• Jess Franco Collection, The

    Released by: Umbrella Entertainment
    Released on: March 1st, 2017.
    Director: Jess Franco
    Cast: Christopher Lee, Maria Rohm, Jack Taylor, Soledad Miranda, Klaus Kinski
    Year: Various

    The Movies:

    Australia's Umbrella Entertainment bundles up five of the late, great Jess Franco's films in one handy DVD collection.


    Jess Franco's adaptation of the Marquis de Sade's Philosophy In The Boudoir was 1970's Eugenie: The Story Of Her Journey Into Perversion, a film that cast the gorgeous Marie Liljedahl in the title role, a beautiful but chaste young woman named Eugenie. Her father, Mistival (Paul Muller), clearly has a thing for a woman named Marianne Saint-Ange (Maria Rohm) but she resists his advances until they make a deal - Marianne will give herself to Mistival should he allow his daughter to accompany her to her family's estate on a remote tropical island for a few days. He agrees, and gets what he wants from the woman, and from there the two young women head to the mansion with Marianne's half-brother, Mirvel (Jack Taylor), along for the ride.

    Once they arrive at the home, it becomes quite clear quite quickly that Marianne and Mirvel have less than the purest of intentions for Eugenie. From here, they indoctrinate her into their world of kink and shape young Eugenie into a plaything of sorts before it's time for Dolmance (Christopher Lee) to make his appearance...

    Also known as De Sade '70 and written by producer Harry Alan Towers, this (at the time) modern day take on de Sade's work pretty impressive. While obviously the location dressing and costumes are of the film's period, the entirely decadent atmosphere of de Sade's writing really shines through as we watch the more dominant factors at play essentially 'break' this teenaged girl (Liljedahl was definitely of age here, but she looks younger than she was when the film was made). As such, you need to be prepared for some rather taboo subject material when voyaging down a cinematic rabbit hole such as this, but that's par for the course with most of Franco's films made during and after this period.

    Featuring plenty of exotic locations and fancy costumes to dress up the orgiastic proceedings in a veneer of class, the film moves at a good pace and features some pretty impressive set pieces, one of the most memorable being the scene in which Lee himself reads from de Sade's writings while a gaggle of participants indulge their carnal cravings all about him. It's odd seeing Lee in a film like this but he does a great job in the part, using his fairly regel screen presence well and really turning in a memorable performance. Jack Taylor and the beautiful Maria Rohm are also very good here, their on-screen relationship clearly alluding that their relations extend past simply sharing a parent while Paul Muller as Eugenie's lecherous father is also quite good. Really though, as good as the main cast members are it's Marie Liljedahl who is the most memorable here. She's gorgeous to be sure but you feel for her as she's put through a sexual ringer of sorts. The physical side of her performance is completely convincing and she really makes quite an impression here. It's also amusing to see Franco himself pop up in the movie as one of the men who appears in a scene best described as ritualistic.

    In terms of the film's production values, Franco and Towers are firing on all cylinders here. The cinematography is top notch (aside from the occasional focus issue) and the use of color is frequently stunning. The locations secured for the shoot suit the story perfectly and the wardrobe choices are both elegant and, in certain cases, quite alluring. Add to that a truly excellent score from composer Bruno Nicolai and it's easy to see why this film is as well regarded by both Franco fans and Euro-cult aficionados alike.

    99 Women:

    99 Women is not only Jess Franco's first women in prison film, but it's also one of many collaborations with Harry Alan Towers, the prolific producer who bank roll many of his films from this period in his career. So for that reason, it is of some historical significance for Euro-cult fans and Franco buffs. Having said that, the picture very much sits on the milder side of the genre compared to the films that it would later inspire and compared to the films that Franco himself would later make.

    Maria Rohm (of Franco's Venus In Furs) plays Marie, a woman who is sent off to a remote island prison where she's stripped of her name and her dignity. When she arrives and begins to 'mingle' with the other inmates, she soon learns that the warden, Thelma Diza (played by Mercedes McCambridge of The Exorcist!), is in cahoots with the local governor, a man named Santos (Herbert Lom, best known as Chief Inspector Dreyfus from the Pink Panther films). Diza has been allowing him to have his way with the inmates whenever he sees fit.

    When a local prison system administrator named Leonie Carroll (Maria Schell of The Bloody Judge) shows up in hopes of reforming the system and making improvements to the way that things are done in the prison, Thelma and Santos realize that this may be the end of the good thing they've got going. As the girls get to know each other a little better, in the literal sense and the biblical sense - yowza! - they decide that if they all work together that they can make their escape out of the prison and into the surrounding jungle.

    99 Women is a surprisingly tame and toned down women in prison drama, at least comparatively speaking. It doesn't have the seediness that so many other films in the WIP genre do, and it even handles its story with a hint of sadness. Those looking for the utter nastiness of later era entries in the genre from Franco like Sadomania and Barbed Wire Dolls will likely walk away disappointed. The film has a great cast though. Maria Rohm is gorgeous and pretty competent in the lead role. Likewise, Rosalba Neri simply exudes sex appeal from the very moment she appears on screen and thankfully she's on screen a lot. Herbert Lom is fantastic as the nasty governor, and McCambridge is just as good as the sadistic warden who derives some sick thrills out of degrading the inmates (as all good wardens do in WIP films). Luciana Paluzzi, best known for her role as Fiona Volpe in Thunderball really only has a cameo role in the film, but hey, she's a Bond Girl and you can never have too many of them running around in your movies, even if her appearance in this one is really quite brief.

    Franco's direction is surprisingly subdued here as well. The camera always remains in focus, the angles are pretty standard, and there's a surprising lack of psychedelia and incessant zooming going on. While he doesn't appear in this cut of the film, you will see him in a small role in one of the deleted scenes which appears in the extra features section of the disc. The film moves at a decent enough pace and while it's not the director's best entry in the genre, it's interesting to see him toying with some of the ideas and concepts he'd more dutifully exploit in the decade to come.

    Venus In Furs:

    James Darren (of TJ Hooker fame!) plays Jimmy Logan, a melancholy jazz trumpeter who comes across the once lovely corpse of a woman named Wanda (Maria Rohm of many a Franco film including The Bloody Judge and 99 Women) that has washed upon the shore of the beach he is walking on. Jimmy remembers the woman from a posh high society party he was at not too long ago, where he saw he viciously killed by three assailants named Olga (Margaret Lee of the sleazy Giallo, Slaughter Hotel), Ahmed (Klaus Kinski of Nosferatu) and Percival (Dennis Price of Ten Little Indians).

    Shortly after he finds the body in the surf, Jimmy is visited by a flesh and blood woman who looks to be an exact clone of Wanda herself. Confused, he's hesitant to get to know her despite her obvious advances towards him, but as time goes on he becomes obsessed with her much to the dismay of his mistress, Rita (variety show regular, Barbara McNair), who fronts one of the lounge acts he plays trumpet in at night.

    Soon, Wanda and Jimmy fall fast in love and begin a tumultuous affair that results in Rita leaving Jimmy when she realizes that she cannot compare to Wanda. But during her free time, Wanda (or at least the woman who may or may not in fact be Wanda) has been tracking down and seductively avenging her own death.

    Regarded by many fans and also by the director himself as Franco's finest hour (I still think Vampyro's Lesbos is better but hey, there's no accounting for taste sometimes), Venus In Furs is a fantastic psycho-sexual thriller that just drips with tripped out atmosphere and sixties Euro-pop sensibilities. While it lacks the overtly blatant and sometimes pornographic sexuality of many of Franco's other films, there's no mistaking even a minute or two into the movie that yes, we are still in his world. Things may be toned down compared to a lot of his other, better known work, but in this case less is more. The movie leaves a lot to the viewers imagination and while it was given an X rating upon its original release, there really isn't anything in the film to warrant it. Wanda's murder scene has some S&M overtones to it, when she's whipped before her throat is cut by Kinski's sadistic Ahmed, but that's as nasty as the movie ever gets - the rest is pure atmosphere, and pure ambience.

    Rohm is simply spellbinding in the female lead, looking as exciting clothed as she does in the nude and playing the role, which is one without a lot of dialogue, very nonchalantly and with some degree of cold, sexual menace to her character. Likewise, James Darren does a good job of portraying his confusion and his sadness as he struggles with betraying Rita as well as the difficulty but undeniable wanting to accept Wanda into his life and into his bedroom in spite of the strange air that surrounds her and the fact that she may very well be dead - he really can't figure it all out. Klaus Kinski really only has a supporting role in the film, but he makes the most out of it and uses his truly bizarre screen presence to some rather disturbing effect. At times, the veins in his forehead look like they're about to pop, and his eyes are bugged out like a chihuahua pretty much everytime he's on screen. In short, he's great as the sadistic pervert in this film. Dennis Price, again, in a supporting role, does a pretty good job as the elderly pervert, and his death scene is probably the eeriest part of the film. Margaret Lee is gorgeous and believable as the bitchy fashion photographer with a taste for female flesh. She certainly looks the part, and her time on screen with Rohm successfully generates some genuine heat.

    From the Rollin-esque scenes of empty desolate beaches to the fantastic jazz score from Manfred Man, Venus In Furs just works. Franco paints the picture in delirious hues of red, green and blue and adds his little touches all over the film (watch for him in a small cameo role) but he does it with a whole lot more style here than many of his detractors probably realize he has. The constant zooms and out of focus camera work present in some of his efforts are a non-issue here, and when his camera does leer over his female subjects, such as when Rita is sprawled across the floor of the nightclub singing (evoking a similar scene from The Diabolical Dr. Z) it doesn't so much exploit the material as it does suck you into the film.

    Vampyros Lesbos:

    My first introduction to the oddball cinema of Spanish filmmaker Jesus 'Jess' Franco came one night about 3am while channel surfing in my parent's basement. I'd just gotten back from college, it was time for the summer break, and I'd only minutes beforehand returned from an evening at the pub. I came across what appeared to be a pair of lesbian vampires doing their thing set to a be-bopping score and some whacked out colors and it instantly caught my attention. I didn't really know what I was watching and didn't find out until the film was finished that it was one of Franco's most popular films, Vampyros Lesbos. That semi-intoxicated late night initiation led me to seek out more of the man's work, and since that night over ten years ago I've become a fan of his wildly uneven catalogue of work. His films may not always be good in the traditional sense of the word, but they're always interesting and there's always a little piece of himself put into his work.

    In Vampyros Lesbos, Franco regular Ewa Stromberg plays Linda Westinghouse (Linda is an unusually common name in Franco films), a lawyer who is shuffled off to Istanbul to look after a large inheritance that has recently come due to one Countess Nadine (Soledad Miranda of She Killed In Ecstasy). Since Linda found out about her upcoming journey she's been having some very strange dreams, some of which almost seem to be ominous in their meaning. When Linda arrives in Turkey, she and her friend Omar (Andres Monales of Les Demons) attend a nightclub performance where two gorgeous women vamp it up. She's shocked to recognize one of the women from her dreams, and even more shocked to find that this woman is her soon to be client, Countess Nadine.

    Linda and Nadine instantly strike up an unusual relationship, something that goes far beyond the typical lawyer/client business association. They skinny dip along the beaches near Nadine's mansion and spend a few lingering moments together basking in the yards of the home. Soon though, it's time to get down to business and it's at this point while going through all the paperwork that Linda realizes Nadine is a distant relative of Count Dracula.

    Later that night Nadine drugs Linda's wine and seduces her. Linda goes missing and it's a week later that Omar eventually finds her in the hospital, suffering from some mild amnesia. Nadine, however, has become quite infatuated with her lovely legal counsel, and proceeds to starve herself. She wants nothing more than to be with Linda forever. Even her servant, Morpho, is unable to console her. Linda must make her decision, with Nadine's very life hanging in the balance.

    Vampyros Lesbos epitomizes everything that is good about Franco's filmmaking techniques and themes. The unabashed eroticism leaves little to the imagination, the obsession with his female leads (Soledad Miranda was considered to be his muse until she passed away in a car accident at the age of twenty seven), the freewheeling jazz score, and the elaborate sets that add a strange look to the film. While it was made on a low budget, at times this is quite obvious, the film makes great use of its European locations to give the movie a dreamlike tone. This works perfectly among the odd cast of beautiful women and strange supporting cast members. In this film, Franco uses a lot of the performers that he had worked with in the past, something that he did until he passed away. With over two hundred films to his credit, anyone who has seen a few Franco films will have no problems picking out regulars such as Miranda and Stromberg as well as Dennis Price (of Venus In Furs), Paul Muller (of Barbed Wire Dolls), and even Franco himself in one of his patented cameo roles.

    The film uses all sorts of less than subtle symbolism and graphic imagery to tell its story. There isn't an abundance of dialogue in the film and the director tells his story far more so with images here than with words. This allows the music to play a very important part in the tone of the film, and the score for this picture has a lot more impact than it would have otherwise if the movie had included more discourse. The end result isn't so much a coherent film with a tight plot as it is an oddly compelling fever dream put on film.

    She Killed In Ecstasy:

    As one of the world's most prolific directors, Jess Franco gets a lot of mixed reactions from movie buffs, particularly those of us fascinated by European cult films. Franco has made all sorts of different films on all sorts of different budgets and in all sorts of different genres but widely considered some of his best are the few films he made with the smolderingly sexy Soledad Miranda. In a sense, she acted as his muse and more so than any other woman (save for Lina Romay) she is most often associated with his work.

    Dr. Johnson (played by Fred Williams who also worked with Franco on El Conde Dracula and others) has a happy life that he shares with his jaw droppingly gorgeous wife, played by Miranda. When Johnson's experiments bring him under the scrutiny of the local medical community based on their rather unusual methods and the involvement of human embryos, he's cast out of their circle and his license to practice is revoked. Johnson, a wreck because of this decision, takes a knife and cuts his wrists, leaving his wife alone and upset over her loss. In order to avenge his death, Mrs. Johnson seduces four people (played by a rather interesting cast - Howard Vernon, Paul Muller, Ewa Stromberg and the director himself!) she holds responsible for her husband's suicide, and once she has them where she wants them, takes their lives in return.

    While much of Franco's work is sporadic and uneven, She Killed In Ecstasy almost seems a little too straight forward in its plot - which when you get to the heart of it is simply an eroticized tale of revenge from a woman who truly was scorned. Franco doesn't go too hog wild with his trademark zooms though his use of loungey jazz music (some of which is eerily reminiscent of some of the cues from Vampyros Lesbos - the films do complement each other quite nicely) to compliment the action on screen and his pop artist sensibility in regards to his use of comic book colors on his filmic canvas are ever present here. While it isn't necessarily a mainstream film in the traditional sense of the word (and by mainstream I mean a film that is meant for a large audience, one that is accessible to those who may not necessarily be so well versed in arthouse or European genre movies) and it may not be the best film to get someone started on a Franco kick, it moves along at a reasonably brisk pace and benefits from a pretty decent storyline as well.

    While Franco's direction creates and maintains a very dreamlike (or nightmarish) ambience, the real star of the film is Soledad Miranda - a woman who could make any man swoon for her. She's perfectly cast as a woman who is out to use her feminine wiles to entrance her soon to be victims and she's just gorgeous enough to be convincing working under this premise. While some of the more sexual elements are in there for presumably exploitative reasons the film never goes so far as to reach the hardcore level that some of the director's other 'erotic horror' films have such as Lorna The Exorcist or Dorianna Grey. These scenes make for an interesting contrast against the bloody murders Miranda's character enacts, and this contrast in a sense embodies much of Franco's work.


    Eugenie is presented in 2.35.1, 99 Women and She Killed In Ecstasy in 1.85.1, Venus In Furs is 1.66.1 while Vampyros Lesbos is framed at 1.78.1. Each of these anamorphic transfers looks just fine for what it is - a standard definition offering. Each of the films in this set except for Venus In Furs has been given a Blu-ray upgrade that offers better picture quality than what we see here, but as far as older DVD masters go these don't look bad. Colors are nicely reproduced and there's little in the way of print damage to note.

    Eugenie, 99 Women and Venus In Furs get Dolby Digital Mono tracks in English with no subtitles, while Vampyros Lesbos and She Killed In Ecstasy are presented in German language Dolby Digital Mono with (unfortunately) forced English subtitles. Quality of the audio is no par with the video - it isn't reference quality but it is perfectly sufficient for older DVD quality titles.

    Extras are disc/film specific and break down as:

    Eugenie - Just a trailer that plays after the movie finishes, there's no menu or chapter selection options here at all.

    99 Women - Carried over from the old Blue Underground DVD release is Jess' Women, an apt title for the eighteen minute interview considering a big part of the focus of the interview, at least the first half of it, are the women who were cast in the film. He also covers some of the censorship issues that the film ran into, as well as the rather odd post production history of it, and how it was marketed once the finish product was turned in for editing. Also found here are three deleted scenes - a longer version of Maria Rohm's back story flashback, a different version of Rosalba Neri's segment that doesn't contain as much explicit material as the version seen in the film, and the alternate ending used for Spanish theaters. Now, this isn't all of the alternate footage available for this film. Rounding out the extras on the Blu-ray disc are the film's original theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection.

    Venus In Furs - Extras on this disc include a trailer for the feature, trailers for a few other Umbrella Entertainment releases, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection.

    Vampyros Lesbos - Look out for a trailer for the feature, trailers for a few other Umbrella properties, menus and chapter selection.

    She Killed In Ecstasy - Just a static menu, that's it.

    The Final Word:

    The Jess Franco Collection compiles five of the director's films in one convenient set making this a particularly good primer of sorts for those looking to taste test the director's work. Those more concerned with presentation quality will no doubt opt for the Blu-ray releases that are out there for four of the movies, but if DVD is your thing this set will scratch your Eurosleaze itch and then some.