Tag Archives: Jess Franco

1966 DRIVE-IN DOUBLE FEATURE: NIGHTMARE CASTLE AND THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z

Coming soon…

“Thunderbird International Pictures Presents The Death Curse of Tartu, a legend black with evil and red with the blood of innocent youth!!! Photographed in the forbidding depths of the Florida Everglades, this is the incredible story of an archeological excursion, planned as an educational attraction and ending as a blood-spattered nightmare!!! Cold and slimy creatures without mercy hunt and kill, controlled by the soul of a rotting corpse. They danced over the grave of Tartu who was restless in his coffin and made passionate love on his burial ground until … they faced the terrible reality of The Death Curse of Tartu! Was it really a killer shark in the swamp waters? Or  was it… Tartu, who had sworn vengeance on all who disturbed his grave?  See the bloody massacre of terrified youngsters as Tartu, the witch doctor, returns to wreak vengeance. See The Death Curse of Tartu, coming soon to this theater.”

And…

“Famous characters of the fairy tale world together for the first time. It’s all new when K. Gordon Murray presents Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters. See the Wicked Witch and all her bad guys. Bad guys? Mr. Hurricane! The Robot! Carrot Head and the Siamese Twins: two-in one. Frankensteen. A giant spectacle in color with a story that children and grownups will never forget.  Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters! 

Our Feature Presentation!

Nightmare Castle (directed by Mario Caiano) rarely makes best-of films lists, with even the star herself seemingly holding it in low esteem. Although a pastiche of Steele’s earlier work, Nightmare Castle is entertainingly tailored to the actress’ idiosyncratic screen persona and remains one of the better-filmed opuses in her oeuvre. As in ‘s Black Sunday (1960), Steele is cast in dual roles, one of which is a revenge-seeking disfigured ghost (hence its alternative title, The Faceless Monster).

Still from Nightmare Castle (1966)Its virtues are hardly found in the narrative about a sadistic husband (Paul Muller) who tortures and kills his unfaithful wife (Steele) along with her lover (Rik Battaglia), then marries her mentally unstable sister to get the inheritance. Exquisite cinematography (Enzo Borboni), a top-rate dissonant score (Ennio Morricone), Steele at her her most beguiling, and Caiano’s attention to detail renders the plot secondary. Almost surrealistic in parts (one scene clearly was a major influence on 1998’s Ringu), Nightmare Castle is shockingly sadistic and misogynistic (Battaglia loses an eye in an unsettling torture scene, and Steele gets acid to the face, followed by an  S &M electrocution). It’s also visually and musically memorable, and yet another director with a Steele fetish allows the star to sear. Unfortunately, the dubbing is poor, but the valuable Blu-ray from Severin Films is a considerable improvement over previous releases. Among its extra features are complete versions of the Steele-starring films Castle of Blood (1964) and Terror Creatures from the Grave (1965).

Good evening. It’s intermission time.

“Flavos: the delicious, oriental treat that’s out of this world for taste-tempting goodness. Light and delicious, full of tender, juicy fresh shrimp meat. America’s favorite shrimp roll. You’ll say they’re shrimply delicious.”

“Free for our patrons… Men, women, boys, girls…through the cooperation of Leading Business Places …You may now have free admission to this theater. Ask for DividenTickets  when you shop at Nelson’s Liquor Mart. Hywy 51 North of Bridge. Tomahawk’s Largest & Finest.”

“See you in CHURCH Sunday! When you attend church, it’s not an ordinary act. It is something worthwhile. When you attend church, you come to GOD’S house to adore, worship and praise. See you in CHURCH Sunday!”

“It’s Showtime.”

1966 may very well be among the most shocking years in the entirety of cinema. It’s the year that actually made a relatively good film with The Diabolical Dr. Z (so maybe there’s hope for yet). Perhaps Alejandro Ulloa’s lensing inspired Franco to move beyond his typical laziness. The titlur mad doctor (Antonio Jimenez) actually gets bumped off early in the film, leaving his daughter (Mabel Karr) to take up a doctoral course in revenge. She gets a bit of help from Miss Death (Estella Blain) at the local jazz club, which naturally means a typical Franco jazz score (by Daniel White, who makes a cameo, along with Franco himself). There is one theory that Franco merely made films to show off his love of jazz, and in many cases that may be factual, but here it’s icing on a cake with macabre set pieces (including an arachnid stage show), kinky mannequins, a doomed sexpot hitchhiker, a hillside strangler, and an off-the-charts fisticuffs finale in a decadent castle. What more could you ask of the prolific hack? He deserves a break today with The Diabolical Dr. Z.

“Please remember to replace the speaker and heater when you leave the theater.”

This review, including the drive-in bumpers, refers to the (currently out-of-print) double-feature DVD from Sinister Cinema.

1971 DRIVE-IN DOUBLE FEATURE: CASTLE OF FU MANCHU AND I, MONSTER

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“They live by night. They hide in the dark and rise from the shadows. They can never feel the warmth of living human blood in their veins. Their bodies are cold and dead… Dracula vs. Frankenstein! Rated the most shocking horror show of the year by “Famous Monsters of Filmland” magazine. Together, in one film, they meet in a fight of fright. Kings of horror battle to the death. Dracula vs. Frankenstein!”

And…

“Night of the Blood Monster. Caged women pitting their men against heavy artillery and hired killers… changing the day into a night of horror. ‘s victims know the taste, the smell, the tortures of Hades. Chained women—captives of pleasure; cattle to be abused, tortured and murdered. Night of the Blood Monster.”

It’s Showtime!

When Christopher Lee teamed up with Don Sharp in 1965 for the rousing The Face of Fu Manchu, the result was successful enough to catapult its star into yet another franchise. The Sharp/Lee followup The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966), while not quite the level of its predecessor, was a spirited sequel—but what better way to kill a franchise than hand it over to a bonafide hack? Cost-cutting producer Harry Alan Towers did just that when he tapped to helm The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968). Of course, even a hack can manage to produce entertaining drive-in fodder—unless it’s Franco, who, true to form, shot quickly and without an ounce of enthusiasm or pride in his craft. It’s not hard to imagine that 1971 drive-in audiences were picking up a lot of caffeine at the concession stand during the endless 92 minute running time of Castle of Fu Manchu. The masochist Towers chose to stake his goldmine for good when hiring Franco yet again; Castle was still being milked two years later on the drive-in circuit, paired with the feature below, in an attempt to recoup it costs.

Still from The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969)Within minutes, we learn that it was none other than Fu Manchu  who was responsible for sinking of the Titanic. To prove it, Franco economically uses black and white footage from 1958’s A Night to Remember and tints it blue so we won’t know the difference. It only gets more embarrassing. There’s a bit about turning seas into ice; kidnapping; an Asian babe; scientific experiments; TV’s Robin Hood, Richard Greene (!!!) as a nemesis; and more stock footage. When Franco’s not slapping in news reels, etc., it appears he was prodding the cast awake (although it feels as if he napped his way through a lot of it himself ). There’s some unintentional hilarity to be had (i.e. the heart transplant) with enough no-doze.

Intermission…

“Hot dogs: the All-American favorite. Certainly we serve them, piping hot and full of flavor. Call for yours now.”

“Help reduce losses of lives and loss of property caused by fire. Don’t give fire a place to start.”

“Barbecue! Barbecue! Barbecue! Our barbecue is prepared especially for you.”

“Go to church Sunday. The strength of a people is found in the strength of their faith. Support your church. The Management.”

“Today, we’re interviewing a stomach. Hello there. What is life like as a stomach? Oh, boy—it was hum-drum until what’s-his-name discovered Tony’s Pizza. Tony’s Pizza? Yeah, I was suffering from the pizza cravings until Tony’s came along. Crispy crusts and zesty sauces. Wow! What’s next? Another pizza craving. Just thinking about Tony’s pizza sets me off!  Does your stomach send you pizza craving signals? Tony’s, the pizza-cravers’ pizza, available at the concession stand.”

It’s showtime!

I, Monster (directed by Stephen Weeks) is an Amicus production of the famous Robert Louis Stevenson story “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” and despite the name change, it’s one of the most faithful of the many cinematic adaptations. It has a poor reputation, which is largely undeserved.

The 1920 version (directed by John S. Roberts) starring John Barrymore, the superb 1931 version (directed by Rouben Mammalian) starring Frederich March, and the lousy 1941 version (directed by ) starring  Spencer Tracy (one wit cracked, “is Spence playing Jekyll or Hyde now?”), made much of female characters being subjected to Hyde’s lechery. Like the source material, I, Monster is devoid of a romantic subplot. In addition to the title, liberties are taken in the setting, moved to early 20th century, the pronounced Freudian subtext, and fact the the transformation is achieved through injection as opposed to drinking the kool-aid.

Although I, Monster misses some of the novella’s satire, it’s impressively produced, with Lee giving one of his best performances, thankfully free of overt makeup. is relegated to a supporting part, but is typically efficient. Originally it was distributed in 3D, and there are a few obligatory vignettes exploiting the fad, but ultimately it’s a sleeper.

“Remember to place your drive-in speaker back on the stand before you leave.”

This review, including the drive-in bumpers, refers to the double-feature available from Sinister Cinema.

CAPSULE: NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND DESIRES (1984)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Lina Romay, Daniel Katz, Carmen Carrion, Albino Graziani, Jose Llamas, Mauro Rivera

PLOT: Irina, a psychic who performs a nightclub act with her lover Fabian, is plagued by nightmares that she believes to be real.

Still from Night Has a Thousand Desires (1984)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Some of the visuals are surreal and the film has a trippy feel; this is achieved with music and creative camera work that do not equate to weirdness.

COMMENTS: A few years ago I started a (NSFW) feature on Tumblr called Franco Friday. It was part of an ongoing project to see every film Jess Franco has directed. IMDB lists 203 Franco films; according to Wikipedia[1], that number is inaccurate. Apparently there are several films listed under more than one title. I noted in my June 2015 Vampyros Lesbos review that I had viewed some 40-plus Franco films at that time. Night Has a Thousand Desires marks my 70th Franco flick. It is already becoming difficult to find Franco films I have not seen, and I have yet to reach the halfway mark of his library.

Never missing an opportunity to make the most of a budget, Franco would often make two or three films all using the same cast, wardrobe and locations. Night Has a Thousand Desires was obviously filmed just before or after the inferior The Sexual Story of O, which I by chance had watched the week before. I have enjoyed a lot of  Franco’s output from the early 1980s, and I think Night Has a Thousand Desires is his best of the period.

The film takes place in the Grand Canary Islands; the scenery is really beautiful. Both the natural shots and the interior locations are well chosen. The building where much of the story takes place has lovely stained glass windows that Franco uses repeatedly; it lends a great deal to both films vibe. The garden setting where one of Irina’s nightmares occur is superb. The copious zoom shots Franco is so fond of effectively relay a feeling of hypnosis. Everything about this film visually is on point. The soundtrack complements it perfectly: a mix of music borrowed from previous Franco films, including Female Vampire and Devil Hunter, combined with all manner of groaning, grunting, echos and plenty of chanting. Irina’s name is repeated over and over throughout. In one scene, the film’s best, Irina shares a joint with a man and two women who had attended her night club act. I felt like I was getting stoned along with the quartet.

It wouldn’t be a Franco film without sex and violence. Rest assured there are healthy helpings of sex and nudity, and most of these scenes have a bloody ending. The story is straightforward and there is certainly no mystery to solve; plotwise, the cat is let out of the bag early. This does not make the film any less captivating to watch. Lina Romay is outstanding! Whether under a trance, screaming and howling, crying, laughing, giving or receiving sexual pleasure, her character is empathetic and very watchable. Night Has a Thousand Desires is an entertaining and visually impressive Franco effort with a fabulous soundtrack and a great performance by Romay that should delight his fans.

Mondo Macabro’s package offers a really nice Blu-ray transfer with concise, easy to read subtitles and crisp and clear sound. I had to turn down the volume several times (I’m pretty sure my neighbors already think I’m a pervert, so I don’t know why I bother). The extras are a bit thin. There is solid Eurotika documentary on Franco that I had actually already seen before (I believe on another Mondo Macabro release) and an interview with Stephen Thrower, author of “Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jesus Franco.” The art work on the DVD cover by Justin Coffee is superb! If you are a fan of Jess Franco you need this in your collection.

  1. The number of films directed by Jess Franco according to Wikipedia is “about 160”. []

CAPSULE: VAMPYROS LESBOS (1971)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: (as Franco Manera)

FEATURING: , Ewa Strömberg, Dennis Price, , Andrea Montchal, Heidrun Kussin, Jess Franco

PLOT: Linda, a young woman representing a legal firm, travels to a remote island to settle the estate of a wealthy Countess. When Linda meets the countess she realizes it is the same woman who has appeared to her in a recurring erotic dream. The lovely Linda is quickly seduced by the sexy Countess, who not only thirsts for her body and blood but for her soul.

Strill from Vampyros Lesbos (1971)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: I suppose a legitimate argument could be made for the “weirdness” of Vampyros Lesbos, or just about any Jess Franco offering. Franco definitely walked to the beat of his own drum. The director borrows from classic literature and vampire mythos in general, and breaks all sorts of rules along the way. Breaking rules, however, does not equal weird. Even with its psychedelic visuals fully intact, there still does not exist a single image that I would qualify as “weird.” There were several lesbian-themed vampire films made during the period; despite Franco’s film being one of the first to get a theatrical release, I don’t think it was terribly shocking for the time. While Vampyros Lesbos is a beautiful and unique entry into the genre, it is not a film I would deem “weird”.

COMMENTS: I have viewed some forty plus films from director Jess Franco, and Vampyros Lesbos remains one of the most visually stunning in his oeuvre. The set pieces, particularly those found in the estate of the Countess, are eye candy of the highest order. The locations likewise add to the film’s visual appeal. The soundtrack is the film’s crowning glory and is without a doubt one of my favorites of all time. Vampyros Lesbos has a dreamlike and trippy vibe, and if you get lost in it the film it can transport you to another world. The beautiful, sexually-charged world of the Countess Carody is as enticing as it is hauntingly sad.

Symbolism is used throughout, specifically the image of a scorpion, a butterfly and a kite. It is too easy, in my opinion, to suggest that the scorpion represents the Countess and the butterfly trapped in the net is Linda. In my mind, both the scorpion and the butterfly represent the Countess. The Countess, delicate in feature and frame, is equal parts powerful, ancient, hungry, desperate, bewitching and manipulative. I see Linda as the kite: free, intelligent, strong, intrigued, tempted but not caught.

Who exactly is enticing whom in this tale is arguable. The strong-willed businesswoman versus the powerful, sexual Countess! Both lead actresses give a solid and memorable performance. The gorgeous Soledad Miranda had a powerful presence in everything she made an appearance in, but never more so than in Vampyros Lesbos. Though her dialogue is spare, Miranda speaks volumes with her expression. An immortal woman who has spent undetermined years Continue reading CAPSULE: VAMPYROS LESBOS (1971)

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)

CAPSUE: NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT (1970)

Les Cauchemars Naissent la Nuit

DIRECTED BY: Jess Franco

FEATURING: , Colette Giacobine, ,

PLOT: An exotic dancer in a psychologically abusive lesbian relationship thinks she’s going insane when she has vivid recurring nightmares in which she kills people.

Still from ghtmares Come at Night (1970)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The simmering erotic atmosphere of Nightmares is either tedious, or hypnotic, depending on your outlook; but either way, although there are some dreamy moments, it’s not good enough to make the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies on its merits, nor weird enough to warrant inclusion despite its flaws.

COMMENTS: It is bad enough to be constantly plagued by nightmares, but imagine—horrors!—if those nightmares were also directed by Jess Franco. They’d be poorly lit, out-of-focus, and go absolutely nowhere. This is the position poor Anna (voluptuous Diana Lorys) finds herself in. Not that her regular existence is vastly superior: even in her waking hours, she’s still trapped in a Jess Franco movie. Anna is in an unhealthy relationship with her Lady Svengali lesbian lover, Cynthia, who promises to make her a star but spends more time sleeping around and slapping her around than getting her gigs. Anna has nightmares where she kills men while birds fly around inside the house, then wakes up with actual blood on her hands. She thinks she’s going insane. She reveals her story to her psychiatrist in a long flashback that itself dissolves into more dream sequences. Whether its from intentional disorientation or merely sloppy scripting, the loopy storytelling of Nightmares does effectively create a situation where at times you aren’t sure whether the protagonist is dreaming, or whether what’s happening is supposed to be occurring in the present or in a flashback. Like a good bit of Franco’s oeuvre, Nightmares was made in a rush, and the movie frequently seems improvised. The short parts featuring cult actress Soledad Miranda were probably originally intended for a different film entirely (she watches the action from a window near Anna and Cynthia’s manor home and is never appears in the same frame as any of the principals). Franco’s directorial choices are frequently bizarre, and it’s often hard to locate the line between incompetence and experimentalism. For example, when Cynthia meets Anna for the first time, she proposes to make the stripper into a model: they carry on the conversation, but, because it is a flashback, Anna is simultaneously narrating the meeting in voiceover, recapping the conversation in real time as we listen to it. Later, while Anna and Cynthia are making love for the first time, Franco zooms in and out of focus seemingly at random, choosing to spend a lot of time on blurry closeups of the top of his actresses’ heads—it’s as if he’s suddenly handed the camera to a small child, or a monkey. At other times, his arty photography is more purposeful. When Anna and her psychiatrist talk in their car, he shoots the doctor from the side so his features appear normally, but films Anna head-on through a sunny windshield, so her visage is diffuse and otherworldly, as if she’s trapped in a separate reality. Nightmare‘s strangest sequence is, without a doubt, Anna’s narcotized, eight-minute striptease routine. She lies on a divan before a red backdrop next to a marble statue draped with white furs and very, very slowly removes her clothes while a tenor saxophonist plays Ornette Coleman licks over slightly out-of-tune piano chords (you know—strip club music). The strangely depraved atmosphere of this scene could believably have inspired ‘s “red room” sequences in “Twin Peaks,” although Lynch, of course, took that extra step of actually having things happen in his dream sequence. For an extra dollop of oddness, Franco announces this scene by having Anna explain that the cabaret owner had instructed her to “keep the audience’s attention for as long as possible with a strip that seemed to last forever.” In other words, not only is Franco padding his film, he’s brazenly rubbing his viewers’ noses in the fact that he’s padding the film. This slow-as-molasses, narratively confusing movie can be strangely hypnotic, if you’re in the right mood or very drunk, and there are nude women onscreen at almost all times, if that’s your thing. It seems obvious that Franco assumed that nudity would carry the movie and he could do pretty much whatever he wanted with the rest of it; the results are so peculiar that it’s unclear whether he was utterly indifferent about the effect he was creating, or completely enraptured by his own creativity.

Jess Franco directed nearly two hundred movies in his forty-five year career, most of them sleazy exploitation pieces, so it’s no surprise that almost all of them feel rushed. In 1970 alone he directed three other features besides this one, plus a forty-minute short. It may be hard to believe but, as bad as Nightmares is by any measure of conventional filmmaking, this movie is arguably Franco working at near the peak of his abilities.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It all comes together in Franco’s characteristically dream-logic-beholden way, the plot holes and pacing bumps smoothed over by the film’s low-key eroticism and semi-surreal atmosphere.”–Casey Broadwater, Blu-ray.com