Tag Archives: 1973

278. I WILL WALK LIKE A CRAZY HORSE (1973)

J’irai Comme un Cheval Fou

“…where you go look for the grotesque, the dirty, you find God, happiness, beauty…”–Fernando Arrabal

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: George Shannon, Hachemi Marzouk, Emmanuelle Riva

PLOT: Accused of killing his mother and stealing her jewels, Aden Rey flees to the desert. There, he discovers a mystical dwarf shepherd named Marvel who offers him refuge. They develop a friendship verging on romance, and Aden decides to take the innocent nature boy (and his favorite goat) to see the big city.

Still from I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse (1973)

BACKGROUND:

  • Together with and , Fernando Arrabal founded the Panic movement (named after the Greek satyr god Pan). Starting in 1962 in Paris, the Panic movement staged disruptive live public “happenings” and plays that included (reportedly) live animal sacrifices, Jodorowsky being stripped and whipped, nude women covered in honey, and a replica of a giant vagina. The movement was inspired by the idea that Surrealism had become too mainstream and lost its power to shock the viewer; Jodorowsky officially dissolved it in 1973, after the three principals had already gone their own ways.
  • I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse was Arrabal’s second film as director (after 1971’s surreal fascism satire Viva la Muerte). He may be best known to 366 readers as the screenwriter for Jodorowsky‘s 1968 debut Fando y Lis, which he adapted from his own play.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The most unforgettable image in I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse is one I actually wish I could forget: Aden and Marvel silhouetted in the sunset, squatting back to back, defecating. If you need something less repulsive (and we do, for illustrative purposes), go with the dwarf making out with a skull so fresh that bits of meat still cling to it.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Synchronized pooping; cross-dressing skull-birthing; butt-flower eating

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: With its sharply dressed, on-the-lam hero wandering the streets of Paris as the cops close in, I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse plays at times like an exceptionally strange nouvelle vague crime flick—as if failed to show up on set and Alejandro Jodorowsky seized control of the project, firing and installing a dwarf as the love interest. Oedipal, mystical, scatological, blasphemous, surreal, and still shocking even today, Crazy Horse is crazy indeed.

DVD release trailer for I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse

COMMENTS: Fernando Arrabal’s sophomore feature I Will Walk Like Continue reading 278. I WILL WALK LIKE A CRAZY HORSE (1973)

1973 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: ANDY WARHOL’S FRANKENSTEIN, SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA, AND SISTERS

Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein was the fourth film directed by under ‘s banner; although it seems that apart from co-producing, the American pop art icon had no creative input, which may be why, in Europe, it was released under the title Flesh For Frankenstein. Morrisey made this film back-to-back with Andy Warhol’s Dracula, which we will cover when 1974 rolls around. Both films star and (who also starred in the Morrissey/Warhol “hustler” trilogy Flesh, Trash, and Heat). Frankenstein is the more outrageous of the two horror films. It stars Kier as a fascistic, narcissistic, necrophiliac Baron Frankenstein who, in his most infamous scene, cuts open the ribcage of a woman (Dalila Di Lazzaro) and has sex with her gall bladder.  Naturally, this scene made Kier a cult celebrity, a position he would cement with 0Dracula.

Still from Andy Warhol's Frankenstein/Flesh for Frankenstein (1973)Shot in 3-D, Frankenstein aims directly to satirize the sexploitation/horror demographic with a high quota of gore and sex—the latter supplied by Monique Van Vooren as the unloved nymphomaniac Baroness, wife and sister to the Baron, and Dallesandro as the stable boy who services her. Aptly, the film opens with the Baron and Baroness as children dissecting and  beheading a doll, but “Addams Family” this isn’t: the good doctor’s supply of cadavers comes from bordellos rather than the traditional cemetery. Kier and Van Vooren are ideally cast, with her armpit sucking competing with his gallbladder screwing. Although undeniably dated, it’s every bit as outrageous as it sounds.

When writer and director unleashed The Exorcist on the world, few had any idea the impact it would make. Shining across our small 1973 TV sets, the original trailer was subdued. Although the book upon which it was based had been a best seller, only its readers knew what it was about. I don’t remember a lot of publicity beforehand, but all that changed on the weekend it was released. Newspapers were issuing warnings of something unimaginably terrifying, theaters were equipped with barf bags, and in our neck of the woods, churches were condemning it as propaganda coming from Satan himself. Indeed, the fallen angel had been rising quite high since 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby, but, at least as far as box office, even that seminal (and superior) film did not have the impact of The Exorcist. Initially, its critical standing was mixed, although now it seems to top all those “best of” horror lists.  Word of mouth made a trend of fear, and it was years before anyone from our tribe saw it. The tidal wave of Satanic themed films to follow was unprecedented, and, needless to say, preachers and Sunday Continue reading 1973 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: ANDY WARHOL’S FRANKENSTEIN, SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA, AND SISTERS

271. THE HOURGLASS SANATORIUM (1973)

Sanatorium pod Klepsydra; AKA The Sandglass

“For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. “–Hamlet, Act III, Sc. 1

Recommended

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING:

PLOT: As the film opens, Józef is on a train headed to a sanatorium where his dead father is being kept. When he arrives, the grounds are deserted and decrepit, but eventually he finds a doctor who leads him to his now-sleeping father’s room and explains the patient’s comatose-but-alive status: “the trick is that we moved back time… we reactivate past time with all its possibilities.” Józef then wanders through the sanatorium’s grounds, meeting his mother, a collector of automatons, a parade of men dressed in bird costumes, the Three Wise Men, and other strange characters.

Still from The Hourglass Sanatorium (1973)

BACKGROUND:

  • The film was primarily based on Polish Surrealist author Bruno Schultz’s short-story collection “Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass,” although it included ideas from some of the author’s other short stories. (A Schulz story was also the inspiration for the ‘ stop-animation nightmare “The Street of Crocodiles“).
  • Wojciech Has worked on this project for five years.
  • The Hourglass Sanatorium did not receive the blessing of the Polish censors and was banned. Has had copies smuggled to the Cannes Film Festival, where it tied for the jury prize (at that time, essentially third place). In apparent retaliation for his insubordination, the Communist Party did not approve any of Has’ new film projects for the next ten years.
  • In Poland, an hourglass is a symbol of death.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Oddly enough, especially given how visually sumptuous The Hourglass Sanatorium is, the image which best evokes the movie isn’t even in it. I speak of the famous theatrical release poster by Polish artist Franciszek Starowieyski, which depicts a giant orange eyeball perched on a jawbone, with a grill of teeth through which a worm crawls (a limbless woman’s torso is also stuck between its molars), while numbers and arrows illustrate features of bone anatomy like occult footnotes. The poster seizes upon the film’s major theme of death; Starowieyski was also picking up on the repeated motif of eyeballs which occurs throughout the Sanatorium, from the train conductor’s blind stare to the cobweb-covered eyeball collection Józef finds under the bed. To illustrate the film, we ultimately chose the image of a toppled wax automaton with his eye-socket popped open to reveal the gears inside—but when I think of The Hourglass Sanatorium, I always think of that poster first.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Crow frozen in flight; Józef spying on Józef; eyeballs under the bed

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The Hourglass Sanatorium is a rare work of genuine Surrealism. Seldom has any film ever captured the free-falling feeling of being lost in a dream so well: the portentous but inexplicable visions; the tenuous, tantalizing connections between ideas; the smooth and continuous shifting of realities. Let a blind conductor be your guide inside a crumbling hospital whose rooms hold wonder after wonder.


Brief clip from The Hourglass Sanatorium (in Polish)

COMMENTS: Sanatorium pod Klepsydra opens on the silhouette of a Continue reading 271. THE HOURGLASS SANATORIUM (1973)

256. AMARCORD (1973)

“The natural was not an opportunity for Fellini, material to be recorded or rearranged, but rather a constraint, like rationality, defined order, and logic were—a limit on his creativity—and that is why the natural, the narrativized, and the realistic began to disappear from Fellini’s work, at first imperceptibly, before 1960, and then markedly afterward.”–Sam Rohdie, “Amarcord: Federico of the Spirits”

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Bruno Zanin, Magali Noël, Armando Brancia, Pupella Maggio, Luigi Rossi, Josiane Tanzilli, Maria Antonietta Beluzzi

PLOT: Amarcord documents a year in the lives of residents of an Italian coastal town (based on Fellini’s own hometown, Rimini) in the 1930s under Mussolini’s Fascist party. Titta, an adolescent boy, is the character with the most screen time, and he spends it mostly with his friends engaging in mischief and lusting after unobtainable older women. The most unobtainable of these is Gradisca, the dreamy, red-maned village beauty and the second most important character, whose eventual marriage marks the end of a chapter in the town’s history.

Still from Amarcord (1973)

BACKGROUND:

  • Won the 1975 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film; the film was also nominated (in 1976) for Best Original Screenplay and Best Director.
  • Depending on what source you believe, “amarcord” is either a Fellini neologism, or an unusual slang word from the Romagnolo dialect of Italian meaning “I remember.” Per Damian Pettigrew, it possibly derives from “amare” (“love”) + “ricordo” (“memory”) (=”fond memory”), perhaps with a touch of “amaro” (=”bitter”, for “bittersweet memory”). Or, it might be just a slurred pronunciation of the Italian phrase “io mi ricordo” (“I remember”).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Most mainstream movie fans remember the peacock in the blizzard, or the massive S.S. Rex passing by in the night (over, as it turns out, a sea made of cellophane). The weird-minded are more thrilled by the sight of the imaginary wedding ministered by the giant Facscist talking head made from red and white blossoms, with the girls holding up hula hoops on one side of the aisle while the boys raise their rifles on the other.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Flowery Mussolini wedding; bean vendor in a harem; dwarf nun

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Amarcord finds Federico Fellini fondly remembering, or deliberately misremembering, his own youth in a series of sketches that alternate between burlesque comedy, light absurdism, and total fantasy. Mainstream movie lovers sometimes see Amarcord as too flamboyant, while Fellini’s more surrealist-oriented fans often miss the delirium of Satyricon, seeing this one as too nostalgic and accessible. Amarcord admittedly isn’t Fellini’s weirdest, but as one of the most beloved works by one of the weird genre’s key directors, it’s worth your time. It skates onto the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies on the sliding-scale rule: the better the movie, the less weird it has to be to be honored.


Original U.S. release trailer for Amarcord

COMMENTS: It sounds like an outtake from “Arabian Nights” by Continue reading 256. AMARCORD (1973)

246. BELLADONNA OF SADNESS (1973)

Kanashimi no Beradonna

“With all of this splendid weirdness—Michelet’s occult/feminist novel, Fukai’s ravishingly beautiful, X-rated illustrations, and Satoh’s brain-shredding score—what could possibly go wrong? Everything, according to director Yamomoto.”–Dennis Bartok, explaining Belladonna of Sadness‘s commercial failure at the time of its release in the liner notes to the Cinelicious Blu-ray release.

Recommended

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Eiichi Yamamoto

FEATURING: Voices of Chinatsu Nakayama, Aiko Nagayama, , Katsuyuki Itô, Masaya Takahashi

PLOT: In medieval Europe, peasants Jean and Jeanne go to their local Lord to bless their unconsummated marriage, but the royals gang-rape the bride instead because Jean cannot afford the outrageous matrimonial tax. Later, Jeanne is visited by a demon who promises to give her power to oppose the Lord’s might and get revenge. At first she resists, but as the Lord’s outrages mount, she finally gives herself to Satan fully and becomes a powerful witch.

Still from Belladonna of Sadness (1973)

BACKGROUND:

  • This film was the third part of a trilogy of adult animation features on Western themes commissioned by legendary anime pioneer Osama Tezuka (famous for the television manga adaptations “Astro Boy” and “Kimba the White Lion”) and his Mushi studio. The first in the series was 1969’s erotic version of “The Arabian Tales,” A Thousand & One Nights (also directed by Yamamoto). Nights was a commercial hit (although it remains unavailable on home video), so the studio went ahead with Cleopatra in 1970 (which Yamamoto co-directed with Tezuka). Cleopatra was a commercial and artistic flop, but the studio went ahead with Belladonna of Sadness anyway. Tezuka left Mushi before the final film was completed, and Belladonna bombed even harder than Cleopatra. Mushi went bankrupt soon after. Belladonna was exhibited in only a handful of lower echelon theaters in Japan and only lightly released outside of that country until 2015’s rediscovery and reappraisal.
  • The unlikely source material for Belladonna of Sadness was Jules Michelet’s 1862 non-fiction book “Le sorciere” (AKA “Satanism and Witchcraft“), a sympathetic treatment which cast the practice of witchcraft as a protest against the feudal system and the power of the Church.
  • “Belladonna” literally means “beautiful woman” in Italian, but it is also the name of a toxic hallucinogenic plant thought to have been used in ancient witchcraft rituals.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Without a doubt, the initial rape scene. Although the movie contains shocking, unforgettable, wild and weird imagery throughout, the expressionistic violation of Jeanne, showing her being split in twain like a wishbone as her crotch emits a bloody geyser that morphs into crimson bats who fly away, was the only one that made me mutter out loud “wow”!

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Bloody rape bats; Satan is a dick; surrealist daisy chain orgy

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Belladonna of Sadness is like watching Saturday morning cartoons mixed with high art mixed with hentai, laced with acid. It’s some damned thing that you’ve never seen before.


U.S. release trailer for Belladonna of Sadness

COMMENTS: We a huge debt of gratitude to whoever’s idea it was Continue reading 246. BELLADONNA OF SADNESS (1973)

LIST CANDIDATE: SOME CALL IT LOVING (1973)

AKA: Sleeping Beauty; Dream Castle

DIRECTOR: James B. Harris

FEATURING: , Tisa Farrow, Carol White, Richard Pryor, Veronica Anderson, Logan Ramsey, Pat Priest, Brandy Herrod

PLOT: Based on the John Collier short story “Sleeping Beauty.” A hedonistic millionaire, entranced by a carnival act involving a girl who has been asleep for years, purchases her and brings her home.

Still from Some Call It Loving (1973)WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST:  Far stranger than the synopsis would suggest, Some Call it Loving is a surreal, dreamlike take on relationship dramas. A precursor to the modern erotic thriller, it would make for an interesting double feature paired with Boxing Helena, or even Singapore Sling.

COMMENTSThe entire genre of the “erotic thriller”—from such highlights as 9 1/2 Weeks, the steamy cable series “Red Shoe Diaries,” and Eyes Wide Shut all the way down to the low-level late night chum on Cinemax (or Skinemax, as it was nicknamed due to its reliance on such fare)—shares primary DNA with the not-as-well-known early precursor Some Call It Loving. Lead actor Zalman King would make it a cottage industry in the 80s and 90s, co-writing and producing 9 1/2 Weeks and directing Wild Orchid, Two Moon Junction and episodes of “Red Shoe Diaries” (the series he created), among others.

King’s character here, Robert, lives in a mansion with two women, Scarlett (White) and Angelica (Anderson). The three pass the time by indulging in role-playing “games” (seducing a widow, disciplining the maid, dancing nuns) that always lead to sexual situations. The only times Robert ventures into the “real world” is when he gigs as a session player with a jazz group at a bar and has conversations with his friend Jeff (Pryor), a musician who’s fallen into hardcore junkiedom.

During one of these excursions he goes to a carnival and discovers the “Sleeping Beauty,” Jennifer (Farrow), as a sideshow attraction, drugged to remain asleep. Patrons pay for one kiss to wake the Beauty—and more, it’s strongly implied. Robert decides to purchase her to take her back with him. Robert returns with Jennifer, who is accepted into the household; when she awakens, she’s also incorporated into the game-playing. But does this lead to a Happy Ending for all?

Although is provides the seed for later erotic thrillers, Loving can’t actually be classed as one. Instead, it’s a dark, fractured fairy tale in line with its source material (John Collier’s treatment of the “Sleeping Beauty” legend). In the story, the emphasis is on the man who purchases the Beauty. That holds true in Harris’ adaptation as well, but he goes further and deeper than Collier.

At the outset, Robert appears to be a “kept” man. Scarlett seems to be the wealthy benefactor, with Angelica being a recent addition to the family, and it appears that this setup has been in effect for some time. But while some may find this to be a fantasy come true, Robert is dissatisfied. His conversations with Jeff provide him with some distraction, but Jeff’s descent insures that he won’t be around for long.  Robert’s malaise is relieved by Jennifer’s arrival, but only for a short time. At first she enjoys the company and the game-playing, but it ends up in further dissatisfaction.PryorEtiquette Pictures, the uptown division sub-label of Vinegar Syndrome, made Loving their debut release in a Blu-Ray/DVD package in Summer 2015.  Done in a 2K restoration from the original negative, this is the best Loving has looked in any of its prior home video releases. Numerous extras are included, such as a commentary with writer/director Harris, a featurette on the making of the film, one on cinematographer Mario Tosi (Carrie, The Stunt Man), and outtakes featuring actress Millie Perkins, whose role was cut from the finished film.

Writer/director James B. Harris was ‘s producing partner for his early films The Killing, Paths of Glory and Lolita.

CAPSULE: CATCH MY SOUL (1974)

AKA Santa Fe Satan

DIRECTOR: Patrick McGoohan

FEATURING: Richie Havens, Lance LeGault, , Tony Joe White, Season Hubley, Bonnie Bramlett, Delaney Bramlett

PLOT: An adaptation of “Othello,” set in the Santa Fe, NM area in the summer of 1967. Traveling preacher Othello (Richie Havens) comes across a remote commune in the desert and eventually settles there, becoming the defacto leader and falling in love with and marrying Desdemona. This does not sit well with Iago, who plans revenge on Othello, manipulating everyone around him, including his wife Emila.

Still from Catch My Soul (1974)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Catch My Soul is definitely of an artifact of its time, and the merging of Shakespeare and gospel makes for a unique interpretation, but it’s a pretty straightforward presentation of the basic story.

COMMENTS: Catch My Soul was an intriguing moment in the careers of everyone involved. It was the only feature film directed by Patrick McGoohan, who’d proved himself earlier directing episodes of “Danger Man,” “Secret Agent” and “The Prisoner”; it featured the acting debuts of singers Richie Havens and Tony Joe White, as well as performances from cult favorites Susan Tyrell and Lance LeGault; and on top of all of that, the cameraman was Conrad Hall of “The Outer Limits,” In Cold Blood and Cool Hand Luke, among others. It was based on an acclaimed stage show and with that pedigree, it should have been a memorable addition to the genre of rock musicals. Instead, Catch My Soul barely opened at all—practically ignored by the public at large and garnering scathing reviews, the film disappeared from theaters only to reappear a year later under the title Santa Fe Satan, and was as successful under that title as it was under the original. The film then pretty much disappeared from view, never released on VHS and barely mentioned at all. McGoohan disowned Soul shortly before release and barely talked about it, except for one mention in a mid-90’s interview. For a long time the only available evidence of the film’s existence was the soundtrack LP, the most praised element of the film, which could be still be found in used vinyl bins even well into the 2000s. It was long thought to be a lost film, until the recent unearthing of a 35mm print in North Carolina and the subsequent discoveries of a 16mm print and the camera negative found in the bowels of 20th Century Fox studios.

Now that Soul has been rediscovered and can be seen with some 40 years of perspective, it seems that the initial reviews were too harsh and mean spirited. Far from being a hippie-themed train wreck, the film is an interesting curiosity showing how Shakespeare’s work is constantly adapted to reflect contemporary times. It’s especially fitting that McGoohan was the one to direct this, since he starred earlier as an Iago-inspired character in another musically-oriented Continue reading CAPSULE: CATCH MY SOUL (1974)

LIST CANDIDATE: CHARMS (1973)

AKA Grassland, Hex, The Shrieking

DIRECTED BY: Leo Garen

FEATURING: , , Gary Busey, Christina Raines (as Tina Herazo), Hilarie Thompson, Robert Walker Jr., Dan Haggerty, Doria Cook, Mike Combs

PLOT: A group of WWI veterans motorcycling through the plains of Nebraska encounter two sisters, daughters of a Native-American shaman. When the antics of the gang get a bit rowdy, one of the sisters hexes the group and the members die in strange ways.

Hex4

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: See the “Comments” for the argument… but if the ad campaigns below (click to enlarge) don’t convince you, then you’re obviously not into Weird Hippie Westerns.

grassland hex


COMMENTS: Despite the plot description, Charms is not quite the undiscovered horror gem that some might hope for.  In fact, it pretty much defies any sort of expectation that one would take from its logline—which, considering the history of this film, is quite fitting. This movie has gone through several title changes. Originally called Grassland (it had a short debut under that title), it was retitled Hex and got a second brief release in the U.S. and in Europe under that new name. Then it was pulled from release and shelved by its studio, 20th Century Fox, and went relatively unseen until the early 90s, when it was released on VHS and LaserDisc under the title The Shrieking. It turns up on DVD in 2006 under its current moniker.

The screenplay was originally written in the 1960s by Doran William Cannon (Skidoo, Brewster McCloud), who sold it to Leo Garen, an off-Broadway theater director who moved into film and television. (Garen was an associate producer of Norman Mailer’s 1970 experiment Maidstone, and later co-wrote 1986’s Band of the Hand). Garen went through several drafts with screenwriters Vernon Zimmerman (Fade to Black, Unholy Rollers) and Steve Katz (“The A-Team”); Garen and Katz were eventually credited with the screenplay while Cannon and Zimmerman got story credit.

That’s quite a mish-mash, and the film certainly shows signs of too many cooks in the kitchen… but ultimately, its largest flaw (and also its charm, get it?) is that it’s a product of its time, when artistic amalgamations were encouraged to bring in the Youth Audience (who made Easy Rider and its ilk box-office successes). And while Charms is not a great film, it can certainly be argued that it is a weird one.

Still from CharmsAt first the film appears to be a period Western when the two sisters Oriole (Herazo) and Acacia (Thompson) are seen loading up a wagon to pick up supplies from the nearest town. When they see a group of motorcyclists crossing the prairie, it’s a dissociation from expectations that this will be a typical Western, which is topped by another dissociation that takes place at the climax of the film. The tone varies so much from comedy (the gang’s adventure in town, involving racing a local with a very early precursor to the ‘hot rod’) to terror (the hexing) that it can’t really be said to be a horror film. It’s a rather laid back (seriously—there’s not a lot of action here, and an extended sequence where one of the sisters introduces the bikers to “loco weed”) story of two groups of characters: a group of WW1 “young veterans” tooling around looking for kicks (the Easy Rider influence) and of two sisters with mystic powers, one light and the other dark.

Ultimately this melding of European artistic sensibility with a straightforward commercial premise doesn’t quite work as well as one would hope, as borne out by Fox not really knowing what the hell they paid for and shelving the film after two brief releases didn’t work out. But there are some tasty elements present, including the cast… anything featuring Carradine, Glenn and Busey as bikers at the start of their careers is definitely worth a look. The cinematography by Charles Rosher (3 Women) is also noteworthy and provides some beautifully haunting moments.

The budget release DVD can probably still be found on auction sites like eBay,  and the film can be viewed via Amazon Instant Video.

LIST CANDIDATE: A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD (1973)

La nuit des étoiles filantes; Christina, Princess of Eroticism [alternate director’s cut]

DIRECTED BY: , (additional footage)

FEATURING: Christina von Blanc,  , Britt Nichols, Anne Libert, Jess Franco, Paul Muller

PLOT: A beautiful young girl who has been raised in boarding school in England returns to her fathers’ chateau in France after his death and is introduced to her bizarre (and horny) relatives.

Still from A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973)
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The recently deceased (2013) Jesus Franco was a curious artiste: he had an idiosyncratic talent, but he was focused on churning out sex and horror movies so quickly (201 credited features spread over 56 years) that almost all his work inevitably has a half-baked feel about it. His occult obsessions, the value he affords imagery over reason, and the ramshackle nature of his methods tended to produce movies that are at least a little bit weird. Most of these products, however, are also shoddy, boring exercises in exploitation with only a few moments of inspiration. Virgin is, perhaps, his most sustained and atmospheric work, and if a Franco film deserves a place somewhere on the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies ever made, I have yet to come across a better candidate than this one.

COMMENTS: Christina, the titular virgin among the living dead, immediately tells us she “feels like she’s in a strange dream” as a mute chauffeur drives her to her deceased father’s chateau to meet her strange relatives. This is a not-too-subtle hint of what’s to come. Although many of Franco’s movies were incoherent and filled with hallucinatory scenes, Virgin is perhaps his most dreamlike film. It’s filled with strange moments, like a funeral where the family chants a mangled Latin hymn while a cousin paints her toenails and Uncle Howard accompanies them on organ, cigarette dangling from his mouth—the entire bunch is bored, as if this is something they do every Saturday night to pass the time. The other thing they do to pass time is have lots of sadomasochistic sex, including one couple who plays a lesbian-necrophile-vampire sex game with scissors. The female cast is sexy and attractive, but star Christina von Blanc is an absolutely gorgeous creature with big blue-grey eyes and porcelain skin. She’s not a completely vapid actress, either, and it’s a shame that she only has a small handful of appearances in softcore and exploitation films to her name.

There is a running thread about Christina’s relationship to her deceased father, whose ghost she encounters; and there are many vague warnings from others for her to leave this chateau, without anyone directly cluing her in on the fact that everyone inside is dead (that’s not really a spoiler, since it’s pretty much right there in the title). However, while there is a plot, Virgin is mostly a succession of mood pieces and odd scenes (e.g. Christina discovering bats in her bed, Christina wandering in on family members having perverted sex, Christina finding an ebony dildo sitting on her floor) that could almost be played in any order. Distributors took advantage of the episodic nature of the film to splice in extra footage as needed to create variant versions. A (rather lame) outdoor orgy scenes was shot to make an even hotter version for the sex-film crowd. More notably, in the early 1980s vampire specialist Jean Rollin was hired to film a ten-minute hallucination with the dead rising from their graves, shot with an obvious stand-in wearing Christina’s white nightgown, to market the movie as a zombie film in order to capitalize on the fad for Dawn of the Dead ripoffs. (The result was retitled Zombie 4: A Virgin Among the Living Dead). Shot in a similar but distinct occult style, with no dialogue and a much thicker soundtrack, Rollin’s addition literally plays like a dream-within-a-dream, and though purists may hate it, it actually adds to the patchwork surrealism quality of Franco’s movie. Still, the most unforgettable image comes from Franco himself: the hanged man, who appears to Christina several times, including a mystical moment where he glides backwards along a forest path as she advances towards him, mouth agape and eyes wide with wonder.

Redemption Video’s 2013 release may be titled “A Virgin Among the Living Dead,” but actually the primary version of the film they provide is the Christina, Princess of Eroticism cut. That is the edit that plays by default, and the one that includes a surprisingly serious and in-depth commentary track from Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas. To view the better-known Virgin Among the Living Dead cut (which is substantially identical but includes the Rollin-shot sequences) you must select it from the extras. Also included as extras are the five minutes of “extra erotic footage” appended to early versions of the movie and three featurettes, one of which is an interview with Franco. Most of us old-timers never dreamed a day would come when we’d see a Criterion Collection quality edition of a Jess Franco movie, but here it is.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…one of Franco’s best, a terrific tone poem that’s reminiscent of a David Lynch crossed with a Hammer film.”–Bill Gibron, DVD Talk (DVD)

LIST CANDIDATE: HEAVY TRAFFIC (1973)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Joseph Kaufmann, Beverly Hope Atkinson

PLOT: The life of an unemployed underground cartoonist who lives with his shrewish mother and mobbed-up dad and lusts after a saucy Nubian bartender, laid down in a mixture of animation and live action.

Still from Heavy Traffic (1973)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: There’s not much of a story, and what plot there is turns needlessly nasty, but as a series of visual experiments Heavy Traffic is a success. Underground animator Ralph Bakshi is an important and very odd innovator with a cult following, and at least one of his films probably should make the List—is this semi-autobiographical tale the chosen one?

COMMENTS: With its brutal violence, casual sex, and animated floppy bits, today we would call Heavy Traffic “edgy” and reward it with a post-midnight slot on the Cartoon Network. But in 1973, this seamy peep-show tour of 1970s Manhattan was scandalous, nearly obscene stuff (Variety‘s dismissive review called it “a blatant example of hardcore pornography.”) Ralph Bakshi’s underground comic on film is emphatically not hardcore pornography; the moral tone is a lot lower and more misogynistic than Deep Throat. Traffic is more like a Tijuana Bible animated by the team behind “Fat Albert” while they passed around doobies. The story begins in live action as a young man plays a pinball machine; we then see his reflections and fantasies about his real life portrayed in grotesque cartoon form. Dad is a low-level Italian gangster out to bust the waterfront unions; Mom is a Jewish housewife whose only pleasures in life are feeding her son and clunking her philandering husband on the head with a frying pan. Young Michael Corleone (yes, the protagonist is named Michael Corleone) attempts to escape the agitation of his home life by drawing, but the world outside his window is hardly any better than the bedlam in his apartment. The local gang of greasy toughs tries to get him to lose his virginity with the neighborhood slut, but he accidentally knocks her off the rooftop. “She had it comin’,” he quips, which inspires the goombahs who put him up to it into frenzy of violent hilarity that ends with them beating each other bloody with chains and knives. That’s okay, because Michael really has the hots for Carole, a foxy black bartender in a halter top and low-slung bell bottoms. When she loses her job halfway through the movie, a plot finally develops as Michael works up the courage to offer to let her share his bedroom, a plan his racist dad doesn’t much like. The interracial couple strikes out together to make it in the big city, but when Michael fails to sell his blasphemous comic about a post-apocalyptic world of garbage worshipers, they turn to tricks to make ends meet. Carole lures johns into a hotel room and a suddenly vicious Michael caves their heads in with a lead pipe. Michael starts as a good kid, but only out of timidness; in his own fantasies, he corrupts himself. The ending is downbeat and jaded, but there’s a hopeful live-action coda that also suggests that the real city is almost as weird as Michael’s imaginary metropolis. With its multi-ethnic, grossly caricatured cavalcade of pimps, hos, burnouts, gangsters, transvestites, and amputee bouncers, New York City circa 1973 is the most fully-rounded character in Heavy Traffic; but it’s the movie’s visual invention that’s the star. Colorful cartoons are layered on top of footage of the real city in all its grungy greyness, while the film stock is often tinted, solarized, or otherwise transformed. The drawings are Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoon quality, but are inventively grotesque and sometimes even surreal (as when Jesus hops by on a cross to rat out Michael’s dad to a bullet ridden Godfather who’s just finished slurping a bowl of pasta peppered with tiny people). Devoted more to alienating bluenoses and earning its X rating by any means possible than to character development, Heavy Traffic may not be a deep and thoughtful movie, and it may not be the feel-good hit of 1973, but it is an utterly unique, nasty vision that is occasionally capable of astounding you with its excesses.

Bakshi had pitched the idea for Heavy Traffic to producer Steve Krantz, but the idea was considered  uncommercial. After Bakshi’s had a hit with the 1972 X-rated animated feature Fritz the Cat, Traffic got the green light. Shout! Factory released the film on Blu-ray earlier this year, although the release contained no special features.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Bakshi’s style is completely over the top here, he’s running full steam ahead into material so surreal and so mind bendingly bizarre that you can’t help but get pulled in.”–Ian Jane, DVD Talk (Blu-ray)