Friday, 14 January 2011


This is a bunch of short reviews that originally got posted on the FrightFest Forum and is as much a personal aide-memoire as anything else, because I'm having increasing difficulty remembering which Franco movies are which. None of them are really any good, mind, but it's useful to differentiate between his useless sex movies, his useless gore movies, his useless cannibal movies and his useless zombie movies. This isn't all of Franco's filmography (Blogspot would collapse under the weight), or even a semi-complete list of the ones I've managed to see. But they are the ones for which I happen to have some brief notes handy. And they're not in any particular order.


This was directed by Jess Franco in 1970, and I have not the foggiest idea what's going on. A second-rate stripper from Zagreb moves in with a mysterious woman; she is having strange dreams after possibly killing someone, and fears she's going mad. Meanwhile a man and another woman observe from the house next door, and have motives of their own. It drags like a wet winter week in less than 85 minutes, and it isn't just gibberish, it's cripplingly dull, despite them getting their kit off half the time. An inability to focus properly and an obsession with the zoom lens don't help (these two techniques are hallmarks of Franco's movies).


Which I like. I mean, it is terrible, but at the same time some kind of great despite having an outrageously thin plot - woman avenges her husband by bumping off the individuals who drove him to suicide. What it has is some utterly fab and groovy interior design, some horrible shirts, an inappropriate soundtrack of cheesy European chillout laden with sitars, bright colour photography and the rather lovely (and late) Soledad Miranda taking her clothes off at every opportunity. The movie looks absolutely fantastic, but it doesn't make any sense at all on a logic level - though it's probably not supposed to as it is a Jess Franco film. I don't remember putting this on the queue either but since watching it in slack-jawed delight yesterday afternoon I've gone back onto the site and added just about every other Franco title they've got (and they've got a lot). I'm all for quality in cinema, but sometimes I'll happily settle for bonkers. [NB: in the intervening months I've gone back and taken a load off again.]


This is a cheat on several fronts: firstly it isn't a Jekyll and Hyde story but a Frankenstein tale in all but name (for no particularly good reason, a mad scientist has a reactivated corpse in his laboratory which he controls with sound waves), and secondly his name isn't Jekyll and he doesn't have any mistresses. In fact it shouldn't be called Doctor Jekyll's Mistresses, but Doctor Fisherman's Jazz Club Floozies And Total Strangers, as the Doc and the Monster go out every night and kill ladies of questionable virtue, again for no adequately explored reason. One of the best (dubbed) lines in the whole of European trash cinema comes from the police inspector on finding a clue: "If you'll permit a lack of taste, Sergeant, I think I must express my feelings with a vulgar display of swearing. Gadzooks!"


Bloody Moon is a wildly illogical, nonsensical, cheap and shoddy slasher pic in which various nubile lovelies are despatched by an unseen but blindingly obvious psycho at an impossibly glamorous languages school. Most of the gore moments are still cut (the film earned a place on the video nasties list), none of the characters behave in even vaguely recognisably human fashion, and the picture quality (on the Vipco release) looks like it was mastered from a dodgy VHS. Deeply, deeply cack.


Killer Barbys on the box, or Vampire Killer Barbys if you believe the title on the DVD cover. It's as incoherent and fifth-rate as most of his films and a long, long way from She Killed In Ecstasy and Vampyros Lesbos. I guess he'll never reach those levels again. This one has a rock group called the Killer Barbies travelling to their next gig and having sex in the back of the van. The van breaks down, they get invited to a spooky castle owned by a 100-year old woman: there's blood, nudity, decapitation, rubbish effects, and dubbing so shoddy the sound frequently cuts out completely. Terrible, even by Franco's alleged standards. Contains dwarves.


Yet another Jess Franco quickie which isn't anywhere near his best stuff but is a marginal improvement on some of his sillier offerings. Scientist ventures into cannibal territory: they eat his wife, cut his arm off and take his daughter to be their white goddess. Ten years later the one-armed scientist goes up river again, this time with a collection of partying idiots (we're going looking for cannibals; don't forget your bikini), most of whom get munched at great length in slow-motion. The White Goddess is still there but only wears a strategically placed bit of string and the Boots No 7 range of eyeliner, despite the tribe never having had any contact with Western civilisation. She's also managed to dye her hair blonde and they all speak English. It's rubbish.


More sleaze in yet another Jess Franco offering: Voodoo Passion, in which a woman moves to Haiti to be with her plank-like diplomat husband, and lives in a big house where she, his sister and his secretary periodically wander around naked. There's a murder plot (takes up about 10 minutes of the running time), an obese psychiatrist (fortunately not required to disrobe) and some nice Caribbean scenery, but it's basically nothing more than softcore.


I don't think you could seriously expect Jess Franco to leave the nuns alone. Here an innocent country girl gets packed off to a convent full of Satanists and undergoes the usual humiliations and abuses. It's not very good, heavy on the Catholic-bashing and not very subtle about it. This UK version has been heavily cut by over six minutes by the BBFC - presumably star "Susan Hemingway" wasn't 18 when the movie was made (or they can't provide proof), as any scene in which the character is nude or topless is obviously shorn away. Frankly this is no great loss.


Some Franco has been wonderful (She Killed In Ecstasy), and some has been pants (Nightmares Come At Night). Jack The Ripper unfortunately tends towards the latter. Mad Klaus Kinski stars as the mad doctor, hacking up the ladies of the Whitechapel night for reasons I didn't catch. It's incredibly illogical, nonsensical, but occasionally censor-baiting in its killing of naked girls - The Ripper has the habit of slicing off his victim's breasts (though it actually looks like he's providing cherry blancmanges from the cake shop). I've no idea whether that bizarre criminological titbit is consistent with his actual M.O., but since the ending veers wildly away from what little I know of Ripper history, I'm guessing it was just put in there to annoy censors. (The BBFC let it through, though.) A few laughs at the stupidity of it all.


Which is better than its followup Kiss Me Monster on the grounds that it's 0.35% more coherent and has a very mildly interesting topless dance scene. That said, it's still bilge. I don't think it would have helped if I'd watched the two films in the right order although I have managed to establish that the two heroines aren't jazz musicians after all but detectives. Glad we sorted that one out because it wasn't clear in KMM. The dubbing is particularly terrible, but that's the least of what's wrong with it.


This is a senseless barrage of killings, expositional gibberish, big band jazz and non sequiturs that's incoherent and incomprehensible even for Franco. There's an ancient religious sect that hang out in a disused mission dressed in pointy Klan hats, a scientist gone missing, a feminist community on an island, and a trail of corpses all knifed in the back that lead a couple of lady jazz musicians on a quest for the Secret Of Life. Oddly for Senor F, it doesn't have any gore or graphic violence and only a couple of nipple shots. Very strange, very dull, not worth seeing.


Franco veers between enjoyably bonkers and incomprehensible dullness; Night Of The Assassins was obviously shot on a weekday as it's one of his dull ones. It's billed as an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's The Cat And The Canary, which I didn't actually know he'd written (and more to the point, Edgar Allan Poe didn't actually know he'd written it either). Relatives of a murdered British aristo gather at a storm-lashed mansion on the South coast for a will-reading, an inheritance, and several murders based on a big-print version of the Book Of The Apocalypse carried out by a maniac in a rubber mask. And he would have got away with it if it hadn't been for a pesky police inspector who spends the entire time dressed as a Texan oil baron complete with a ten-gallon hat.


Yet more unbelievable silliness in Exorcism, aka Demoniac, aka The Sadist Of Notre Dame, aka Loads Of Other Titles. The staff of "Dagger And Garter" magazine hold a black mass; clients and participants of the ensuing orgy soon fall foul of a serial killer who strips the girls naked and chains them to the wardrobe. "Not very good" is putting it mildly. The BBFC have cut nearly three minutes from an already edited original (it had yer actual hardcore to start with). Loads of unattractive nudity and wobbly bums still on view though, if that's your thing, and some spectacularly annoying organ music.


Presumably so titled to distinguish it from Raymond Chandler's Justine, AA Milne's Justine and John Le Carre's Justine. This is Franco's take on the old perv's tale of the two sisters booted out of the convent and while one gleefully embraces the life of a murderous slapper, the naive and virtuous one encounters depravity, abuse, torture and 57 varieties of hideous misery - nevertheless she seems to go through a lot of it with a smile on her lips and damn near a song in her heart. It goes on too long (over two hours on the restored British DVD) and the story is broken up with scenes of Klaus Kinski going tonto in his asylum cell as he writes the story. Some 90 minutes in, a very drunk Jack Palance turns up as a barking loon in a monastery and delivers a masterclass in deranged overacting, which means a lot of pauses and eye-rolling, pointless over-enunciation, and pulling faces between every other word. Still, it's lush, expensive-looking, has a superb score (Bruno Nicolai) and, rather sweetly, it does end happily.

No comments: