22 August, 2017

MARI-COOKIE AND THE KILLER TARANTULA.... An Outrageous Film by Jess Franco

EIGHT LEGS TO LOVE YOU [European Version}

Produced by One Shot Productions/Draculina Cine 
Directed and Written by Jess Franco
Photography: Raquel Cabra
Music: Jess Franco, Daniel White
Cast: Lina Romay (Mari-Cookie), Analia Ivars, Linnea Quigley,
Michelle Bauer (Sheriff), Robert King, Peter Temboury, Amber Newman.

During the Spanish conquest of Europe a pregnant woman is raped by a conquistador. Shortly afterward, a tarantula enters the woman and deposits its eggs. The spawn is a mutant female who transforms into a lethal spider when sexually aroused. Centuries later, in present day Spain an erotic dancer performs in a bizarre persona,The Killer Tarantula. After her shows she picks up willing victims who will end up entangled in an awesome, tortuous web back at her lair. A local Sheriff (Michelle Bauer) becomes attracted to the performer while investigating the disappearances of several club patrons. Meanwhile, the distraught mother (Linnea Quigley) of a wayward stripper (Amber Newman) seeks out her daughter. All will eventually bear witness to the seductive powers of the mysterious creature.

A squiggly, green title announces "An Outrageous Film by Jess Franco," as if his long time fans needed to be primed for this soft-core horror fantasia. The focus is on kinky sex amidst comic book horror and elements of deliberate self-parody are constantly popping up. The spider-woman motif goes all the way back to the director's 1961 pastel-colored musical VAMPIRESAS 1930 and Estella Blain in the classic MISS MUERTE (1965). Femme fatales are often associated with insects in Franco's filmography, as they are in the films of fellow Spanish surrealist Luis Bunuel.

The naked,tormented, half alive bodies of victims hanging in the awesome web festooned across the tarantula's living room, the sado-erotic arachnid rubber-gear, the obsessed audience at the club, are all images which continue Franco's career long obsession with Performance. Cinema is a show and the show is usually an erotic tinged scenario of seduction and death. The show here is illustrated with candy colored lighting and basic digital effects credited to the University of Malaga. As with many final period Jess Franco Spanish-American productions the English language track is somewhat problematic.

The eye popping visual design of glittering colors and outre costumes hold sway during the extended sexual encounters between Romay and everyone else in the cast. Even such risible effects as the inflatable tarantula with a human face seems a reasonable synapse and bears comparison with the mutations in the 1950's version of THE FLY. But this is late 1990s Jess Franco at his most unhinged. No other filmmaker could have imagined, much less filmed, this demented scenario. It's a high spirited Adult cartoon which ensnares its viewers by sheer oddity value. 

Lina Romay performs with enthusiasm and humor in a role few other actresses could handle. She easily manages to upstage American scream queens Bauer and Quigley, although Bauer's Sheriff-outfit of black leather jacket, fedora, g-string and boots is 
something to behold. It all ends with the classic Fu Manchu threat, the world will hear from her again. In the spirit of the old Warner's cartoons there's a final imprint of "That's All Folks!"

I wasn't sure if I liked this film or not when I first saw it  nearly 20 years ago but it does retain its unique oddball charm and Franco did have a way of mastering a tone, even if that tone strikes many normal horror consumers as way off the beam. Actually it's supposed to be a "comedy" a la Jess Franco. But his notion of comedy is what he finds personally amusing. He's a master at the art of ridicule, but not always a master of telegraphing that ridicule to each and every viewer. This is not his worst film, but it's not Tier One Jess Franco. I would recommend it for a single viewing. It has that hallucinatory look which Franco sometimes achieves without really trying. You may ever find yourself smiling at the weird goings on.

(C) Robert Monell, 2017

26 July, 2017


Here's a link to an excellent review by Tim Lucas of a recent German Blu-ray release of Jess Franco's DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN/DRACULA, PRISONER OF FRANKENSTEIN.

http://videowatchdog.blogspot.com/2017/07/francos-die-nacht-der-offenen-sarge.html http://videowatchdog.blogspot.com/2017/07/francos-die-nacht-der-offenen-sarge.html

16 July, 2017

VENUS IN FURS update: Blu-ray; Jess Franco; versions: Manfred Mann; Mike Hugg; David Lynch, TWIN PEAKS; HD AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO

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VENUS IN FURS red room
Image result for the black lodge twin peaks

Two things: Can there please be a Blu-ray release of Jess Franco's VENUS IN FURS asap? After seeing PAROXISMUS (...puo una morta rivivere per amore?), the alternate Italian version, credited to Hans Bilian, edited by Bruno Mattei, I wondered and still wonder if that version is closer to what Jess Franco intended, as a Noir style fever dream, than the more familiar cut, which was post-produced without the director's final input, although Jess told me he did supervise a cut, but not the one in general release. Nor have I seem the reported 90m, as opposed to the 86 m BU DVD, German version, VENUS IM PELZ.

Also, the more I see of David Lynch's new TWIN PEAKS television series, and reviewing the feature TWIN PEAKS FIRE WALK WITH ME, I see some interesting similarities with Franco in general and VENUS IN FURS specifically, especially the scenes in the red curtained, zig zagged floored Black Lodge. Red is the primary symbolic color in both feature films and overwhelms all other hues.

Try watching TPFWWM back to back with Franco's 1973 father-daughter incest drama AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO, the similarities may be coincidental, but they are there in terms of imagery, mirrors being a portal to the truth and other worlds in both, for instance. Both Franco and Lynch employ surrealist imagery to tell their tragic stories of young women destroyed by their fathers.

And an English friendly HD release of AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO is needed. It's also one of Jess Franco's key works. More on this in a future blog posting...

Emma Cohen entering the mirror in AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO (1973)
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Laura Palmer in the mirror: TWIN PEAKS
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PAROXISMUS: I wanted to express my own personal reactions to this cut. Rather than a VIDEO WATCHDOG style comparison between this Italian version and the VIF we all know I plan do an ogoing series of shorter blogs on various aspects of both cuts, with some specific comparisons to come. First, the music. There was a fascinating online interview with Mike Hugg about his memories of composing and producing the music track for the original VENUS IN FURS, which unfortunately has been deleted.
 Maria Rohm as the object of desire in PAROXISMUS... PUO UNA MORTA RIVIVERE PER AMORE?

First and foremos,t BLACK ANGEL, as Jess envisioned it, was a love story steeped in the realm of jazz. Directly inspired by Chet Baker's observation that his own playing often transported him into a transcendent place. That element remains central in both versions.

Hugg states that he wrote the songs and the instrumentals were composed by him and Manfred Mann. But a lot of the music in the American cut came from other places, including US television, Stu Phillips library tracks, and cues from the score of the 1966 German made Jerry Cotton feature, THE TRAP SNAPS SHUT AT MIDNIGHT. Still other unidentified music is in the Italian version. I'm going to retry to locate the interview and publish a link if possible.

The film has always struck me as a unique musical-horror-fantasy on the themes of love and death. In a way all Jess Franco's films could be considered musicals, and he has described himself as a musician who makes films.
Manfred Mann, the popular Rock group which had a number of hit records in the mid 1960s before working on the soundtrack for VENUS IN FURS. They also appear performing their music in the film. 

Stay tuned for further information and commentary on PAROXISMUS, hopefully along with a review of the eventual Blu-ray release of VENUS IN FURS  It would be really interesting to have this alternate version as a special feature on an upcoming Blu-ray. 

Updated (C) Robert Monell 7/17

01 July, 2017

ESQUIZO, a film by Ricardo Bofill. Reviewed by Terence Ng.

Esquizo (1970) review

Fri 6/30, 9:31 PM

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27 June, 2017

Jess Franco's favorite film directors.


Reginald Le Borg
Reginald Le Borg directs Louise Allbritton in San Diego I Love You (1944)

During my interview with Jess Franco he noted some of his favorite film directors. The Austrian director Reginald Le Borg was one of them. Franco compared his career as an eclectic B director to that of Le Borg, who made numerous low budgeted films in Hollywood from the 1930s to the 1970s. He made a number of interesting, stylish horror films including DEAD MAN'S EYES, WEIRD WOMAN (Inner Sanctum mysteries), THE BLACK SLEEP, the last feature film of Bela Lugosi, DIARY OF MADMAN with Vincent Price, VOODOO ISLAND, with Boris Karloff. He also made THE MUMMY'S GHOST (1944), possibly the best of the UNIVERSAL follow ups to the 1932 classic, THE MUMMY.

Le Borg, who reportedly had a rather intimidating on set attitude, was a busy filmmaker, with over 60 films to his credit between the 1935 and 1965. He also directed episodes of such prominent 1950s US television series as 77 SUNSET STRIP (1958), MAVERICK, DEATH VALLEY DAYS, SCHLITZ PLAYHOUSE (1951) and numerous others. 

Jess Franco's favorite film directors.


During my interview with Jess Franco he noted some of his favorite film directors. The Austrian director Reginald Le Borg was one of them. Franco compared his career as an eclectic B director to that of Le Borg, who made numerous low budgeted films in Hollywood from the 1930s to the 1970s. He made a number of interesting, stylish horror films including DEAD MAN'S EYES, WEIRD WOMAN (Inner Sanctum mysteries), THE BLACK SLEEP, the last feature film of Bela Lugosi, DIARY OF MADMAN with Vincent Price, VOODOO ISLAND, with Boris Karloff.

17 June, 2017


AKA: TWO FEMALE SPIES IN FLOWERED PANTIES/OPALO DE FUEGO, Directed by Dan Simon, 1978--Starring Lina Romay, Nadine Pascal, Olivier Mathot and Yul Sanders. An exotic crime-spy-thriller, filmed in the Canary Islands, about an International kidnapping ring, investigated by a corrupt U.S. Senator who blackmails two female ex-cons into infiltrating the gang. Lots of action, sleaze and torture in this upscale production.

Both versions will be in the package. MERCHANTS OF SEX [French version} in HD: OPALO DE FUEGO{Spanish Version} in SD. Fully loaded with Special Features. 
Neither feature has been available on disc in North America and this will be the HD debut of MERCHANTS.... .

07 June, 2017

N. TOOK THE DICE (Alain Robbe-Grillet, 1971)

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I recently streamed this intriguing 1971 feature by novelist-filmmaker-theorist Alain Robbe-Grillet on the Fandor Amazon channel. It was well worth it since the film is an experimental restructuring of his 1971 L'EDEN ET APRES, which was also filmed in Bratislava and Tunisia with the same cast and a similar plot. But plot is not as important as image and soundtrack in ARG's universe, where character and story are one or two dimensional pulp devices. All of his films have a pulp fiction quality which is very upfront and intentional. 

ARG was a contemporary and kindred spirit to Jess Franco. Both were immersed in the literature, imagery and philosophy of the Marquis de Sade. Franco actually adapted several of his books, including JUSTINE, JULIETTE (unfinished), PHILOSOPHY IN THE BOUDOIR and EUGENIE DE SADE, to name a few. ARG's films are awash in Sadean imagery, in which sadomasochism is visualized and discussed throughout. 

Robbe-Grillet's name is mentioned during the word game in SUCCUBUS/NECRONOMICON (1967) and Franco's VENUS IN FURS is a virtual remake of ARG's debut feature, L'IMMORTELLE (1963). Both films feature a search for an elusive women who represents and delivers death to the man who finds her. N. TOOK THE DICE and its template both feature a woman (Catherine Jourdain LE SAMOURAI) who ends up imprisoned in a Tunisian torture complex, where women are kept in hanging cages by pirates with clandestine motives. Misogynist? Maybe. Is it Art? It depends on personal definitions. What is art to one person, may be mere pornography to others. Where does eroticism end and pornography begin?

 The key question is: can eroticism be a subject and technique in Art? I think most would answer yes to that.   Robbe-Grillet never worked in the hardcore sex mode, as did Jess Franco, but he did create a series of erotic conundrums in his books and films which transgress common definitions of taste and are pornographic to some. His film SLOW SLIDINGS OF PLEASURE (1974) actually was the subject of criminal litigation in Italy and was banned there. 

ARG is mainly interested in presenting films and books as experiments in anti/non/multi linear-narrative and alternate literary/film forms. Conventional representation is critiqued, ridiculed and turned inside-out.  Eroticism is often a portal to a dangerous type of personal/political freedom, although his films don't deal with specific political matters, as do those of Jean-Luc Godard. It's all a game, to enjoy, one which allows and encourages reader/viewer participation. The meaning is provided by the reader.viewer, as the narrator assures us in the last moments of N. TOOK THE DICE, a film which directly addresses the audience with respect and conspiratorial intimacy. 

In 1975 I had the chance to see EDEN AND AFTER presented with a following Q&A by Robbe-Grillet. The second feature was his even more transgressive SLOW SLIDINGS.... . I was somewhat shocked by the intensity of the sadomasochistic imagery in the latter, and it had trouble finding wide release in France or any release in North America at the time. Robbe-Grillet was teaching in New York at the time and was a most interesting host for his films, appearing bemused and answered questions politely and gratefully. 

(C) Robert Monell, 2017

26 May, 2017


Les gloutonnes

Here's an update of my review of LES GLOUTONNES, Jess Franco's Z grade Peplum from 1973. Actually this and MACISTE CONTRE LA REINE DES AMAZONES/YUKA, made with same cast, on the same locations, are good, no-budget fun. Updated from a review originally published by the wonderful Club Des Monstres!

Credited to Clifford Brown, this is a fascinating mess due to the fact that Robert de Nesle, or somebody, took a supposedly "serious" movie and made it into a delirious collage of Peplum, period adventure, comedy, erotic and Fantasy patterns. It's basically the erotic adventures of Waldemar Wohlfaart/Wal Davis as Maciste vs. Robert Woods as the evil Caronte, who, with the aid of Kali Hansa, attempts to overthrow and kill the Queen of Atlantis, played by Alice Arno. Maciste prevails with the help of "the gobblers"/the women of Atlantis. Howard Vernon makes an appearance as Cagliostro (see LA MALDICION DES FRANKENSTEIN), who watches the antics via a magic medieval television along with his horny expectant, played by the puckish Rick Deconninck / Bigotini. A very interesting, eclectic score by Robert Viger [?] is a bonus. There's even a hardcore sex scene thrown in the mix involving a young, naked stud who walks down a spiral staircase to ejaculate over a golden wrapped Alice Arno.  Peplum regular Mark Forest (LION OF THEBES) was supposed to play Maciste, according to Franco, but somehow Steve Forest was mistakenly engaged. The blond Davis ended up playing the role. He seems to in a happy daze and walks through the lush settings wearing a goofy smile. There are also other "erotic" interludes consisting of shots of Alice Arno reading an erotic text as she lounges in bed. These scenes could be outtakes form THE HOTS NIGHTS OF LINDA (1973) and seem to be there to suggest the Peplum/adventure action is a visualization of the material being read by Arno. Are they fantasies, flashbacks, or whatever? It's difficult to discern if these scenes and much of the rest were the director's intent or the result of producer meddling. 

The opening sequence of a mistyvalley and the first view of the stormy coast of "Atlantis" are outstanding images but unless you are a Franco completest you may hate this film. Franco also made YUKA, filmed back-to-back/simultaneously in 1973 with Davis / Wohlfaart and Robert Woods playing the male leads, another erotic "Peplum" set in the Middle Ages. In some versions of YUKA Davis is named Karzan. Lina Romay plays a water nymph who leads Maciste to the island. The Gobblers include Montserrat Prous, Caroline Riviere and Pamela Stanford (who are somehow teleported to an erotic encounter with Bigotini at Cagliostro's remote castel) and Chantal Broquet. As Parka, Kali Hansa is impressive as a particularly ferocious ally of the veil knight Caronte.

This is a difficult film to describe or dislike. Even in the recut version it's often visually engaging and a good time seems to be had by all. But one wonders about Franco's original "somber" version. Actually, the action does not take place in the legendary Atlantis, but on another island to which the survivors of the destruction of the island's destruction have migrated. A typical Jess Franco geographical spiral, situating the action on degree away from legend and into Jess Franco terra firma.

Released in France by American Video. At this point still no HQ DVD/HD release.

Reviewed by Robert Monell (C) 2017