Spoilers follow ...
- 21. May, 2017
Adding to the incredible amount of horror films released during the first few years of the 1970’s, this giallo features Anthony Steffen as Lord Alan Cunningham, who spends his early scenes looking distraught whilst sporting the most magnificent clothes (my genuine favourite is velvety suede burgundy suit). The death of his flame-haired wife Evelyn has led to a breakdown for the Lord, and subsequent incarceration at a mental institution. Now the aristocrat is intent on luring other eager young red-heads to his expansive, crumbling mansion (his chat-up method includes grabbing them by the hair to check whether or not they are wearing a wig) for his own fetishistic games, often including the ladies wearing exotic thigh-length leather boots.
It’s all a little ponderous for the most part. One girl follows the pattern of seduction and murder, and then the plot moves onto exactly the same scenario for the next. Only when he marries Gladys (Marina Malfatti) do things become less repetitive. Alan fears his mental problems may be returning when he begins to see visions of his dead wife. His cousin Farley (Umberto Raho) reveals Alan was convinced Evelyn had a lover prior to her death.
As Alan once again deteriorates, deaths begin to occur (including a briefly gory incident featuring foxes nibbling on various innards). After a slow start, things pick up nicely for the remainder.
This is a solid, a rather than spectacular, giallo film with lots of well-constructed twists (especially the final one). Occasionally, the villainy verges on pantomime levels of subtlety, yet this doesn’t detract from the heightened sense of reality giallo films often evoke. Equally typical of this genre, the locations are used to stunning effect - Cunningham’s homes and grounds (the film is set in England) provide a jaw-dropping location.
- 20. Apr, 2017
One thing I like about George Romero’s ‘Living Dead’ series (this is his sixth), is that he doesn’t shy away from writing what you don’t expect, and instigating new angles with which to approach fashioning his zombie world. One thing remains true, though: firearms – you can achieve a lot if you carry a gun. If not, you ‘don’t got no chance.’
That’s not to say things here are entirely successful. But they are original. Actual tension is lacking, due to the fact that – as established a few films back – zombies are just part and parcel of society. Dark humour partly makes up for that (the character Crockett lights his cigarette from a burning zombie before tipping him into the sea, etc).
Two feuding Irish families eject poor old Patrick O’Flynn after he rejects their notion of keeping the living dead from permanent death in the hope of one day finding a cure. With a group of mercenaries, O’Flynn returns to the island to find zombies chained up in environments of an approximation of their past lives. Kenneth Welsh plays O’Flynn as a mischievous rogue who is difficult to dislike.
O’Flynn vows revenge on Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick), and it is this distraction that provides the main thrust for the story, although other interesting things are going on with other characters too. The ‘hero’, Sergeant Crockett (Alan van Sprang) is a good shot, but slightly less interesting than the others. And yet none of the characters are written with a huge amount of depth – possibly the living dead themselves have more pathos as we see them going about the business of their former lives (a postman endlessly posting and removing a handful of letters, for example) whilst manacled.
Instead, typically with Romero’s later films, the main spectacle is a world ravaged by living dead, and still adapting to a new way of life. This is achieved very successfully, the endless realm of death and destruction made to feel depressingly normal.
‘Survival of the Dead’ has received mixed reviews, mainly it seems, from Romero fans. I really enjoyed it. The zombie holocaust acting as a backdrop of sorts to other stories is a brave and original thing to do, flying in the face of those who perhaps wish to see more traditional guts and gore – two things ‘Survival’ also possesses, by the way. It seems when anything acquires a ‘fandom’, it leads to unnecessary negativity from those who are irritated if they don’t see their own ideas and preferences worked into the mythos. Romero plans at least two more ‘Living Dead’ films – I really hope these happen.
- 19. Apr, 2017
Directed by Jess Franco and produced by Harry Alan Towers, 'The Bloody Judge' is none other than Christopher Lee, playing Christopher Lee, playing imperious Judge Jeffries. The beautiful Alicia Grey (Margaret Lee) is brought before him, a woman of such beauty there is more than a note of appreciation that threatens to ripple Jeffries powdered wig before he condemns her to death. She is, like many others, accused of witch-craft. At that very moment, slimy Jack Ketch (the excellent Howard Vernon) is torturing some other poor blood-drenched beauty on the rack.
Said with some justification to be inspired by 1968’s powerful ‘The Witchfinder General,’ this is an involved and involving story concerning Alicia’s sister played by Franco favourite Maria Rohm, another to catch the keen gaze of Jeffries. She is courting Harry Selton (Hans Hass), who falls foul of many powerful people including the vengeful Satchel (Milo Quesada sporting some convincing scarred make-up). Selton’s father, the very powerful Lord Wessex (Leo Genn) is one of few people who threaten Judge Jeffries’ power.
Jeffries’ unflappable veneer is occasionally exposed as being more brittle than initially apparent, and Lee plays the insecurities very well, despite his character quite rightly being labelled ‘devil’ by Mary Grey, Maria Rohm’s most impressive character. In this, Rohm comes across as Franco’s own Veronica Carlson. Carlson often exuded a style and composure which often elevated her from the characters she played for Hammer films – here, Rohm does the same.
- 14. Apr, 2017
… in which prolific Spanish Director Jess Franco gets his hands on what had become something of a franchise, with three previously released films meeting with some success. Also known as ‘Fu Manchu and the Kiss of Death’, ‘Kiss of Death’, ‘Kiss and Kill’ and ‘Against All Odds’, this is either the fourth in the Fu Manchu series, or ‘just another Franco film’, depending on your point of view.
Franco is an odd choice of director for this – his style thus far (and increasingly throughout the 1970s) was far from that of a straightforward horror/adventure auteur. Personally, Fu Manchu’s appeal has mostly escaped me, although I found the perverse relationship between Fu and his daughter Fah Lo See (Myrna Loy) very interesting in 1932’s Boris Karloff-headed ‘Mask of Fu Manchu’. Other than that, he’s always seemed a pretty one dimensional villain pursued by a dull British nemesis.
As that nemesis, Richard Greene here plays Nayland Smith with applicable stoic decency and blandness, until he quickly succumbs to Fu’s latest machinations: a pretty young woman has been sent to him infused with poison from a venomous snake. Once kissed, Smith – along with ‘nine other of Fu’s greatest enemies’ – goes blind, and subsequently, it is hoped, will die. Due to Fu’s ‘genius’, the women are not infected by the poison and are simply carriers.
While Christopher Lee is imperious and crisply spoken as Fu Manchu, Tsai Chin as daughter Lin Tang is rather more interesting. Her perverse delight in torture – something you would expect Franco to exploit – is too briefly featured, as is she, which is a shame. Instead we get many long scenes full of characters who have nothing to do with the ongoing plot - bandits, jungle attacks etc. Interest begins to wane.
Actress (and 60s sex symbol) Shirley Eaton pops up for two minutes as ‘The Black Widow’. The scene was spliced in from another film. Shirley not only claims she was not paid for this, but didn’t even know of her inclusion for years.
Christopher Lee and Tsai Chin are effective in under-used roles, indeed they are the highlights here (although Howard Marion-Crawford is good fun as Dr. Petrie). The story is uneven, the pacing very laboured and thrills few and far between. I love many films from Jess Franco, but his style is wholly wrong for this kind of adventure, I think. 94 minutes has rarely seemed so long.
- 13. Apr, 2017
Describing a Jess Franco directed film as a curio is like describing the sky as ‘a bit blue’. ‘Nightmares Come at Night’ – not one of the greatest titles – is either a hypnotic and sensual journey, or barely comprehensible, badly shot, softcore porn.
Susan Korda, or Soledad Miranda as she is better known, plays the air-headed girlfriend of ‘the neighbour’ in very brief scenes that don’t do her justice. Diana Lorys plays Anna de Istria, who is being driven out of her mind, or so it seems. Her friend Cynthia (Colette Giacobine) may or may not have something to do with this. The always brilliant Paul Muller plays Dr. Lucas, again pretty under-used. As the story goes, that is pretty much it – not that intricate plot contrivances usually bothered Franco too much.
The rest is much as expected – a fine, jazzy musical soundtrack, lots of swooping cameras and ‘deliberately’ blurred scenes, extravagantly made-up women and shifty men. It doesn’t, however, add anything new, horrific, or particularly interesting and so the attention tends to drift more than once before some answers are finally revealed at the end.
Perfunctory by Jess Franco’s standards. Not unenjoyable, but not very engaging either.
- 12. Apr, 2017
Howard Vernon, dapper and hidden in shadows for his first few appearances, abducts silly young ladies in order to transplant their faces onto that of his scarred daughter. Vernon began his long association with Spanish Director Jess Franco with this film, often starring as main characters in often low-budget European horrors after a career playing mainly playing ‘gangsters and heavies’. As his billing in mainstream films got lower and lower, his star rose under Franco. Vernon is excellent in this, as he is in all Franco’s films – an underrated actor often starring in underrated productions.
He plays Orloff, a villain with a smattering of sympathy and a henchman called Morpho (Ricardo Valle). The practicalities of employing a totally blind assistant must be limited – Morpho’s scarred, boggle-eyed make-up is not dissimilar from that of the titular monsters in Franco’s ‘Oasis of the Zombies’ twenty years later. The name Morpho would be given to many villainous underlings in future projects.
Inspector, Tanner (Conrado San Martín), finds his time divided between this gruesome case and his new fiancée Wanda (who on occasion, bears a resemblance to Yvonne Monlaur’s character from Hammer’s 1960 hit, ‘Brides of Dracula’ – a film that inspired Franco to pursue a horror film career). Imagine if Orlof decides that she should be his latest victim!
Taking cues from ‘Frankenstein’, ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ and especially the French classic ‘Eyes Without a Face (1960)’ – there’s even a black cat thrown in for good measure - this is reputedly Spain’s first horror film. It is a chiaroscuro triumph, striking in black and white, almost film noir. Directed with assurance and almost completely lacking Franco’s predilection for camera zooms, ‘The Awful Dr. Orloff’ is the film that put Franco on the map – and deservedly so. Otherwise known as ‘Screams in the Night’/’L'Horrible Docteur Orloff’, there are few signs of his future in cut-price ‘exploitation’ that would become his trademarks. An entirely respectable, well played, good looking and confidently produced horror, it ticks all the right boxes and a few more besides.
- 11. Apr, 2017
Of course, you wouldn’t expect this Jess Franco directed film to have a simple history. After rejecting the earlier ‘Zombie Lake (1981)’ (which was handed to the masterly Jean Rollin) for reasons unknown, Franco helmed this under the pseudonym AM Frank, and produced Spanish and French versions. The film has been released under several titles – ‘L'Abîme des Morts-Vivants’, ‘The Abyss of the Living Dead’, ‘Bloodsucking Nazi Zombies’, ‘El desierto de los zombies’, ‘The Grave of the Living Dead’, and ‘The Treasure of the Living Dead’.
The zombies themselves are seldom seen, and when they are, they are often viewed from behind. Their faces, featured mainly in close-ups, are impressively embroidered with convincingly rotting flesh, popping eyeballs, the occasional wriggling worm and mummified, slack open jaws.
The story – as I understand it - involves Robert (Manuel Gélin) telling, in a lengthy flashback liberally interspersed with footage from higher budgeted films, how a squadron carrying a shipment of Nazi gold is ambushed across the African desert. Robert is telling his story to bounty hunter Kurt (Henri Lambert), who then kills him. Robert’s son then vows to locate the treasure, but his expedition finds that a group of Nazi zombies are guarding it.
Meeting with a generally negative reception, the lack of Franco’s best friends sex and gore (for the most part) helps to make ‘Oasis of the Zombies’ a fairly dull affair. The cadaverous antagonists are not featured often enough, and the other characters are by and large, negligible. There are, however, some incredibly picturesque locations, and full advantage is made of them. Scenes of zombies shuffling around the dunes of a desert environment, sometimes very effectively in silhouette, look great.
The ending, as is the case with quite a few Franco films, is so abrupt that it comes from nowhere. Such is the slowness of the film (not always a bad thing, and here conjurs up some occasionally hypnotising moments) hardly commands rapt attention, and ‘The End’ credit is suddenly there, a deeply inauspicious end to a film I nevertheless quite enjoyed, given its flaws. Mind you, I enjoy ‘Zombie Lake’ too!
- 8. Apr, 2017
Sometimes, watching a film by Spanish Director Jess Franco only covers half the experience. The other half is in tracking down the definitive version of the film, or even working out which the definitive version actually is. ‘Demoniac’ seems to be the name given to the dubbed version of X-rated ‘Sexorcismes (1975)’, and/or ‘El sádico de Notre-Dame (1979)’, which was expanded to give, as Franco puts it, ‘greater character motivation’. Possibly then, this is the original version, before additional footage was added.
Lina Romay, nearly naked, star-shaped and chained to a rack, is being tortured by a similarly clad female. In a favourite Franco trick, her indignities are revealed as being part of a show. When it’s over, an audience applauds politely. By day, she’s Anna, secretary to Raymond (Pierre Taylou) at ‘Garter and Dagger’ magazine (together they stage sadomasochistic shows in a sleazy Parisian underworld). An occasional contributor to the publication is Mathis Vogel played by Franco. He is not a convincing actor. His decision to cast himself in many of his films is odd (although the characters he plays often interact with a bevy of half-naked females, which may well explain the choice). There are many things to enjoy about ‘Demoniac’ – most of them provided by Romay who doesn’t remain troubled by clothing for any length of time.
Vogel is a defrocked Priest who also secretly tortures nude females in a nearby rented room. The ‘justification’ is, he is unhinged enough to convince himself he is ‘purifying’ these people, taking his victims from such rituals as the one that opened the story, believing them to be genuine black mass events. One couple is visited in their hotel directly after a protracted orgy scene, where the elderly husband is remonstrating with his young wife for enjoying herself too much. When she replies that anything else would be a bore, he replies, “I just don’t like looking ridiculous,” which must surely be irony, as he is sporting the most appalling silvery white wig.
This is far from my favourite Franco film, but like them all, it has merits. The camera-work is often ham-fisted, swooping in on …. nothing, and then pulling back again. There’s no sense of drama or pace, and Franco injects no character into Vogel, so his motivation seems arbitrary. “I am the sword of the Lord,” indeed! However, the sleazy underworld of a murky Paris is nicely conveyed, and those who enjoy the hirsute pleasures of 1970’s pornography have plenty to enjoy here. However, the final light-hearted lines of banter between the cops at the end, seem to have been drafted in from another film.
- 7. Apr, 2017
The reason I had wanted to get hold of this pretty rare DVD is because of the wealth of truly picturesque publicity stills that have been featured in horror compendiums, websites and the like. On that front, I was far from disappointed – the visuals look extravagant and beautiful throughout. Reminiscent of what Hammer might have achieved had they the budget – not that this seems to have had money thrown at it, but every set is crammed with detail, every building is huge and forbidding, every location seems endless.
The telling of this unique take on Dracula is austere and joyless, however, with not a moment of charm or lightness to offset the brutal, screaming mixture of gore and politically enhanced narrative. Released 25 years after the end of WW2, The Count (Paul Albert Krumm) seems to be modelled on Hitler; his still, commanding presence, given to rattling out extensive chiselled barks and speeches. His male acolytes, who delight in torture and beatings, are more soldiers than vampires (not that the two must be mutually exclusive). There are no mist and bat transformations for this vampire, just a very assured solidity and many romantic musical flourishes as he administers the bite. He and his pasty-faced entourage do not fear daylight, and yet running water continues to be a fatal obstacle for them all.
Scenes are often carefully and delicately choreographed, contrasting the bombastic vampire brigade with ravishing, arty scenes of beauty (hence the impressive stills that drew me to the project), with splashes of colour (often red, of course) bringing to life otherwise colour-drained scenes. Director Hans W. Geißendörfer had apparently just left university when he began shooting. His flourishes are stylised, operatic, like a ballet. As Eleonore (Ilona Grübel) lies dying, shot down after being pursued across a vast rolling, frosted lawn, we hear only the softly, teeth-clenching creaking of the weathered ropes holding a wooden swing, occupied by silent children. The Count’s men storm past in unison. This might be my favourite scene. Later, bodies floating in the water, seem to sink or disappear, leaving only their red cloaks and capes floating, like petals on the surface.
This brutal, rural horror is a mixed bag, really. There are parts I really like, and yet the lack of any comfort whatsoever drags the uncompromising production occasionally into one-note greyness.
- 6. Apr, 2017
‘Eugenie’ is also known as ‘Marquis de Sade's 'Philosophy in the Boudoir’' and ‘De Sade 70’. Based on the perversion of de Marquis de Sade, directed by Jess Franco and guest starring Christopher Lee, ‘Eugenie’ has to be a horror film. Doesn’t it?
Few were more surprised at the film’s content than Lee himself, who had agreed to record a number of brief scenes as Dolmance, ostensibly a narrator of events. When viewing ‘Eugenie’, he found that scenes filmed after he had left the set were more explicit than he was lead to believe. Rather than being affronted, he seemed quite philosophical and even amused in subsequent interviews. Immaculate in a velvet smoking jacket (worn in his Sherlock Holmes outings), he wrings every last drop of enunciation from the words he is reading.
20 year-old star Marie Liljedahl (playing 15 year-old Eugenie) was uncomfortable filming some of the more extreme scenes, although this isn’t noticeable from her performance. Perfectly exuding a kind of naïve sensuality, of someone desperate to grow up but not sure how to, she is immersed slowly into a world of sex and cruelty and is convincing throughout (one of the most interpretative scenes involves her wandering, skimpily dressed, into a room full of danger – and a hanging corpse – whilst clutching a child’s doll for comfort). In fact, all the cast are exemplary – regulars Jack Taylor and Maria Rohm in particular, never seem to turn in less than impressive performances.
The film contains various horrific moments and eventually emerges as a true horror story - Eugenie’s plight is distasteful and awful indeed (we are treated once again to the dubbing of the sound of hollow wind over scenes of scorching sunlight to indicate – quite effectively – the remoteness of the location). Rather than being the cut-price skin-flick one might expect, this is actually very evocatively filmed by Franco, suggesting more time (and possibly budget) available than usual, to do justice to his ‘vision’. It looks sumptuous, possibly due to the involvement of Producer Harry Alan Towers, who by this time had skipped bail for charges involving operating a vice ring, but still pursued a long-running career in films.
- 5. Apr, 2017
Convincing an audience that a cuddly, furry ginger cat is any kind of arbiter of doom was never going to be easy, but ‘Seven Deaths’ makes a good, er, stab at it.
Jane Birkin plays Corringa, who we first see returning to her family home: a splendid, gothic castle in the highlands of Scotland. Here, she is reunited with her neurotic mother, salacious uncle, and petulant cousin. And a wandering orangutan.
Serge Gainsberg, 41, and Birkin, 23 collaborated in 1969 on the controversial hit single ‘Je t'aime... moi non plus’ (originally written for and sung with Brigitte Bardot). Here, Serge briefly plays the Police Inspector; it is strange to see him dubbed with a think Scottish accent. For an Italian film set in a small Scottish village, however, results could have been far less convincing. This leads me to continue my belief that as a genre, giallo films are consistently well made. Having said that, this is somewhat less satisfying than others I have seen.
The ape seems merely a reference to Edgar Allen Poe, as is the idea of a cat somehow orchestrating/influencing dark events. Both animal-related concepts pretty much disappear some way into the story anyway.
The ending is also reliant on the unasked villain gloating and explaining the plot, and his part in it, which is something these kind of films don’t often feel the need to resort to.
- 3. Apr, 2017
Sean Bridgers plays Chris Cleek as the antithesis of smug. Head of a family of acquiescent children and a particularly spiritless wife Belle (the always excellent Angela Bettis), he happens upon a wild woman (Pollyanna McIntosh, who would be so good in 2014’s ‘White Settlers’), half-naked, hunting fish in the wilderness. With typical arrogance, he announces he is going to capture her, keep her chained up in the shed and ‘civilise’ her. Happily, one of the first things she does is bite off his finger, for which he punishes her.
Cleek clearly considers his prisoner something he has the right to exercise control over, to demand obedience, on which to stamp his authority. He introduces the family to his conquest, whom he describes as a ‘project’, and decides it is their shared responsibility to ‘help’ her. ‘We can’t have people running around the woods thinking they are animals; it isn’t right,’ he states with authority, and by this time my detestation of this monstrously presumptuous, ‘civilised’ man is immense. Belle questions the wisdom of what he is doing and he gives her a slap, which she receives with no emotion.
Watching this film is an intense experience. I wouldn’t imagine Director Lucky McKee is making a point as mundane as the untamed woman is more civilised than her ‘acceptable’ captors: as events move on and her humiliation worsens, we see echoes of daddy Chris’s dysfunctional behaviour in his children: his family is a fragile unit. The eldest son Bryan (Zach Rand) sneaks out of the house one night to spy Daddy having sex with the bound woman, and this, he feels, gives him the right to sneak in later and torture her. When eldest daughter Peggy Cleek (Lauren Ashley Carter) is visited at home by her concerned teacher, her unconscious mother is being lifted out of the kitchen after Chris’s latest physical assault. The Woman is incidental to the family’s apparent psychosis, just an additional release for it.
Warnings notwithstanding, I won’t spoiler any more of this. Suffice it to say that events in general, and Daddy’s behaviour in particular, rapidly hit several new layers of depravity to such an extent that merely labelling Chris Cleek as obscene becomes inconsequential, the film itself reaches stages of repellence that straddles brilliance and absurdity. Although the ending brings with it a conclusion of sorts, there are several questions pleasingly unanswered, and a post end-credits sequence that can most conservatively be labelled ‘bizarre’.
Recommended, but finish your dinner first.
- 29. Mar, 2017
Apparently there are several versions of this Jess Franco directed project. This appears to be the French version, dubbed into English, and featuring ‘The Living Dead Girl’ herself, Françoise Blanchard (as Melissa). Amidst the candle-lit wailings, darkened, crumbling passages and overwhelming architecture are Franco veterans Lina Romay (the housekeeper, Maria) and Howard Vernon (Eric Vladimir Usher).
Whilst clearly out of the hands of Franco, it has to be noted the dubbing for this is pretty appalling. Whether the voice artists are actors at all is debatable – the exception is Usher’s voice-over, which sounds like an impression of James Mason.
The story, twisting and meandering and far too thin, involves Doctor Alan Harker (echoes of Dracula? There is also a Doctor Seward, who has in times gone by – played by a different actor – featured with Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and fleetingly a werewolf, under Franco’s direction) who visits the house/castle of his former Professor Usher. Usher is clearly insane and looked after by his housekeeper. His daughter (Blanchard) died years before, but can apparently be reanimated by the blood of prostitutes, who are kept imprisoned within the castle.
Despite the effective (and beautifully shot) locale, this is clearly one of the less budgeted Franco productions. Whether an artistic decision or a financial one, there is a lot of stock-footage from the earlier, far more acclaimed ‘The Awful Doctor Orloff (1962)’. There is far too much of this, although these flashbacks are far superior to the film they are supporting. Although it features a younger Vernon as Orloff/Usher, the actress playing Melissa is noticeably different. The story of Orloff has been changed to fit the narrative of ‘Revenge in the House of Usher.’
When this was released, audiences weren’t as privy to recordings of earlier films as we are these days, so the use of such footage is possibly justified. Seen now though, it seems like a way of backing up a weak story and padding out the running time. As a result, this is a patchwork affair. It isn’t, as has been suggested, Franco’s worst production – the locations alone are incredibly atmospheric and really promotes Usher’s magnificent isolation, as does the minimalist soundtrack. And yet whilst saturating the viewer in its macabre mood-scapes, it remains an often ponderous exercise, with Franco’s two trademarks – sex and gore – almost entirely absent.
- 28. Mar, 2017
Cocky, invasive, sex-pest photographer Carlo (Nino Castelnuovo) has no problem stripping nude empty-headed attention seeking poser Lucia (Femi Benussi) under the pretence of an ‘in depth’ interview. Her first words to him are, “That thing’s making me nervous, put it away.” Luckily, she’s talking about his camera.
Not untypically for a giallo film, the main characters are dislikeable, before the forthcoming perils they face gradually earn them the sympathy, even empathy, of the viewer. And as the title of this film hints, there is much pale flesh on display. Equally, the soundtrack is dreamily excellent (except for what sounds like the flapping of a plastic ruler foreshadowing the next murder).
The most appealing character is probably Magda, who is played by Edwidge Fenech. Fenech had proven so effective in what was effectively a vehicle for her, ‘The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh (1971)’. Initially, her role here seems a minor one, but grows as the story progresses.
This is a fairly regular giallo. Lots of twists, lots of red herrings and a fairly satisfying reveal. It is also more typical than most of early 1970’s styles, both in terms of fashion and our attitudes to one another. The lifestyle of the characters seems casually sadistic – and that’s just the ‘good guys.’ The past isn’t always rosy!
- 25. Mar, 2017
Is ‘Eugenie de Sade’ simply an excuse for Spanish Director Jess Franco to film as many shots of Soledad Miranda’s semi-naked body as possible? What do you reckon? Did he even need an excuse? Whether curled up in front of the fire, walking through the snow in a large hat and leather coat or sprawled out on the bed, Miranda (who plays Eugenie) is a true presence. Not just because she is stunningly beautiful. She exudes more than that. The fashions from Franco’s projects from this period (or many projects from this period) often strip anyone of dignity or appeal, but Soledad somehow rises above the red leather boots and the outsized shades etc, remaining captivating throughout. And mainly, as is proved here several times, she was a terrific, uninhibited actress.
Here Eugenie recounts the film’s story whilst lying broken in a hospital bed – horribly pertinent since Soledad was dead by the time of the film’s release. She relays her story to writer Atilla Tanner (Franco), who wishes to write a book about her father Albert’s life. He shadows her throughout the story, not condoning nor condemning her actions.
Albert Radeck de Fanvel (Paul Muller) is a writer of erotic books – when his daughter discovers one, it opens her mind to a new world of desire, and this is centred upon her father. They agree to go on a murdering spree, with Albert taking pictures whilst Eugenie commits the atrocities.
One such moment involves inviting a blonde Austrian hitch-hiker back to the family home, where a drunken evening brings on a selection of increasingly uncomfortable ‘games’. There is a definite sense of dread, because we are sure the girl will be murdered – but what form it will take isn’t revealed for a while, until things have become progressively perverse. All of this fuels their desire for one another.
This is rare for Franco in that the intended ‘eurotica’ is actually erotic. No ham-fisted fumblings here with the camera trying to keep up with things. When one of their victims is young, male and handsome (Paul, played by André Montchal), the inevitable happens, and Eugenie falls for him. Dad, who killed his wife for her unfaithfulness, is not happy.
One thing that separates this from many Franco films that are usually bathed in searing sunshine and exotic locales, is that this is set during the winter, and a pretty heavy one at that. It adds an extra element to the bleak unreachable debauchery of the father and daughter’s murderous escapades in what is often a three-hander: Miranda, Muller and Franco.
Only the ending lets things down a little. Low-key is one way of putting it. Like other such films, it doesn’t end, it just sort of stops, with (in this case) Franco as the last performer we see – and for all his skills as a director, his acting pales in comparison to everyone else on screen. A beautiful film, though, and probably the best showcase of Soledad Miranda’s talent.
- 24. Mar, 2017
This is a jazz-tastic, psychedelic Jess Franco film starring Stephanie Powers-alike Janine Reynaud as nightclub stripper and kinky ‘adult actress’ Lorna Green. The story begins focussing on her and doesn’t let up until the end. Franco centres on the statuesque former model in virtually every shot.
Like many such films, the specifics of the story are open to interpretation. To me, Lorna is either drifting into some mental abnormality, possibly as a result of her extreme lifestyle, or in fact is becoming under the influence of some demonic possession. She drifts in an out of reality and fantasy, and the audience is given no clue as to what is real and what is not. She is a sensuous, dangerous conflict of heady emotions, that girl!
Franco stalwart Howard Vernon (credited as Varnon) only features briefly in this maelstrom of exotic imagery. He has one fairly major scene, seducing the lovely Lorna, before being stabbed in the eye! The character of Pierce (Michel Lemoine) seems to exert some control over her. Some reviewers have speculated that he may be Satan, which is a possibility. In this, anything’s a possibility! It isn’t so much that it is incomprehensible, it’s more that Franco seems more concerned with communicating a series of images of unease, of psychedelic delirium, than anything that conforms to the limitations of linear story-telling. In that way, it succeeds.
‘Succubus’ was a financial success upon its release, despite having difficulties behind the scenes (one of the backers reneged on the project. Producer Pier A. Caminnecci agreed to finance the project, and pretty soon embarked on an affair with Reynaud).
- 23. Mar, 2017
Here’s a curio. Spanish Director Jess Franco has created a film inspired by The Blind Dead, a collection of skeletal cadavers from Amando de Ossorio’s carefully crafted horror quartet. Reputation has suggested this might even be a fifth entry in that series, but I’m not sure Franco has ever made that claim. The scene that opens this film features a group of cowled monks making their way into their monastery, bathed in scorching sunlight, to the incongruous sound of dubbed hollow wind. This reedy sound effect accompanies any scene that promises danger.
Next, a giggling gaggle of chirpy 30-something good time girls are tottering on high heels up the stone steps to the hotel they are to make their holiday home for the next few days. Amongst them is Candy Coster, AKA Franco favourite Lina Romay in a silvery blond wig. They can’t wait to ‘pick up some guys and have a good time’, and yet as soon as the doors are closed to their widely scattered chalets, graphic lesbian activity ensues.
As they sunbathe nude on the shingle, a meat cleaver is thrown from a balcony at the hotel, narrowly missing them. But this doesn’t deter their frivolity (“Who wouldn’t want to murder four hotties like us?”). The hotel proprietor, shady Carlos (Antonio Mayans), who is responsible, keeps his eyebrow-shorn wife chained on a bed, and appears to be in the thrall of a greater power. Perhaps this power (he is ‘from another world’) saps any sense Candy possesses; one minute, his chained wife is explaining that he probably wants Candy to take her place - the next, Candy is in his arms, falling for his promises.
One of the girls wanders into the ruined monastery next door to the hotel and things take on a creepier tone. Despite the mournful tolling of a bell, the bell she sees is stationary; as she enters, modulated chanting fills the soundtrack, and that is the last we see of her.
The next to be plucked from the group actually comes face to pasty-face with the Monks. Her ensuing gang-rape is protracted and horrifying. Somehow even more horrifying is the next scene, where we catch up with the comedy hi-jinks of bungling odd-job man Marleno ‘hilariously’ serenading Candy in the hotel garden – in view of the ordeal we have just witnessed, such frivolity seems tasteless. Pretty soon, it’s back to the not-so-softcore lesbianism between Candy and Caty (Elisa Vela), the only two girls left. Nothing like a bit of nookie to take your mind off disappeared friends in an empty hotel where the proprietor wants to kill you.
Some of the Monks are grinning and skeletal, another appears to have his (human) face coated in porridge (SPOILER – revealed to be Carlos), and another is entirely human-looking. Cursed by a former victim Irina, they have since been denied eternal rest until they find love. Carlos believes he has found this in Candy, and as they kiss, he crumples to the floor, an empty cloak. Candy doesn’t like it and runs off.
I enjoyed this. The four women holiday-makers are a discreditable gang, their slow realisation that they are the only guests in the huge hotel hilariously slow-witted. And yet there is a consistent storyline here, not always the case with Franco. And more importantly, ‘Mansion of the Living Dead’ works as a horror film, for the sense of unease grows palpable. It probably won’t please those expecting an addition to the delicately built-up Blind Dead story (to which this is best thought of as a homage, not a continuation), but to those familiar with Franco’s style, this is pretty good.
- 22. Mar, 2017
This is the slickest Jess Franco film I have seen. In fact, the difference in production values between this and something like ‘Dracula Contra Frankenstein’ is so staggering, they seem like the work of two different directors. The actors, including a wild-eyed Klaus Kinski and a shifty-looking Dennis Price, look immaculate. Only the over-used footage of the Rio carnival betrays the less shiny quality of its spliced-in origins.
James Darren plays Jimmy Logan, a jazz musician who becomes obsessed with beautiful Wanda (Maria Rohm), whom he finds dead on a beach in Istanbul (this scene opens the film, with swathes of backstory told in flashback, narrated in film noir-ish style by Darren). We are then treated to a swirling, delirious cocktail of sex and horror intrigue, often threaded through with the image of a girl in furs who looks like a mannequin – there is one lengthy scene where she appears to seduce, torture and kill Price’s Percival Kapp whilst alternating between dream and reality. It is very weird, intoxicating and even more impressive because the fantasy is played without any dialogue.
One of my favourite characters here is the least complex. Rita (Barbara McNair) makes no secret of the fact that she adores Jimmy in spite of his infatuation with Wanda. McNair’s expressions of forlorn longing and subsequent dejection when she realises she has lost her love, are powerful, and we are relieved for her when she finally musters up the sense to make a dignified exit. However, she literally has the last laugh, as it is Rita who sings out the title song over the end credits, full of life ad gusto, which is more than can be said for her ex.
For such a delirious, jazzy cocktail of a film, it is Franco’s restraint that makes it work so well. His trademark zoom-ins are here, but used sparingly, and only to enhance a mood. Filtered camera effects also abound, but only in tone with what is revealed to be going on. I enjoyed ‘Venus in Furs’ very much for its consistent storyline (the twist at the end doesn’t make much sense, alas) and atmosphere. I also very much enjoy Franco’s tatty, less acclaimed works for opposite reasons.
- 18. Mar, 2017
Attractive, confident and haughty, Mrs. Julie Wardh (picturesque Edwige Fenech) has a plethora of men interested in her. Husband and lovers, some more depraved than others, pursue her in this heady, fast-moving chiller. What makes her increasingly fragile state of mind worse is the knowledge that she also appears to be haunted by a series of vicious killings. A coincidence? Her new lover, George (George Hilton) is somewhat intense. Could he have something to do with it all, do you think?
Otherwise known as ‘Next!’ ‘The Next Victim’ and ‘Blade of the Ripper’, this has acquired a reputation as one of the best giallo films, and it is not difficult to see why. The pace does not falter, it is very tightly written and the wonderful twists are delivered with expert ease, and don’t let up until the very end. The locations – as in many such productions – are mainly real, not studio sets, and as such are packed with colour and detail, from every rusted radiator to flaking window pane, and the lush expansive exteriors are never less than breath-taking. The direction, by Sergio Martino is faultless (at one point a letter, delivered with flowers to Wardh, reads: ‘Your vice is a locked room, and only I have the key’, which is also the (English) title of another of Martino’s giallo films).
For many films of this period, females are portrayed as pretty feinting screamers for pretty brave males to rescue, and yet here, Wardh has every reason for hysterics (Fenech is a legendary performer, due in part to this film – she has since become a prolific producer; her most recent film acting credit is in ‘Hostel 2 (2007)’) as she is given no respite in between scares and attacks. Crucially, the audience is entirely with her throughout, which makes the fact that she really doesn’t appear to stand a chance that much more powerful.
- 17. Mar, 2017
This is the 1973 Spanish cut. It features less flesh than the alternative ‘La Maldición de Frankenstein/The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein’, but features inserts of Franco favourite (and future wife) Lina Romay as a gypsy girl.
To cast Romay (her film debut) and then almost completely obscure her with over-darkened day-for-night filming is an interesting directorial choice. It’s equally ‘brave’ to show close-ups of the Frankenstein Monster’s eyes, which brazenly exposes the limitations of the ‘head piece’ and the lack of effort made to marry it up with actor Fernando Bilbao’s face. Forget the lumbering gait of traditional Monsters – this one moves quickly, leaping and snarling as he does so.
My favourite scenes involve white-cowled figures passing ghost-like through a misty woodland. These people appear to be followers of Cagliostro (Howard Vernon), who now controls not only Frankenstein’s Monster, but also Melisa (Anne Libert), a blind, shrieking vampiric bird woman with plumes of green feathers adorning various portions of her body. Vernon and Libert are probably the best and least restrained actors here, providing an arch and perverse double-act that could only thrive in a Franco film. Cagliostro plans to create a female creature in order to procreate with the original Monster to create a super race. Ah yes. That old chestnut.
Dennis Price, whose cultured, recognisable voice is bizarrely dubbed by some inferior actor, gives a scattered performance here as Doctor Frankenstein – that is, a performance that is scattered throughout the film in brief scenes where he is forever on the edge of death (and then beyond, M. Valdemar style) without ever having the good grace to actually expire before much of the film is done (in a scene that can most kindly be described as ‘unlikely’).
The film’s reluctance to pursue any level of coherent storyline makes a lot of it fairly ponderous viewing, and yet I rather enjoyed this. Like Frankenstein himself, Franco has stitched together bits and pieces haphazardly to form a whole. It won’t sway anyone uncertain about Jess Franco’s talents as a film-maker, but it reaches levels of pleasingly frightening weirdness.
- 16. Mar, 2017
Accompanied by some of the most misleading promotional material ever (just how did they get away with using images of Karloff and Chaney Jr in Jack Pierce’s classic make-up to advertise this?), Jess Franco brings us an apparent tribute to those old Universal films.
In this, Doctor Seward (Alberto Dalbes) is so incensed by Dracula (a wide-eyed and impressive Howard Vernon) and his killings that he travels to the Count’s castle, opens his coffin and taps a twig-like stake into the old boy’s heart, reverting him to a dead bat. Quite why this simple act hadn’t been carried out earlier in Dracula’s reign of terror is a mystery.
The first dialogue in this film is 15 minutes in, when a gaggle of gypsies notice the arrival of Doctor Frankenstein as he heads towards Dracula’s castle. Dennis Price plays the doctor, and we first see him struggling to get out of his shiny black car as Morpho (Luis Barboo) brings into the castle a suspiciously large crate. In 1948, Price had been voted tenth most popular actor by the UK box office; by this stage of his life, ‘excessive living and inadequate gambling’ had left him alcoholic, bankrupt and ill. Unlike this film’s sequel, ‘The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein’ (in which Frankenstein spends much of the running time bed-bound), Franco’s direction here makes no secret of Price’s difficulty walking, and as such, Frankenstein is a frail, somewhat bloated figure. An excellent actor, Price’s very few lines were dubbed for this.
Our first glimpse of Fernando Bilbao’s Monster, after a series of mis-matched jump-shots, is in unforgiving close-up. Permanent marker seems to have provided the drawn-on scars, which seriously lets down the otherwise impressive performance Fernando gives. Franco’s camera chases after the actors often failing to keep track of the intended action. Unlike many of his films, there is little in the way of location or the usual sumptuous scenery, and the drab and tatty sets here help to create an enclosed, poverty-stricken environment.
The lines that are spoken are usually given in voice-over, an artistic decision probably to ease the process of dubbing for any overseas sales. This approach, and the disembodied voices give the whole production a ghostly effect.
This is a slow maze of a film smothered with Franco’s trademark zooming camera, punctuated with a handful of screaming young women (Anne Libert, who is killed off immediately, makes a bigger impression in ‘Rites’, and Britt Nichols as a female vampire who, despite making no attempt to hide herself, no-one ever notices!), fabulously rubbery bats and for no readily apparent reason features a cameo by a curly-haired wolf man, who is brought in to fight the monster, get battered, and disappear! So, why do I enjoy this? I’m not sure, but possibly, it is because it reminds me in parts, of the work of French Director Jean Rollin, with whom Franco’s work is often – and undeservedly, in my view – compared. At least here, the comparison is occasionally justified.
- 14. Mar, 2017
Child killings are the grisly subject of this Lucio Fulci Directed giallo. And he takes delight in some genuinely horrifying scenes.
A handful of vengeful men corner Maciara (Florinda Bolkan) in a graveyard and beat her with chains in probably the most disturbing set-piece I’ve seen in a giallo – and there have been a few. With unhurried deliberation, the blows are dealt slowly and viciously, followed by unflinching moments of blood emerging from new wounds. All this to the sound of triumphant ballads. After such prolonged suffering, you would expect Maciara to survive the ordeal – but no, after dragging her bloodied, broken body across the unforgiving heat of wasteland, she dies by the side of the road, for the most part unnoticed by passing vehicles. Horrifying indeed.
There is a carefully maintained sense of unease that permeates throughout the isolated Italian village where these horrors occur, and yet there’s a dark vein of … can I call it humour? … running through the more graphic moments in this film. Similarly, as the revealed miscreant is tipped loudly over a ravine, it’s probably a brave choice to continually cut to a close-up of his battered face being slowly smashed following every connection with the rock face he is tumbling down. Equally, the injection of more of the deeply inappropriately soulful soundtrack lends a perversion to his slow, violent death.