Groovy & Wild Films from Around the World

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Behind Convent Walls

..Is Walerian Borowczyk's simple nunsploitation film worth writing about? What could I say that isn't going to be said better on the special features of the most recent DVD release (uncut from Nouveaux Pictures)? Well, nothing critical, really. But yes, the film is worth talking about, for several reasons, and there are things to say.
Something on the more interesting side of this erotic showpiece (besides the erotic showpieces, I mean) is the film's narrative structure, which for nearly the first two-thirds is purely nunsploitation, though arguably this is the fetishistic sub-genre at its finest. Because thankfully, Walerian Borowczyk is a master at cinematic eroticism; he knows what to shoot, how to shoot it, and has it play like
true erotic cinema, never cheap pornography. He and Tinto Brass are probably the only two filmmakers with this deeply embedded talent of bringing charged sex to the cinema screen on such an affecting level, something to give Eyes Wide Shut a run for its money. Walerian's films are not slick, yet they have that same commercial quality that comes from talent rather than textbook, much like the early films of Scorsese or Romero. In fact, Behind Convent Walls even has a slight documentary feel to it, in spite of the fact that the last 40 minutes actually moves from its zone of sheer sexploitation to suddenly delve into a comic-book story of corruption, church politics, and Catholic repression, and that it seems a perfectly natural transition in Walerian's film, which makes it appear that this story shift had been the intention all along. Cinematically, much like Mean Streets or Martin, the film otherwise feels somewhat improvised.

At the end of the day, this film, like others of Walerian's and Brass', is really a joyous celebration of sex and the human condition. And as a storyteller, his feature films, like Convent or The Beast, are far more successful than when his talents are put out towards shorter anthology segments (as in Immoral Women). Borowczyk's talents shine in longer contexts, where as a filmmaker, his satirical voice is much more confident instead of purely jokey in his shorter narratives. Conversely, fellow erotic filmmaker Tinto Brass generally displays the opposite talent when it comes to narrative length.
The funny thing is that generally, when it comes to cinematic erotica, these aren't really the types of films that I bother to commit characters' names to mind. Either they stand out visually (The Frightened Woman) or they blend into the group shenanigans, and that is especially true here, where the story concerns an entire convent of nuns who are all dressed –or undressed— the same way. And what goes on behind those convent walls is slightly distracting, as well...

Much like
The Beast (and even Immoral Women, which was a little too cutesy-poo for my liking) the erotica is true and beautifully handled, the camera movements in Convent specifically, while docu-esque, was handled by none over than the cinematographer of Suspiria, giving Walerian's film a gorgeous voyeuristic personality.

And speaking of gorgeous, check out this convent...(!) The beautiful nuns serve not only the film's eroticism, but manage to bring this flick into the realm of pure fantasy and nunsploitation while maintaining its verisimilitude, exactly where it wants to be.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Lorna the Exorcist (1974)

Well, after some build-up, I finally had the chance to watch Jess Franco's Lorna: The Exorcist. Okay, now, where to start...? Perhaps I should mention – then again, perhaps it goes without saying – that there is nary an exorcist to be found in the film. Nor any attempt at an exorcism. There is a Lorna, however, and we first see her in a ten-minute lesbian romp with Franco muse Lina Romay (as Linda). We soon discover that this is some sort of lesbian fantasy on Linda's part, and as the plot thickens, we find that Lorna is capable of bodily possession. The first clue to this comes from the poor girl who spends the film half-naked in a hospital for the insane, locked in a room and watched over by a doctor played by none other than Jess Franco himself, in scenes that could have been lifted from a handful of other Franco films. The insane girl rants her nights away calling for Lorna. Lorna, we find out, has a direct connection to Linda and her parents in the film, and Lorna soon appears in the flesh to Linda (in yet another lesbian scenario, the third one between the pair at this point) while somehow placing a curse on Linda's mother. Lorna then doesn't so much jump from body to body as she does lesbian encounter to lesbian encounter. And there is plenty of heterosexual scenarios, too, as Linda's father Patrick has more sex in twenty-five minutes than most of us have had all week. As watchable as all these shenanigans are, sadly, this is not one of Franco's more elegant nor graceful efforts. The camerawork is sloppy (okay, no surprise, right?) and the editing is just grating (again, not a big shock), but this is a real shame because Lorna (the film) boasts some of the finest locations Franco has ever filmed at, both exterior and interior. With more care, this could have been a gorgeous entry in the euro-smut genre, and possibly a minor gem. As it is, there are far too many technical distractions, even for a Franco film, as the subject matter, as well as the performances portraying the plot, are not nearly as charming or kitschy as some of his more famous efforts. That being said, the one thing that does make the film worthwhile is Lina Romay herself, who has rarely seemed more sensuous on screen. If nothing else, Franco certainly knows how to shoot a girl.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

A Lady Above Suspicion, A Frightened Woman.

About a week ago I went down to London's Roxy Bar & Screen for Filmbar 70's presentation of Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion. Although I consider myself a fan of Luciano Ercoli's films, I had not seen this one in particular, despite having owned the Blue Underground DVD since 2006. This was one of those “lost in the collection:” titles. Strangely enough, I did bring a digital copy of it along with me to London this summer, but when I saw that Filmbar 70 would be hosting a big-screen presentation of this giallo, I saved my first viewing for this event. I was a little surprised to see actress Susan Scott (Nieves Navarro) take second fiddle in this arthouse-giallo, as she's the typical (if not the epitome) giallo female, and as I'd first seen her having lead roles in husband Luciano Ercoli's latter films, Death Walks at Midnight and Death Walks in High Heels. That being said, her role in Forbidden Photos is definitely striking and even, dare I say, slightly more memorable that Dagmar Lassander's lead performance (though she's pretty awesome, too), in this Lenzi-esque early giallo entry. The idea for Forbidden Photos relies on the trendy sixties-style Italio thrillers, where corrupt people try to drive each other insane with twisted, convoluted plots – films which were far more influenced by Les Diaboliques than any of the later gialli from the seventies, which focused more on sex and flamboyantly bloody murders (see again, Death Walks at Midnight). But even with the earlier giallo entry, Luciano Ercoli displays a profound flair for bringing in a cheap thriller disguised as stylish art, something that I'm coming to have more of an appreciation for each time I watch his films.
Strangely enough, I'd come across leading lady Dagmar Lassander a second time in as many weeks when I finally took a couple of hours to watch The Frightened Woman. On the surface (or rather, the DVD cover), Piero Schivazappa's film looks like a pseudo-psychedelic sixties sado-masochistic sex romp devoid of plot and drama. Boy, was I wrong. Sure, there's plenty of sexual (not sex) set-pieces and the entire design of the film is pretty effin' groovy, like Danger Diabolik if it had been designed for early Penthouse, but dammit if this film didn't actually have a story, and it was sincerely engaging. Okay, so chalk this one up to the surprise of the week.
I'm excited now to revisit, or discover, some of Dagmar's other works now that she's in the front of my mind. I must've seen her in Fulci's The Black Cat or Bava's Hatchet for a Honeymoon, but to see this Prague actress really kick some ass, you can't do better than Forbidden Photos and The Frightened Woman. Or possibly Werewolf Woman.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The cause of being erratic

I do have to apologize for the erratic (read: not too damn many) postings this summer, and now fall. It wasn't my fault! No, actually, it was my damn fault, I just wanted to say that while picturing John Belushi on his knees in a tunnel begging for his life to a pissed-off AK-47 swinging post-princess-leia Carrie Fisher. And if you have no idea what I'm talking about, then you likely need to sort that out immediately and quit reading this blog. Okay, for those of you still with me, again, my apologies. I intend to dedicate far more time to this blog in the coming months and to expand the dialog to some other filmmakers as I had with the Immoral Tales retrospective many moons ago. Upcoming, I'm intending a thorough re-examination of She Killed in Ecstasy and as well we'll have an exclusive look at Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion as screened by Filmbar 70 at London's Roxy Bar & Screen. That's later this month. As for now, with Brivido Giallo, we're in the midst of principal photography on a new experimental Euro-thriller feature film, to be wrapped by November 5th and starting post-production later this year, or early January.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Scala Forever season in London

Or: "A look at some London culture by someone from somewhere else".

In London, 2009, I was hunting around an HMV store when I found a Blu-ray release of Richard Stanley's "Hardware" I've always been strangely attracted to this film, something about it's post-punk, post-apocalyptic attitude, I guess. I didn't pick it up immediately as we were about to be heading back to Vancouver in a couple of weeks. I checked it out on the internet and found that Severin Films was set to release this gem a few months ahead, anyway, so I waited. (incidentally, this is one of the few titles I'd seen on VHS, and then was never able to track it down again until the Blu-ray release - totally skipping a whole media generation!) When I did finally get to watch Hardware again, I was excited all over again, it had been a long time. What was great was that Severin had also included a documentary on the days that Richard Stanley had worked at The Scala theatre at King's Cross in London. This was the first time I'd ever heard of it, and it seriously changed my life.

Unfortunaly, after this prompted some further wikipedia searching which unearthed some sad news. The Scala had never re-opened after a string of bad luck, starting with the suing by Warner Brothers at Stanley Kubrick's insistence, in 1993. Now it was just a night club.

Two years later, June 2011: I find myself back in London. Somewhat indefinitely, I guess you could say. After six days of re-orienting myself, I made it down to the Roxy Bar & Screen where a couple of amiable fellas named Justin and Adam, who run the Filmbar 70 screenings in London, started chatting with me as I hung out at one of the tables outside the front doors on Borough High Street with a pint. Adam told me that they were going to be launching a massive six-week screening schedule for something that they were calling "Scala Forever". I knew what The Scala was, or had been, and I'd thought I'd heard him incorrectly, so I asked him if he could spell it while I made a note of it. S-C-A-L-A ..."Oh, Scala!?!" "Yeah," he said, "Scala Forever." I asked if The Scala had re-opened as a theatre, my voice surely filled with hope and excitement, and he told me no, that the screenings were in honour of the old Scala, which had indeed come to a finalizing demise in '93.

August 23, 2011: I went to my first of the Scala Screenings (the whole schedule is now about a week and a half in) and London writer David L Hayles was talking about the old experiences there, and his experiences with Russ Meyer. We were about to watch a double-feature of Meyer films, Mondo Topless and the classic post-sixties-culture-shocker Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. It was at this screening I met, for the second time only, a friend-of-a-friend named Tony. Turns out Tony used to run the Psychotronic store inside the old Scala and now has a store up in Camden, where you might be able to catch him once in a while. The man is a huge Jess Franco fan. He's been to Jess Franco's house, watching Franco's own flicks with him, and had dinner made for them by Lina Romay. He told me a lot of other stories, too, and with us both having an affinity for whacked-out sixties culture, we were able to quickly chat the time away until our other friends arrived and the screening began.

When I visit Tony and his Camden shop, at some point in the near future, I plan to give a full report on his seemingly immense collection of worldwide Jess Franco paraphernalia (depending on if I can get some good photographs or not). He's been collecting Franco's films since the 80's, and has acquired some strange titles on foreign videotape. These I would like to see!

But until then-- well, I don't know what. I'll try to survive more of the Scala Forever season. And I do mean survive. There are some screening sets that run from seven at night until eight the next morning. I'm going to give the 80's all-nighter a try.


Saturday, June 04, 2011

Necronomicon - Geträumte Sünden

Yes, alright, this is a.k.a. “Succubus”, and I know I wrote about this flick upon my first re-discovery of it a few years back when Blue Underground re-released this sucker on DVD. If any Jess Franco film is primed to be re-released in HD it's this one. A lot of the cinematography is soft, but it's also lush. Actually, a lot of the photography in this film, right from the start of the opening credits (over various shots, some repeated, of various artworks), is pretty tongue-in-cheek. It's like a sexy psychedelic comedy of perversions.
After the artwork the first actual shot of the film is star Janine Reynaud in a sado-masochistic sexual performance set-piece (dressed in black vinyl whipping a semi-nude blonde strapped to a wooden X), something Franco would repeat several times throughout his career in the far more famous “Vampyros Lesbos”, and far more explicitly, in “Exorcism & Black Masses”. This may have been pretty controversial in the swingin' sixties (maybe) but it really just comes off as cutely-sexy now. Of course, the fact that the scene cuts away to an applauding audience just contributes to the fun side of this flick.
Janine Reynaud had a sexual androgynous look, but she's definitely filled with sex appeal. Jack Taylor walks in on her lounging on his couch:
What are you doing here?”
I was bored, so I came to your apartment, do you mind?”
To which she then gyrates into a semi-tease dance in front of the record player. Pretty awesome. And she definitely had a set of legs on her. She can be a real heartstopper even when she's not actually taking her clothes off, and I know I've said this before, but Franco really knew how to shoot the best of his attractive actresses. His leading ladies were often (fuck that, ALWAYS) the best asset his films had. Even within the Ed Wood-esque “realism” of Franco's cinematic world, the leading actresses shone out like bright diamonds and gave most of his films a timeless charm. Reynaud does eventually disrobe, but then that's where the melodrama seems to start – while the movie retains it's initial tongue-in-cheek quality. Around this time (we're about 13 minutes in at this point) the film also veers off into its intercutting of beautifully soft psychedelic photography. Almost a cinematic rambling by Franco, it's nevertheless hard to peel the eyeballs away from the screen, thought it might be out of sheer campy curiosity as opposed to any kind of driving narrative, but that, what would one else expect? It's these sequences, actually, that really give Succubus a life and identity of its own, which is actually somewhat important for a film contained in a director's repertoire that is as vast as Franco's. Like Euginie De Sade, however, I feel like this movie would've benefited greatly from a driving soundtrack as opposed to the running voice-over narrative during these lengthy psychedelic sequences. But the, that might've been too artsy even for Franco. It's within this narrative we learn more of the association of the idea of the film to it's original title: Necronomicon. And while the film's original title in an obvious Lovecraft reference, leave it up to Franco to inject the idea of Marquis De Sade into his story, clearly making it more about the sexual than the satanic. (Yet there's even reference to Poe's works later on in the film).

In Succubus, Janine Reynaud seems like an all-in, assured, and confident actress exuding her hypnotic charm throughout, whether doing a strip tease, wandering through a psychedelic fog, or crawling around on the floor in the midst of a partly in her panties while the other guests intimidate her like a (literal) pack of crazy dogs. But she's also a commanding presence, easily commandeering the viewer's attention in spite of the terrible English over-dubbing and seemingly in the face of the film's sporadic overt cheesiness – or at least until we get two-thirds in where we get to some heavy and far-out Twilight Zone territory, with the requisite trippy/groovy soundscape. This is all sort of a Jess Franco allegory on the sixties drug/fear-of-drugs culture that was also portrayed in several American Roger Corman productions circa the same era. And amazingly, there's a shot at the hour-mark that's actually been aped by Luc Besson in “Subway”, and re-aped for Spielberg's “Minority Report”. Though I could never say with complete confidence this was at all intentional aping.
By the end of the film, we wind up back where we started (in a manner of speaking) with Janine Reynaud lying in Jack Taylor's pad, where he finds her sprawled out on some cushions following her psychedelic journey that may or may not have at some point turned homicidal. Succubus is actually quite a charming and clever little gem of a film.
Janine Reynaud is best known for this Franco film, as well as his “Two Undercover Angels” and “Kiss Me Monster” back-to-back female-Bond-esque kitschy comedies; and for Sergio Martino's “Case of the Scorpion's Tale”, and she appears to have quit acting somewhere around 1975-1978. There is a vague rumor that she had married an American millionaire and retired to Texas. Not much else is known about this sometimes stoic and always alluring talent.
Here's to you, Janine Reynaud! And to what is, for the moment, my favorite Franco film.

Monday, May 23, 2011

De Sade 2000

With a title likely derived from Radley Metzger's Camille 2000, this vivid Franco opus is otherwise known as Eugenie De Sade. This film, along with Franco's She Killed in Ecstasy, are my tip-top two absolute favorites of the small cannon starring his first significant muse, the stunning Soledad Miranda.
De Sade 2000 / Eugenie Sex Happening / Eugenie De Sade opens up with a short lesbian scene involving Miranda, filmed in a brief series of gorgeous hand-held and somewhat candid-looking shots intended to emulate a kind of snuff film, which Franco, appearing here as an actor, is viewing in a private theater.
This is the opening to yet another Franco riff on the writings of the Marquis De Sade (which is evident even in the title). This time, the story is more straight-forward and nowhere near as meta-fictional as the earlier Eugenie... The Story of her Journey into Perversion (shot one year previously, in 1969). And this time, Franco wrote the screenplay himself. Somewhat unfortunately, however, in place of the former film's meta-fictional aspect we now get some stilted and slightly boring off-camera narration to help the cohesiveness of the story along, which is being told to Franco's character by Miranda's character in a flashback set-up while she lies dying in a hospital bed. It reminded me of the horrible Blade Runner voice-overs Harrison Ford had done in an effort to intentionally sabotage the whole narration idea. Yeesh. At any rate, the stilted narration is actually not much of a distraction as it's running over some beautiful exterior shots and the gorgeous Miranada, who is captivating both in and out of her clothes. She was a true gem in Franco's films, and his photographers (Manuel Merino this time) certainly knew how to shoot her – though I have a suspicion that filming Miranda was sort of like shooting exterior locations in Europe – it's kind of hard to take a bad shot. Now if only she had a better English voice-over actress.
While the Miranda/Franco collaborations Vampyros Lesbos and The Devil Came from Akasava might be the more famous cult items, part of both of those films' infamy and popularity, I'm sure, are partly due to the rushed/cheap filmmaking and nearly inept editing that make them so-bad-they're-awesome pieces of kitsch. And without a doubt, the soundtracks to those films are the best in Franco's career. A jazz fanatic, Franco unfortunately used that inspiration only at sporadic moments in Eugenie De Sade (most overtly near the finale when the film intercuts to and from a jazz bar), this film is scored by Bruno Nicolai, who also scored Eugenie... The Story of Her Journey into Perversion & 99 Women in the sixties. I may have misworded something there, because Nicolai's score for De Sade is also awesome, especially during the third striptease/lesbian murder... it's just that... well, hell, it's no Vampires' Sound Incorporation.
Like “Lesbos”, this Franco outing revels in a type of excess only Franco could really achieve. Lurid, but not altogether sleazy, and there is plenty of nudity and what's been dubbed “soft-gore” by Christopher Null of Not as kitschy as “Lesbos”, “Akasava” or “She Killed in Ecstasy”, it's not nearly as inept, either, and in fact I'd say De Sade is one of Franco's most accomplished works of his entire career. Although that's not to say De Sade is not without a little kitsch of its own – check out the awesome nude photography/murder set piece thirty minutes in.
Franco plays a writer in this flick who tends to act more like a stalker, though that's not really unusual when it comes to his on-screen presence. Also creepy is Paul Muller, who plays Miranda's father and accomplice to the murders. At the end she lures one of the jazz musicians from the club, presumable for the final perfect murder, but she actually ends up becoming attached to the trumpet player – of course, all of this comes to a head in the midst of obsession and jealousy, and hence, Miranda's character winding up in a hospital bed. Obsession does play a significant role here, much as Franco himself was obsessed with the writings of Marquis De Sade since he'd started his cinematic career.
Eugenie De Sade was only one of six films Franco shot with Soledad Miranda in 1970 – a year in which he also directed three other non-Miranda projects. And while he would go on to find decades worth of inspiration through his next muse, Lina Romay, the Miranda projects seem like they will always be the focal point of his insanely prolific career, and I'd have to say, deservedly so.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Eugenie... The Story of her Journey into Perversion

Holy crap, how's that for a title? I'd say it's in competition alongside some of Sergio Martino's gialli from the seventies!
I started thinking about Franco again while planning the move to the London, something I'd read about the man years ago that had stuck with me – how he would often choose directing jobs based on the food in the region the project would be filming.* Yes, he allowed the food to be the deciding factor. And I say, completely without facetiousness, I believe he had his priorities straight off the bat. Although I'm not sure how far he traveled to shoot Eugenie, from what I've gathered from the trusty internet (okay, that was facetious) he shot this sucker around Barcelona. Of course, Franco being from Spain, I have a hunch he may have been familiar with the territory.
This tribute to Marquis De Sade's “Philosophy of the Bedroom” is a meta-fictional take on his work, where the characters refer not only to De Sade himself, but to his actual works of fiction within this work of fiction. Which is why I would lean more on calling it a tribute to his works, though from what I've read this story is closely based on the slightly absurd tongue-in-cheek style of his writings, much like Philip Kaufman's “Quills”.
This one stars one of my favorite cult/Fraco actresses, Maria Rohm, and she looks the best in this film. Never more stunning, though her on-screen vampiness was probably put to better use in “Venus in Furs”, the photography of her form and actions in Eugenie is some of the best. If not the best. But speaking of vampiness, I think to one of the set-up scenes in Euginie where she smacks her bitch-servant across the face, to which her co-star Jack Taylor asks, “Was that wise?” Rohm retorts: “You don't love me for my wisdom.”
Okay, maybe that called for a spoiler alert because that was pretty much the best line in the whole flick. The rest of Eugenie, as a film, pretty much relies completely on the lushly photographed women in various stages of nudity and sexual situations. And the term 'sexual situations', though a well-worn and thrown-around term of the MPAA's, was never more apt than in the context of a Marquis De Sade adaption.
Narrating some of these situations, during he more lurid goings-on (though the psycho/sado-sexuality is a bit lite by today's standards) is Christopher Lee, whose scenes weave the whole meta-fictional aspect through Eugenie's cinematic reality... and while he spouts De Sade soliloquy, there are naked women being stabbed on the same stage. (Yet in an on-screen interview present on the Blue Underground DVD, Lee claims to have had no knowledge of the content of this flick until he screened the finished product. I dunno... what exactly did he think he was watching from behind the curtain? And what about that girl who was getting on her knees in front of his--)
Anyway, as far as Franco's cannon goes, Eugenie has been one of my favorites for a long time now. As much as Franco seems to loath his own work, even he claims (again, on-screen) this Eugenie is the film of his that he hates the least. Trust me, it's at least better than that. But it doesn't surprise me that an artist would find his own work hard to take joy from, I've heard others say similar things about their own work. Sometime you have to look past the WIP flicks, as entertaining as they are, to see that Franco really was an artist at times. Eugenie was no accidental film, Franco has made many other films that boast lush photography and an intelligent sense of humour. And sometimes a dumb sense of humour, too. Personally, I think the fact we're still talking about these films decades later speaks for itself.
On a side note, when I was looking up some info for this post, I inadvertently discovered that producer/writer Harry Alan Towers (who took credit under the pseudonym Peter Welbeck, the same name he used for 1975's And Then There Were None, which also co-starred his wife Maria Rohm) had passed away in the summer of 2009 in Canada – the same year Jess Franco won the Goya award (Spain) for Lifetime Achievement.
Harry Alan Towers also produced a few works for director Tobe Hooper later in their careers. One, which I hope to revisit soon, was Tobe Hooper's Night Terrors (again loosely based on De Sade) starring a young actress named Zoe Trilling, whose star, to my honest surprise, never really shot out.

*From the book Immoral Tales: European Sex & Horror Movies 1956-1984 (1994) by Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs


Saturday, April 16, 2011

All packed up

Well, looks like anything that might me posted here over the next six months or so will have to be strictly from memory, as all of my Franco DVDs have now been packed away in various liquor boxes and piled into the corner of the nearly-empty living room. Next week, the boxes won't even be there at all. I'm making a big move over to London, England for an indefinite period of time. I am of course hoping to find some kick-ass region-2 releases, a few titles I may not have had the chance to come by in North America...

Other than the prospect of new and exciting film/video purchases (I already have a few Argento and Fulci blu-rays in the queue), I am certainly looking forward to the Big Move into new surroundings and inspiration. Hell, a new continent! However, the worst-case scenario for this blog is that I won't have a chance to post anything of the next few months until we've settled in and I have some new Franco discs in my possession.

That's alright, it's only a small piece of collateral damage in the huge task of uprooting the ol' mundane/secure/day-to-day life for the sake of continued inspiration (in other words, I got some ants in my proverbial pants).

So, here's to the future and to Franco in region 2! Hopefully I'll be back to the blog sooner rather than later.



Saturday, March 12, 2011

99 Women

I had my second look at Jess Franco's "99 Woman" last night, out of sheer curiosity I'd purchased Blue Underground's French x-rated version of the film. In a way, I'm glad I did -- all of Franco's wonderful actresses including Maria Rohm , Maria Schell, and Rosabla Neri have been dubbed into French, which amps up the alluring quality of these European starlets. The downside is that the film is continually interrupted at inexplicable intervals with hard-core pornography. The first time I watched this it came off as more of an amusing curio, but the second time around it was actually slightly annoying. The pornographic inserts are not sexy or erotic, they're instead abysmally perfunctory. These inserts have absolutely nothing to do with the characters in the film, nor are the actual actress used - nor is it even edited in a way to make it appear as though the actresses/characters have been used. I'd heard that Jess Franco was unaware that these pornographic clips had been inserted into 99 Women. Er, pardon the pun. However, the use of the zoom lens (especially in the first lesbian hardcore insert) just screams Franco's style. Well, maybe he shot it, but it wasn't intended for 99 Women. At any rate, by the end of the evening, I'd sort of wished I had purchased the director's cut of this flick.

As for the film itself (minus the inserts) it's actually a really well-constructed, nicely shot piece of exploitation mayhem. The entire women-in-prison theme (99 of these women, as is stated in one of the opening scenes) is exploited here with confidence and gusto, which makes the film totally work on a sheer-entertainment level. So much so, I was reminded of some of the best of the sub-genre, namely, the Corman-produced Pam Grier/Sid Haig WIP flicks of the early seventies. Of course, that being said, this Jess Franco/Harry Alan Towers production had actually come out in 1969, beating Corman out by a couple of years. While Roger Corman may have perfected this sub-genre, it was Towers and Franco that really got it going (you can also see it in Franco's almost-as-entertaining Barbed Wire Dolls). Had Franco continued directing films in this exploitation sub-genre, I seriously think these films could have become minor classics. As it were, Franco wound up becoming more known for his infamous Ilsa series, the Nazi Women-in-Prison sub-sub-genre of exploitation filmmaking.For what it is, 99 Women has all the right WIP ingredients in all the right places -- the synopsis on the back of the DVD box is simply: island prison where abused yet luscious young lovelies surrender to their own depraved desires.Pretty much says it all.-V.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Franco HD may be far into the future yet.

I've been catching up on some of my stockpiled Blue Underground Blu-ray releases. Manic, Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Toolbox Murders, etc. I had been holding out hope over the last year that if any company would start putting out Franco in an HD format it would've been these guys. However, it seems they're more interested (and I can't honestly say wrongfully so) in releasing Dario Argento's catalogue over the next six months. Commercially, and especially for a low-budget/high-end HD distributor, this move makes way more sense. It's just a shame, as they have the lush Venus in Furs, Eugenie de Sade and Eugenie... the story of her journey into perversion.

However, I have serious doubts that the mere popularity of Argento's films is the sole reason holding up these releases. After all, there are other distribution companies that are releasing Blu-rays now who hold the rights to some of Franco's massive catalogue. (Image and Anchor Bay UK, possibly?) Another reason could be the rights licencing has expired... but really, what I fear is that it was the digitally technical aspect that allowed the Franco films to be restored onto DVD in the first place that's going to bite HD fans in the ass.

After watching some of the behind-the-scenes on the Anchor Bay UK box-set release of his films, I was witness to an extremely informative documentary on the restoration process of some of these Jess Franco titles. It broke down like this:

They transferred the film to digital media (in other words, they digitized the films). Creating mpeg2 standard-definition files from this digitization, the restoration thus began -- on the mpeg 2 files themselves. Hence, the digital restoration on Franco's films were attributed solely to the standard-definition DVD files they were going to be using to author the DVDs themselves. In order to go back to do a restoration for Blu-ray, they would have to do this entire process over again, starting with the original film prints.

Does it seem likely that these companies would take the time, under current economic circumstances, to do such a thing? Once again, I have my doubts. Still, I'm hoping Blue Underground or Image, who would appear to have some success with commercial Blu-ray releasing, will at some point get to these titles sitting at the back of their catalogues and throw dogs like me a bone.

So here's to patiently waiting...


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Dug up from the archives...

Holy crap, I found this article buried deep in the recesses of my hard drive as I was updating the Creepy Six Films site. This is an ancient article I'd written (and had posted on that site) to try to get people into the sexy femme fatales of the sixties & seventies European horror/thrillers I was (and still am) into. Re-reading the article, it made me cringe. I sounded as if I knew about things of this nature better than anyone else. Jeez, what a pretentious knob. I even wrote it under a pseudonym! What the hell was I thinking? Anyway, thought it might be fun to re-post it, warts and all (it hasn't been touched or re-written), and if anything, at least the crappy low-res stills I'd tracked down across the internet (back when it was properly spelled Internet) might provide some mild entertainment. Yes, feel free to skip over the entire article to get to them, too.


Article by Ricky Laazar
Some of Europe’s thrillers and exploitation-genre pictures have managed to survive obscurity after several decades thanks mostly to the DVD revolution, and the independent studios that take the time to restore and re-release these films to fans and seekers of decidedly non-mainstream cinema. Most of these films come with a cult following attached, and a lot of the reasons for that are the uniquely beautiful actresses that have graced the celluloid of these foreign features. This article is dedicated to them.
Soledad Miranda (aka Susan Korda, Susann Korda) is best-known for her collaborations with Spanish director Jess Franco. After casting Soledad as “Lucy” along side Christopher Lee and Klause Kinski in Count Dracula, Franco obsessively cast her in a string of feature films to follow, including Nightmares come at Night, Euginie de Sade, The Devil Came from Akasava and the infamous Vampyros Lesbos and She Killed in Ecstasy. Soledad also appeared in several other features, including the American-produced 100 Rifles with Burt Reynolds & Raquel Welch, where she performed a topless cameo. Her features and on-screen presence are nothing short of utterly captivating, making Franco’s often dire films compulsively watchable. Sadly, just as Soledad was about to sign a five-picture studio contract with a German company, she lost her life in a car accident – the day she was to sign the contracts - cutting her career and her life short at the age of 27.
Barbara Bouchet is probably my favorite, a stunning (and I’ll only use this word once more in the course of this article) strawberry-blonde who actually has quite an extensive Italian filmography. North American viewers will be most familiar with the films Amuck! – a sex/revenge picture that made it into U.S. theatres in the 70’s, Don’t Torture a Duckling – Italian cult director Lucio Fulci’s infamous thriller where she has a lead role (and she’s featured in a very sexy early scene), and finally in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, where she has a small role. Most of Barbara’s films were produced in Italy in the 70’s, but she also appeared in the American publication of Playboy magazine in a nude pictorial in the 70’s.
Okay, this is where I use that word for the second time – the absolutely stunning brunette Edwige French, an Italian actress that has had showy rolls in Italian thrillers of the 60’s & 70’s such as The Case of the Bloody Iris and the famous director Mario Bava’s 5 Dolls for an August Moon. When Edwige French is on the screen, she rules the scene with her beauty, energy and playful approach to her acting (referring to the 5 Dolls film). Of all the actresses, Edwige is probably the least known, appearing in several lesser-known Italian thrillers including Sergio Martino’s Your Vice is a Closed Room and Only I Have a Key.
British actress Suzy Kendall is also no stranger to Italian films, taking the lead rolls in several pictures including Circus of Fear, Tales that Witness Madness, Dario Argento’s Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Umberto Lenzi’s Spasmo and Sergio Martino’s Torso. She’s appeared in several films in America and Britain, and she is an excellent leading lady. The characters she plays are often intelligent and quick-witted. She’s definitely pretty, and one unusual thing (for genre actresses) is that I’ve yet to see her in a film where she performs nude or partially nude. (As a note, I have not seen all of her films).
Susan George, the quintessential blonde cutie of the 70’s. Fans of 70’s drive-in cinema would know her best. This is one actress where if she’s in a film, I’ll watch it (and as a rule, I’m not one to watch a film simply because of the star), though I’ve found that generally, her films (both British & American) are quite good. Not afraid to show her assets, she still emanates an appealing innocent sexuality on screen even when playing a roll without sex or nudity. Susan’s usually cast in lead or main co-starring roles with films like Venom, Die Screaming Marianne, Fright, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (my personal favorite) and Sam Peckinpah’s controversial 70’s shocker Straw Dogs. She is a fabulous actress with a presence that can be both commanding and care-free.
Marisa MellGroovy, baby! Her most well-known movies are probably the Umberto Lenzi thriller Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (1972) in which she had a co-starring roll as twin sisters, and the 1967 pop-comic adventure Danger: Diabolik directed by Mario Bava, in which she was chosen for the lead female roll over Catherine Denuve for her decidedly more “comic book” look. She’s a fun actress who gained her highest cult notoriety with the Diabolik role, though she’d appeared in a slew of Italian sexploitation films in the 70’s and had continued working steadily as an actress and model throughout the eighties and nineties, until her sudden and untimely death in 1992 (due to throat cancer). She still has many fans worldwide.
Asia Argento, daughter of internationally-acclaimed Italian director Dario Argento and one of the most high-profile European actresses of the new millennium. Getting her start in her father’s films when she was just a teenager (The Church, Trauma), she broke out of strictly-Italian cinema in her twenties when she began taking rolls in artsy/independent productions like B Monkey and New Rose Hotel before hitting it big in XXX with Vin Diesel (2003). She continued to work with her father through the 90’s, taking the leads in his films Phantom of the Opera and The Stendhal Syndrome. Interested in following in her father’s footsteps, Asia began to write, produce and direct her own short & feature-length films independently. And despite her move behind the camera, she still finds time to act in her own films as well – including the self-exploitive Scarlet Diva.
Rosalba Neri is another Italian cult starlet from the films Lady Frankenstein, Amuck! (with actress Barbara Bouchet), Slaughter Hotel and the Roger Corman-produced Arena (with Pam Grier) – all produced in the early seventies. She has over 98 film titles in her acting resume up until 1985 when she quit acting - though ironically, her bigger claim to fame is her daughter, actress Francesca Neri, who began acting in 1987 and has appeared in Hannibal and the Arnie-actioneer Collateral Damage.
And to close off this little tribute, we have the voluptuous horror actress Ingrid Pitt, who has starred in a slew of 70’s gothic horror films produced (at the time) by British horror studio HAMMER. The red-haired actress’s horror filmography includes many cult classics like The Vampire Lovers, Countess Dracula, The Wicker Man and The House that Dripped Blood. She’s also a writer, authoring books about Hammer horror films and cinema vampires. A talented actress and intelligent woman, Ingrid has worked with several highly-regarded British film directors, and she is always a pleasure to watch - naked or clothed.
(from May 2004)