Groovy & Wild Films from Around the World

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.