Groovy & Wild Films from Around the World

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.