Color, 1973, 99 mins. 29 secs.
Directed by Jess Franco
Starring Emma Cohen, Robert Woods, Françoise Brion, Philippe Lemaire, Alice Arno, Howard Vernon, Ramiro Oliveros, Wal Davis
Mondo Macabro (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Artus (France R2 PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
It's no secret that a large number of Jess Franco films can be confusing due to the number of alternate versions floating around, but few have been damaged as badly by their reworking as Al otro lado del espejo, or The Other Side of the Mirror. The Spanish-French co-production ended up hitting French theaters first in an explicitly sexed-up cut called Le miroir obscène (The Obscene Mirror), which has become the default version for most viewers ever since, even though it's a major distortion of the original story and features new sex scenes with Lina Romay added out of commercial necessity. In a scenario not dissimilar to Mario Bava's Lisa and the Devil, the original director's cut is vastly superior and one of his finest films, boasting a haunting lead performance, marvelously weird atmosphere, and Franco's trademark beloved jazz used here as a psychological component of the story. How much this qualifies as a horror film will be up to the viewer's interpretation, but it's definitely a chilling viewing experience with an incredible, upsetting finale that ranks as one of Franco's best endings.
After announcing her engagement, jazz performer Ana (Cohen, Horror Rises from the Tomb, The Cannibal Man) is traumatized when her father reacts by hanging himself right before the wedding. She responds by breaking it off with her fiance (Davis) and plunging herself into her music performances, only to start up a new relationship with a fellow band member, jazz trumpeter Bill (Woods). However, Ana is plagued by visions of her hanging father inside a mirror that beckons her to come inside, instilling within her an instinct to fatally stab her romantic partners. Soon she's working her way through more lovers including stage director Miguel (Oliveros) who's overseeing her performance in Medea, and an attempt to escape with a jet-setting bunch of swinging aristocrats doesn't seem to offer much of a reprieve either. How long can Ana stave off her dead father's destructive influence before it consumes her entirely?
Bolstered by a haunting organ-heavy score by Adolfo Waitzman (Hotel Fear) and a deeply committed, riveting performance by Cohen, The Other Side of the Mirror is a prime example of how Franco could wave a hypnotic viewing experience with a minimum of what would be considered a traditional narrative drive. It's no mistake this shares the spectral father and youthful possession ideas of his other cinematic fugue states like A Virgin Among the Living Dead and Lorna the Exorcist, and while this isn't as sexually charged as those films, it's very much up to that level in terms of Franco operating at the peak of his powers. It's unfortunate that his intended version took so long to reach international viewers as this would be an effective gateway film for those who dismiss Franco as a hack; this could easily play as a macabre art film up there with the best of Spain's output from the period.
The restoration of Franco's cut took a while to reach American shores with Mondo Macabro's Blu-ray release in 2022. A French double-disc DVD was released in 2014 by Artus featuring the Spanish and French versions (with no English-friendly options), and the wait here was worth it as the 4K transfer from the camera negative is a real beauty on Blu-ray all the way through with no significant issues (apart from the 1.78:1 framing looking a bit tight during the main titles). The Spanish DTS-HD 2.0 mono track with optional English subtitles is also excellent and will make you wish someone would release a soundtrack for this someday. Robert Monell of I'm in a Jess Franco State of Mind and Naschycast's Rod Barnett contribute a thorough, spirited new audio commentary picking apart the incest themes of the film, Cohen's career, ties to other Franco films, the role of the jazz scenes, and plenty more. Stephen Thrower contributes one of his longest and most in-depth studies of a single Franco film here with a 56m29s video piece that delivers pretty much anything you could want to know about the film's troubled inception (originally with a whole different cast), the possible pilfering from its budget to make Female Vampire, the release in Spain just after the death of General Franco, the alternate versions, and the presumably intentional illogical elements in the story. Ported over from Mondo Macabro's earlier limited edition release of Countess Perverse and How to Seduce a Virgin is an interview with Woods (15m57s) about all of his Franco projects, chatting about the various shooting schedules, his cowboy actor status at the time, and his reluctance to do some of the racier material. Finally you get a 3m59s reel of alternate footage from the French version including an alternate suicide attempt scene and the pivotal Romay suicide that replaces Vernon's.
Reviewed on September 24, 2022