The Devil Came From Akasava (1971)
Dir. Jess Franco
Another Franco film. Different from the others yet very familiar like siblings. The same key is used with a different melody. There is a stone that is able to turn base metals into gold in ...Akasava. It also assaults the person who has contact with it without a protective suit on with radiation that kills you instantly. A paradoxical item of harm and lust, a Mcguffin if there ever was one which can yet effect the small narrative further because it can be implemented as a murder weapon too. Making it useful to use against people trying to claim it. Even then there are multiple groups who'll kill each other off the normal way, leading to secret agents and Scotland Yard having to get involved.
Small, limited sets are broken down into pieces of edited sequences. To Franco it's not the narrative that is of the most importance but the moments and the mood of them. The erotic dancing that a female secret agent (Soledad Miranda) does in a cover is of as much importance as a chase scene, lingered over for prolonged minutes until it's as much of the position of being there as well as the titillation that is of importance. It's too pronounced how Franco stretches out eroticism and violence in his films to say that they're just sluggish genre films, but a clearly disarming tone to them that encapsulates how much of this is very unreal cinema. The characters here are trapped in plot circumstance and twists that have taken place before, many times before, and the arbitrary nature of this actually makes the genre clichés fresh and entertaining. So close to being aesthetic messes, even though people may be divided with Franco's work, that they are completely unpredictable. Always abrupt when someone does turn the tables on another, but some moments, like the disposal of a body, actually show the director could as much make great scenes through conventional scene structure too. Suspicious people are actually working on the same side. Old women are not what you perceive them to be. The clichés of the sci-fi and thriller, despite the clear budget restrictions, stand out because the restricted tone prevents Franco from padding the twists out until they lose their effect. Although even then his cinematic style, mood before plot, meant that this is prevented in his films already.
A lot of his great virtue is that, looked down on for his apparent sloppiness and disregard of structure, it's clear he was concerned for the structure of his films, but in terms of everything else but the plots. They are transitions. He cared about the sexuality of the human body. The sharp shock of a death. Films improvised on the huff. Contrivance like the reality has been drastically changed, even if this was not even considered by the director. ...Akasava doesn't really repeat any plotting from the films I have seen, and actually stands out as a unique film so far in viewing his work, somewhat fittingly ironic because in another person's hands this is insanely generic material. In his hands he was clearly obsessed with the cinematic image inherently as it was. Plot moments suddenly happen in his work, jarring you because the scenes before were so languidly paced. His obsession with the female body, possible contentious opinion on a male director's gaze on feminity notwithstanding, was as much about canvassing the screen in the female body (the breasts, lips, skin, pubic hair, all) in close-ups that at least showed the whole female body as part of real woman and belonging to her fully. Rather than parade a questionable attitude of putting women behind a glass screen and, while letting you look, seeing it as an abstraction of titillation. Instead of what Franco did and made it matter of fact even in a softcore tone. And he at least had women who were in control of their sexuality, in both films covered here in Soledad Miranda, than mere images, even if the characters were one dimensional pulp. Of course these films were exploitation. Of course Franco could show complete apathy with some of his films. Of course some of them fail miserably or purport tedious schlock. But with the ones I've tries to defend there is always a sense, even if it was sordid or made of tired conventions, that he impassioned and wanted to bring the viewers into them with his overload of incredibly long scene times, of characters wandering through rooms and corridors trapped in a haze, stuck in the environments on repeat by this point in his films, and sexuality less of a quick porno but a long, lingering sensation.
In having made as many films as Franco did, they start to meld together, not into pointlessness of their existence, but connecting and reflecting each other. They are very much genre films sold for their nudity and (hastily composed) action in closed hotel rooms and buildings, cut off from the rest of the world, but viewing as many of them as I have has introduced me to a slowly building universe. Happy to see Howard Vernon appear, a distinct face that, while he never got to work in Universal horror films from the thirties sadly, he did get his own world of horror films through Franco and to work with Jean-Luc Godard on Alphaville (1965). Introduced again to Franco's trademark of extreme zooms from afar. How isolated those interior locations actually are, and how even the exterior ones are cut off from all in their secret narrative. Films whose stories drift along. The fact that it's difficult for me not to repeat myself with these reviews is not a detriment to the late director but the sense of films which easily splice together into a single, self referential and formed entity. When you end one Franco film, you can transition into another and continue the atmosphere of the films in the next one....
She Killed In Ecstasy (1971)
Dir. Jess Franco
Same year as the first film covered. Same universe. Maybe happening in the same time frame or another reality where these people lived completely different lives from the ones in the other film. A young doctor is barred from his career by four other doctors for an experimental that, despite intending to extend the lifespan of humanity, used human foetuses as guinea pigs. He loses his mind and eventually kills himself. His wife (Soledad Miranda again in a different personality) goes about taking revenge on the four doctors. It is a small film, only seventy or so minutes, and manages to be immensely economical in structure and yet retain the trademark prolonged, languid mood Franco made his trademark, abstracting scenes by their length and keeping the camera on moments longer than most directors. What makes this film stand out is that its brisk length allows the film to never sag, yet it's still intentionally slower paced, pulling you into the film fully if you can engage with Franco's (usually) erotic horror cinema.
As the gorgeous Miranda stalks the screen getting her revenge, the film like his best for me so far (eg. Succubus (1968)) is thick in mood and also with real visual richness. At his distinct, Franco could still make exploitation films, quickly, that stood out in a clear auteurist style, despite being a director-for-hire in his style and hundred plus filmography, and significantly different in their presentation and said style even if work was dismissed as rudimentary. The music, having seen a lot of films, and listened carefully to the soundtracks, in these films are memorable or legitimately great, especially jazz and world music used. The films, lurid horror and erotica, are constructed around simple plots but their concerns are the sense of everything but that plot except to get to the new twist, Franco more obsessed with the decor, the naked flesh, the sense of time passing. Even the compromised aspects of these films and his working habits, having to moved through numerous countries in co-productions and making countless ones within the same year, added special traits to them that are noticeable despite only seeing twenty or so films from a hundred film catalogue. The closed, limited interior sets, usually memorably well decorated, add a real sense of claustrophobia, tight reality for these characters, especially as Miranda's character becomes much more of a stalker in a prolonged sequence of her following a doctor she wants to take revenge on. Since Franco, in the sixties and seventies at least, had a tendency to cast the same actors, many recognisable to me now despite not remembering their names, it makes the films like a reoccurring dream. The same beings repeating cycles of revenge, erotic death and horror, especially as the films repeat plot points and narratives in different presentations. She Killed In Ecstasy is a reinterpretation of Venus In Furs (1969), of a woman using her sexual body to seduce people and kill them. Even if sadly her life was drastically cut short in real life, Miranda, as a woman who transforms into a being of sexual desire who can seduce both genders, was able to be a prescience onscreen immortalised in how Franco idolised her, the same with The Devil Came From Akasava where she is seen as an employee for a spy group who can switch between the alias of a prostitute and an erotic dancer and yet seem above them in her sexuality and beauty. Howard Vernon is able to become this recognisable face in the director's work, and since Franco cast himself in secondary roles countless times, he himself became a distinct face immortalised in these films too. It's also befitting he's in his own work, making himself as much a creation of his own films, while significantly, not using them as an excuse to be a lead, but always the interesting minor character in physical appearance and behaviour, and not afraid of killing himself off with his own stories.
Together with The Devil Came From Akasava, these films' minimalist attitude to plotting actually make plot swerves and twists, even ones usually cliché, become different because they are made into unexpected moments within the long sequences of the film. The plot in She Killed In Ecstasy is slight, but if you can gauge with the atmosphere led presentation, you'll engage fully with it. Both films co-exist within the same type of filmmaking context that is clearly distinct to Franco only. Even a director like Jean Rollin, who crossed paths with him in taking over Zombie Lake (1981), who also mixed the erotic with the languid, and are put together within the same part of Euro genre cinema, has a clear difference to Franco in presentation. Contrary to the appearance given to him even by cult viewers who see him as only a schlock filmmaker, Jess Franco if he is still to be a schlock filmmaker was yet clearly his own, distinct of a filmmaker in how he presented his material and in how many of films interlink very clearly together. At this point the films are now going to be intentionally melded together by myself because, despite the difficulties a hundred film or more career in terms of trying to find it all let alone complete, I cannot look at these films without them being part of one giant concept that connects fully in their mirroring of each other. The virtues I've stated for these films can be said for others I've seen, and they all befit each other if the director's work was treated like this fully.