Tuesday, April 2, 2013

RIP, Jess Franco

Sad news today, as it was announced that prolific Spanish filmmaker Jesús "Jess" Franco has died at the age of 82.  Franco's career spanned over five decades and included over 200 film titles to his name, whichever one he was using, as Franco was rather fond of using pseudonyms.  Frank Manera, Frank Hollman, Clifford Brown, and JP Johnson were just some of the names he would go by.  Those last two, Brown and Johnson, are both the names of jazz musicians, as Franco was a lifelong fan of the music, and was a musician himself even.

Franco was a director, writer, cinematographer, and actor, with his films usually falling under the category of horror, with heavy themes usually revolving around lesbian vampires, sadomasochism, zombies, surgical horror, and sexploitation.  He also made soft and hardcore sex films, many of them containing elements from his genre films.  Franco wasn't strictly limited to the world of horror, as he also filmed spy movies, science fiction, action, and war dramas.

Franco worked with actors like Howard Vernon, Christopher Lee, Soledad Miranda, Paul Müller, and Klaus Kinski, who famously hated directors, but got along with Franco rather well (by all accounts).  Lina Romay would start working with Franco at age 17, and would continue to do so for four more decades, becoming his partner and muse during that time.  They would finally be married in 2008.  She was his most utilized actress and his soulmate until her passing last year after a losing battle with cancer (she was only 57).
Lina Romay and Jess Franco in 2009
Sometimes when an artist dies, you become painfully aware of how little you know about them or their work.  I've been aware of Franco for years (if you're into Euro horror at all, it's hard to not be at least aware of Jess Franco) and have had friends recommend Franco films to me before, but he has quite the wealth of material to comb through, some of the films going through re-cuts, re-titles, and alternate versions, making it a daunting task to even start trying to explore his dense filmography.

His films are both macabre and low brow, which probably speaks to why he never found anything even resembling mainstream success.  His films can be interpreted as having a jazz-like rhythm (getting back to Franco's love and background with jazz), even if the plot doesn't makes sense, making it seem like you're supposed to feel his movies, not necessarily always understand them.

I have to admit to never seeing any of Jess Franco's films.  Well, that's not entirely true.  I can recall being a teenager and renting Oasis of the Zombies (1980) and being bored to tears.  Also, I've seen The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969) starring Christopher Lee, but only the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version from their 3rd season.  (It's not a very good movie).

Other notable (and presumably better) films of his include The Awful Dr. Orloff (1961), Venus in Furs (1968), Justine (1968), Count Dracula (1969), Eugenie...the story of her Journey into Perversion (1969), Vampyros Lesbos (1970), A Virgin among the Living Dead (1971), Bloody Moon (1981), and Faceless (1988).

You were a cult legend, Mr. Franco.  RIP.

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