Monday 15 June 2015

Franco Files:
Tender & Perverse Emanuelle

AKA: ‘Des Frissons sur la Peau’ (‘The Shiver of Fear’, France), ‘Le Chemin Solitaire’ (‘The Solitary Way’, France?), ‘El Ultimo Escalofrío’ (‘The Final Chill’, Spain), ‘French Emanuelle’ (UK), ‘Sicarius: Febbre di Sesso’ (‘Sicarius: Sex Fever’, Italy).

In several interviews conducted for DVD releases of his films, Jess Franco expressed a strong dislike for the work of ‘Emmanuelle’ director Just Jaeckin, claiming (if I recall correctly) that Jaeckin’s erotic films were cold, soulless affairs in which the director arranged his female cast like shop window dummies – in contract, presumably, to Franco’s own somewhat earthier and more emotionally engaged approach to dirty movie-making.

As such, one imagines Franco must have been less than thrilled at the prospect of making movies with ‘Emanuelle’ (one ‘m’, you’ll note, to avoid legal action) in the title, as seemingly became obligatory for all purveyors of euro-smut in the decade following the success of Jaeckin’s film. Perhaps we could read a certain black humour into the fact that this, Jess’s first ‘Emanuelle’ cash-in, features the titular character (here played by Norma Kastel) falling to her death from a clifftop balcony within the opening half hour, after which the movie becomes a flashback-heavy investigation into her murder… although, that reading of events is rather torpedoed by the fact that this film was actually shot BEFORE Jaeckin’s 'Emmanuelle', and was first screened in France in 1973, under the title ‘Des Frissons sur la Peau’.(1)

As has been mentioned in these pages before, Franco was pretty much on fire through the years 1972-74, producing an absolutely staggering quantity of work, much of it amongst his very best, the director working so fast that his films from this period almost seem like the result of cellular multiplication, with themes, locations, casts, costumes and script ideas all blurring into one another to create a sprawling sea of cinema that arguably represents the creative peak of Franco’s career.

Perhaps shot sometime between ‘La Comtesse Noire’ (Female Vampire) and ‘Les Nuits Brûlantes de Linda’ (Hot Nights of Linda), if the clues provided by locations, cast members and hairstyling are anything to go by, ‘Tender & Perverse Emanuelle’ (or whatever you want to call it) certainly isn’t amongst Franco’s best efforts from this period, but it nonetheless absorbs enough of the good stuff from the films surrounding it on his CV to make it a keeper for his ever-growing cult of devotees.

Like Lorna the Exorcist, ‘Tender & Perverse..’ begins with a contextless but intoxicating lesbian love scene, featuring an extended version of some footage that memorably appeared in the aforementioned ‘Hot Nights..’, featuring Lina Romay and a partner blowing cigarette smoke around a moodily lit, red-hued night club void, before (in this version) getting down to some serious softcore business. As the cry of Lina’s orgasm echoes over a swift cutaway to a clifftop shot of waves crashing against the shoreline far below, we know we’re in safe hands.

After this promising opening though, there is an unavoidable feeling of shoddiness to the way the rather slapdash melodrama / murder mystery plotline unfolds, not helped by one of the worst English dubs ever inflicted upon a Franco film. Regrettably for the dubbers, who seem to be making it up as they go along, there are a great many dialogue scenes and much procedural faffing about, making me wonder whether the French or Spanish versions might have featured a somewhat more compelling storyline than we get here - a distinct possibility, but I wouldn’t count on it based on the tedium that often resulted when Franco tried to make straight thrillers during the ‘70s. (See The Devil Came From Akasava for but one example.)

In places, Franco toys with the idea of expanding the murder mystery angle into full-on giallo territory – a hastily shot scene in which a woman playing piano in a bar is attacked via a garrote-wielding killer POV shot prefigures the slasher hi-jinks of Bloody Moon – but he never really follows this stylistic twist far enough to merit much interest.

‘Tender & Perverse..’s Citizen Kane-derived flashback structure recalls Franco’s excellent ‘Sinner’ (’73), but whereas that film was skillfully and deliberately constructed, the juxtaposition of scenes here seems fairly random, with flashbacks and sub-plots often feeling like flimsy excuses to mesh together a bunch of unconnected footage and sex scenes that one suspects could even have been shot for other projects.

Whereas the sex in most of Franco’s early ‘70s erotic films fits in quite naturally, feeling very much in keeping with the nature of the characters and the drift of the story, here it veers more toward the path taken by clumsier practitioners of the genre, with characters often seeming to get it on with each other at random intervals, for no terribly compelling reason. Not quite “the director blows the whistle and off they go” territory, but closer to such than Franco films of this vintage normally venture.

Whilst the resulting scenes are explicit enough to ensure that the film probably remained unseen outside of ‘specialist’ cinemas – sometimes playing the cheeky trick of adding anonymous insert shots to more chaste footage of the film’s lead actors - they are also sufficiently short and thinly spread out amongst straight crime/thriller footage that the movie would likely arouse nothing except frustration amongst the patrons of such establishments, raising the question of precisely what kind of contemporary audience the film could possibly have hoped to attract, even if it was an effective thriller (which for anyone other than us brain-scrabbled Franco devotees, it almost certainly isn’t).(2)

Cast-wise, Kastel herself is no great shakes as the ostensible lead, whilst as her husband, played by Spanish exploitation mainstay Alberto Dalbes, spends the whole picture just looking alternately bored and grumpy – an aura Dalbes continued to cultivate through his entire film career, insofar as I can tell.

More welcome is the presence of the ever-wonderful Jack Taylor, here looking at his very best, matching up his ‘Female Vampire’ mustache with some exquisitely classy threads to create the perfect exemplar of a dashing ‘70s gentleman. I don’t recall whether or not I’ve taken time here in the past to wax lyrical re: Jack Taylor, but needless to say - from his deep, soulful eyes and natural sense of style to the strange sense of innocence he seems able to bring even to roles in the very sleaziest movies, he is tops as far as I’m concerned, and it’s always a pleasure to spend time in his company.

It's also always a pleasure of course to spend time with Lina Romay, who here adopts a bit of a beatnik look for her first in-character scene as Jack’s wife / Dalbes’ sister, wearing shades and what appears to be a black nylon body-stocking. Through most of the rest of the film, she opts for a pair of fetching, thick-framed granny glasses, and, whilst the appalling dubbing makes it difficult to really get much of an angle on her performance, it is nice to see her in a slightly more subdued, naturalistic role than was usual in this era, wearing little make up and shunning the frenzied weirdness that characterized her appearances in ‘Comtesse..’, ‘Lorna..’ and ‘..Linda’, even though she remains the instigator of much of the film’s gratuitous hanky-panky.

Amongst the other familiar Franco faces popping up here, we’ve got rotund French comedian ‘Bigotini’ (who added inexplicable comic relief to ‘Hot Nights..’ and ‘73’s ‘Plaisir à Trios’) playing a rare straight role as a cop, and Antonio Mayans, who became Franco’s go-to male lead and general right hand man from the mid ‘70s right through to the director’s death in 2013, making what I believe may be his very first Francoverse appearance, as a minor character rejoicing under the perfect punk name of "Richard Scary".(3)

Meanwhile, the movie’s obligatory night-spot, ‘Yvonne’s Bar’, doesn’t have quite the same je ne sais quoi as the psychedelic dives of other Franco flicks, despite the application of some extremely blurry, freaked out camerawork, but it can at least boast Alice Arno (who appeared in almost every film I’ve thus far mentioned in the review) working behind the bar, so that’s ok.

In addition to a quintessential Franco cast, ‘Tender & Perverse..’ also benefits from the use of some quintessential Franco locations – some of them probably so familiar to the director’s fans by this stage that we’re quite liable to get confused and begin to believe we visited them during childhood or something. From the towering Alicante skyline to that familiar harbour with the big rock that Franco always films with exactly the same pan shot, it’s all here, whilst the clifftop villa with the red-tiled roof in which most of the action in ‘Hot Nights..’ took place stands in here as Kastel and Dalbes’ pad.

For all that it fails as both a thriller and a sex movie, ‘Tender & Perverse..’ does at least hit the spot as a pure Jess Franco movie, making extensive use of some of Jess’s favourite in-camera techniques to evoke a sense of drifting, dreamlike unreality. Focus is treated as optional  luxury throughout, and the aforementioned bar/night club scenes in particular degenerate almost completely into a psychedelic mess of fuzzy, over-saturated  wide-angle blurring.

For many other scenes, the lens seems to be smeared with more Vaseline than can possibly be sensible, whilst ‘Emanuelle’s solitary wanderings early in the film are enlivened by the same kind of extreme over-exposure that graced Janine Reynaud’s journey through the streets of Lisbon in Necronomicon, giving the scenes a kind of intense, unearthly glow, as, in some moments, she and her husband seem to disappear entirely into a sea of pure, blinding white.

This dreamlike, distorted atmos is only enhanced by Daniel White’s characteristically lugubrious piano score, the woozy tones of which seem to be launching a calculated assault against the audience’s attention span. White’s music for Franco’s films is certainly an acquired taste, that’s for sure - whilst some may claim it achieves a similar ambient sublimity to Badalamenti’s score for Twin Peaks, others may simply find it soporific and banal. I can’t decide where I stand on it really – it probably depends on how far after midnight it is, and how much I've had to drink. Count me as being on the fence for the moment, and maybe I’ll give you an opinion once I wake up, because the combination of White tinkling the ivories, the English dubbers spouting a load of improvised bullshit about dreams and nightmares and Franco playing hell with the focus knob has got me drifting off toward sleepy-time pretty damn quick….

Rest assured though, my dreams will be happy ones. Whilst most aficionados probably wouldn’t place ‘Tender & Perverse Emanuelle’ even within the top 25 horror-tinged erotic thrillers Jess Franco signed (one of) his name(s) to over the years, I nonetheless found it very enjoyable way to break the married life-imposed Franco abstinence that I have heroically undertaken over the past nine months or so. Whilst far from top drawer, it is still a picture that successfully invokes all of the most distinctive characteristics of the great man’s work, leading to a cinematic experience that, love it or hate it, couldn’t possibly have been created by any other human being – which certainly counts for something.

With Stephen Thrower’s long-awaited book finally arriving very soon (touch wood), a ticket to a whole evening dedicated to Mr. Thrower’s thoughts on Franco in my pocket and exciting new blu-rays on the way soon from both Kino/Redemption and Severin, it looks like I could be falling off the wagon for a good long while this time, perhaps following Emanuelle off that cliff into the shimmering Iberian waters below, as Lina moans distantly somewhere in the intermittently dubbed background. Bon voyage!


Kink: 3/5
Creepitude: 1/5
Pulp Thrills: 2/5
Altered States: 3/5
Sight Seeing: 3/5


(1) From what I can gather, the ‘Emanuelle’ hook was only added when the film was dubbed into English, and even then, the dubbing “artists” (I use the term loosely in this case) seem unsure, as the title character’s name changes back and forth between Emanuelle and the script’s original Barbara from scene to scene. (The fact the English title card misses the ‘e’ off ‘perverse’ also suggests things were done in a hurry.)

(2) Of course we only need point toward ‘Lorna the Exorcist’ or ‘A Virgin Among The Living Dead’ to demonstrate how little of a fuck Franco gave about satisfying audience / producer expectations in the early ‘70s, but the lack of commercial potential seems particularly glaring in the case of a film like this ‘Tender & Perverse..’, which seems more like a misguided genre exercise, largely lacking the singular vision and crazed artistry of the aforementioned projects.

(3) ‘Bigotini’, we should note in passing, possesses a truly intimidating soup-strainer moustache that puts Taylor’s in the shade. In fact, all in all, ‘Tender & Perverse Emanuelle’ must rank as one of the most moustache-heavy films in Franco’s catalogue, with almost every male cast member luxuriating in designer facial hair of one kind of another. Scenes in which Bigotini and another moustachioed cop take in Jack and Dables for questioning actually approach some kind of ‘70s mustache critical mass…. all it would have taken is an additional picture of Maurizio Merli pinned to the wall, and the consequences for the time-space continuum could have been unthinkable.

1 comment:

C. Rancio said...

Bigote means moustache in spanish, by the way...