Groovy & Wild Films from Around the World

Friday, June 27, 2014

Nightmares Come at Night in HD and Deconstructed

So I finally watched that actual film on the Redemtion/Kino blu-ray last night, only to be reminded that Nightmares Come at Night is still most definitely one of my favorites. The movie, if you need some background on it, is actually more of an experimental dream-thriller about a double- and triple-crossing heist. All of the characters seem to be in on the plot for their own financial ends, save for our leading lady Diana Lorys (The Awful Dr. Orloff) in her first erotic lead, who is basically being mind-fucked by her friend and her psychiatrist, with a large sum of ill-gotten money dangling as the motivation. Soledad Mrianda, in her small role, is simply lovely, she was entirely magnetic even in her early collaborations with Franco. She and her boyfriend are watching the three-way situation progress from across the property, and they seem to be waiting for the main trio to fuck themselves over so that they can steel the money from a jewelery heist for themselves. The plot is reminiscent of some of Umberto Lenzi's mind-fuck thriller from the late sixties, but Franco really puts a dreamy spin on his take on the erotic thriller.

The opening credit sequence is a brilliant montage of freeze-frames, giving the movie and arthouse lean. What's fantastic about a lot of Franco's films, and I think this is evident in Nightmares as well, is that they seem to be a deconstruction of exploitation thrillers. Instead of hiding scenes of eroticism, they are played out in extremely long sequences that almost juxtapose the thriller/heist plotline. It's almost as if he's telling us that since he went out to make an erotic thriller, he's going to give us exactly that in broken-down genuine terms. I don't think Franco's deconstruction of film genres are intentional, or intentionally artsy or critical of the genres, the deconstruct actually comes out of a basic honesty and directness of the material he's filming - the material he wants to film. And I agree with him -- hell, if you're going to do an erotic thriller, might as well have most of the expositional dialogue rattling off while the actors are naked, or dressed in transparent clothing, right? I think the man was an honest genius, sometimes.

Like so many of his films (Two Undercover Angels, Vampyros Lesbos, Exorcism) it's almost the deconstructed scenes that veer away from the plot that fans remember the most - and they do stick out the most. The slow striptease of Nightmares, the stripping caged go-go-dancer in the silver knee-high boots from Two Undercover Angels, and of course, Soledad Miranda's famous mannequin and candelabra dance-art performance that encapsulates Vampyros Lesbos.

Redemption's blu-ray is amazing. The picture looks fantastic, and they didn't touch the films dirt or scratches - which I love. Personally, I think it's one of the best-looking films, next to Female Vampire. I think I'm going to check out one of Kino's Mara Bava releases next. I have Whip and the Body sitting on the living room coffee table, now.

Thanks to Rock! Shock! Pop! for some of these photos!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Two Red Lips & a Sex Charade

Going back to my week of re-watching Jess Franco flicks, I was excited to revisit Two Undercover Angels and Kiss Me Monster, as I'd had the new-er Blue Underground DVD set sitting around for a while. I used to own the old Anchor Bay releases from the early 2000's, but those had been full-frame and the video wasn't actually all that good. To my utter dismay, I found that the films weren't really all that great, either - the memory of the films in my mind were far more exciting than the films were to me now, a dozen years after I'd first seen them. I did revisit them back in '07 or '08 or '09 sometime, too, when I was writing the "Immoral Tales" series here. The films, which are comic-strip James-Bond-esque comedy-thrillers about two gorgeous female amateur detectives who have to go undercover to solve the various crimes and conspiracies, sounds a lot more fun as I'm writing this -- but even at 79 minutes per film, they run out of steam. There are great dance/strip/jazz performances in the middle of both films that inject some energy and titillation halfway through, and overall, the movies are definitely not without their charm... there is always something to look at, the costumes, the locations, the cheesy yet sexy sight-gags. Perhaps part of my growth away from these two films, which had played such an important role in my initial access to Franco's movies, is that I think I've gotten into a more surrealistic mindset when delving into Franco's films over the last few years (or as he's describes it, esoteric), and right now Two Undercover Angels and Kiss Me Monster are a little too cutesy-poo and broad-humoured for me. The former sees the pair going undercover as art swindlers in order to catch a bizarre serial killer who photographs his victims and then sells the prints at art galleries (as I said, the films are not without their charm), while the second one goes into some convoluted Euro-hopping conspiracy plot that... well, in all honesty, I was distracted by all the cages and whipping, I can't remember the flimsy plot of that one, but there are definitely a lot more car chases in it. Of course, the main assets are, and have always been, Rosanna Yanni and Janine Reynaud, who play the dynamic duo and carry the weight of both films on their shoulders. They are sweet to watch, I must say.

At any rate, with my slight disappointment in this current re-watch (although I should mention that the Blue Underground DVDs were far superior to the Anchor Bay ones, and both films were anamorphically enhanced, and include great interviews with Jess Franco), I decided to finally pop in that Nightmares Come at Night blu-ray that's been sitting on the living room coffee table (yes, still there). Only I didn't watch the movie. Instead, I watched the 20-minuted documentary titled "Eugenie's Nightmare of a Sex Charade", hoping that it might solve a long-gestating cinema mystery for me. To set this mystery up, I will copy an excerpt from one of my earliest posts on this blog, circa 2006...

{I recall that Shriek Show had announced the release of Franco’s “Sex Charade” back in the summer of ’04, and then it was suddenly dismissed from their slate only days before the release date. Merely a couple of months later, they released Nightmares Come at Night. I have suspicions that these two films are one in the same – though I can’t find any information online to support or denounce this theory. The only clue I had to go on was that I’d (years ago now) read an in-depth essay on the works of Franco and Soledad Miranda, where it was revealed the pair had produced a total of six completed feature films together: “She Killed in Ecstasy”, “Vampyros Lesbos”, “Eugenie de Sade”, “Count Dracula”, “Devil Came from Akasava” and “Sex Charade”. No mention whatsoever of Nightmares Come at Night, and in fact, I’d never even heard of this movie until Shriek Show released it... Two months after the aborted Sex Charade release... Both of which were originally produced in French in 1969 and started Soledad Miranda, both crediting her with the stage name Susan Korda.}

The documentary on Redemption's blu-ray release of Nightmares has several European film historians interviewed, along with Jess Franco himself, who all confirm that Sex Charade was indeed its own film, and that it did co-star Soledad Miranda. (Interview European film historians! Why didn't I think of that?) Although too many years have passed now to recall the original essay I'd referred to in that above excerpt (I'd thought perhaps it was from that tome of Immoral Tales by Tohill & Tombs, but on a re-read I couldn't verify that -- although the book does not mention Nightmares Come at Night, either), but the information in that essay regarding the number of Franco-Miranda collaborations there had been, was wrong. Not six, but seven, if you include Sex Charade... but should we include it? It seems nobody has seen this elusive film - well, I should say not really, even as admitted by one of the film historians in the Redemption blu-ray documentary. As well, the Tohill-Tombs book Immoral Tales describes the film in the same way the film historian does - as sort of a non-film. On the documentary, tales are told of lost negatives, strange midnight screenings, Frankenstien-cuts using leftover footage, and the archivist at the Paris Cinematheque who thought they had pristine copies of Nightmares Come at Night and Sex Charade, and who was about to sell them to the DVD market (at least this solves the mystery of why Shriek Show had first announced the DVD, then retracted it) -- only to find the Sex Charade prints missing. Or were they never there in the first place? I would say more, but the documentary is just too damn fascinating, and it's also imperative viewing on a very important but underrated trilogy in Jess Franco's filmography and artistic career - Sex Charade, Nightmares Come at Night, and Eugenie De Sade, all of which were from the late sixties/early seventies period with Soledad Miranda, prior to the two major collaborations - Vampyros Lesbos and She Killed in Ecstasy.

As I don't want to say much more about the "Eugenie's Nightmare of a Sex Charade" documentary, I'll taper this off by getting back to Janine Reynaud and Rosanna Yanni and the whipping and sexy distracting go-go numbers from last night's Red Lips Double Feature...

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Seduction of She Killed in Ecstasy (Sie tötete in Ekstase)

So, after several years (a few too many, in fact), and right out of the blue, I'd decided to re-watch "She Killed in Ecstasy" last night. This, despite the fact that my just-arrived and still-wrapped brand new Nightmares Come at Night blu-ray is sitting on the coffee table in the living room. That's alright, we'll get to that one later. Now, I never did purchase that nice anamorphicly enhanced second DVD release that Image put out a few years after the Synapse Films version... Nope, I still have that first DVD release. Well, still have...?

To tell this story properly, one would have to recall, or imagine, the far-away time of 2002. It was near the end of my four-year employment at Blockbuster Video and I'd owned a DVD player for about a year and a half at this point, and I'd had an internet connection for not much longer than that. I don't exactly remember what the catalyst was, though it was probably the Immoral Tales book I'd been toting around from apartment to apartment for the previous 5 years and still hadn't read all the way through (this book now, by the way, is one of the more cherished possessions in my library) -- but whatever it was that ignited my sudden interest, I found myself suddenly obsessed with the idea Jess Franco and his films. I wanted to find out as much as I could about him, and I looked up anything I could find on the man and his movies on the internet, printing several of the pages off. I also photocopied pages from that Immoral Tales tome so I could highlight the shit out of it. And Soledad Miranda... Oh, my. The beauty, and the mystique that surrounded her -- the mystery and terrible coincidence around her tragically young death -- and the idyllic thoughts that Jess Franco could have so much loyalty to his reciprocally loyal muses, more so that I'd ever witnessed from any auteur at that point... I was enthralled. I also immediately began researching Jess Franco titles and available DVDs - which were, in fact, not all that easy to come by in North Vancouver back in 2002 - well, there was one store called Tom's Video that stocked a copy of Vampyros Lesbos to rent, but by the time I got to it the disc was scratched to shit and I couldn't watch it. However, I did find a couple of titles at a wholesaler DVD warehouse in Vancouver, but I decided, ultimately, to go through the catalogue distributors that supplied the Blockbuster Video I was working at. After all, I was a manager, I could order videos. I found, recently, that I still have that order confirmation sheet.
   "Female Vampire DVD": $35.99
   "She Killed in Ecstasy DVD": $49.99

The prices were nuts, but I ordered them anyway and then just sold them to myself at Blockbuster's computer-default DVD pricing, which was $29.99 per title. Plus my employee discount, which was 10 or 20 percent - I can't remember anymore, it's been too long. I do remember being so excited to watch these movies, I was ready to blow open my mind to the Jess Franco experience, and by the time the DVDs arrived at the store I'd found another spot downtown Vancouver called A&B Sound that had stocked three Jess Franco DVD titles from Anchor Bay. So I bought the original Succubus DVD release as well.

2002, that was. I was not ready for Jess Franco. I watched all three films, and I think my jaw was touching the floor (or at least it was by the end of the third movie). My reaction was not a good one to seeing the likes of Lina Romay walking directly into the camera (even bumping it!), the strange jump-cuts and shots that began out-of-focus or zoomed it, slightly missed their target, and re-adjusted. Plus the video on all of the DVDs were full of dirt, scratches, sound-pops. What the hell??? No thank you, sirs and ma'ams, I was definitely not ready for Franco. I actually went and returned all three DVDs to my store for a full (or perhaps inflated, for my troubles) refund. Even the Succubus DVD that hadn't even come from my store in the first place (we used the same video distributor to A&B Sound, anyway, so they did give me a Return Authorization Number for all three). Good thing we had a shrink-wrapping machine in the store. I was left reeling from that cinematic experience. I remember thinking that each Franco disc I put would be better - had to be better! But the aesthetics looked similar, the stories too damned dreamy and the narratives too disjointed.

Well, if you're reading this, then you've obviously seen what this blog is about - and so you know my initial shock at Jess Franco's films eventually wore off, and not so long after turned to something of a curious appreciation. A couple of years went by and the more accessible Franco films like Two Undercover Angels (Anchor Bay), Exorcism (Synapse), and soon, Vampyros Lesbos (I bought the Image re-release that had just come out - I would have stuck with Synapse, but I seriously couldn't find a copy at that time for less than 45 bucks!), well, they began to grow on me. And I kept trying different films, kept dipping my toes into his world. And looking back, I seriously think (scratch that, I know) that Soledad Miranda, or at least the ideaof Soledad Miranda, was what kept me going back to those waters to dip my toes in. I had no idea how deep those waters were at that time... 

Eventually, when the stars aligned, I came across that Synapse DVD of She Killed in Ecstasy at a second-hand shop that is now long gone from Granville Street & Robson in the heart Vancouver. Image Entertainment had already, by now, re-released that film, but somehow I needed to reconnect myself with that original one. Plus it was $14.99, pretty cheap back then. Female Vampire came back to me via a friend who had also purchased it somewhere along the way, and disliked it, and then that copy was replaced once again by the 4-film Jess Franco Collection from Image, and then finally to be replaced by the recent Blu-ray from Redemption. So I've ended up owning that damned film four times! I didn't replace Succubus until Blue Underground re-released it a couple of years after that (we're around 2006 now, for those of you trying to keep track). I obviously have a good amount of love for all of these films now, and often they just keep getting better with each viewing.

And now, we're at last night, and I was putting that old Synapse DVD into the player for the third time in my life (and my third player, too -- but that DVD is still the same old one from 2005). No, it didn't magically turn anamorphic sitting there in my box of European DVDs, but it was magical, anyway, as I got sucked right back into the locales of that the film (that seriously rival those amazing locations of Countess Perverse and How to Seduce a Virgin), and fully engaged with the amazing on-screen charisma of Soledad... That camera loved her as much as Franco did. Or perhaps, Franco's camera did, anyway. After this third viewing of She Killed in Ecstasy I'm reminded and reaffirmed as to why it has a place at the very, very tip-top of my all-time favorite Jess Franco movie (where there remains a spot for Succubus to share, as well). With each repeat viewing the magic of Franco's unique eye and Soledad's performance, almost like a artistic dancer of the cinema, seems to be getting even more potent. So no, I was not ready for Franco in 2002.

And I suppose that now, it's high time for the Vampyros Lesbos re-watch.

Special thanks to

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

How to Seduce a Virgin (more awesome Franco locales)

I wasn't going to write about this until the end of the week, but damnit, it was actually one of the best Franco films I've seen in a while -- so obviously, I couldn't resist. The story is one set in the world a Jess Franco sub-sub genre -- it's a heist-style film told as an erotic thriller, much in the vein of Nightmares Come at Night (a film recently released on Blu-ray that will hopefully be arriving in my mailbox very soon). Okay, that might be a bit of a mislead, as there's no heist, per say, it's more of an intricate-come-convoluted plot devised by Franco, concerning a wealthy couple and their attempts to seduce their virgin neighbor for their own erotic and homicidal means and ends. The satire and subtext in this film (yes, I said subtext) alludes to some criticisms on the mental health profession at the time, and the treatment of patients - or rather, the perfunctory treatment of ill patients. The cinematography, again of the vérité-style, (much like "Sinner" and "Female Vampire"), is some of the best, though I was surprised to see the film presented as 1.33:1 (4x3), yet it does look very nice. The locations, once again, add to the cinematography and overall atmosphere, and with the participation (also once again) of the lovely Alice Arno and Lina Romay, it makes an amazing companion piece to Franco's   Countess Perverse (also available thanks to Mondo Macabro DVD). The lovely and charming Tania Busselier plays the virginistic neighbor, Alice Arno stoically plays the Countess, and Lina Romay plays the part of the deceptively simple-minded woman-child and sort-of-slave to the wealthy couple -- Romay who, by the way, gives one of the best, understated, and still most bizarre performances of her long career with director Franco. This film is extremely long on sex and has style in abundance (sometimes seeming to offer a little nod to Jean Rollin as well as the French La Nouvelle Vague, it also maintains Franco's artistic obsession with mannequins), it's quite simply one of the most engaging and mesmerizing film of the late Jess Franco's that I've seen in recent memory.

(Thanks to AV Maniacs for some of the stills)

Friday, June 06, 2014

Diaries of nymphomaniacs

I was actually intending to write something about this topic last month (May), alas, time continues to bleed away from me - often profusely. At any rate, it turns out that a post this month regarding cinematic nymphomania might be timely after all, as Lars von Trier's Nymph(o)maniac double-shot comes out on blu-ray soon. This is not an ad for that movie, I only mention it for the timely reference. No, you'd do much better with the Mondo Macabro release of Jess Franco's take on what's pretty much the same damned story. In Franco's film, "Sinner", or, if you prefer, "Diary of a Nymphomaniac", he also explores the emotional depression of our lead charachter, our nymphomaniac, who in this case was somewhat tricked into her lifestyle at the beginning of the movie. With a lot on hand-held camerawork and fantastic locations, the movie itself is more of a cinéma vérité style, even more so than that of Vampyros Lesbos or She Killed in Ecstasy (in my recollection of those films). Also, this film, Sinner, is done with a far more sensitive approach to the characters and with a celebration of the art of film (even if unintentional) over von Trier's epic meandering of pretension and the simplistic form he (von Trier) takes in trying to reach for some sort of human understanding. Unfortunately, von Trier's attempt to explore human beings seems to come from a filmmaker who has all the initial understanding of human beings of a young child, or perhaps one going into adolescence. Upon the release of von Trier's earlier Antichrist, I'd read one review branding him and the film "misogynistic". At the time I did not agree, I was not seeing Antichrist in that light. Nor did I see his follow-up, Melancholia, in that light... But after experiencing nearly (or over?) 5 hours of Nymph(o)maniac last month at the Vancouver Film Centre, and in the wake of his (finally) complete (and self-described) "depression - trilogy", I have no choice but to see clearly what von Trier thinks of women: crazy, whiny, teasing, whores. Never mind what he thinks of men. No, he's not misogynistic, von Trier is pretty misanthropic all around. I realise some will argue the art of von Trier is in him trying to explore depression, mostly his own, through his cinematic characters. I'll go back to Jess Franco as an argument then: Diary of a Nymphomaniac. This is also a film about depression, despair, and sex addiction in a far different context than von Trier's glossy offering. Diary, or "Sinner", is a good film, even though it's still rough around the edges, like most of Franco's films. And yes, it's dark -- and in some ways it's a more serious offering than Nymph(o)maniac -- and yet through the darkness of the drama there's a charm., there's some light, creating its failure to be pretentious on the same level (scratch that, the same planet) as LvT's Nymph(o)maniac.

It was also interesting for me to discover that "Sinner" was a film shot between the muses. We'd just lost Soledad Miranda, and Jess Franco had shot Sinner after her death but before he would find his next muse, Lina Romay, which actually makes this film a little more important in the history of Franco's filmography. (This is all spoken about on the Mondo Macabro DVD). Fine actress Montserrat Prous steps into the leading role here, doing quite a good job of it. She's also worked with Franco in his films The Sinister Eyes of Dr. Orloff and The Lustful Amazons in the early-to-mid seventies. Her female lover in "Sinner" is played by Anne Libert (probably most known for Otto, der Pflaumenpflucker), who is also very attractive and engaging in this film. So, I've tacked on a cool still from Pflaumenpflucker for your viewing pleasure, too.

Mondo Macabro released this movie on DVD a little while ago now, and as usual, the extra interviews and documents on this disc really go towards making this a whole Jess Franco experience - which is something MM has always been so good with in their releases. Thanks to them for putting this little gem out for us to see!