string of Emanuelle films following the erotic blockbuster of the very first Emmanuelle film (1974) that starred Sylvia Kristel that had been directed by Just Jaekin – however, he never directed any of the sequels of varying branches of the erotic series that had starred Laura Gemsar. Jaeckin did direct the wonderful 1984 comic book adventure/erotica send-up Gwendoline that I'd first seen as part of last week's Xmas Xploitation Triple-Feature. Here, in Private Collections, he directs Gesmar in a gleeful tongue-in-cheek rendition of the popular Italian cannibal films – her Gesmar plays a jungle femme fatale that lures a stranded french sailor into her circle of sexually hungry island women. But soon, the fantasy turns into a nightmare for the stranded Frenchman.

Following this, in one of my biggest cinematic surprises ever, Japanese filmmaker Shûji Terayama directs a highly erotic tale of ghostly vengeance and lost innocence. This segment was so hypnotically beautiful that I wound up utilizing the rest of my night researching the works and life of director Shûji Terayama – and let me tell you, this is a cumbersome and inspirational story unto itself.

Finally, the film fell slightly flat (but not altogether!) because while I held the highest expectation for the third and final director, Walerian Borowczyk, whose previous films The Beast and Behind Convent Walls I hold in the highest regard when it comes to erotic retro-exploitation-arthouse cinema, delivered a rather subdued, and yet engaging tale of a single mother who tries to hide her son while she hopes to deceive her one-night-stand into developing a relationship beyond what it is, or ever could be. Wrong time, wrong man. There is beauty to be beheld in Walerian Borowczyk's final segment of Private Collections, but it's too minor, overall, to achieve a lasting resonance to the anthology as a whole.

However, also as a whole, the anthology is artistically and erotically (and a times even humorously) successful. Commercially? I have no idea. I'm watching it for my first time in 2015, a film that was released in 1979. But the very fact that I am even able to watch this film over 35 years after its initial European theatrical release has to speak something about it. 



 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

My Xmas Xploitation Triple-Feature (2015)



My Xmas Xploitation Triple-Feature

I was fortunate enough to have received three older exploitation films via the post this week – lucky, because not only were these three separate packages from thee separate Amazon.ca sellers not even supposed to have arrived until the new year, but also lucky as it was three days 'til Christmas and the two post offices near my apartment are packed to the tits with Christmas packages and boxes. It's not an overly fun time at the post office this time of the year, the skeleton staffs are overworked and stressed out and trying to cope with the influx of mailed presents and packages as best they can; at times it looks like they're trying to bail out a sinking ship with a tea spoon. But they always end up managing. This year, I don't have much to manage over the holidays, Xmas 2015 is shaping up to be a relatively low-stress holiday; which provides a fantastic framework for catching up on some old cult oddities that I have been missing out on for years. Two of the releases I purchased had been released on DVD by Severin Films and Synapse Films (respectively) nearly a decade ago – give or take a couple of years – one of them appeared to be already out of print: Gwendoline (aka The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of Yik-Yak) starring Whitesnake's 80s video vixen Tawny Kitaen, and Exposed, starring Christina “They Call Her One-Eye” Lindberg. The last of the three films, while having had a couple of DVD releases already, was at least a very recent Blu-ray release from Scream Factory: Women's Prison Massacre, starring Lauar Gemsar as Emanuelle, in one of the notoriously violent Emanuelle entries from Italy. Women's Prison Massacre is the last in a trilogy of Emanuelle/Women-In-Prison films that were shot back-to-back my Bruno Mattei in the early eighties, the collection of these three films is somewhat confusing as both their productions and releases – and content – overlapped heavily, coupled with the rotating title changes depending on what and when and where each International distributor was doing with and handling each of the films. Even after their respective DVD releases in the early 2000s, I had to double- and triple-check the specs, credits, and descriptions of each film on the internet to finally get straight that the other Mattei/Gemsar Women In Prison collaborations were not in fact the same film re-titled by different distributors. Of the three, I'd up to this point only seen Violence in a Women's Prison, which had been released by Shriek Show on DVD over a decade ago. I did not, at the time, think that film was very great. Watching the new Blu-ray of Women's Prison Massacre, I found that to be the far superior film of the pair, it's a nearly arthouse take on the Women-In-Prison sexploitation model, stretched to new heights by the brazen homages to Assault on Precinct 13 and The Deer Hunter, which keeps things moving at a far more exciting pace that the film has any right to. Additionally, while I nearly always love the exotic Laura Gemsar in or out of her string on Emanuelle roles, in Women's Prison Massacre she really turns in a solid and confidently impressive performance. Mattei and Gemsar really outdid themselves on this one, and as far as exploitation flicks go in general, this is one of the best and particularly bloody for a WIP flick, and has even managed to spark in me a genuine interest in revisiting Mattei's previous works in the Women-In-Prison and Nunsploitation sub-genres.

I followed this film up with Just Jaeckin's Gwendoline, which is the “director's cut” version of the longer-titled Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of Yik-Yak, and I was duly stunned into a surprised, smiling silence to see that the director of the original Emmanuelle film (from 1974) had taken his erotica tendencies into a whole new realm of tongue-in-cheek comedy, complete with amazing sets, locations, and lush, sexualized costuming – some of this film actually reminded me of Mad Max Fury Road, at times mixed with Big Trouble in Little China. With this film, Jaeckin took sexploitation smart-women-in-peril filmmaking in the Philippines (a Roger Corman staple) to a whole new level of sexy, funny, charming, and sophisticated camp. As much as it pains me to say this, I actually preferred Gwendoline (based on the fetish/bondage comic book “The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline”) over the sexy camp classic Barbarella. It's surprisingly hard to picture the sweet, charming, young Tawney Kitaen here in the lead role of the innocent and sexually curious Gwendoline in 1984 as the assertively sexy vixen of Whitesnake's videos only a few years later into the late-eighties.

The last of this impromptu Xmas sexploitation trilogy was Exposed, aka Diary of a Rape, starring Christina Lindberg and which preceded Thriller: A Cruel Picture / They Call Her One-Eye by two years in 1971 but which for newer audiences such as myself follows our introduction to the beautiful sexploitation Swedish actress Lindberg. Exposed actually re-works extremely well as an unintended follow-up to Thriller, in that film we see Lindberg getting to kick some ass in what is one of the most poetic revenge stories I've ever seen – Exposed works like a sort of antithesis to Thriller, where Lindberg's character experiences quite a different, subtler form of sexual manipulation and blackmail, and then spends the actual plot of the film both trying to escape her situation and simultaneously overtly asking for help with her situation – but asking her current jealous and thick-headed boyfriend proves to be only a brick wall for her. In Thriller, as Lindberg goes on her rampage of revenge, we're with her all the way. In Exposed, she creates a character that we completely sympathize and empathize with, and again, we're with her all the way. In both films she is completely engaging, and part of this is undoubtedly due to her nonthreatening beauty and sexuality. She is attractive, but the scenes she is disrobed in are not in the film to entice, but to illustrate, with Lindberg in firm control of her character, the manipulation that has made her a victim of slimy opportunists. And the film shows us, in a way: is not her thick-headed boyfriend being an opportunist as well? He uses the fact that she had been a sexual victim against her, and almost as a reason not to help her. In both Exposed and Thriller: A Cruel Picture Lindberg's empathetic characters are then basically left to fend for themselves, which is both sad and empowering at the same time. And speaking more of it as an overall film (or film experience), Exposed is also beautiful in its photography and its editing (once again sharing an aesthetic with Thriller).

Overall, this Xmas Xploitation Triple-Feature was far more than I could've asked for; beyond expectation (or Xpectation?) because going into this, I had no expectation. What I did have was a pile of DVDs shipped by Amazon sellers and delivered by Canada Post in time to relax and spend some leisure time with before we get into the thick of the Xmas holidays. Merry Christmas, everyone!





Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Week of Wonders


A Week of Wonders.

Roaming the short aisles of a small local video retail store, I came across a new copy of The Criterion Collection's blu-ray release for Valerie and Her Week of Wonders. Noting that the price sticker reflected the same numbers as what the disc was currently on sale for at Amazon (I know, this is a bad motive for purchase, I should've just outright supported this local independent video store – a treasure nowadays), I asked the clerk (and casual acquaintance) if he'd seen the film. 

"No," he tells me, "but everybody says that I have to watch it!".
I totally understand – for years now, a good friend of mine has urged me to watch this movie. It's one of those things where there is sporadic opportunity to watch this film, and I could have always called my friend up and asked, "Hey, can I swing by and watch your European-import DVD of that movie?", but as opportunity sits there gathering dust, the accessibility of the movie is what remained in my mind, not so much (or in fact replacing) the urgency to watch it – even though for years Valerie and Her Week of Wonders was not readily available to most people in North America (specifically, Vancouver).
Finally with a more direct opportunity to watch the film – as I now personally owned the new Criterion blu-ray – I wasted no time (this time, years after being introduced to the existence of this film) in placing the disc in my blu-ray player and giving it a literal spin. My old friend, knowing that I was a huge fan, cinematically speaking, of lush visuals and somewhat hallucinogenic and non-linear storytelling, was right in trying to turn me onto this film, practically since I'd first met him. But would I have received the film with the same sense of joy and excitement years ago? I can't say; though my subconscious tells me, probably not. The timing in which one receives a film is nearly as important as the work itself. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is a nearly indescribably film in its emotional sense, and in the experience of its visuals and dreamlike plotting; and I mean this in a very subtle sense. Somehow, and paradoxically, it's one of the few subtly earth-shifting films I've had the pleasure of watching. 

Incredibly, on the Criterion blu-ray, stored within the few special features available on the disc, there are direct comparisons of Valerie and Her Week of Wonders and Jess Franco's kitschy/dreamlike Vampyros Lesbos; they include imagery from Franco's film to illustrate the comparisons, as well. Of course the influence of this gorgeous film can be seen beyond Franco's work and into the likes of Tony Scott's The Hunger , Baba Yaga, and even some of the more hallucinogenic Italian giallo films. After experiencing Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, not only is it now sitting in my top-six list, it has shifted my perspective on the odd stories of weird, dreamlike European films.

As I write this essay I'm traveling on a bus on the way to work, unbeknownst to me, I'm about to see another film this evening that has also been obviously influenced by Valerie and Her Week of Wonders – Guy Maddin's The Forbidden Room. This film is a languid trip, full of pop culture and cinematic references played up for laughs in what is essentially an experiment in non-linear comedy and the multiple sub-genres of the fantastique. 
 
I had read a review of The Forbidden Rom – unusual for me; I aggressively avoid reading reviews and watching trailers for films that I'm interested in – I don't like anything given away (or anything to feed into expectation, really). The review (reviewer) I read happened to have missed the whole structure of this ebbing & flowing plot altogether. He writes that he agonizes over where (or whether) the film is taking him somewhere, or anywhere; in fact, this reviewer has missed the whole idea that the plot is meant to flow in and out like the tide of the ocean, and the deeper it goes, it eventually takes you back to the shore, to the anchor plot-point of the film – which is a submarine crew that is stuck aboard without air. From this story point, the movie takes us into the realms of vampires, films noir, jungle exploitation cinema, and strange stories of brain surgery and murder. It is, in a word, amazing, and not at all disjointed as the reviewer of the review had interpreted it. In fact, I could draw the plot right here: ^ /\ ^ (little wave, big wave, little wave). And the more you allow the three waves of the plot to take you into its depths and back again, at some point trusting the filmmakers, our storytellers, knowing that they will bring us back to the anchor point safely, it becomes not at all about trying to follow the plot, but simply allowing the plot and story to lift us on its waves and allow us to float serenely above the unknown ocean under our backs. It did take me until act three (the third wave) before I trusted Guy Maddin enough to let him take my conscious for the ride (or: how I learned to stop worrying about trying to remember the string of vignettes that led to the current imagery I was experiencing). 
 
And speaking of allowing one's self to experience a narrative – going back to Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, this film's broken narrative structure is that of a more common non-linear storytelling – experimental, but within a single moving direction, no matter how wild the tangent becomes – not out to the depths and back again like The Forbidden Room. But the visuals are strikingly incomparable between these two very specific films, influences and cinematic references notwithstanding. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders does definitely have more in common, visually, with Jess Franco's Vamyros Lesbos (as well as some of his other films) and the experimental vampire films of Jean Rollin. Much like The Forbidden Room, though, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders uses genre tropes to stylize the sequences that stray from the anchored narrative, whereas on the flipside, Franco's films (like Vampyros Lesbos) remain fully in their own strange, often kitschy world. 

I have found myself over the last two days recommending The Forbidden Room to anyone who will listen to my rants about it. Usually the phrase "This film is nutballs" naturally works its way in there.  

On a final note, I can't remove from my brain the idea that when Guy Maddin's The Forbidden Room makes its way to home video, my opportunity to present myself a mindbending triple feature will be at my very fingertips. And that would certifiably be going into the depths of a cerebral and visual ocean of some unknowable cinematic significance. 









Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein (and the Erotic Double Feature)


I have been looking forward to re-watching Jess Franco's The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein since the Redemption Blu-ray went up for pre-sale on Amazon this spring. I had been dying to give this movie a second look since the Image (R1) DVD had been released several years ago (now long out-of-print). In what seemed like a well-timed coincidence, I also received Hammer's Countess Dracula in the mail at the same time, also sporting a phenomenal new Blu-ray edition thanks to Synapse Films. I sat down last night to watch this impromptu Euro-erotic-horror double feature. Both film are a little on the lagging side of pulling the plot along, Countess Dracula more obviously so, as it doesn't quite have the quirkiness of Franco's "horror" style to keep it as utterly weird. Hammer's film, Countess Dracula, is a retelling of the Elizabeth Bathory legend (a Countess who killed virgin girls and bathed in their blood in order to retain her own youth), and a lurid as this might sound there is only one real reason to watch (and in this case, re-watch) Countess Dracula -- Ingrid Pitt. On the other hand, Jess Franco's The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein is about a half-bird woman (with blue feathers glued to her naked body) who waders about a castle scaring naked lesbian nymphs and setting up fatal sado-sexual games to unsuspecting guests all in an effort to create a race of super-humans my mating Frankenstein's monster with an engineered super-female. Franco's film is so voyeuristically bonkers that you don't really mind the fact that every single shot and scene is probably a little longer that it really needs to be, even at a cool 74 minutes.

 

I was first intrigued by The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein when I first came across a review of the movie while researching Jess Franco nearly fifteen years ago. I'd heard about Franco through the book Immoral Tales and was keen on discovering some of his works. After some research, I'd compiled a list of films I was eager to see: Vampyros Lesbos, Female Vampire, She Killed in Ecstasy, and The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein. At the time it had been easier to track down the first three titles, all had just been released onto DVD by Synapse Films and Image. Eventually, Image would also release a DVD of Erotic Rites, but sadly, it was cut of all the nudity; Image had used an international censored print for the transfer. Somewhat more annoyingly, some of the nude and more kitschy sexual and voyeuristic shots had been compiled in a small special feature on Image's DVD, and I wondered why they hadn't bothered to restore those shots into the film.


Seeing now Redemption's fully restored blu-ray of Franco's film, I really wonder how the original Image DVD, and the international print, for that matter, ever really had a chance. There was for more that had been cut out of the film than those DVD special features could even indicate, and at 74 minutes uncut, it is no surprise that I was never fond of that first DVD version of Franco's wild film. The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein is no masterpiece of  Franco's, but f9inally, now that we have this newly restored version from Redemption, the movie can finally sit comfortably with Vampyros Lesbos and A Virgin Among the Living Dead. 








Monday, May 18, 2015

New Severin Releases...

Earlier this month, Severin Films released two of Franco's most well-known and best films from the early seventies, Vampyros Lesbos (most well-known) and She Killed in Ecstasy (best film), in limited-number blu-ray editions. While I wait anxiously on this BC Long Holiday Weekend for the post office to re-open tomorrow to find out if my online pre-orders actually arrived or not, merely two weeks since these blu-rays' official release, Vampyros Lesbos is already out-of-print/no longer available in Canada. At a print run of 7,500 copies for Vampyros Lesbos, for it to have already out-sold the still-available She Killed in Ecstasy at its even more limited print run of 4,000 (nearly half that of VL!) is something of a crime worthy of the vengeance of Soledad Miranda. Severin's Vampyros Lesbos blu-ray set does also include the "bootleg" Spanish DVD Las Vampiras, and the She Killed in Ecstasy set includes the Vampires' Sound Incorporation official soundtrack (the music was also utilized to awesome effect in The Devil Came from Akasava); but the inclusion of the generally-available soundtrack isn't going to make or break the SKIE collector's set; and yet while VL is certainly more notorious of the two films released, She Killed in Ecstasy boasts the better plotting, scenarios, scenery, and even sex. Coupled with the amazing soundtrack, this dazzling cut-and-run flick hits the viewer like it's overscored psychedelic revenge jazz track intends it to, and in a way that Vampyros Lesbos, for all its own awesomeness, can't. I mean, really, where else are you going to see a nude woman smothered by kitschy inflatable late-sixties euro-furnishings at the hands of another nude woman (Soledad Miranda) in a fur-lined apartment?

While Vampyros Lesbos, She Killed in Ecstasy, and The Devil Came from Akasava were entirely produced on back-to-back and overlapping schedules in the early seventies, the promotional materials from all three films were alternately used to promote, and were henceforth more so associated with, Vampyros Lesbos (also sometimes spelled Vampiros Lesbos); which became something of the flagship film of this unique (if unintended) loose trilogy in Franco's repertoire. The flagship film was the first one that came to my attention, as well, back in the early days of niche genre market VHS releases when Redemption/Salvation distributed it on videotape in the UK (I discovered this VHS tape while traveling around Europe in 1997), and then again when Synapse Films released the same two films Severin just released -- on non-anamorphic DVD in 2002.

It was during a re-watch of this very same Synapse DVD just last year that the personal status of She Killed in Ecstasy easily cemented itself in the top spot of my favourite Jess Franco films, and in fact, one of my favourite films of all-time. SKIE is a brilliant jazz symphony of all things catchy and quirky, kitschy and engaging, and simply beautiful within its gorgeously rough edges. Get it now, before it's gone. Missing out on She Killed in Ecstasy would be an unfortunate regret.













Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Duke of Burgundy

In on of the new March articles from the BFI / Sight & Sound in the UK, Duke of Burgundy director Peter Strickland (Berberian Sound Studio) lists the cinematic influences on his brilliant new film, a tale of lepidoptery and lesbian sadomasochism set in an all-female world -- and Jess Franco's A Virgin Among the Living Dead is listed as #2!

There are other fantastic articles this month on Strickland's film, plus the 2013 retrospect on Jess Franco (1930-2013)