The passing of Jess Franco on April 2, 2013 left a significant void in the world of not simply cult cinema but cinema as a whole. While the digital revolution and availability of increasingly affordable equipment made it possible for virtually anybody to make a movie and allowed already established filmmakers more creative freedom, Franco operated throughout his entire career with a sense of individuality the likes of which are nearly impossible to replicate. Aside from a brief stint of inactivity in the 90's, Franco's exhaustively prolific way of working was a key contributor to his aforementioned individuality and when digital video came into play in Franco's later years during the late 90's, it allowed Franco to become prolific again. Armed with a digital camera and ambition, Franco helmed some of the most bizarre, divisive and most importantly, unfiltered films of his career, throwing every possible convention of traditional filmmaking out the window even moreso than he had in the past in favor of stream of consciousness visual and narrative experimentation. Not even the passing of his companion in life and film Lina Romay in February of 2012 could stop Franco. Released just months before his death, Franco's final feature Al Pereira vs. the Alligator Ladies is the product of a determined artist filming through a mirror, drawing on the past while still pushing forward with a defiant and oftentimes mesmerizing final statement.
The film may be as far from conventionally plotted as possible with Franco going off on many a tangent throughout, though the film does have an incredibly vague core idea that Franco uses as a catalyst, centering the film around the titular Al Pereira (Antonio Mayans). A reoccurring Franco character, the once philandering private detective now walks the straight and narrow, however his newfound clean lifestyle is challenged by the “Alligator Ladies” (Irene Verdú, Carmen Montes, Paula Davis), the daughters of the diabolical Fu Manchu, who set out to lure Pereira back into his former hedonistic lifestyle.
A self-reflexive film within a film within a fever dream, Al Pereira vs. the Alligator Ladies could been seen as Franco painting a cinematic self-portrait. Given that the film is so entrenched in Franco's personal mythology, things such as the use of Lina Romay's “Candy Coaster” alter-ego wig, the titular Alligator Ladies being the daughters of Fu Manchu or the repeated use of an acoustic instrumental version of “Madeira Love”, a song which was heard numerous times throughout The Other Side of the Mirror (1973), a good portion of the references are bound to completely fly over the head of anyone that's not a devoted Francophile, but the film offers plenty of rewards to anyone going into the film blind to Franco's world and can handle the films blatant disregard for convention and many moments of bewildering surrealism. In a lot of ways the film is also a documentary of sorts on the making of a Franco film, with several scenes featuring Franco and the cast rehearsing or discussing the scene which immediately follows, while the shots of Mayans writhing around in bed give the impression that none of the events are actually occurring in reality at all. While not as visually abstract as a lot of Franco's later films with only a few instances of post-production image distortion, which was common in several of Franco's video features, the film benefits greatly from being lensed in digital HD with eye popping lighting, making it the best looking of all Franco's later digital productions.
Incredibly, although hardly surprising, Al Pereira vs. the Alligator Ladies was never intended by Franco to be his last film as a sequel was planned and additional footage was shot and eventually completed by leading man Antonio Mayans and released as Revenge of the Alligator Ladies (2013). Revenge also featured Irene Verdú, Carmen Montes and Paula Davis as the alligator ladies and they must be praised for their work in the first film. Montes was one of Franco's greatest discoveries during his digital era and par for the course is great in Alligator Ladies but its newcomer to the Franco fold Irene Verdú who stands out the most with an uninhibited attitude and incredible screen presence. Al Pereira vs. the Alligator Ladies also had the distinction of playing theatrically for a few screenings which was the first for a Franco film in a good while with all his work from the late 90's onward going direct to video. The film even premiered at the Sitges Film Festival, Spain's premiere genre film festival which couldn't have been a more perfect place for the debut of the final film from Spain's premiere genre filmmaker. Divisive as both the film and its director are, Al Pereira vs. the Alligator Ladies does truly mark the end of an era, closing out the career of possibly the most independent spirit to ever call “Action!”. Truly an important film.