Monday, December 12, 2016

Killer Barbys (1996)

AKA Vampire Killer Barbys

Along with Lina Romay and the cinema, music, and particularly jazz, was the other great love of Jess Franco’s life with a good number of his films defined by their soundtracks. Franco’s fruitful collaborations with Bruno Nicolai immediately spring to mind, from the lush classical compositions of Justine (1968) to the exotic Velvet Underground inspired soundscapes of Eugenie… the Story of Her Journey into Perversion (1969). Venus in Furs (1969) has often been described as a jazz influenced film, complete with a soundtrack courtesy of Manfred Mann of all artists! Female Vampire (1973) wouldn’t have been the same without Daniel While’s melancholic main theme, just one example of White and Franco‘s various collaborations. Franco’s experimental video project Paula-Paula (2010) was constructed around pieces recorded by the legendary Friedrich Gulda, who’s brilliant soundtrack to Franco’s Succubus (1967) helped make that film the mystifying masterpiece that it is. Then there’s of course the Vampyros Lesbos (1971) soundtrack, which has gone on to become as famous as the film itself. Given the types of music Franco was known to have an affinity for, it shouldn’t be a stretch to say that horror inspired punk rock isn’t the first thing to associate with Franco. Nevertheless, the two would become acquainted with Killer Barbys, somewhat of a comeback film for Franco after a few years of inactivity as well as the last film Franco would shoot on 35mm.

Following a concert, punk rockers the Killer Barbies set out to their next gig although they are soon in a dilemma after getting a flat tire in the middle of nowhere late at night. A strange old man, Arkan, approaches and invites the band to stay the night at a nearby castle, home of the Countess Von Fledermaus, whom Arkan is of service too, until morning when a mechanic can be contacted. The band agrees, however they soon realize the mistake they’ve made upon discovering the Countess’ lust for the blood of the young in order to retain her beauty, and the Killer Barbies find that they fit the criteria perfectly.

Killer Barbys saw Franco returning to the realm of gothic horror which is where his story in the genre began, although admittedly Killer Barbys is a far more frivolous endeavor than the likes of The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962) and The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus (1962). While first and foremost a horror film, Killer Barbys is yet another example of Franco’s tendency to hop between genres at any given moment as the film also has a good number of comedic moments. So while the film may be all over the place tonally, going from horrific to hilarious and at times both at once, ultimately it all ends up working as the film succeeds in both spectrums. As a horror film it works for a few reasons. The biggest one being the incredible atmosphere Franco was able to conjure up despite the films relatively small budget. The film has the look and feel of the classic British gothic horror films from the 60’s, complete with liberal use of a fog machine, heavy blue tones and naturally, an imposing castle with a dark past. The film is also a pretty interesting twist on the Bathory legend and surprisingly the rock songs that make up most of the soundtrack don’t deter from the gothic ambiance. The Killer Barbies themselves are the reason the films lighter moments work as the entire band handle the comedic parts well and are clearly having a blast, lead singer Silvia Superstar especially who is a natural in front of the camera.

The Killer Barbies are an actual Spanish pop/punk band and the bands name is spelled in the correct way although it was altered for the title of the film as a precautionary measure in order to avoid a lawsuit from Mattel. Franco and the Barbies would team up again during Franco’s digital years for the supremely ridiculous Killer Barbys vs. Dracula (2002). Interestingly, the band had nothing to do with the original script, it wasn’t until Franco became involved with the project did the idea for the band to star in the film came into play. Convenient timing seeing as their second album Only for Freaks was released around the same time. By all accounts the shoot was a blast and hilariously, band leader Silvia Superstar wanted so badly to be covered in blood for the film but Franco refused. Its also interesting to note that Caroline Munro was originally in talks to play the Countess but things fell through. Even more interesting is that one of the band members is in fact the grandson of Charlie Chaplin. Small world. Obviously Killer Barbys isn’t an intensely personal work from Franco, but as a somewhat silly and at times fairly gory gothic horror romp it does its job very well and more importantly, it restarted Franco’s fire and led to him becoming prolific again, shooting several films a year again up until his passing.

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