Color, 1983, 86 mins. 48 secs.
Directed by Jess Franco
Starring Lina Romay, Rocío Freixas, Antonio Mayans, Elisa Vela, Juan Soler
Severin Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
Upon his return to post-Franco Spain, Jess Franco had the chance to finally introduce his fellow countrymen to the freakier side he'd been exploring in France and Germany for the preceding decade. A whirlwind of activity, he managed to crank out at least a dozen films over the course of 1982 including the shooting of Gemidos de placer, translated as Cries of Pleasure, part of a string of kinky softcore films designed exclusively for the adults-only "S"-rated market in Spain. That rating only lasted from the late '70s to 1983, but it yielded a striking number of adventurous films with edgy content from the likes of Franco, José Ramón Larraz, and Carlos Aured. Unfortunately that also meant that in many cases there were no attempts to market the films anywhere outside of Spain, with many of these titles flying completely under the radar internationally until they later hit the VHS gray market. Gemidos is certainly one of these, a film that's had little chance to be appreciated in pristine form until the 2020 Blu-ray and DVD releases from Severin Films that finally allow it to be fully appreciated as another essential, delirious chapter in Franco's cinematic legacy.
An eerie chamber piece consisting of only five characters in one location over the course of a day, the film is framed with an enigmatic Greek chorus guitarist (Soler) plucking away next to a floating, nude dead body in a swimming pool. In between we find discover the sordid tale of Antonio (Mayans, under his occasional "Robert Foster" name), who brings home the young and seductive Julia (Romay) to his home for some weekend debauchery. Unfortunately those plans also include the intended murder of his wife, Martina (Freixas), who's just been released from a sanitarium. Antonio thinks he's convinced Julia to go along with the homicidal plan, but that takes a detour after a particularly unrestrained and violent session involving the housemaid brings out the darkest instincts in everyone.
Another of Franco's Sadean explorations in the vein of Eugenie and Plaisir à trois, Cries of Pleasure has a very heady atmosphere created by the use of some of the longest shots in Franco's career as his camera drifts around the actors and locations for insanely long periods of time. The use of plaintive guitar music and Daniel J. White library tracks on the soundtrack give the film a truly unearthly feel at times, and those long takes can result in some extraordinary moments at times with the death-obsessed sex scenes in particular achieving a surreal kind of poetry. Romay gets top acting marks here, not surprisingly, but everyone seems to be on the proper wavelength here with Mayans (Franco's go-to leading man at the time) exuding more than usual amount of aristocratic corruption. Despite the very minimal budget and potential audience, Franco gives the film a gorgeous, colorful look with expansive scope photography turning the sun-blasted locations into a sinister labyrinth of death.
Apart from a Spanish DVD of dubious legal origin, Franco's film stayed off the home video market for decades after its initial VHS release and remains somewhat obscure outside the most dedicated Franco treasure hunters. Hopefully that awareness will increase with the Severin release, which looks stunning and brings out an intensity in Franco's visuals that was impossible to appreciate before. The label's work to bring the director's work to a wider audience has already been quite miraculous, and this is another great addition as well as proof that Franco's cinema is far more intricate and rewarding than his detractors may realize. The DTS-HD MA Spanish mono track also sounds excellent (especially when it comes to that impeccably assembled soundtrack), and optional English subtitles are provided. The informative "In The Land Of Franco Part 1" (21m1s) features Stephen Thrower, author of the essential Franco books Murderous Passions and Flowers of Perversion, and is pure catnip for location fanatics as he visits and discusses some of the many familiar locations from films like Succubus, The Sadist of Notre Dame, Daughter of Dracula, Erotic Rites of Frankenstein, The Demons, and A Virgin among the Living Dead, with the country's unique architecture allowing the filmmaker to maximize his budget. Then "When Donald Met Jess and Lina Part 1" (11m24s) features part of a 1993 VHS interview by SOV horror filmmaker Donald Farmer interviewing Franco and Romay during the making of Jungle of Fear, with the legendary couple chatting about their personas (or lack thereof) in Spain, their fan following, and the nature of their collaborations together. Finally, Thrower returns for "Jess Franco’s Golden Years" (26m41s) to chat about Franco's tenure with Golden FIlms Internacional, S.A., which was virtually a Franco filmic factory in the early '80s but didn't survive for long due to its puzzling business decisions (or lack thereof) and shrinking budges. The film is available as a standalone Blu-ray and DVD as well as part of an Open Pleasure bundle and The Astrologer's Open Pleasure Bundle, which both come with a Lina Romay enamel pin you can wear to church.
Reviewed on February 16, 2020.