Color, 1981, 91m. / Directed by Jess Franco / Starring Olivia Pascal, Christoph Moosbrugger, Nadja Gerganoff, Alexander Waechter, Jasmin Losensky / Severin (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Italian Shock (Holland R0 PAL)


If Jess Franco's name weren't listed in the credits of this notorious German slasher film, you might be hard pressed at first to guess its director based on the evidence at hand. Banned in Britain as a video nasty and barely shown in theaters anywhere, Bloody Moon would make a perfect companion film to other early '80s outrages like Pieces or Nightmare thanks to its unrelenting onslaught of gratuitous T&A, inventive bloodshed, and inscrutable plotting.

In the Halloween-inspired opening, facially-scarred Miguel (Waechter) lurks around a nocturnal party where the pretty object of his affections spurns him for another guy. Naturally he decides to come on to her anyway wearing a Mickey Mouse mask, but when she realizes who's in her bed, Miguel offs her with a pair of scissors. Flash forward a bit to the International Youth club Boarding School for Languages, where bikini-clad babes spend their time playing tennis, lounging around the pool, and occasionally taking Spanish lessons. Miguel's been released from a mental institution and placed in the care of his sister, Manuela (Gerganoff), with whom he tends to get a little too intimate for comfort. Unfortunately their presence at the school becomes a problem when various topless students start turning up knifed and scissored and stashed in cupboards, with pretty Angela (Pascal, the most recognizable name from Vanessa and Behind Convent Walls) feeling uncomfortable about Miguel's past and the fact that her friends keep disappearing. But is our freed lunatic really the culprit, or is someone else entirely pulling the strings behind these brutal slayings?

Completely ludicrous and inexplicably entertaining from start to finish, Bloody Moon may resemble an '80s slasher film in construction but is a wholly unique experience in practice. Franco's beloved zoom lens and proclivity for wholly inappropriate nudity betrays the man behind the camera from time to time, but who knew he could pull off a body count film with such zeal? The real showstopper here is easily a mid-film setpiece in which one unlucky lass gets trussed up on a big chunk of stone and slowly sent gliding into the path of a gargantuan circular saw, with a spying little boy racing against time to save her. It's easily a shoo-in for any Franco highlight reel and demonstrates that he can pull of both suspense and gut-wrenching splatter when he really puts his effort into it. Other delights include the piecemeal music score composed of spooky stock music and catchy instrumental Europop (credited to softcore composer Gerhard Heinz but obviously the work of many library sources) and some wonderfully nutty dialogue, particularly whenever Angela and Miguel open their mouths. On the downside, the story only barely makes sense, and for some reason a snake gets beheaded with some shears on camera, a nasty little moment that could have easily been left out.

The video history of Bloody Moon winds through a number of different international companies since the early '80s, and finding a decent, uncut copy has been nearly impossible. The best option for years was the scarce Canadian VHS release from CIC, which was intact and obviously squeezed rather than cropped to keep the entire image intact (which became quite handy with the advent of 16x9 TVs). In Britain it appeared fleetingly uncut but cropped, but its banned status ensured highly incomplete releases well into the DVD age courtesy of Vipco. The Dutch DVD from Italian Shock turned out to be a major missed opportunity, with several missing seconds of gore and a terrible pan-and-scan job that rendered it essentially worthless.

Thankfully, after a decade of DVD mistreatment Severin's US release corrects all these problems. The transfer from the long-buried original negative (bearing the original German title, Die Säge des Todes) blows away any competitors, with perfect framing and punchy, vivid colors throughout. The only audio option is the original English mono track, which is as legitimate as any other given the variety of languages spoken by the different actors on the set. The international trailer is also included and contains a few interesting alternate snippets of footage, including the saw sequence. Of course, this being a Severin release, it would easily be worth buying just for another one of their devilishly entertaining Jess Franco interviews, this time entitld "Franco Moon." The featurette kicks off with Lina Romay bustling in the background as the chain-smoking auteur lights up another cig, then proceeds to talk about how the produces wanted a movie "with 50 horror spotlights" and had no idea how to prepare the project. He also reveals the identity of enigmatic one-off screenwriter "Rayo Casablanca," the intention to use Pink Floyd for the soundtrack, his comedic subversion during filming, the original Spanish title of Raped College Girl(!), and much, much more. Ah, Jess -- how dull DVDs would be without him.



Color, 1970, 91m. / Directed by Jess Franco / Starring Soledad Miranda, Paul Muller, Jess Franco, Alice Arno / Blue Underground (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Wild East (US R1 NTSC), Oracle (UK R0 PAL), X-Rated (Germany R0 PAL) / WS (1.66:1)


Not to be confused with several other De Sade-inspired Jess Franco films bearing Eugenie in the title, this deeply kinky vehicle for the director's short-lived muse, Soledad Miranda, plays a bit like an incestuous take on The Honeymoon Killers. Miranda stars as the title character, a young woman first seen in a dreamy snuff film seducing a woman who winds up murdered by an offscreen assailant. Turns out the culprit is her stepfather, a debauched writer named Albert (Muller), who has been gradually indoctrinating her into a lifestyle of nightclubs, models, seduction, and murder, with the two carrying on a sadistic affair linking all their victims. Unfortunately one male victim threatens to come between their unholy alliance, with a knife blade ultimately determining the fate of all involved.

Boasting another top-notch Bruno Nicolai score (Franco's composer of choice on many of his best films for Harry Allan Towers and Eurocine), Eugenie De Sade received little notice upon its release but gradually built up word of mouth through its video incarnations to become one of Franco's most fascinating and respected titles. The presence of Miranda certainly doesn't hurt, as this essentially completes a fascinating trilogy with Vampyros Lesbos and She Killed in Ecstasy demonstrated what an iconic sex-horror figure she could be. (Her other supporting roles for Franco are less substantial but worth seeking out as well.) Muller matches her throughout as the multilayered older man who has been controlled his beautiful charge's destiny since doing away with her parents, and the snowy settings add a unique atmospheric edge different from the usual Franco beachscapes.

Incredibly, this once-neglected gem has now seen no less than four different incarnations on DVD, though only one really does it justice. The first American release from Wild East offered most viewers their first peek at the film, even though the ragged full frame transfer and dismal English dub track couldn't come close to approximating its aesthetic virtues. A subsequent PAL release in the UK presented the far superior French track with English subtitles as well as minimally letterboxing it at 1.66:1, but print quality was still way below par; a German variant presented another lackluster transfer with a German audio track added as well.

Fortunately Blue Underground's much-needed release is culled from the original negative and easily blows other versions out of the water; the gasp-inducing clarity of the opening images carries through the entire feature, with beautiful detail and color rendition creating a hallucinatory treat rivalling the finest Franco digital releases to date. You really couldn't imagine this film could ever look so good. The disc also contains both audio options, but only masochists would choose to wade through that muddy, poorly-voiced English track again. This transfer also bears a title card reading Eugenia, which carries over to the theatrical trailer which is a bit differnet from past releases (and confusingly scored with Bruno Nicolai's "De Sade 70" cue from Eugenie... The Story of Her Journey into Perversion). The only other extra is "Franco De Sade," a 20-minute featurette with the typically entertaining and heavily-accented director talking about the film, with a particular focus on his paternal relationship with Miranda. For some reason the hilarity of his interviews has a converse relationship with the quality of his films; since this is a great movie, it's more sedate and touching than, say, Cannibals, which is a riot from start to finish. A sterling release all around; however, it's worth nothing that while the European DVD releases are now rendered completely obsolete, completists might want to hang on to their Wild East DVD since it contains some tantalizing fragments from unfinished Franco Eurocine projects which have failed to materialize elsewhere.



Color, 1982, 105m. / Directed by Jess Franco / Starring Muriel Montosse, Olivier Mathot, Pierre Taylou, Anthony Foster, Lina Romay / Blue Underground (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)


A softcore programmer from Franco's latter tenure with Eurocine Films, Cecila is, rather perversely, one of his most exquisitely-mounted productions of the decade. The surprisingly straightforward story, which sounds more like something suited for Joe Sarno, follows a haughty upper class wife, Cecilia (Montosse), who likes to spend her days reenacting the opening from The Story of O by getting nasty in the back seat in front of her chauffeur. Unfortunately she pushes her servents too far, and as retribution she winds up being ravaged by the chauffeur's two brothers -- which has the unintended effect of rekindling her bedroom relationship with her husband, Andre (Mathot), who reluctantly joins her for a swinging lifestyle in their chateau.

Featuring a memorable one-scene orgy appearance by Lina Romay and enough sex scenes to keep skin fans entertained, Cecilia may not win points for narrative originality but easily scores on the level of pure sensory pleasure. The locales, actors and production design are all unusually lush and elegant for Franco, and even the sex scenes veer more towards Radley Metzger territory than the standard spread-and-grind of his usual sex output. Die-hard Franco fans might be tempted to read the film as a fascinating defense of his unorthodox relationship with star/spouse Lina Romay (who certainly spent enough time copulating on-camera in front of her husband), which gives this film (originally titled Sexual Aberrations of a Housewife) an even more interesting twist. None of the actors (Lina excepted) have the intense cinematic magnetism of Franco's most familiar stock players, but they all perform capably enough and go through their often unclad paces well enough. The wild, semi-incestuous orgy scene (which teeters close to hardcore at one point) is easily the highlight, with some strange visual flourishes best experienced without warning.

Making its DVD debut, Cecilia is a pure knockout with a rapturous transfer packed with gorgeous imagery. Even when nothing much is going on, you'll be entranced by the rich detail evident in every shot; this dynamic transfer looks great on a widescreen set and really pops through if you can upconvert it for hi-def. The soundtrack is presented in both English and French dubs with optional English subtitles, and both are quite workable for the film with the French option slightly more appropriate to the actors. Franco pops up again for yet another frank and funny interview, "Sexual Aberrations of Cecila," which spends 17 minutes talking about Franco's intentions for the film (he doesn't mention the Lina possibility above), his distaste for Eurocine's original title, and his love for the Portuguese shooting locations. An English trailer is also included.



Color, 1980, 90m. / Directed by Jess Franco / Starring Al Cliver, Sabrina Siani, Lina Romay, Shirley Knight, Robert Foster, Anouchka, Olivier Mathot / Blue Underground (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)


Better known to trash video fanatics under a slew of alternate titles like White Cannibal Queen and Barbarian Goddess (not to mention Mondo Cannibal), this ludicrous gutchomper from Jess Franco arrived at the height of the Italian cannibal craze sandwiched between the far more inflammatory Cannibal Holocaust and Cannibal Ferox. Here we have none of the animal violence (thank goodness) or narrative and moral complexity (alas), with Franco and regular Eurocine producer Daniel Lesoeur instead turning out a bloody and hysterically cheap homage to great white hunter epics with some flesh-eating action thrown in to spice things up, albeit in very, very, very slow motion.

While on a scientific jungle expedition with his family, Jeremy Taylor (Zombie's Al Cliver) loses his wife and his right arm to hungry, suspiciously Anglo-looking cannibals in day-glo facepaint who storm his ship and make off with his young daughter, Lana (played by Lesoeur's real-life daughter, "Anouchka" of Zombie Lake fame). Taylor manages to crawl his way back to civilization and recuperates in New York, where he decides to sit around for ten years with sexy Ana (Lina Romay) before going back into the emerald inferno to retrieve his daughter, who's now a sexy, naked blonde nymphete (played by Conquest's Sabrina Siani). Of course, by the time he and his rescue crew finally reach the cannibal tribe, Lana isn't too eager to leave her tribe where she's worshipped as a G-string goddess.

A jaw-dropping feast of wooden acting, baffling editing, atrocious dubbing, and unbelievably protracted cannibalism scenes with painted extras gnawing on raw steak, Cannibals is nevertheless a lot of fun if you're looking for a fast-paced, goofy distraction. It's nowhere remotely as offensive as most of its ilk, and Franco keeps the laughs coming fast and furious with the least convincing "exotic" natives ever committed to film. Never one of the most charismatic actors, Cliver seems to be staring off into space for most of the film but does finally muster up a little energy for the unforgettable climax, which finds him battling the tribe chief in a creek while soaking wet in a T-shirt and trying to hide his "missing" arm underneath a fake stump. Unfortunately Franco seems to run out of inspiration at the same time, delivering a story resolution that feels more like an indifferent shrug. Oddly enough, there's really no sexual content at all in the film (not even from Lina!) unless you count the casual displays of Ms. Siani's body. Meanwhile Roberto Pregadio serves up an inappropriate but amusing music score that could only have been composed in 1980. Low-rent bliss all the way. For some reason the opening credits attribute the film to mondo kingpin Franco Prosperi, but don't believe it.

Though some completists may have picked up the bare bones Region 2 release, most people had to endure wretched-looking video transfers of this title for years. Blue Underground's release looks about as good as this film possibly could, given that it appears to have been shot on at least four different types of film stock. Some scenes are wonderfully colorful and razor-sharp, while other (mainly at the end) look blearly and bleached out, a deficiency present in many Eurocine titles from the period. The presentation itself is terrific, however. Since at least four different languages must have been spoken on-set, the English dub track here is about as genuine as any out there but is still a complete mess, never coming close to matching anyone's lip movements. It's all strangely appropriate, however. The best aspect of the disc is easily the new 20-minute video interview, "Franco Holocaust," in which the thick-accented director speaks in English (with much-needed optional subtitles) about his disdain for the Italian cannibal fad, working with Daniel Leseour, his admiration for Cliver's work ethic, and best and most protracted of all, his attitudes about Sabrina Siani ("One of the most stupid people I have ever worked with"), including a priceless demonstration of her inability to look in the proper direction during filming. Oh, and the cannibals were all played by a bunch of Spanish gypsies they rounded up near the set. A French trailer (under the Mondo Cannibal title) is also included.



Color, 1984, 92m. / Directed by Jess Franco / Starring Alicia Príncipe, Carmen Carrión, Daniel Katz, Mauro Ribera, Mamie Kaplan / Severin (US R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)


After financers imposed a connection to Emmanuelle on one of his 1982 films, Jess Franco found himself saddled again with cashing in on a hit Just Jaeckin release two years later with The Sexual Story of O, one of the stronger entries in his sex-heavy '80s Spanish cycle. Prone to lounging around in her hotel room naked and reading books, young and nubile Odile (Príncipe) catches the eye of a frisky couple (Ribera and Kaplan) who watch her while they're getting busy in bed. Unable to resist her, they wander over to her room and introduce themselves, with immediate carnal consequences. However, things get darker when the couple introduces Odile to a decadent older couple (Dark Mission's Katz and Carrión) whose S&M proclivities prove to be everyone's undoing.

Though Franco professes his admiration for the original Story of O novel by the pseudonymous Pauline Reage, his film is markedly different in tone and intent thanks to its chilling third act developments, which push this into serious horror territory. The druggy fate of our heroine is rendered in one of the director's most potent climaxes, a harrowing assault on both her and the viewer that echoes the finale of Eugenie but with an even darker romantic agenda behind it. The final shot, a nice reprise of A Virgin among the Living Dead, will also ring a bell with any Franco disciple, and the score cribbed from various Daniel White library tracks is used to marvelous effect. The sexuality is also considerably more erotic and urgent than usual for this Franco period, as well as closer to hardcore than usual (with Ribera even visibly, uh, exicted during one of the more heated encounters). Franco has few kind words for his leading lady, but she's a beguiling presence and a more likable heroine than usual for a sado-sexual "exploitation" film.

For its American home video debut and first official presentation in English, The Sexual Story of O looks staggeringly good thanks to Severin's immaculate DVD. Though the budget was obviously very limited, Franco makes skillful use of the scope frame, an attribute impossible to appreciate in past, cropped bootleg editions. The nautical locations and startling visual distortion effects look terrific, and colors are nicely rendered without being too pumped up. Once again Franco offers a chatty video interview, offering candid assessments of his cast members, casting aspersions against other softcore filmmakers, and generally being his usual, take-no-bull self for a rich and randy 17 minutes. One of the most intoxicating presentations of a Franco film to date, this is a recommended antidote for those who normally shy away from his output after the late 1970s.


Color, 1982, 86m. / Directed by Jess Franco / Starring Victoria Adams, Antonio Robello, Ina Balin, Carmen Carrion / Severin (US R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)


A rather rote skin flick dressed up as an unofficial Emmanuelle film, The Inconfessable Orgies of Emmanuelle circulated more widely than most of the director's other output during his busy return to Spain in the early '80s. Once again the filmmaker's trademark obsessions with seaside locales and cubist decor are in abundance here to offset the frequent writhing naked bodies, though the expected perverse touches are kept to a minimum here in favor of a plot straight out of your average cable softcore offering.

Occasional Franco collaborator "Victoria Adams," aka French TV personality Muriel Montossé, stars as the title character, who's married to a decidedly piggish macho husband, Tony (Robello), whose past lover is staying nearby. Though they can't keep their hands off each other (even in a wax museum populated with disturbing replicas of Humphrey Bogart and Liza Minnelli in full Cabaret gear), they don't seem too disturbed by the idea of dallying around with other vacationers at their hotel resort. Unfortunately the freshly-plucked wife gets a little too out of control, first having a little lesbian action with a burlesque dancer and then initiating a series of extramarital encounters which could destroy the fabric of her marriage forever.

Packed with nudity and attractively shot in scope (an aspect utterly lost in past video versions), Franco's film is a strictly middle-of-the-road affair designed mainly to showcase its cast in as little clothing as possible. The wax museum and climactic sofa-bound orgy are the most memorable sequences, and the thick atmosphere helps carry the film along through its dry stretches. The dreamlike score helps as well, with yet another cameo from that "La Vie Est Une Merde" song so prevalent in other Franco films, and the nonlinear device of unfolding the story as a series of recollections through the male lead during an afternoon stroll is certainly an interesting and melancholic one.

Rarely seen in America outside of the usual gray market pipeline, this film gets a shockingly respectable presentation from Severin. The widescreen transfer looks excellent and beautifully film-like, with very minimal flaws and luscious, earthy color schemes. Both the Spanish and English soundtracks are included, with the former working much better with optional English subtitles; the English dub (particularly the narration) omits several details and simplifies the script far too much, not to mention the damage it inflicts by replacing or submerging most of the music score. The only extra is a typically endearing and heavily-accented Franco video interview, in which he explains the film's curious title, offers his opinion of the rest of the series, and recalls the shooting conditions from this curious and rarely-explored period in his filmography.


Color, 1982, 92m. / Directed by Jess Franco / Starring Candy Coster (Lina Romay), Robert Foster, Elisa Vela, Eva León / Severin (US R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)


Often named as an unofficial fifth entry in the Spanish "Blind Dead" series (but with a softcore twist), Jess Franco's Mansion of the Living Dead seems to be based on some of the same Templar history and plays with similar imagery, but if you're looking for eyeless zombies, go back to the de Ossorio series. At a seaside hotel (the titlular "mansion," presumably) next to a desolate church, four sex-happy German girls arrive and decide to play around with each other in the absence of any male guests. Meanwhile the manager (Foster) spends his off-time tending to his lunatic, naked wife (León) who's chained to a wall in one of the rooms and displays some especially unpleasant eating habits. When not being menaced on the beach by flying kitchen implements, the four girls wander around the hotel, disrobe, and eventually fall one by one into the clutches of a brutal sect at the church whose pasty-faced members subject them to a strange kind of detached gang bang. Luckily for lead girl Candy (Romay), the sect also has a dark secret in which she is deeply involved, leading to an oddly poetic climax.

Alternating between erotic reveries, boneheaded stupidity, and breathtaking gothic lyricism, Mansion of the Living Dead is a good litmus test for checking one's Jess Franco boundaries. There's nothing terribly extreme on display here (apart from the naked groping, which won't startle anyone used to softcore cable), but the stream-of-consciousness storytelling and eeri locales give the film a distinct flavor not quite like anything else in the Franco canon. Still bearing her wig from Macumba Sexual, Romay makes a fine ditzy heroine forced to plumb new emotional depths within herself, and her "possession" in the third act will delight her fans. Most of the other actors basically sleepwalk through their roles, which is appropriate given the tone.

Another title rarely seen previously in scope (and never in English), Mansion of the Living Dead gets a very respectful treatment from Severin. The dark interior scenes which were completely incoherent and muddy on those old tape editions are now clear and surprisingly beautiful for the most part; the eerie shots of the actors wandering down the dark corridors with bright lights at the end manage wring some tension out of even the slowest scenes. The optional English subtitles do what they can with the over-the-top Spanish dialogue, which presents its four interloping heroines as slang-talking dingbats eager to shed their tops.

Some context (but not much) is offered in another solid new featurette, "The Mansion Jess Built," which dovetails nicely with the similar Franco/Romay interviews on Macumba Sexual. Discusing their multiple cinematic identities and the origins of the story (which extend way further back than the de Ossorio films), this irrepressible couple makes for good company and should increase enthusiasm for these previously neglected, personal labors of love and exploitation.



Color, 1981, 80m. / Directed by Jess Franco / Starring Ajita Wilson, Candy Coster (Lina Romay), Robert Foster / Severin (US R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)


One of the top "unseeable" Jess Franco titles regularly listed on fan wish lists, Macumba Sexual is often regarded as a pinnacle of his cineamtic return to post-Franco Spain. Of course, most of those doing the regarding never had the chance to see it outside murky, cropped bootleg copies in Spanish without subtitles, which says a great deal about the film's sensory power beyond its threadbare plot. Indeed, this is one of his more visually bewitching efforts and arguably his last completely satisfying films, a fusion of sex and horror as only the mad Franco can conjure up.

In the middle of his most productive period with husband Franco, Lina Romay stars here (under the name of "Candy Coster" with a surprisingly flattering blonde wig) in one of the strongest of her sexual victim roles (already taken to wonderfully obscene lengths with her playing both sides of the coin in Doriana Gray). Here she's Alice, a vacationing wife whose husband (Foster) seems to lounge around with her in bed a lot. Unfortunately her idyll is disturbed by recurring visions of Tara (Wilson), a striking woman leading around two human slaves on leashes by the beach. When she's called in to work on a real estate deal for a mysterious princess, Alice finds the new client to be the literal woman of her dreams, who needs a new vessel to carry on her centuries-old reign of black magic power. Reality and fantasy blur as the couple is initiated into a series of hallucinatory encounters, the most striking of which finds hubby locked up in a remote bamboo oceanside cage.

Complete with typically amusing and sweaty co-starring appearance by Jess himself, Macumba Sexual never flinches from its intense subject matter (including some female genital probing that could alarm a few retailers) but never feels sleazy or slapdash. The elegant scope framing is constantly flooding with striking sunlight effects, with indoor scenes likewise punctuated with star-like light sources bursting into the corners of the frame at odd moments. Representatives of evil (including the "Bringer of Light" himself, Lucifer) are often associated with bold illumination, and Franco really seems to run with the concept here. Likewise, the segues between dreams and "reality" are beautifully accomplished, with the beguiling image of a scantily clad Wilson splayed on the sand with an ornamental sculpture between her legs offering one of the more indelible moments of '80s Franco cinema. The sparse dialogue never gets in the way here, leaving Romay to exhibit what does best: carnal abandon and wide-eyed terror, often at the same time.

The revelation of watching this film in its full, widescreen aspect ratio cannot be understated, making Severin's DVD release one of the great salvations of recent European erotic cinema. The transfer looks marvelous throughout, with beautiful colors and no signs of damage. No quibbles at all. The Spanish mono track sounds fine (it was never dubbed into English), with optional English subtitles for those who always wondered what the heck was going on. The only extra, and it's a goodie, is "Voodoo Jess," a choice featurette with Franco and Romay reminiscing about the film (and the purportedly transsexual Wilson in particular) with much explanation about Franco's return to Spain and his outlook on filmmaking at the time.



Color, 1999, 86m. / Directed by Jess Franco / Starring Lina Romay, Christie Levin, Paul Lapidus, Anna Stern / Sub Rosa (US R1 NTSC)


In the late 1960s, Jess Franco tried to cash in on the 007-induced spy craze with Kiss Me Monster and Sadisterotica, a pair of playfully sexy romps involving the "Red Lips" sleuths. Though he occasionally referred to the girls now and then throughout his career, Franco didn't return to the idea full force until his shot-on-video days with One Shot Productions courtesy of Red Silk, a much more explicit and technically dubious outing. Lina Romay is in typically exhibitionistic form as Gina, one half of a detective service/escort agency along with blonde Tina (Christie Levin). The bulk of the film involves the girls lounging around naked in bed and around a hotel where they occasionally get roped into performing potentially criminal activity, whether with a chubby naked photographer or a shady diplomat. They also pull out a gun now and then and race around Scooby Doo style for no particular reason.

If that synopsis sounds a bit vague and choppy, that's nothing compared to the actual experience of sitting through Red Silk. Franco's jokey, free-form style is still in evidence here, but his efforts are completely sabotaged by the decision to shoot this film in Spanish - and then dub the whole thing over wildly out of synch in English, but spoken entirely with thick, unintelligible Spanish accents! Now instead of the barely audible English from his other video projects, we now get to enjoy a shoddy, ear-shredding dub job with Lina (who's always difficult to understand anyway) trying to dub herself over in a language she barely speaks. If you can get over this hurdle, the film has its moments; the aforementioned photographer vignette is an amusing Francoesque diversion, and though the film barely seems to be striving for a plot (exactly how the girls earn their money is never quite made clear), it throws enough weirdness and cellulite-rich nudity to keep fans of weird cinema glued to the TV in rapt fascination (or horror). And make no mistake about it, the skin quotient here is extremely high as both of the female leads leave no centimeter of their bodies to the imagination; consider yourself warned.

Sub Rosa's DVD does what it can with the original source, which is shot largely in natural lighting and ranges from passable to murky. The aforementioned soundtrack makes an evaluation of the DVD audio impossible, since the original sound mix was an aural disaster anyway. It is what it is. On the extras side, you do get a generous helping of footage from Franco's upcoming Snakewoman, which looks a whole lot more promising and indicates a welcome return to the languid, dreamy style found in some of his more striking video titles like Broken Dolls.



Color, 1968, 86m. / Directed by Jess Franco / Starring James Darren, Maria Rohm, Barbara McNair, Klaus Kinski, Margaret Lee, Dennis Price / Blue Underground (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)


While wandering on a desolate beach, jazz trumpet player Jimmy Logan (The Time Tunnel's Darren) discovers the nude body of Wanda (Rohm), a woman he saw murdered at a party some time earlier, lying in the surf. In flashbacks her death is relived at the hands of three decadent sadists: photographer Olga (Lee), aging Percival (Price), and cruel Ahmed (Kinski). Soon Wanda - or someone who looks very much like her - reappears and begins an affair with Jimmy, who is also seeing nightclub singer Rita (McNair). When not in bed with Jimmy, Wanda silently hunts down her murderers one by one, seducing and then killing them. However, as Jimmy soon discovers, Wanda's revenge is just one small part of the supernatural world into which he has been drawn.

Despite its title and the lead female's name, this marvelous sex-horror concoction from Jess Franco has nothing to do with the famous novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (which was filmed a tad more faithfully but far less interestingly by Massimo Dallamano the same year). Fueled by an incredible score featuring the likes of Manfred Mann and Mike Hugg (with one number penned by the famous Sherman Brothers and an uncredited Bill Loose cameo from Cherry, Harry and Raquel), this is the most successful of Franco's many attempts to bring a musical, jazz-influenced form to his filmmaking. The apex of Franco's filmmaking, Venus in Furs finally realizes the free associative motifs found in earlier films like The Diabolical Dr. Z and Succubus while anticipating the delirious odes to Soledad Miranda and Lina Romay to come in the following decade, often repeating the basic structure of this film with various new grace notes thrown in for variety.

Though it may seem to odd to find mainstream celebrities like Darren and McNair wandering through a Franco film, this is one of the director's most striking and "respectable" efforts. He throws in enough topless nudity and touches of S&M to justify the film's early X rating (easily an R now), but this is hardly your standard exploitation film. From the stunning opening frames this is a purely dreamlike experience where one man's subjective narrative ultimately disintegrates into a dread-filled finale whose punchline still leaves enough lingering questions to keep viewers coming back for more. Usually a pretty but bland ornament in Euro sex films, Rohm is finally allowed to blossom as the eerie Wanda who manages with a single glance to be both chilling and seductive at the same time. The strangely alien settings including Istanbul and Rio are used to marvelous effect, with travelogue footage suddenly shifting to such surreal visuals as a drug party where embracing lovers are suddenly surrounded by attendees flinging feathers in the air. No, it doesn't make much sense on a purely rational level, but like the best jazz, Venus in Furs works best when you tuck away any rigid notions of logic and just go with the flow. For those willing to submit, it's one hell of a ride.

A familiar title to horror and sleaze fans from the early days of home video, Venus in Furs has always fared better than most of Franco's other films in terms of distribution and presentation. Since nothing was ever trimmed from the original prints, Blue Underground's welcome and immaculate presentation offers the exact same film but a whole new experience in terms of visuals. The cropping and muddy colors have been replaced by a wonderfully colorful and crystal clear appearance, with stock shots and some ragged second unit work a bit more apparent than before. (That's not dirt on the print during some of those abstract beach shots; it was always there from the beginning.) The film was shot in English with most of the performers looping their own dialogue, so the audio doesn't suffer much at all. (Too bad we couldn't get an isolated music track as the soundtrack has tragically never been available, but you can't have everything!)

The biggest extra is another Franco interview (entitled "Jesus in Furs"), with the director explaining how the film came about and reminiscing about the various actors. Rohm also returns for another Blue Underground appearance with an audio interview (as she prefers not to be filmed now) in which she candidly and engagingly talks about the various performers with whom she worked during her unforgettable Franco tenure. Oddly, producer Harry Alan Towers sits this one out. Other extras include the American trailer (in much better shape than on previous trailer compilations) and, via DVD-Rom, a Tim Lucas bio of Franco and analysis of the film.


Color, 1999, 83m. / Directed by Jess Franco / Starring Paul Lapidus, Lina Romay / Sub Rosa (US R1 NTSC) / DD2.0


Another tropical meditation on sex and death, the not-quite-horror but definitely randy Broken Dolls extends Jess Franco's fascination with dysfunctional families and obsession with a number of visual tropes lifted from his earlier films. The plot (to use the term generously) revolves around the increasingly insane family of Don Martin (Lapidus), an aging, bearded actor who keeps his wife and daughters on an island with the promise of buried treasure. The girls have pretty much lost any inhibtions: bald Gina (Christie Levin) constantly wanders the beach nude apart from a knife belt (shades of Dr. No and Franco's The Perverse Countess), while slutty blonde Beatriz (Mavi Tienda) lounges around in skimpy lingerie to seduce local guitar plucker Herbie (Ezequiel Cohen) who deadpans, "I don't get horny from that kind of girl." Apparently Gina is more to Herbie's taste, and he shows her a treasure chest he's discovered containing gold coins. Meanwhile the patriarch's sanity begins to crumble as he suspects his wife of infidelity, leading to a bloody finale straight out of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls that finds him running amuck with a sword while dressed as a pirate.

Deliberately paced even by Franco standards, Broken Dolls obviously suffers from shot-on-video limitations but sports some attractive island locations. Franco's beloved zoom lens is used surprisingly well here, such as the poetic opening sequence which finds traumatized witness Tona (Romay) gazing into the seascape dotted with circling oil tankers coming to decimate the island while a broken doll wafts in a nearby pond. The sexual content is fairly strong at times, but this isn't anywhere close to porn.

That designation applies a lot more closely to the "bonus feature" on this disc, Helter Skelter, a patchwork 2000 film created by Franco to spin out another of his fantasias based on the Marquis De Sade. Eugenie this ain't, though Romay fans will be amused to see her as the main focus of attention performing a number of S&M acts while a female narrator reads passages from the much-maligned marquis. Whips, endless crotch and butt shots, bewildering snippets from other One Shot films including a bit with Rachel Sheppard swiped from Vampire Blues, and a bearded guy (Cohen again) tortured at knifepoint by Romay while strung up nude by the wrists. Perhaps it's all supposed to mean something, or perhaps not; in any case, Franco completists will have quite a time sorting it all out.

Both features look okay, considering, though Helter Skelter is really poorly shot with lots of artificial zoom effects, digital flare effects, and grainy video noise that keeps blacks muddy and indistinct. Much of the dialogue in Broken Dolls is muffed by the heavy accents, while the second feature is composed entirely of very soft narration. Extras include a clutch of Sub Rosa trailers and a Franco video cover gallery.



Color, 2001, 94m. / Directed by Jess Franco / Starring Lina Romay, Samantha Olsen / Sub Rosa (US R1 NTSC) / DD2.0


Lord knows the idea of a vampire western has been milked for what little it's worth, thanks to the long-passed accomplishments of Near Dark and, on a lower tier, Sundown. However, leave it to Jess Franco to come up with a new hybrid: a psychedelic sex vampire western! Once again shot on video, this odd entry in his ongoing "Irina" cycle is filmed with a bit more style than one might expect and blessed with a real western town set on which to paint his obsessive visions, though the results are still as uneven and frustrating in the end as one might expect.

During a daylight rainstorm, journalist Alice Brown (Romay) drives to a remote Old West town in search of a potential interview subject, pioneering surgeon Dr. Spencer (Steve Barrymore). Upon arrival she meets a strange musician (Ezequiel Cohen) who talks like Speedy Gonzales and directs her to a nearby saloon, where a fatigued Dr. Spencer cowers at a table near his shotgun-toting wife. The doctor tries to talk to Irina about "children of the night," but his wife - who flashes a pair of fangs when no one's looking - silences him and offers Alice a high-priced room for the night. While sleeping, Irina is tormented by a vision of two naked vampire women in bright red fright wigs who rub all over each other, lick up shaving cream, and shave each other's crotches until they bleed. Seriously. Upon awakening, Alice goes downstairs to find Spencer skewered beneath a wooden Indian and finds herself unable to leave the town. Resigned to staying, she pumps the residents for information and writes profundities on her laptap: "The last fews days I have spent in this country are the most surrealistic of my life. The most nearby town, Shit City." Finally after countless visions of disappearing vampire ladies wafting up and down staircases, she finally figures out that she's the target of Countess Irina (Olsen), who wants to initiate her into the vampire fold.

Utterly odd, Vampire Junction is another of Franco's languid, dreamlike fusions of sex and violence where reality and hallucinations overlap. The apocalyptic finale (or at least as apocalyptic as one can get shooting in a hotel room) is typical of his more recent output for One Shoot Productions, particularly the similar Incubus. Much of the dialogue is completely unintelligible thanks to a combination of thick accents and bizarre studio looping, with Romay's lines patched together from what sounds like at least three different recording sessions. Still, it's a Franco movie so fans most likely won't care. Besides, how often do you get to see an old time saloon used as a backdrop for a vampire hunter shootout?

Sub Rosa's DVD contains a full frame transfer and looks fine considering its origins. The stereo audio is effective during musical passages but hell whenever the cast decides to talk. Bonus points for the nifty cover art, too. The biggest extra is a Spanish-language horror short, "Evil Night," about a group of kids who go camping and get torn to shreds by some zombies. English subtitles are burned into the print. Other extras include trailers for Franco's Blind Target and Mari-Cookie and the Killer Tarantula, as well as a gallery of other Franco releases.



Color, 2002, 78m. / Directed by Jess Franco / Starring Carina Palmer, Carsten Frank / Sub Rosa (US R1 NTSC) / DD2.0


In the inaugural issue of Video Watchdog magazine, director Jess Franco protested that his movies could be called anything but silly. Of course, that was before he made Mari-Cookie and the Killer Tarantula and this slice of erotic horror hokum, which kicks off with the goofiest rendition of "Rockabye Baby" ever recorded and goes downhill from there. The story, for lack of a better term, concerns successful, folically-challenged artist Johan (Frank), whose riches can be attributed to a pact made with the sexy, supernatural Lorna (Fata Morgana), an incubus (err, technically succubus, but whatever...) who gives him fame and fortune in exchange for his daughter when she turns twenty. Coincidentally, said daughter, Lucy (Palmer), returns home and spends her time lolling around naked in bed, reading the Marquis De Sade, and indulging in S&M fantasies. Meanwhile Johan's usually naked wife (Lina Romay) doesn't take too kindly to Lorna's influence on their lives, and when the time comes to pay the devil his due, no one emerges unscathed.

As longtime Franco fans know, the director tends to repeat characters and situations from his earlier films to an obsessive degree. For example, Dr. Orloff has been through innumerable permutations for over four decades, and here Franco revisits the "character" of Lorna, present in 1967's Succubus and used again in 1974's Lorna the Exorcist (Les possédées du diable), of which Incubus is more or less a remake (but minus the crab critters emerging from Romay's nether regions). Though shot on video, this is a bit more visually polished than Franco's other contemporary work; some of his trompe l'oeil bits involving mirrors are surprisingly well-designed, and apart from the absurd credits, he avoids those tacky digital effects that plagued some of his other video projects. Outside of his hardcore work, this is one of the most nudity-heavy titles in the Franco canon; virtually every scene is filled with nude bodies, both female and male, strolling or writhing in front of the camera. As usual Ms. Romay is the most unabashed of the bunch, which may only appeal to a very select audience. By far the most memorable aspect of the film is its finale, an extended dream-like demon orgy in which a lavish room (by all appearances a hotel lobby) turns into an erotic playground, with a damned, victimized Lucy led on a chain collar by men bearing some very mean strap-ons. And once again Franco recycles Daniel White's music for Female Vampire, though the use here is fairly appropriate.

Sub Rosa's DVD does what it can with the limited technology at hand for Incubus; the lighting ranges from lush to overly harsh, and edges can look overly sharp during daylight scenes. The color scheme is also muted and earthy throughout. Dialogue ranges from coherent (mostly Frank) to utterly incomprehensible (with la Lina the worst offender, once again). The DVD packaging promises a producer's commentary which fails to materialise; instead the viewer gets a lengthy documentary, "The Devil's Possessed - Behind The Scenes of Incubus," which shows Franco at work during virtually every scene in the film. The footage is presented with the film's score for accompaniment and includes no spoken audio. Also included for some reason are two foreign short films, "Marrakech London" and "The Perfect Taxi Driver," which are interesting and well-shot but not explotive or related to the main feature.



Color, 2000, 89m. / Directed by Jess Franco / Starring Rachel Sheppard, Oliver Denis / Sub Rosa/Ventura (US R1 NTSC) / DD2.0


Better known for his forays into sexual deliria and violence, Jess Franco isn't anyone's idea of an action director. However, he has veered towards the genre at times in such diverse films as Angel of Death, Pick-Up Girls, and Dark Mission, while occasionally staging a mean chase sequence in one of his Most Dangerous Game riffs like The Perverse Countess or Tender Flesh. His closest attempt to a legit action film, Blind Target, is one of his later period shot-on-video projects and, despite a slow and disorienting first act, offers a few wild moments to appease his fans while keeping unsuspecting babes 'n' bullets fans utterly baffled.

As part of a publicity tour, successful writer Maria Baltran (Vampire Blues' Rachel Sheppard) returns to the South American country of San Hermoso from which she fled as a young girl. Her latest work is a scathing indictment of the corrupt politics in her homeland, and no sooner does she arrive than mysterious threats are delivered at knifepoint from a gang of black-hooded secret police (whose female leader bears a very familiar, thick Spanish accent). Of course, that doesn't stop Maria from enjoying some lesbian lovin' in her hotel room with her best friend, Beatriz (Tatiana Cohen), who's promptly kidnapped for her trouble. In a hotel bar Maria runs into two very different scream queens, Tora (Lina Romay) and TV personality Serena (Linnea Quigley); unfortunately it's not long before our heroine winds up bound naked to a table, getting poked and prodded by Tora before being blackmailed into assassinating an enemy of the San Hermoso dictator. Yep, with a rifle now forced into Maria's hands, Franco turns this into a kinky copy of La Femme Nikita! Can the plucky novelist find a way out of committing cold-blooded murder? Will resourceful, kickboxing CIA agent Greg (Oliver Dennis) find her in time? Will Lina ever give a believable line reading? Watch and find out!

As with most of Franco's other "commercial" projects like Faceless and Count Dracula, this is one odd mongrel of a movie. While Franco peppers the beginning with a gratuitous towel-draped girl-on-girl encounter and some mild bloodshed, his trademark mania doesn't really kick in until the always reliable Lina shows her stuff during the torture and blackmail sequences. From that point Blind Target is low rent, guilty fun, with a thoroughly ludicrous climax packed with awkward gunfire and flying feet. The hyperactive digital editing effects which cluttered some of his other recent work are thankfully kept in check here, but the sound editing is still touch and go at best; Sheppard's disorienting delivery in particular ranges from her almost indecipherable on-set voice to dubbed dialogue seemingly recorded by two different performers. Perhaps it's Franco's Bunuelian ploy to underscore the duality of Maria's personality... or maybe not.

As with other Franco video features, Blind Target looks good overall but is wholly dependent on the erratic nature of the format, which can look grainy or muddy at times. Daylight scenes are consistently clear; however, note that there isn't digital artifacting during those driving scenes-- it's just dust on the camera lens. As usual Sub Rosa and One Shot have thrown in a bounty of extra goodies, including a clip from the dubbed Spanish version (Linnea's scene only), a "making of" featurette showing Franco at work, excised footage with commentary by producer Kevin Collins, a still gallery, and a batch of Franco's Sub Rosa trailers.


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