Sunday, February 10, 2013

Add One More To The Franco Roster

Tonight, to my wonderment, I stumbled across what seems to be an otherwise forgotten Jess Franco screen credit. After watching an old VHS tape tonight, I discovered that the remainder of the tape contained the first 45-50 minutes or so of Marcel Ophuls' HAGAN JUEGO, SENORAS (1965; US: FIRE AT WILL), an Eddie Constantine thriller produced by Henri Baum, who also produced THE DIABOLICAL DR Z around this time. Jesús Franco is given an entire screen credit all to himself for writing the story and Spanish dialogues.

I remember Franco saying in an interview that he had been responsible for dubbing a number of Eddie Constantine films into Spanish in the 1950s, but this came much later, and it has generally been assumed that Franco stopped accepting work-for-hire jobs like this by this point in his directorial career. I don't recall seeing this film appear in any of his filmographies, not in books and certainly not on the IMDb. Now I wish I had the full feature! In fact, I do have the French version of this film in its entirety, but of course its credits make no mention of Franco. It would seem accurate, though, to credit him with writing the story (generally credited to Jacques Robert), as it's supposed to feature an all-girl gang led by a gypsy named Soledad! Franco had previously cast Soledad Miranda in her film debut LA REINA DEL TABARIN (1960) and, by this time, he may have taken notice that she was starting to play more prominent roles in films.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Get The Picture?

Seeing this simple but well-composed image from Hammer's LUST FOR A VAMPIRE (1971, which also appeared on the cover of its novelization) earlier today reminded me of a time when every new still to surface from an upcoming horror movie seemed to extend the genre's vocabulary. A new still of Christopher Lee as Dracula, or Peter Cushing as Baron Frankenstein added on to what was previously known about that series of films. I firmly believe this was one of the secrets of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND's success, and partly why it's so hard for similar magazines of today to equal the power of its zeitgeist. It could be something as simple as a new face screaming, a new slapdash makeup for Frankenstein's monster, a new actor portraying Count Dracula, or an incomprehensible shot from a Mexican monster rally I'd probably never see -- they all conspired to make the genre more vital and fascinating. For me, this sense of perpetually new discovery stopped sometime in the 1980s, but I don't take full responsibility for that. It's not that I lost my love for this stuff, or that horror movies themselves became redundant, but that the Art of the Movie Still itself began to suffer. Most collectors will tell you that lobby card sets from the 1980s are crap. It should be remembered by all filmmakers, active or aspiring, that the best way to generate some genuine excitement about your feature is to take some great still photos while you're in production. If a picture can be worth a thousand words, why can't it sell a thousand tickets?

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Loving the Vampire

I watched Jess Franco's FEMALE VAMPIRE (1973) tonight via Netflix on my Kindle Fire HD. It turned out to be an unexpectedly wonderful way of watching it, making it a more intimate and book-like experience. It may be the first time I've seen it in French with subtitles, and the soundtrack is alive from beginning to end with the sounds of nature and people; there is a scene where Jack Taylor follows Lina Romay to a public place scattered with empty chairs though we hear a crowd of children and grown-ups milling about, talking and laughing -- but, you see, he only has eyes for her. This is remarkable stuff and something I've never gotten from the English dub.

FEMALE VAMPIRE, aka THE LOVES OF IRINA aka EROTIKILL, is basically the story of four lonely sexual encounters ending in death; it depicts the grief of solitude in the lives of three of its victims before dispatching them, and we are given glimpses in the aftermath assuring us these lost souls are no longer alone. There's very little script, so it unfolds remarkably slowly for a film whose cult only came about in the age of the short attention span. "Elegiac pacing," they call it.

But what is very obvious to me about the film now, seeing it again and knowing when in their story it was filmed chronologically, is that it's the marriage contract between Jess and Lina. This was Lina's first starring role. She knew that Jess was mourning Soledad Miranda, who had portrayed a premonition of this character in VAMPYROS LESBOS, made the same year (1970) she died in an automobile accident at the age of 27. And she literally gives him Soledad and more. She is not only declaring her love but demonstrating it, serving up all she has to give to his eye and camera. And he worships her in return, which is all she asks in order to give him everything. Which is, in effect, a vision of the remainder of his career. The film begins with them meeting, when he is only a camera; she steps out of the misty woods and he gives her a good look up and down, like one forest creature meeting another. She butts him away so the story can be told, and it only ends when the two characters they play, his (a forensic surgeon) searching for hers ("the mouth that kills") for most of the running time, finally meet on the same plane, in the the same room.

And Jess lives.

FEMALE VAMPIRE is also available on Blu-ray and DVD from Redemption Video.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thoughts on HITCHCOCK

I found HITCHCOCK kind of fascinating. Never mind the Ed Gein interweavings, which are preposterous, and the extramarital teasings, which at the very least are chronologically misplaced. Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren seem miscast, but they are better actors than their counterparts in THE GIRL and they succeed completely in inhabiting and telling the story of their script, with depth and nuance and power; in the process, they take this tissue of fact-based fabrications and say something true and honest about Hitch and Alma -- not true to the moment of their lives, perhaps, but to its sum. I thought Scarlett Johansson was perfection as Janet Leigh (requiring much more subtlety than I knew she had), and James D'Arcy also a believable Anthony Perkins. The scene of Hitch listening to the first audience's reaction to the shower murder made me wince with emotion.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Tippi and Alfie

The HBO Hitchcock movie THE GIRL (2012) held my interest, not least of all because its casting seems in better focus than the major studio HITCHCOCK, but it's still thin broth. And puzzling: there is so much there that I've never read about in Hitchcock bios, and so much in the bios that wasn't dramatized, I was left questioning scenes as much for what they had to offer as for why such outright invention was considered necessary. When the MARNIE honeymoon rape scene was depicted to suggest that Tippi Hedren actually stood nude on set in front of Hitchcock, and that he included the scene specifically to arrange this, I finally knew enough to call "Fowl' (no pun intended, really). The BIRDS attack scene was nicely restaged, but the opportunity to say something useful about these people, or even about sexual harrassment, was spoiled by the decision to eliminate any glimpses of Hitchcock's humor and make the whole thing a one-sided, one-note tissue of suffering.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

From the VW Archives: Boris and Bela

Here's something from the archives I thought might interest you.

While going through a portfolio of some old artwork recently, Donna found this drawing that I did back in 1990. It was done at the dawn of VIDEO WATCHDOG time, at the tail end of the same time I drew several pieces for our very first issue, for the simple reason that we weren't able to illustrate everything. This piece was going to accompany my review of Greg Mank's book on Karloff and Lugosi, and depicts them in their respective roles as Hjalmar Poelzig in THE BLACK CAT (1934) and Ygor in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939), because I intended to note in my review the coincidence of their success during the 1930s with the foreignness of their respective personas. I remembered this piece as almost photo-realistic in its perfection, but now, more than twenty years later, it looks a good deal less accomplished and I'm glad it didn't see the light of print.

That said, I'm happy to share it with WATCHDOG readers here, now, as a page you didn't see.