Jess Franco – obituary

jess

Jesús Franco has died, aged 82. The legendary film director had been critically ill since suffering a stroke last week, but his many fans and admirers were hoping that the indomitable director would somehow pull through. Alas, it wasn’t to be.

Female Vampire
Female Vampire

Franco was a unique force in the world of cinema. From the early 1960s right up to this year, he continually made movies, rarely having anything like a decent budget and working across Europe for a variety of producers who ranged from the low brow to the almost criminal – yet he managed to make films that were uniquely his own. His unashamed fascination with erotica, his love for horror, sex, action and comic book capers meant that his films were unlike anything out there.

Franco’s best work – which was in his mid-Sixties to early Seventies output – has a sense of delirium and dreamlike fantasy that no one else could hope to match. He worked with Orson Welles and Christopher Lee, shot gory splatter films, adult movies and family adventures. When the market for European exploitation cinema dried up, he simply moved to shooting even lower budget films, often financed by fans, on video. The man just loved to make movies.

cannibals

Franco was a great jazz fan, and you can see this in his film making style – a freeform approach that is less concerned with coherent narrative than with an overwhelming sense of madness within the universe he created.

In many ways, Franco was spiritually closer to avant garde and experimental cinema than the mainstream. Films like A Virgin Among the Living Dead, Vampyros Lesbos, The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein and Female Vampire have such a relentless sense of the bizarre, the abnormal, that it seems ridiculous that anyone could think this was accidental. There is more heart and soul, more originality, more honesty in one scene from a Franco film than in the entire output of a Spielberg or a Cameron.

The Awful Dr Orloff
The Awful Dr Orloff

Yet for many years, Franco was dismissed, even by genre critics, as a hack. Nothing could be further from the truth, and it must have been gratifying for Franco to see a new generation emerging in the 1980s who loved and understood his work. Like many people, I first encountered his films by chance, on video, and instantly became a fan, even though the films available then were rarely his finest (Cannibals, Devil Hunter, Bloody Moon). There was still enough in these movies to show that here was a director unlike anyone else.

As time went by, distributors like Redemption, Blue Underground, Severin and Mondo Macabro helped bring many of his films to a new audience, and the crossover popularity of Crippled Dick’s loungetastic Vampyros Lesbos soundtrack album also gave him an unexpected PR boost.

It’s nice to know that, in his autumn years, Franco finally had some of the recognition he deserves. In 2009, he was given a lifetime achievement Goya award in Spain – suitable recognition for a remarkable career. And he at least knew there were people out there who loved his work.

I met him once, when we went to lunch with Severin Films’ Carl Daft during the shooting of DVD extras for The Bloody Judge with Christopher Lee. He was, without question, the most entertaining ‘celebrity’ I have ever met – a genuinely enthusiastic, excitable, charming man who loved to talk about movies and music (praising the work of both Andrew Blake and Iron Maiden!). Sometimes, you meet your idols and they disappoint. Sometimes, they are more delightful than you could ever hope. Franco was, unquestionably, the latter.

Since the 1970s, Franco had spent his life with Lina Romay, his muse and partner. When Lina died last year, it must have been a shattering blow. If there is an afterlife, then I hope the two are together again, enjoying the finer things in life and planning new moral outrages.

Selected filmography:

  • The Awful Dr Orloff
  • The Diabolical Dr Z
  • Attack of the Robots
  • Lucky the Inscrutable
  • Succubus
  • Kiss Me Monster
  • The Girl from Rio
  • The Blood of Fu Manchu
  • The Castle of Fu Manchu
  • 99 Women
  • Justine
  • Venus in Furs
  • The Bloody Judge
  • Count Dracula
  • Nightmares Come at Night
  • Vampyros Lesbos
  • She Killed in Ecstasy
  • Dracula Prisoner of Frankenstein
  • Virgin Among the Living Dead
  • Daughter of Dracula
  • The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein
  • The Demons
  • Female Vampire
  • Kiss Me Killer
  • Tender and Perverse Emanuelle
  • Exorcisme
  • Lorna the Exorcist
  • Barbed Wire Dolls
  • Women Behind Bars
  • Jack the Ripper
  • Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun
  • Greta the Mad Butcher
  • Women of Cell Block 9
  • Cannibals
  • Sadomania
  • Devil Hunter
  • Bloody Moon
  • The Story of Linda
  • Macumba Sexual
  • Mansion of the Living Dead
  • Faceless
  • Killer Barbys
  • Tender Flesh

eugenie_story_of_her_journey_poster_01

 

Obituary by David Flint, MOVIES & MANIA

 

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