Someone asked me, “So I’ve never seen a Jess Franco movie. What’s a good one to start with?”
I’m loath to recommend movies to people that haven’t yet built a tolerance for movie drugs. I mean, most Franco is high test black tar heroin movie drugs, films that achieve near murderdrone levels of nothingness balanced with zooms into anatomy that challenge your sanity and synth that seems to drift in the ether like a Spanish fog. Or jazz, maybe?
Also known as Paroxismus, Schwarzer Engel (Black Angel) and Paroxismus – Può una morta rivivere per amore? (Paroxismus – Can a Dead Woman Live Again for Love?), this movie has pretty much nothing to do with the novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch other than character names.
Imagine if Vertigo was made by a Hitchcock that wanted to see nudity. Lost Highway by a Lynch that liked trumpet blaring bleats and slow motion. And then, you’re somewhat close, but still have to contend with the fact that at times, it seems like Franco hasn’t even seen another movie before, much less made one, except this time that works and this is as close to perfect as he gets, as if a thousand mustached Lina Romay obsessed glasses wearing madmen were all typing in the same room for one thousand years.
You know how some movies have a fight between style and substance? Well, this movie finds substance being submissive and loving when style edges it and treats it bad and calls it names.
Art dealer Percival Kapp (Dennis Price, living in the tax haven of Sark, making movies like Twins of Evil and five movies with Franco), photographer Olga (Margaret Lee, who was in 12 movies with Klaus Kinski and if anyone is getting a better next life or into heaven, it’s probably her for dealing with that) and depraved and devious playboy Admed (the maniac’s maniac, the just mentioned Kinski) have whipped, assaulted and drank the blood of Wanda Reed (Maria Rohm, Eugenie… The Story of Her Journey into Perversion) and leave her for dead on a beach where trumpet player Jimmy Logan (James Darren, a former teen idol singer whose song “Addio Mondo Crudele” was a huge hit in Europe; he’s best known as Moondoggie in the Gidget films) can only watch.
So when Wanda washed up on the beach, somehow alive, can we blame Jimmy when he falls for her? Not even Rita (Barbara McNair from They Call Me Mr. Tibbs! and the singer of “Till There Was You” and how did she end up in a Jess Franco movie?; then again, her third husband was killed in a mob hit and she got busted for heroin once at a Playboy Club, no judgment) can take his mind off of her, but when you see a nude woman gliding through reality and murdering people while her own theme song — Manfred Mann! — accompanies her deadly doings.
There are two other Venus In Furs movies — by Joseph Marzano and Massimo Dallamano — but I really think there’s no way they can compare to this. I mean, does a multiple mirror version of an angel of death kill a perverted old man in those films? Empty beaches, rich colors, dead women rising from the sand to kill, baby, kill?
To answer that question at the beginning of all this, this is probably the best Franco movie — well, I can also make an argument for Vampyros Lesbos — there is. At the end of it, I got really emotional and just spent and was like one of those cartoony critics clapping in a basement room all by myself shouting “Cinema!” while tears streamed down my face.
Man, I have problems.
You can watch this on Tubi.