Groovy & Wild Films from Around the World

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Renato Polselli interruption

I can't believe it's been three months since the last post -- and I'd been doing so well! I've got the amazing-looking blu-ray of Franco's The Demons sitting on the buffet in my apartment -- still wrapped. This fall has been fully and more incomprehensibly busy than I'd imagined it would be. In the meantime, it's not that I've been doing without the watching of European cult cinema -- in fact, I'd just re-watched Italian director Renato Polselli's awesomely surreal giallo/experimental/exploitation flick Delerium (from the 1970s), which is actually pretty amazing in a low-brow arthouse-giallo way, doing away with the traditional murder-mystery narrative and instead playing the whole idea of the giallo sub-genre in a dreamy, surrealistic presentation that's filled with blood and nudity and general craziness. I remember when I first discovered Delirium, it was back in 2003 when a local Vancouver video store called Reel-Horror was moving locations and selling of part of their DVD stock in an effort to make the move slightly easier and more economical -- I purchased this Anchor Bay DVD with four or five other titles, and this was one of the first ones I put on later that week - and it always stuck in my mind. Recently, on this Delirium re-watch, I was reminded that not only did I have a copy of Redemption's Demons blu-ray sitting on the buffet waiting to be opened and watched, I also had a copy of Poleslli's Black Magic Rites -- aka The Reincarnation of Isabelle -- sitting there, purchased from Amazon a good month and a half before Franco's The Demons. High on the mind-bending and energetically colorful exploitative after-effects of Delirium,  I threw Black Magic Rites into the blu-ray player.

On Redemption's Black Magic Rites blu-ray packaging, there's a quote from TV Guide (of all places) -- "Demonic and sexually depraved... keeps one watching in dazed astonishment."  Okay, that doesn't even begin to cover it. Everything in that blurb is true -- but what TV Guide doesn't tell you is how absolutely crazy Black Magic Rites is. Formerly titled The Reincarnation of Isabelle, the films opens up with said reincarnation through a black-magic ritual involving the devil and several naked folks and a lot of chanting. As we watch the film and its many scenes of satanic rituals and witch-burnings and sexual encounters, we are forced to learn that the plot is not just about reincarnating a burned-at-the-stake witch -- oh, no, what the plot is actually trying to deliver is the superbly convoluted supernatural idea of an ever-occurring reincarnation of a witch who has, throughout hundreds of years, been tricked into vampirism and inadvertently mistaken as a witch, double-crossed and burned alive, and the man double-crossing her had also simultaneously been double-crossing another one of their friends, tricking that man into thinking he was insane, in one of his many re-incarnations over the same hundreds of years. At one point, in the last few minutes of the film, the villain, who is explaining all of this, tells the other characters (and us), "You will never understand this." No, of course we won't. The gleefully over-complicated plot drives full-speed ahead without any concern given to the plot whatsoever other than delivering us wicked twists, kaleidoscopic visuals, and as much genre-based exploitative elements as it can possibly contain in its surrealistic vision of erotic horror and witchcraft. In short, this movie is awesome. It is without a doubt one of the most hallucinogenic, insane concoctions of  Euro-horror that I've ever seen, and I can both recommend it while also advising that you might not exactly experience it in the same light -- but hell, I did not put on Black Magic Rites expecting to get any sane, traditional horror narrative out of it. Enjoy at your own risk. 

Merely one day after experiencing Polselli's Black Magic Rites (which I should note utilizes most of the same cast from Delirium), I came across a top-ten Jess Franco film list on the internet, written for an internet journal back in 2012. While I didn't particularly agree with most of the author's selection of top Jess Franco flicks, it did make me realise that I've been neglecting this blog for far too long. And in celebration of Jess Franco, here's my own current top-ten Franco Flick list (probably much different than the lists I myself have made over the last few years, but I like to think that I continue to watch these movies as I become a different person throughout my life. Mainly by drinking more beer). Here's to 2014:

Top Jess Franco Films:

1. She Killed in Ecstasy
2. Euginie De Sade
3. Succubus
4. Countess Perverse
5. How to Seduce a Virgin
6. Exorcism & Black Masses
7. Female Vampire
8. Eugine... The Story of Her Journey into Perversion
9. Justine
10. Vampyros Lesbos

Although I have to say I also quite enjoyed the recently-released Hot Nights of Linda. So that gets a special mention.


Friday, August 22, 2014

Soledad Miranda: July 9, 1943 - August 18, 1970.

The lovely Soledad Miranda has been on my mind all week, I will assume that subconsciously I had somehow retained the fact that she's passed away this week, 44 years ago at the age of 27. Consciously, I can honestly say I didn't remember that at all, or at the very least, the fact that this was the week of her death was nowhere near the front of my mind. Certainly not one of Franco's more prolific muses, due only to her horribly untimely death in 1970, Soledad Miranda nonetheless remains likely the most remembered of his actresses. Having done bit parts in American film productions in the 1960's, it's her work with the late Jess Franco that she will forever be widely associated with. Their collaborative efforts were standouts not just for Miranda's magnetic beauty and mystery, but also for the kitschy, dreamy, surreal and gorgeously erotic qualities these collaborations brought to the world of Jess Franco's cinema in a short period of time.  

I had stated, a few posts ago, that I was considering  -- in fact, looking forward to -- a re-watching of Vampyros Lesbos, which is probably the pair's most famous creation together. And I certainly did give it a re-watch; however, only to discover that my own imagination had built this film up into an (understandable) iconic representation of the Miranda/Franco collaborations... when in fact, I think now that while still enjoyable, it ranks as one of the lesser-realized of the collaborative efforts. The abundance of potential was ultimately exhibited in far more creative, engaging ways, in their other works together.

That being said, nearly all of the Miranda/Franco films have remained steady personal favourites of mine within Fracno's enormous film repertoire. It cannot be denied that the man easily knew how to film the most of one of his favourite subjects... Soledad Miranda.

Personal favourite #1: She Killed in Ecstasy ...This was also a fairly recent re-watch for me, solidifying its place in my heart and mind as my all-time favourite Franco film, and in actual fact one of my favourite films ever made. Soledad's best performance, and some of the best surreal cinematography in Franco's career. Amazing locations and highly kitschy sets, to boot.

Favourite #2: Eugenie De Sade (De Sade 2000) ...Truthfully, another one of my top favourites overall, lush cinematography and it really felt like Soledad Miranda was starting to own these films. It's a lurid little thriller set in the wintertime. 

#3: Nightmares Come at Night ...Although this was at the beginning of the Miranda/Franco cycle, and so the actress was relegated to a very minor supporting role in this erotic/heist/double-cross dream-thriller, she often easily outshined her leading costars. Very sexy and less reveling than in her other Franco films, Miranda is really the reason I hold such a high regard for this movie -- although the erotic-surreal plot is pretty engaging, too. Pieces of this film were cut into another Franco/Miranda/Eurocine collaboration under a three-picture deal the trio was putting together, which included Sex Charade and De Sade 2000. Sex Charade is a film steeped in rumour and mystery -- historically speaking, there was a release of this film, which was rumoured to be nothing more than a re-edit/mash-up of previous footage shot for Eurocine, a practice the production company would become notorious for in the following decades (70's and 80's). The Paris Cinematheque has claimed to film historians (See the "Nightmares Come at Night" Blu-ray) to have a pristine print of Sex Charade, yet it has to this day never actually been seen or confirmed by anyone -- perhaps because it really was just a money-grab release using recycled footage and outtakes of other Franco films, but perhaps, too, because it was never really intended to exist (or to be remembered, and therefore, exist) -- it is not listed in the Eurocine catalogue.

#4. The Devil Came from Akasava ...Well, this hurt me, just a little, to place this in ranking order over Vampiros Lesbos. It is not a better film -- but for the intents and purposes of this list (namely Soledad Miranda), I was forced to push it over Vampyros Lesbos simply because Soledad Miranda's screen presence in this one is simply to melt over. As the French like to say in English, You'll die a little. If De Sade 2000, Nightmares Come at Night, and Sex Charade was the Franco/Miranda trilogy for Eurocine, well, Vampyros Lesbos, She Killed in Ecstasy, and The Devil Came from Akasava are certainly a trilogy of their own, as well -- all three latter films were shot back-to-back and feature the same amazing jazz score of The Vampires' Sound Incorporation.

#5 Vampyros Lesbos ...Of course, this film was still going to be on the list, while it might not be the best of stories (probably just slightly better than Devil Came from Akasava) -- and ranking lowest in the still-perfectly-mentionable section of the list -- we can absolutely not ever forget the human mannequin and candelabra & mirror fetish stage show that is really the feature of this whole film, with Soledad Miranda showing us her erotic, bizarre, hypnotically charming moves. The stage show is the film, if you're going to watch this one for any reason at all, the other scenes pale easily in comparison. Luckily for us Jess Franco knew exactly what to exploit in these movies.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Return to the Bloody Moon

So, I went back to Bloody Moon - the DVD from Severin Films - merely a couple of evenings ago if only to judge if the movie/DVD would be worth an upgrade to Severin's freshly-released Blu-ray -- and while this may sound like a plug, well, it is and it isn't. It isn't mostly because I don't ask them for any free swag (i.e. Blu-rays), so there is absolutely no silently contractual obligation to plug anything one way or another. However, this non-plug may be indicative of Severin's meticulous authoring when it comes to their products... as Samuel Jackson said to Vin Diesel in "XXX", "You're a victim of your own success." But in the interest of keeping one duly annoyed, I'll get back to this later...

Okay, so Bloody Moon the film, is definitely worth a re-watch -- and I'm specifically speaking to those of you (perhaps like me) who may have quickly labelled Franco's Bloody Moon a mere Franco-slasher in the midst of a quick and brief cinematic assessment during the watching/devouring/learning of the extensive body of this man's work. But it's not just a slasher, nay... Also a disco-slasher. A Euro-slasher. A giallo. In fact, Bloody Moon has for more in common with the films of Lucio Fulci than Friday the 13th, despite what the easy, broad descriptions of this movie may imply. It really does resonate within the style of an Italian Lucio Fulci gialli, filled with a surprisingly confident style depicting a more dream-like slasher/thriller narrative and abundant sexuality, fully appreciative of the female form and the leading characters' magnetism. Actually, the entire film is surprisingly stylistic and engaging -- for those who may have thrown this aside as a mere slasher -- previously. One could easily pair this film up with a double-feature featuring Fulci's Murder Rock or New York Ripper. Or City of the Living Dead, of you're really into electric circular power tools. Also, it springs on us a double-double twist ending that you won't see coming, as you'll likely have been distracted by stylish photography, bizarre acting, bad special effects, and naked people.

Okay, but, a new upgrade to blu-ray? Unfortunately... I don't know. The cheesy special effects will be even cheesier in a 2K BRD re-release... but of course, so will other assets of the film become clear(er). Take, for instance, the scene wherein three young women are sitting at a public outdoor pool-side table, all topless, watching a tennis match. Topless. How unconditionally Euro-artsy, indeed. We would never be witness to such a thing in an American slasher, because hell, in North America, that just wouldn't make sense! In a Jess Franco film it makes all the sense in the world, which is why we adore this bloody genius. I suppose that the importance a blu-ray upgrade, in the end, would ultimately depend entirely on the pickiness, the fickleness, the completist within the individual Franco fan. Does Severin's Bloody Moon actually need the upgrade? No. The DVD is pretty damned vibrant and clear already, and seriously, how much of an overhaul is a Jess Franco release going to receive from an American company who has already done an HD film-transfer to a perfectly well-encoded DVD that is only a couple of years old? I'm going to guess not much. -- at least, that's gamble I'm going to keep my twenty-five-and-change firmly in my pocket over. Newcomers? By all means, go for the blu-ray. And enjoy. Topless tennis-watching, among many, many other shenanigans.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Devil's Dues

I recently re-watched a German-language video of the Jess Fracno/Soledad Miranda collaboration The Devil Came From Akasava, one of the trio of back-to-back productions that involved Soledad Miranda, Ewa Stromberg and The Vampires Sound Incorporation (the soundtrack). I had watched this flick years ago and was actually pretty bored, and got rid of my region 1 Image DVD back in 2011. Now, this DVD goes for over fifty bucks on Amazon, so I was compelled to make sure I hadn't made a mistake in purging my Jess Franco collection of this title. And the verdict on that? Well...

The thin-yet-convoluted crime-plot of The Devil Came From Akasava is basically a bunch of people double-crossing each other to get their hands on a metal briefcase, obviously (oh, so painfully obviously) a take on the classic film noir Kiss Me Deadly. Yes, Jess Franco goes 70's-noir with this one, but The Long Goodbye this certainly isn't. The film is jazzed up by the recycled soundtrack from Vampyros Lesbos and She Killed In Ecstasy, but it simply doesn't fit quite as well in this film, and doesn't do the job of carrying it through (although it is still a blast to listen to). The plot is a little all over the place, and unfortunately, still boring, so I wasn't all that upset about letting my original DVD go. However, there is one soul to this film that does carry it through, and that is (perhaps also obviously) supporting actress Soledad Miranda. Almost as good as her leading performance in She Killed In Ecstasy, and even more alluring than her turn in the sexy Vampyros Lesbo, Soledad takes off with the entire film in various states of dress and undress and a thorough a hypnotically engaging dance/performance stage routine. Actually, it wasn't even that the dance routine was incredibly choreographed -- in fact, it's pretty simple -- Soledad is mesmerizing through every piece of this film she's in. In The Devil Came From Akasava, Soledad engages us during her many scenes with her screen presence, movements, and beauty, it's just that thing she has that you can't teach, buy, or give to anyone. Someone just has to have it and Soledad was one of those rare few performers who had it. For this reason alone I am upset at having sold off my DVD, however, it is these traits of the film that will remain in my mind, and I don't feel the need to sit through the rest of the otherwise boring plot and so can't really justify a re-buy.

I suppose the verdict would be that if you don't already have a copy of The Devil Came From Akasava, then you don't really need to spend fifty-bucks-plus on what is currently a collector's item. It will be re-released at some point, I'm sure, and in the meantime, we can still enjoy the German version...

Friday, July 18, 2014

Women Behind Bars (the film, not the sub-genre -- okay, the sub-genre, too)

Jess Franco's Women Behind Bars... what can I say other than, well, that was fun! Lina Romay looks curvy and gorgeous in this, her first leading role for director Jess Franco. Her looks and charisma pretty much carry the entire film, and while her performance isn't exactly expert, it's still magnetic. Franco shot this women-in-prison movie thinly disguised as a heist film one the coast of France -- in Nice, in fact. The film also co-stars Martine Stedil from Franco's Barbed Wire Dolls, another of Franco's WIP flicks (and after watching this movie, I also learned that Women Behind Bars, Barbed Wire Dolls, and 99 Women makeup a somewhat loose trilogy of Franco prison films). Blue Underground's DVD also includes a really nice feature on the shooting locations (you catch the pun there?) I'd have to say that this is certainly one of Franco's most fun films, but of course this is hugely a matter of taste. If you think Lina Romay looking gorgeous and prancing around nude, the occasional whipping, prison lesbianism, horribly staged murders, and some utterly terrible double-crosses over a jewelery heist is fun, then this is a pretty good way to pass a brisk 80 minutes. Oh, and those locations are lush, too. A word of warning: avoid the trailer until after the film (on the Blue Underground release) because it gives away one of the several twists in the last few minutes of the movie. Not that you'd be watching this movie for the plot twists, but, well...

My wife had to pull the DVD out of the player so she could watch her show, and asked me what the hell I'd been watching. Of course she'd been kidding around, but still, this came from a woman whose favorite show is Orange is the New Black -- but I guess if your prison lesbianism, rock-in-a-sock pummelings, backstabbings, sex and abuse by prison guards, and gratuitous nudity and muff-munching by over-sexed self-absorbed millennials is all glossy and Hollywood, then that's okay.

On a completely other note, Severin Films' Bloody Moon blu-ray was released last week. I think I'll throw my old Severin DVD in the player this afterlunch and see if I might want to upgrade. The stills on Severin's website make it look pretty tempting.

Have a happy weekend!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Cuadecuc - Vampir

It was about a week ago I'd come across a fairly recent article talking about Jess Franco, the making of Count Dracula, and the tandem film project that was being shot simultaneously - Cuadecuc Vampir, by the underground Spanish filmmaker Pere Portabella. Looking more into this, I found out that Franco and Portabella were firends, and they had constructed the idea of this dual-project together. Funnily, Portabella's Cuadecuc is a completely experimental film, juxtaposing one of Franco's most straight-forward cinematic efforts. Of course, the straight-forwardness of his Dracula film is exactly what Christopher Lee liked about it - at the time, Lee had felt that the Hammer Dracual films were straying a little too far off the mark, and he welcomed the chance to play the Count in Franco's far more literal adaptation. Unfortunately, this didn't make for a better Dracula film, but even after-the-fact Christopher Lee stood up for it, saying that at least they gave the novel adaptation a good shot.

On the flipside, Pere Portabella was shooting Cuadecuc Vampir on grainy black-and-white film. The article 
Dracula in the Avant-Garde, or, How Jess Franco got into MOMA discusses the film in a way that makes it seem like a mixed-up of half-Dracula, from an alternate point of view, and half making-of documentary. I don't think this is entirely accurate (and this is purely opinion), because I don't think Portabella's film is a making-of documentary at all. To me, it is entirely an alternate rendering of Count Dracula within the context of an unusually engaging experimental film. It can't really be called a documentary as it's clear that the actors involved in Jess Franco's version are also playing to Portabella's camera, creating a skewed fiction for Caudecuc, one that is edited with some very candid, and yes, behind-the-scenes footage. But even the behind-the-scenes footage seems put-on, the actors know they're being filmed, and are still playing to the camera. The only truly candid footage is where Potrabella is showing us scenes actually being directed in Count Dracula, where the cast and crew's energies are focused towards Franco's direction, and Portabella's camera is acting more like a fly-on-the-wall, but because there is no location soundtrack for any of these shots, it ceases to be any sort of functianl documentary -- and this is to Cuadecuc's benefit, mind you -- to me this collection of footage serves to create a film that is also about the art of film, it's an experimental form of what would later in the 1990's be coined a bio-pic. Yet there's no dialog at all, the film runs over a sometimes hypnotic soundtrack. 

Because Cuadecuc Vampir was not exactly easy to track down, and because I think it's amazing in its own way, you can watch the movie here, until someone asks me to take it down.  


Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Crafty weekend

...or, "Make your own damned Jess Franco Prints". I got the idea after trying to purchase the Vampyros Lesbos poster online - which is actually designed with a slightly stretched image of Soledad Miranda. A lot of buyers wouldn't notice, but I found it rather annoying. So instead I found some high-res images on the internet and used Gimp to mess with the contrast and lettering, and made them into high-res 5x7 prints. Smaller than a poster, sure, but I like having Soledad over the computer desk. I swiped a sheet of white card stock from my wife's crafting bookcase and printed on that. Sorry about the crap photo, taken with a horridly outdated iPhone 3.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Severin's Hot Nights of Lina... I mean, Linda!

I've had Severin Films' triple blu-ray/DVD combo in my possession for a while now -- at least a few months -- and I finally gave the set a spin this week and sat my ass down and watched it.

So, why did I wait many months before checking out The Hot Nights of Linda in hi-def? Easy, I thought it was a simple exploitation picture. I usually prefer my Jess Franco on the surreal or kitschy side. What I hadn't noticed before, was that Hot Nights pairs up starlette Alice Arno with Lina Romay once again, and as I've recently been enjoying this erotically dynamic duo in other films like Countess Perverse and How to Seduce a Virgin, I suddenly had more of a motive to check out this Franco curio.

Surprisingly, the film, in its featured form (and I'll get back to this in a minute), is not actually all that exploitative. For a Franco film, I'd say it's midway on the scale between drama and sleaze. There is ample nudity, to be sure, but was really stunned me was how Hot Nights of Linda actually played out more like an Italian giallo, with flavors of Jean Rollin thrown in. Some of the scenes were highly stylized and the camerawork was energetic. Even the on-screen title screamed out giallo -- "But Who Raped Linda?" -- that's right, seems this is actually the official English-translated title. The last scene of the movie ends up wrapping right back to the first scene of the film, again lending it that giallo quality. There's even a sub-plot involving a male cop and a female reporter who are spying on the sexual shenanigans going on at the villa across the way, where our lead actresses are cavorting with each other and with the servants. This distracting sub-plot is a device Franco's used before, as in Nightmares Come at Night, but this time there is a better payoff in the end after someone ends up dead.

I absolutely loved this film! The main reason I found this movie of Franco's so attractive was that I've never seen a Jess Franco giallo before. I suppose you could throw Bloody Moon into that category, but the style of that film was more influenced by the trend of 80's slashers of its time period. Hot Nights of Linda was more of an honest, mid-seventies experimental mystery. A giallo.

Going back a little to the nudity and the cavorting, I must mention (confess?) that the erotic performances by Lina Romay in this film are now, by far, my favourite. Certainly, she falls back on her characteristically tried-and-true naked bed-writhing, but this time the camera captures a far more honest erotic energy from Lina, more so than my previously-favorite erotic showcases of hers, which up until now had been Exorcism, Female Vampire, and Lorna the Exorcist.

I'll go back to where I'd said I'd get back to -- where I'd mentioned that the version of The Hot Nights of Linda spoken about on this page was in its "featured form" from the Severin blu-ray. Evidently, someone found this film print in a Barcelona bordello (how cool is that?) and the film was restored, mostly, and transferred in hi-def to this wonderful blu-ray. Amazingly, you can see where they've literally had to glue the film back together. This is the version with the on-screen title But Who Raped Linda? appearing in the opening credits. Severin has also included, in this limited 3-disc release, a version of the film on DVD called Les Nuits Brulantes. Severin labels this DVD as the "Alternate Banana Version". Anyone who's seen their cover-art for this new blu-ray release can guess that there's a scene of Lina Romay blowing a banana -- and they'd be right to guess that, although the scene is pretty tame. So I had to assume, from Severin's "Alternate Banana Version" labeling, that the banana scene would go father in this "rare" version. Well, in what is a videotape transfer of Les Nuits Brulantes, there is no banana blowjob at all. There is, however, banana lesbian sex. There is also no sight of the cop-and-reporter spying sub-plot (which was actually a shame, because the actress playing the reporter was absolutely lovely), but there is, instead, plenty of hard core sex, nearly all of it featuring Lina Romay throughout. There are some very nice extended scenes featuring Romay and Alice Arno together, but other than that, I'd have to say that the featured, HD version, The Hot Nights of Lina (aka But Who Raped Linda?) is by far the better of the two versions, for many reasons.

Go ahead, pick up Severin's cool-ass blu-ray and check them out and see! Before their "limited edition" is all gone. Highly recommended.