Color, 1997, 93 mins.

Directed by Jess Franco

Starring Amber Newman, Monique Parent, Lina Romay, Alain Petit, Analia Ivars / Seduction Cinema / WS (1.78:1)

As most European exploitation fans now acknowledge, the films of director Jess Franco divide into clean, separate categories, with his first two periods during the '60s usually cited as the best. His output since the early '90s has been much slower and more erratic than usual, with hardcore porn and shot-on-video projects consuming most of his time until very recently. Following a hiatus after the (relatively) big budget international production Faceless, Franco made another comeback of sorts with Tender Flesh, a campy summation of the obsessions which ran through his outrageous '70s cult epics.

After watching a kinky stage show audition performed by coke-snorting nymphet Paula (Amber Newman), decadent French chef Paul Radeck (Alain Petit) and his scary wife (Lina Romay with a buzz cut) decide to invite her along for a mysterious, erotic island vacation. Paula and her boyfriend (who wears an array of T-shirts for Fangoria and the Killer Barbys) hop on board along with a successful businessman, Kallman (Aldo Sambrell) and his bossy spouse (Monique Parent). Nestled among palm trees and wild forests, the Radeck mansion at first promises erotic delights as Amber releases her inhibitations in front of the guests. Even a simple dinner turns into a kinkfest with the aid of the Radeck's slave girl, Furia (Analia Ivars). The Radecks offer Paula the chance to engage in a treasure hunt on the island which quickly turns into a nightmarish twist on The Most Dangerous Game, as the predatory couple stalks their prey with bow and arrow in hand to satisfy their cannibalistic urges.

Those who dismiss Franco as an untalented hack will find most of their arguments confirmed here, as Tender Flesh wildly ignores such niceties as logic and polished camerawork. The dialogue (recorded on the set in English) is unintelligible for much of the running time, the acting is atrocious (apart from the always fascinating Ms. Romay of course), no two characters have the same accent, and the story is virtually nonexistent. On the other hand, as with many Franco films, half the fun lies in tracing the evolution of his favorite characters and storylines. The second half is basically an updated remake of Franco's excellent The Perverse Countess (which really needs to be released in the U.S., pronto), while the tropical island fun and games are pulled straight from Macumba Sexual and Eugenie (the '81 version). And of course, the nightclub opener is a direct descendent of Succubus and Vampyros Lesbos. Silicone doll Newman doesn't make for a very compelling leading lady on a par with Franco's past starlets, at least until one considers that she isn't really supposed to be an admirable or even interesting character in the first place. Tender Flesh can be tough going for the uninitiated, but Franco-philes will no doubt eat it up.

Seduction Cinema's DVD looks only a slight step up from the previous VHS release, and for the record, yes, the infamous kitchen urination scene is back in all its uncut glory. The mild letterboxing looks about right, and apart from the muddy, noise-ridden opening five minutes, colors and detail levels are satisfying. The surround audio shows off Franco's catchy jazz score quite well and uses the rear channels fairly often, creating a sultry listening environment spoiled only by the aforementioned poorly recorded dialogue. Side B of the DVD contains several extras, the most notable being the 51 minute Making of Tender Flesh documentary. This shot on video peek behind the scenes contains random footage of Franco running amok with his camera, interspersed with interview footage (primarily Petit). The surprisingly poor image quality of the occasional film clips used here will make any viewer grateful for the DVD presentation. Also included is a six minute look at Amber Newman's photo shoot for the film's (very Redemption-like) promotional artwork, as well as a slew of trailers for Seduction Cinema's DVD releases. This may not be the best Franco film by a long shot, but the presentation and extras should find favor with any unrepentant Eurosleaze collector.

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