Since Mondo Macabro's rerelease of the newly restored Countess Perverse — presenting the original director's cut of the near-lost film for the first time — we've had Jess Franco on the brain. The 1974 tale, about a group of debauched, cannibalistic aristocrats hunting humans for fun (a soft-core take on The Most Dangerous Game), gives a taste of what Franco does best: crafting stories around sleazy sex and surreal nightmare visions that are beautifully shot on a budget many people would wince at. These are just a few of our favorite Franco titles.
A Virgin Among the Living Dead
We know what you're thinking: this is yet another Franco film about a beguiling virgin drawn into a dark world and set in a remote location. This 1973 tale, however, is a supremely dreamlike, erotic stunner. Those expecting a traditional zombie tale full of nonstop flesh munching will be sorely disappointed. This is an atmospheric twist on the walking dead, in the fine tradition of 1970's supernatural, gothic meditations. It's said that the director made the movie to help deal with the loss of iconic Franco screen star Soledad Miranda, who was tragically killed in a car accident. That said, it's a shame the film was edited to pieces so distributors could feature more sex or gore, but the Image Entertainment release should serve you well. Stay on the lookout for scenes directed by the oft-compared and equally underappreciated filmmaker Jean Rollin and music by Italian maestro Bruno Nicolai.
This is Franco at his most stylish, symbolic, and sexadelic — featuring an addictive lounge mélange of acid jazz-pop sounds from Manfred Hubler & Siegfried Schwab and the talents (and flesh) of Franco's favorite leading lady Soledad Miranda. The slow moving, softcore lesbian vamp story is the perfect orchestration of psychedelic charms and seaside hallucinations, as hypnotic as Miranda's unforgettable stripteases. The nudity and horror doesn't trump other Franco efforts, but manages to be better for it, with the director injecting a bit of his trademark dark humor into the act.
During the late 70's and 80's slasher craze, Franco made his own nod to the body count movies with this 1981 entry that retains the filmmaker's sleazy (albeit toned down here) and strange edge. An incestuous storyline, imaginative gore, and… roller disco are a few highlights. It's a great piece of trash cinema from the video nasty era that echoes hints of the Italian gialli with its killer set pieces and red herrings. Did we mention the bad, but hilarious dubbing, too?
How did Franco get venerable actor Christopher Lee in one of his movies? He promised the English Hammer star that his twist on the classic Bram Stoker tale would be more faithful to the book — and it certainly aims for that. In a 1996 interview with Lee (well worth reading in full), the actor spoke very highly of the director. " …Just because somebody has been involved in the making of what I gather were pornographic films, doesn't mean to say they can't direct, and it doesn't make much difference to me, because that's not the movie we're making," Lee shared. "I think he's under-rated, I've always said so, because he's not just a hack director. It's always a question of material; the same thing applies to actors." The film features other great parts from Klaus Kinski as a brooding Renfield, with Soledad Miranda as Lucy and Maria Rohm as Mina. The admirable and atmospheric film's sets are striking, and although its low budget roots show through, the cast and heart of the film make it an effectively eerie adaptation.
The Diabolical Dr. Z
This moody black and white chiller is artfully rendered and features all the elements fans have grown to love about the director. Don't let the hypnotic cinematography and gothic overtones fool you, though. Despite its 1966 release date, Franco still showers the film's mind-controlled characters with plenty of eroticism — including a trademark kinky nightclub dance act. The revenge horror-thriller has an almost expressionistic feel, reminiscent of Universal's old monster titles in spots, but it's full-on Franco with an exotic, surreal quality that is as fantastic as the movie's poisonous fingernails.