Monday, November 17, 2014

Vampire Blues (1999)

AKA Vampire Sex - Lady Dracula 3

When it comes to vampire films, some of the most unique in the subgenre have come from the major Eurocult auteurs. For all intensive purposes, Jean Rollin could be considered the king of Euro vampires, completely turning the subgenre on its head with his debut film The Rape of the Vampire (1968) and continuing to do so with films like Shiver of the Vampires (1971) and Lips of Blood (1975) amongst several others. Also films such as Vicente Aranda’s The Blood Splattered Bride (1972) and José Ramón Larraz’s Vampyres (1974) offered their own creative twist on vampires. Even amongst the sea of original takes on vampirism in Euro horror, its the vampire films of Jess Franco that stand out as the most uncommon. Never one for tradition (even Rollin‘s films retained some traditional vampire “rules“), Franco threw the rule book out the window with his two most celebrated vampire films Vampyros Lesbos (1971) and Female Vampire (1973). While Franco wasn’t the only filmmaker to explore the idea of vampires as lonely creatures or the idea of the allure of vampirism as a means of escape from the mundane realities of everyday life, nobody quite delved into that world quite like Franco did in those two films. In 1999 Franco returned to that world of vampires with Vampire Blues, his most radical take on vampires as well as one of his most inaccessible films.

While vacationing in Spain, New Jersey college student Rachel Crosby begins to have visions of a mysterious woman wherever she goes and soon the woman begins appearing in Rachel’s dreams. The woman is Countess Irina von Murnau (Analía Ivars), a powerful vampire who has her sights set on Rachel in hopes of bringing her over into her world of vampirism. Marga (Lina Romay), a gypsy fortune teller senses the extreme danger Rachel is in and becomes determined to aid Rachel in protecting her from Irina’s enticing allure.

X-Rated Kult DVD's for the film under its alternate title
Easily Franco’s most experimental work at the time of its production, Vampire Blues feels less like a film than it does Franco aiming a camera at his thoughts during mid-daydream. While that description could be applied to a number of Franco films and the term “dreamlike” has been used to describe several of Franco’s films its more than apt when attempting to classify Vampire Blues as the film literally feels like a dream in progress from the moment it begins and retains that same mood for the remainder of its running time. To a certain extent the film follows the same trajectory as Vampyros Lesbos and Ivars’s Irina von Murnau does share a kinship with Soledad Miranda’s Nadine Carody as well as Lina’s Irina von Karlstein from Female Vampire and also features characteristics found by Pamela Stamford’s Lorna Green from Lorna the Exorcist (1974) and Ajita Wilson’s Princess Tara Obongo from Macumba Sexual (1981). What separates Vampire Blues from all those films however, is the films hallucinatory visual design with Franco really indulging in filters, post-production video effects, image distortion and color manipulation. Overindulgent? Absolutely, and most will probably find it grating yet considering the world this film occupies it makes perfect sense. The films theme song performed by the Ubangis which plays repeatedly throughout the film works wonders and plays a major hand in establishing the films hazy aesthetic with its lethargic bluesy swagger and almost Lynch/Badalamenti-esque vibe. Whenever Ivars is present and the song is playing the results are pure magic.

Its amazing to think that even by 1999 Franco’s films were still having different cuts released and such was the case with Vampire Blues with the longer European cut being made available as a special feature on Sub Rosa’s DVD of the film. Exactly why there were two different cuts releases makes absolutely no sense whatsoever but that’s how it went. Sub Rosa also released the film as a double feature along with Franco’s Vampire Junction (2001) as “Vampire Lovers” and it was inevitable that the film would end up on one of Sub Rosa’s Franco multi-film sets, “Stripped Dead” along with Broken Dolls (1999), Incubus (2002) and Snakewoman (2005). Quite a variety of viewing options for a film who’s audience was limited in the first place being a Franco film and made even more limited on account of it being a One Shot film. Admittedly there’s a lot about Vampire Blues that will turn many viewers, even the most defensive of Francophiles off, be it the excessive video effects or the Spanish actors speaking in phonetic English (or in the case of Ivars dubbed in after the fact), a common practice during Franco’s One Shot days. On the other hand, Franco’s audacity along with the combination of psychedelic visuals, surreal, otherworldly ambiance, the theme song and the shear presence of Analía Ivars make Vampire Blues an easy film to get lost in.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Name change

It took long enough but having run this thing for nearly 3 years now I can finally say its got a name that I'm happy with. The previous name, "Hell Broke Luce", while a brilliant Tom Waits song, didn't really reflect the content of the site and in truth I was never fully satisfied with it. "Vortice Mortale" on the other hand, taken from the original Italian title of Ruggero Deodato's underrated erotic giallo The Washing Machine (1993), feels like a much more appropriate name for the site considering the types of films that get covered. The header is still based on David Lynch's Lost Highway (1997) just because. The exploration of the later films of Jess Franco will continue next week...

Monday, November 3, 2014

Mari-Cookie and the Killer Tarantula (1998)

AKA Eight Legs to Love You

Deservedly dubbed “the king of Euro sleaze” by many, Jess Franco may be forever remembered for his psychedelic and erotic horror films but its important to remember that with a filmography featuring well over 200 films there really wasn’t any genre or subgenre that Franco never dabbled in throughout his career. Years before he entered the horror genre with The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962) Franco got his start directing documentary shorts and even musicals such as Queen of the Tabarin Club (1960) which technically happens to be the very first Franco film to feature Soledad Miranda even though her part in the film could best be described as a minuscule cameo. Of course Franco was also no stranger to the “women in prison” subgenre with films like 99 Women (1969), Women Behind Bars (1975), Barbed Wire Dolls (1976) and Sadomania (1981). There’s also comedies like Celestine, Maid at Your Service (1974) not to mention the numerous crime and private detective films featuring the reoccurring character of Al Pereira. No matter what genre he happened to be working in, the end results were more often than not quintessentially Franco and such is the case with Mari-Cookie and the Killer Tarantula. Franco’s second film for One Shot Productions, Mari-Cooke and the Killer Tarantula is a film so utterly bizarre and unclassifiable in terms of genre it could have only come from the mind of Franco.

A series of disappearances has been plaguing the seaside community of Antifagasta. Sherriff Marga (Michelle Bauer) is convinced that the culprit responsible is Tarantula (Lina Romay), an avant-garde punk nightclub performer and also the alter ego of bubbly housewife Mari-Cookie (also Romay), the spawn of a woman who unknowingly had a spider crawl into her vagina and lay its eggs after being raped by a solider. Determined to prove Tarantula’s guilt, Marga hatches a scheme along with rival dancer Queen Vicious (Analía Ivars) using Amy (Amber Newman), the daughter of wealthy socialite Tere (Linnea Quigley) as bait resulting in herself and all those involved becoming tangled in Tarantula/Mari-Cookie’s web of seduction.

Its often said that Franco’s films exist within their own universe and the same could be said about Mari-Cookie and the Killer Tarantula. However, at the same time a special exception could also be made for this film as its so incredibly strange it seems to occupy a space in its own alternate universe within Franco’s already alternate universe. As if its title didn’t already make it obvious, this is far from a serious film. An oddball mixture of surrealist horror, absurd comedy, erotica, exploitation and even featuring homage’s to B-films of the 50’s and classic Warner Bros. cartoons, Mari-Cooke and the Killer Tarantula is Franco at his most over the top and campiest. Like so many of Franco’s films it’s a “just go with it” type of situation which is the best way of enjoying the film much like the cast, who were clearly in on the joke so to speak, are enjoying themselves. Lina was always a very good comedic actress and shines in the duel role especially in the persona of Mari-Cookie. Bauer, in her first role for Franco beautifully hams it up in her barely there Sheriff’s outfit and Ivars and Newman are having a blast as well. Linnea Quigley might not have much to do, but like everyone else was obviously having fun with her role. What makes the film seem even more “off” is the fact that the mostly Spanish cast speaks phonetic English throughout the film which was a common occurrence during Franco’s One Shot films.  

Franco makes no attempt to hide the films low budget, in fact he does the opposite by blatantly acknowledging it and yet visually the film is quite ambitious in parts. Despite the fact that the massive spider webs featured prominently throughout the film are clearly made of rope they're nonetheless quite eye-catching, particularly during the scenes taking place within Tarantula’s lair. The film also features some unmistakably Franco nightclub sequences featuring Lina performing on the aforementioned giant spider webs and both are prime examples of Franco’s knack for lulling viewers into a delirious, trancelike state. The second one in particular which leads to an unforgettable encounter between Lina and Amber Newman goes on for so long it becomes almost hallucinatory what with the lighting and music, which could be best described as eastern influenced electronica. The films soundtrack is also interesting in that while portions of the film do feature Franco’s trademark jazz scoring, for the most part Franco opted for a more “modern” (“modern” for 1998 anyway) approach. “Sueño Nº 7” performed by Fangoria and Intronautas during the films opening nightclub act is a definite highlight, perfectly fitting the scene and being an incredibly catchy song to boot. The film really shows its budget when it comes to showcasing  Tarantula/Mari-Cookie in her actual spider form, which is essentially a prop lowered down on a string with a picture of Lina’s face plastered on it. Of course its absolutely ridiculous looking, meaning it couldn’t have been more appropriate for a film like this.

Like all of Franco’s One Shot films Mari-Cookie and the Killer Tarantula is available on a multi-film set from Sub Rosa entitled “Deviant Lust” along with Red Silk (1999), Blind Target (2000) and Vampire Junction (2001). It was also released as a double feature by Sub Rosa with Franco’s Incubus (2002) under the banner of “Jess Franco’s Perversion”, not to be confused with Franco’s 2005 film Flores de perversión (Flowers of Perversion) which was released by X-Rated Kult as Jess Franco’s Perversion. The original DVD for the film, also released by Sub Rosa is still fairly easy to find for good prices and is full of extras, most famously a segment featuring a nude Linnea Quigley reminiscing about the production. Well worth owning. A curious thing, there were two VHS releases for the film, one under the Eight Legs to Love You title and the other as Mari-Cookie and the Killer Tarantula. What’s interesting is that the second tape features no dialogue, only the soundtrack. In a perfect world, Mari-Cookie and the Killer Tarantula would have a large cult following, however despite Franco’s devoted fan base with this being a One Shot film its even more alienating than some of Franco’s other more well known films. Still, the fact that there’s a film directed by Franco and featuring the likes of Lina, Michelle Bauer and Linnea Quigley all together make it worth seeing.

*Mari-Cookie trailer starts a 9:43