Years ago when I first started exploring European Trash Cinema I caught several of director Jess Franco’s movies. Across the board they were crap. And not just boring pieces of wasted celluloid. I’m talking about huge piles of rancid refuse with a stink that could have knocked a buzzard off a gut wagon. Bad bad bad!
But, since I’m a cinema masochist and I continued to read glowing praise from cult film aficionados I kept coming back for more. And after about 5 or 6 movies I finally struck pay dirt. THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF was one of Franco’s first movies and it is a black & white beauty. Dark and twisted, weird to the point of perversion and strangly for old Uncle Jess- it had a freaking narrative! You might be shocked that this is one of the standout traits of this film but let me assure you that if you can locate a narrative in SUCCUBUS, FEMALE VAMPIRE, VAMPIRES LESBOS or a host of his other films from the 70s then you are either smarter than I or you have better prescription drugs. Indeed the first thing most folks notice about a lot of Franco’s movies other than their often astonishing lack of skill is their astonishing lack of story. On many a wasted night I have wondered if he had a tale in mind when he turned the camera on or was just hoping something interesting happened before the film stock ran out.
Well, those days are behind me and the turning point was ORLOFF. After that I found more “Good Franco’s” including THE SADISTIC BARON VON KLAUS, THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z, 99 WOMEN, TWO UNDERCOVER ANGELS, FACELESS, KISS ME MONSTER, THE BLOODY JUDGE and his flawed but fascinating COUNT DRACULA. To find these I had to wade through a dozen others with the most loved by Franco fanatics usually being the ones I think of as sleep aids. Seriously- if anyone tries to defend VENUS IN FURS just ask them how many times we really need to see someone walk down a flight of steps before we know they went down the damned steps! My guess would be one but the slower viewers out there might need two. Not 6 or 7 freakin’ times! Maybe the extras were for those that had trouble staying awake.
Any hoo- I continue to watch Franco films because sometimes his varied interests and mine overlap and when he can control his desire to go nuts he can make a fun movie. One of our shared interests seems to be Old Dark House stories and little did I know when I picked up NIGHT OF THE SKULL that I was in for a good one. Set in 1800’s England the story is an admitted riff on THE CAT AND THE CANARY with some nice curveballs thrown in to make it weirder. I love these kinds of movies and coming across this one unexpectedly was great. Both the period and setting are favorites of mine so all the film had to do was maintain a certain level of quality and I’d keep watching. Luckily it was much better than I expected. That the print on this Image DVD is only in Spanish adds to the cool factor as well. All those proper English characters speaking Spanish is amusing. For me at least.
A man in a black cloak and scary skull mask is skulking about the manor house of an English aristocrat. The owner of the house is a wealthy older fellow obsessed with a book of apocalyptic verse. After reading aloud a passage about people dying through earth, fire, water and air he is attacked by the mystery man and buried alive in the garden outside. The mans family is called together for the reading of his will and once a second version of it turns up along with another illegitimate offspring more corpses start appearing.
As with all stories of this type things get complicated and convoluted with the final revelation being a nice surprise. A nice cast of Euro Trash stalwarts are on hand with Lina Romey looking less attractive than usual with her hair pulled back, William Berger doing his best with a small role and several others I recognize but can’t place without internet help. Lina even shows some skin as you might expect from that cheeky exhibitionist! Franco turns up as well as a drunken lawyer but isn’t as distracting as his cameos usually are.
So chalk one more up in the WIN column for Jess Franco. If I find another 20 or so good‘uns the career scales might start to balance! Of course he’s made nearly 200 damn movies and there is no way I’ll ever see them all. Unless I lose my mind.
Forget I said that.