The Jess Franco Collection 2 (film, 2007)
I’m not a fan of Franco. I think he’s a weird misogynist, although I did enjoy his films when I was a teenager. I think that about says it all, actually. From Death Ray 2.
Film ONE STAR/ Extras ONE STAR
1983-1984/360 mins approx/18/£29.99
Writer: Jess Franco
Director: Jess Franco
There are kinds of “foreign” films that helped make Channel 4’s name as a smut peddler back in its early days, before it became a house-obsessed purveyor of DIY tips and host of the yearly Big Brother chavwatch. Back then, in their bold years of youthful naughtiness, there was a little triangle they put next to films with adult content. Designed to inform parents of what was suitable for kids and what was not, instead the triangle attracted massive audiences. It became a badge of honour.
Jess Franco is the kind of director that gathers these censorious icons like dictators of banana republics sport chestfuls of medals. Only Franco deserves his dubious accolades. A Spanish director whose output covers 50 years, he makes films which despite supposedly having some sort of story to them are really just an excuse for showing endless lez-offs to bored men. They are, in essence, soft-core porn with just a tad more emphasis on the story, and a smidgen less emphasis on the sex.
Franco’s most famous “genre” piece is Vampyros Lesbos, and there are two films with similarly flimsy fantasy overtones here. Macumba Sexual (1983), tells the tale of a 300 year old priestess of Voodoo seeking her replacement. Choosing Alice (Lina Romay, one of Franco’s favourite actresses) who is on holiday nearby, she ensnares her with sex magic, and then dies.
The other horror treat is Mansion of the Living Dead (1985), where four young friends (all with lesbian tendencies, naturally, and including Lina Romay again) pop off to a mysteriously deserted hotel complex on holiday (can you see a pattern here?). There they are all delighted to discover their mutual interest in all things Sapphic, which they indulge, before being unfortunately brutalised for being sinners by an order of evil, scrofulous monks living in a monastery just up the road. Both films contain less than consensual bondage, the latter also a five-minute rape sequence and stabbing which, were it not so poorly staged, would be highly unpleasant to watch.
Jess Franco films comprise long, pointless periods of exposition that are interspersed by scenes of faintly lacklustre copulation. They follow a set formula in this regard, as they do in the manner in which they are shot (lots of zooming in and out and angles through semi-transparent material), the soundtracks (breathy, echoing, orgasmic squeaks and badly dubbed Spanish with light choral music), and locations (hotels in out-of-season Spanish resorts). He has his fans, old Jess, but this is not the most exciting nor accomplished of exploitation cinema, and stripping the filter of frustrated adolescence from my eyes (the same through which I, ahem, “enjoyed” Vampyros Lesbos as a youth), he just comes across as Ed Wood with a hard-on.
The set also includes the purely sexual Inconfessable Orgies of Emmanuelle (1982) and The Sexual Story of O (1984), both leaping onto established bandwagons, and the thrillers Downtown and Downtown Heat (1994). This is all fine and good if you’re the kind of man that this kind of film appeals to. If you are not, avoid the box set and be thankful.
Extras The Sexual Story of O includes a 15 minute making of featurette which begins with “this featurette contains spoilers”, like, “they’re all going to get their clothes off”. It is at least a fairly up-to-date interview with the randy septuagenarian. There is a similar piece on The Inconfessable Orgies of Emanuelle.
Did you know…?
Jess Franco’s real name is Jesus Franco. He’s been making movies for half a century, though he originally started out as a musician (he began composing when he was six). He usually works as writer, composer, editor, cinematographer and director on his movies, of which he has made more than 180. A lot of these are spliced together, Roger Corman-style, from bits of his other films.
In some ways Franco could be regarded as a fearless pioneer of the anti-censorship movement, a lone voice crying out against the other famous Franco’s fascism (he ended up leaving Spain twice because of the editor’s scissors). On the other hand, with three films in the infamous UK’s Video Nasty list of the 1980s, a list that was only 74 films long, he can equally be seen as a shock merchant and dirty old man. As he openly criticises his own work, he probably regards himself as the latter.