Thursday, September 24, 2015

I'm not sure what's more hideous--the monster or the film itself

I am questioning the wisdom of deciding to do a Jess Franco Week here at Terror Titans.

Devil Hunter (aka "Sex Cannibal") (1980)
Starring: Ursula Fellner, Antonio Mayans, and Al Cliver
Director: Jess  Franco (as Clifford Brown)
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

When an actress (Fellner) is kidnapped and held for ransom, adventurer Peter Westen (Cliver) is hired to rescue her. But when she falls into the hands of savage natives who intend to sacrifice her to their vile, living god, Westen's job becomes far more difficult. Will he be in time before the monstrous devil-god drives her mad or eats her?

I wasn't more than 10 minutes in before "Devil Hunter" made me feel dirty for just watching it. It was suich a slasp-dash effort technically and the way the camera lingered on a shot of female genitalia made it clear what Franco was wanting emphasize. And that was before we got to the rapes and scenes of the Devil literally eating a woman's pussy.

I thought "Oasis of Zombies" had to be worst Franco film. I was wrong. This is movie's even worse. It's more sloppily put together, more chaotic in its story-telling, and even more embarrassing technically. It's like no effort whatsoever went into color correcting different bits of film, or even considering that shots of characters that are supposed to be together at the same time should be standing in the same light. is the worst Franco film. The pacing is glacially slow at all times, causing even the interesting bits to become tedious. And the Foley work is generally so awful that it's probably the worst seen outside a student project that received a failing grade.

And the soundtrack? Oh my God... the soundtrack! It's performed entirely on a Hammond organ, and it sounds like it was being ad-libbed as the film was running. It's everything you'd expect from a parody of a cheap horror film from the 1950s. (The score is credited to Franco himself, so I guess this means he's as good at slapping music together as he at a film.)

Amusingly, whoever did the English dub that I watched seemed to care as much about making a quality product as Franco did. At roughly the 1:10 mark, the characters stop speaking English and are instead speaking in Spanish. The English dub resumes at about the 1:17 mark. Fortunately, dialogue isn't that important, because there's no story to get in the way of the plot.

So why am I even giving Two Stars?

Because the scenes with the Devil were actually very creepy and even downright scary. If Franco could have done the entire movie this skillfully, he might actually have made something decent. The use of sound whenever the mutant cannibal devil is creeping about in search of some pussy to eat is damn effective. (Of course, it might also just seem so, because everything surrounding it is so ineptly done.)

The final 10-15 minutes of the film are also pretty intense. They are by far the best part of the movie, and I suppose Franco might have been keeping in mind that if you finish strong that's what the audience will remember, and they'll have a better opinion of the film than it deserves. On the other hand, it could just be an accident. Or maybe I had just been ground down by the rest of the film, and I had stopped fighting and was now accepting of my fate.

"Devil Hunter" has a running time of 1:47. Maybe if chopped down to 1:10 or maybe even just 50 minutes it could be bearable. As it stands, however, it's just a movie to be avoided.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

'Succubus' is a confusing, confused mess

Jess Franco Week continues...

Succubus (aka "Necronomicon") (1967)
Starring: Janine Reynaud, Jack Taylor, and Adrian Hoven
Director: Jess Franco
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Lorna (Reynaud). the star of a successful S&M-themed nightclub act, begins having dreams so vivid they become indistinguishable from reality... and soon dream-murders are mirrored by deaths in the real world. Has she snapped mentally, or is her soul--and body--being stolen by something supernatural?

Often, the questions at the end of those little summary blurbs I open these reviews with is rhetorical. In this case, it's not. It's really isn't clear in "Succubus" what's going on. My best guess is that Lorna is a psychopath with a split personality--something which is supported by dream flashbacks to sessions with a psychiatrist, but equally undermined by the weirdness of the sessions. It may well be one of the most incoherent movies I've seen, as it drifts apparently randomly from scene to scene, most of which are populated with characters who spout random nonsense. In some ways, it felt more like one of Ed Wood Jr.'s film than most of the other Franco movies I've seen--and in this case I mean that as a compliment. The random "film-noir" style voice-overs and characters reciting lists of authors and filmmakers are particularly amusing.

The film's strong point is its engaging visuals, with strong colors and interesting camera angles. The random, free-form  atmosphere that permeates the way the film is put together is also engaging, and it's what ultimately earned it one more star that I was going to give it. Unfortunately, there isn't a scene in the film that doesn't go on for too long, and viewers will spend more time wishing that something else would happen than wanting to find out what's really going on. Even worse, those who patiently stick with the film in the hopes that it will coalese and reveal some answers and explain what the point of it is, will be very disappointed. If anything, the ending makes everything that has gone before make even less sense.

 Somewhere, in the bloated, disorganized mess that is "Succubus," is one of the hour-long episodes of "Night Gallery" screaming to be let out. It's trapped in Jess Franco's slapdash, self-indulgent film, however.

(On a historical note, this was Franco's first color film, as well as the first film he made after leaving his homeland of Spain in disgust over the censorship imposed on the arts by the dictatorship that had ruled there since his childhood.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

'The Bloody Judge' is one of Franco's greatest

Jess Franco week continues with another of Franco's best movies. It shows that the budget one has to work with can make a difference.

The Bloody Judge (aka "Throne of Blood", "Throne of the Blood Monster", "The Witch's Trial" and "Witch-killer of Broadmoor) (1970)
Starring: Christopher Lee, Leo Genn, Maria Rohm, Margaret Lee, Hans Hass, and Milo Quesada
Director: Jess Franco
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A hypocritical judge (Lee) illustrates why a little rebellion among the peasantry can be a good thing every now and then.

Loosely based on the final months of notorious and controversial historical 17th century British hanging judge George Jeffries, this film is one of the best works I've seen from Spanish director Jess Franco. The plot is coherent and engaging, the camerawork and sets are fairly decent, and there's actually a few well-staged action scenes. To top it off, the characters are even interesting... as repulsive as Jeffries comes across, he is emerges as a fascinating character... and Maria Rohm's pure-hearted peasant girl (who is forced to have sex with the vile Jeffries in exchange for her sister's life) is a character that the viewer can feel real pity for.

Unfortunately, the film also has all the hallmarks of some of other Franco's pictures, such as unnecessary torture scenes and nudity and just general crap thrown in to guarantee an R-rating at the very least. (Franco must have been the role-model for the fools who were in charge of "Snakes on a Plane" as far as that approach goes.)

Interestingly, this film would have been stronger if a scene that apparently was only included in the German-language version of the movie had been in all the edits. Although repulsive for some of its sexual/torture content, it does make some later part of the film seem a little less unmotivated plot-development wise.

This "lost" scene and other bonus material included on the "Blue Underground" DVD release of the picture actually makes up a very worthwhile package for fans and scholars of "exploitation cinema" and other B-movies. It's material that gives excellent insight into rare insight into the production and marketing processes that went into these multi-national European productions of the 1960s and 1970s. (Yeah, the liner notes are a little ridiculous--the reviewer who wrote them seems to hold Franco's body of work in much higher regard than a sane person should--and the interview with Christopher Lee makes him seem like a pompous ass, but it's all very interesting.)

Monday, September 21, 2015

It's so bad even the zombies are embarrassed to be in it

Well, Jess Franco Week here at Terror Titans got started with one of the man's best. Here's one of his worst.

Oasis of the Zombies (1981)
Starring: Actors who didn't want their real names on the film
Director: Someone who was too embarrassed to admit who he really was (even if the world now knows it was Jess Franco, making a worse-than-usual movie, even by the low expectations we have of him)
Rating: Zero of Ten Stars

Two competing groups head to a distant oasis in search of Nazi gold. They are eaten by Nazi zombies, who are guarding the treasure for who-knows-what-reason. These Nazi zombies are of a special variety of zombies who always fondle a woman's crotch while attacking her; they don't seem to do the same to their male victims, though. No siree, no homos in the Third Reich, not even among zombies! In the end, a pair of survivors, our cypherous hero and our bland heroine, discover the meaning of life... but they never do find the treasure.

Yes, I spoiled the movie by giving away the ending.

Actually, I can't really spoil it, because it's one of the absolute worst movies ever made. I wouldn't have thought someone could go wrong with Nazi zombies guarding a massive haul of loot... but leave it to Jess Franco to screw up a sure thing.

Don't get ANY of the standalone versions, even if they're probably copied from better quality prints than the one I viewed (which was included in "Chilling Classics" and was so faded at points it was impossible to see what was going on. Which was probably a blessing.)

I've written far more about "Oasis of the Zombies" than it deserves, but I feel it's my duty as a compassionate human being to warn the B-movie lovers of the world that in the case, the "B" stands for "Bowel-movingly Bad". Not even the sexy chicks in short-shorts and tight tops make this film worth watching.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Jess Franco almost at his best!

As I attempt to perform blogging necromancy on 'Terror Titans' in lead-up to the 31 Nights of Halloween festival I'm throwing next month, I welcome you to Jess Franco Week! Yes--nothing but reviews of movies from a gentlemen who loved filmmaking, spent his life making movies, and whose output ended up being less than impressive. Interestingly, Franco himself knew that most of movies were drek, and he widely acknowledged them as such. However, he also rightfully said that when he had appropriate time and budgets, he was able to create films that weren't entirely awful.

On that note, we start Jess Franco Week at high point.

The Awful Dr. Orlof (aka "Screams in the Night") (1964)
Starring: Howard Vernon, Diana Lorys, Conrado San Martin, Ricardo Valle, Maria Silva, and Perla Cristal
Director: Jess Franco (as "Jess Frank")
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

A former prison doctor turned mad scientist (Vernon) is abducting party girls with the intent of grafting their skin onto the body of his daughter who was horribly burned in a fire. A none-too-bright Police Onspector (San Martin) is assigned to catch him, but it's the Inspector's lovely girlfriend (Lorys) who does much of the detective work to break the case... and then falls into the maniac's clutches.

If you've ever wondered what Hammer Films' celebrated gothic horror flicks would have looked like without the touch of an brilliant director like Terrence Fisher, you don't have to look any further than "The Awful Dr. Orlof".

What we have here is a film that's pretty damn good by the standards writer/director Franco sank to later in his career, but when compared to other entries in the gothic horror genre from the late 1950s and early 1960s, it's visually flat, unevenly plotted, and generally un-engaging due to the fact that we never get a real sense of how the various characters in the film fit together. Sure--we know the Inspector and his ballerina girlfriend are soul-mates, but why on earth do Dr. Orlof's henchmen stick with him? Why did he break them out of prison in the first place? And why is he using a blind man to help him with the killing--it's a creepy twist, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Without knowing the answers to these, we never really understand what motivates half the film's main characters... although it's clear Franco thinks we should empathize with them for some reason or another.

This film could have been a crushing bore if not for some fairly effectively staged murder scenes (featuring hints of the gratuitous nudity and sadism that is a hallmark of most of Franco's and the occasional visual flourish where Franco takes full advantage of the black-and-white medium. (The still above is taken from the very best of these... a scene so effectively lit and staged that it's what made me think of Fisher's efforts for Hammer Films.)

"The Awful Dr. Orlof" was not as bad as I had expected it to be, but there are far better films in this genre to check out before you get to this one. That said, I suspect Franco fans will love it, if they haven't already checked it out.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Many of the books I've edited are on sale for 15% - 20% off!

For the rest of this week, many of the horror anthologies I've edited or written for NUELOW Games for  are discounted between 15% and 20% through September 30, 2015. If you like comics, horror fiction, or d20 System roleplaying games, one or more of these books will have something you'll enjoy.

Many of the projects I've produced for NUELOW Games collect great stories that have sat forgotten for 70 or more years while the world fawned over the likes of Superman and Batman. In fact, many of them have never been reprinted before, nor collected in a single volume. Check them out... but make sure you keep a light on as you read, because the glow of the iPad or Kindle screen only makes the shadows around you seem deeper.

You can click here to a listing of all the books that are available...

Here are a few of the covers.