Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Random Paperbacks:
The Mabinogion
(Everyman Library, 1975 /
originally published approx. 1350-1425AD)

Providing commentary on The Mabinogion – jewel in the crown of surviving Celtic culture and foggy well-spring of Arthurian myth – is somewhat beyond the remit of this weblog, but I can at least draw your attention to Jeff Thomas’s superbly lysergic cover art for this mid-‘70s Everyman Library paperback.

Initially bright and eye-catching, Thomas’s illustration – like all good psychedelic graphics – becomes more queasy and unsettling the longer one looks at it. If his ravenous, glassy-eyed crystalline beasts seem unlikely to have roamed the hills of Wales even in the realms of fantastical antiquity, they are no less nightmarish for it, and are, in my view, entirely in keeping with the singularly mind-bending outpourings of medieval weirdness found within.

By way of an example, here’s a representative passage from ‘Culhwch and Olwen’, concerning Arthur’s unseemly scuffles with a hag, amongst other things;

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Franco Files:
Los Noche de los Sexos Abiertos / ‘Night of Open Sex’


As with many of Jess Franco’s early ‘80s productions under the ‘Golden Films’ banner, I believe this film only ever enjoyed a brief domestic release in Spain, and thus acquired no alternative / foreign release titles. The Spanish title is sometimes translated as "Night of Deviant Sex", but I'm unsure of the accuracy of this, so I'll go with the more literal (& less judgemental?) "Open Sex".

As graphic sexual content became an ever-more essential requisite for financing low budget filmmaking in Europe during the 1970s, any number of directors could be heard complaining about their artfully composed thrillers being ruined by gratuitous, producer-dictated sex scenes. Ever the outsider, Jess Franco by contrast is the only filmmaker I can think of who was more liable to ruin a perfectly good sex film by trying to turn it into a thriller, and with 1982’s ‘Los Noche de los Sexos Abiertos’, he offers an enjoyably loopy example of that particular tendency.

Although ‘Los Noche..’ has a reputation as a bit of a fan favourite amongst devotees of Franco’s ‘Golden Films’ period, it is nonetheless liable to prove a tough gig for viewers expecting one of the director’s more artistically-inclined sex/horror pictures. In fact, it’s a pretty ramshackle affair even by the standards of his run-of-the-mill sexploitation quickies, differentiated from its peers largely by means of the fact that its plot-line is so sketchy and confused, even by the standards of Franco’s usual lackadaisical story-telling, that events soon become almost head-spinningly surreal,.

If you can recalibrate your expectations accordingly however and just take ‘Los Noches..’ as it comes, there is much here to enjoy. It appears to have been a pretty free-spirited, improvisational production that caught everybody in a good mood, and, leavened with regular injections of pure sleaze and random weirdness, it probably constitutes one of the better post-1975 exemplars of the director’s light-hearted, “zany shenanigans” kind of mode.

As such, ‘Los Noches..’ begins in a similar vein to some of the the looser and more charming films Franco made for Erwin Deitrich in the ‘70s (if you’ve seen ‘Midnight Party’ or ‘Die Sklavinnen’ (both 1976), you’ll have a pretty good idea where this one is pitched), with Lina Romay once again slipping into her default persona as a wildly promiscuous exhibitionist night-club performer, who this around time plies her trade at a late night hang-out called the “Mandala”.

One of those extraordinary joints that could only ever exist in the mind of Jess Franco, the “Mandala” represents a shining vision of a voyeur’s tragically unobtainable paradise, wherein mixed crowds of healthy, fresh-faced young people congregate to goggle at elaborately choreographed live sex acts, the girls and boys exchanging rowdy remarks and sipping beer as casually as if they were at a disco or a drive-in movie.

This whole opening section is super-cool actually, showcasing a distinctively weird chrome & neon aesthetic that recalls the warped mylar n’ glitter sci-fi stylings of 1975’s ‘Shining Sex’ (itself an unlikely precursor to the alienated ‘80s psychedelia of Slava Tsukerman’s Liquid Sky (1982)), and this otherworldly vibe is only intensified by the smeared colours and visual fuzz of the VHS-sourced print viewed for this review. As disembodied, stocking-clad legs swing against abstract neon tubing on a black background accompanied by some kind of bizarre dance track that seems to mix a conga rhythm, acid house piano and sampled bird-tweets, Lina in rainbow print dress (that I’m sure I’ve seen in a few other movies) caresses the shining chrome chassis of a car and motorcycle, and Jess’s erotomaniac exploration of this new era’s enticing visual style becomes hallucinatory in the best possible way - a solid hit of primo Franco gear that succeeds in getting us nice and woozy for the cavalcade of seedy nonsense that follows.

(For even wilder Franco-goes-‘80s type thrills, a later nightclub sequence sees Lina arousing herself with a porno mag to the accompaniment of an alarmingly shrill new wave song that sounds like Spain’s answer to Plastic Bertrand… assuming that answer was “JAZZ-PROG MIDDLE EIGHT!”.)

Things take a slightly less jovial turn after the show, as Lina (let’s not even bother with a character name for her, shall we? – IT’S LINA) gets involved with a number of sinister characters whose motives (and indeed identities) initially remain obscure to us.

Accepting payment for a ‘job’ from a guy called Vicas, Lina accompanies him to a suburban house, where together they detain and torture a woman who is apparently the niece of someone known only as ‘The General’. All explanation vis-a-vis the reasons this is happening are basically left hanging, sacrificed in favour of a bracing bit of exploito-sleaze that sees the pair burning their victim’s vagina with what I assume to be some kind of heated curling tongs.

Grim stuff indeed, but don't worry folks – the combination of Franco’s characteristic failure to bother with any special effects and the actress’s corresponding failure to bother doing ‘pain’ render this incident far less of a shocker than it sounds on paper, despite the abundance of extreme close-ups. (As is repeatedly demonstrated in his post-1975 output, Franco was very much of the belief that there are NO narrative circumstances in which a gratuitous crotch zoom is inappropriate.)

Commanded by Vicas, Lina next pays a visit to ‘The General’ (who we are told is ‘wounded’), posing as the kidnapped niece in order to extract some mysterious ‘secrets’ from him before he pops his clogs. Suffice to say, ‘The General’ is a skinny guy who lives in a modest top floor apartment, so presumably he’s not supposed to be THAT General, in case you were wondering. (We will later learn that he is concealing the whereabouts of a stash of Nazi gold however… but it will take a while for you to figure that one on first viewing.)

You might be wondering why The General won’t notice that his visitor is in fact an entirely different person from his niece, but it’s ok – Uncle Jess is one step ahead of you there. It turns out you see that The General hasn’t seen his niece since she was a child. Sorted. Although, this might in turn lead us to wonder why Vicas & Lina thought the estranged niece might know her Uncle’s top secret secrets, and also why The General would entrust his treasure trove to a woman he’s never even met. Also, The General does have an adult photograph of his niece, which for some reason he asks Lina to complete by returning her stolen torn half of it to his possession, so presumably he already knows what she looks like…. but ENOUGH. When you find yourself wasting this many words nit-picking the plotting of a Jess Franco sex comedy, it’s time to move on.

After questioning Lina re: which side of the river she was born on in Istanbul, The General does eventually see through her ill-judged rouse, thus forcing her to immediately kill him, after which she makes off with some books from his library, within which some words which will reveal the the location of his treasure have apparently been underlined.

If you’re thinking that featuring a treasure-hoarding, Nazi-affiliated character named ‘The General’ who is suffering from non-specific ‘wounds’ and promptly dies would seem to carry some fairly obvious additional baggage for viewers in Spain in the early 1980s, well, you probably have a point. But if (Jess) Franco did indeed intend to add the slightest hint of satire or social commentary to ‘Los Noches..’, that opportunity was never followed through, and, like just about every other aspect of this film’s shamelessly nonsensical plotting, the whole “General” angle just melts away like butter in a frying pan.

Meanwhile, after Lina has completed her show at the Mandala the following evening, Antonio Mayans turns up playing one ‘Al Crosby’. Looking rather groovy in this instance with a swinger’s ‘tache, a nifty Hawaiian shirt and sucking on an ever-present half-smoked cheroot, Antonio wastes no time in sapping Lina with a gun butt and spiriting her away to (where else?) an Alicante sea-front hotel, where he ties her up, vigorously questions her about all that mystifying plot stuff I outlined above, and rapes her.

Apparently though, rape functions as a pretty good ice-breaker in the bizarro world of ‘Los Noche de los Sexos Abiertos’, as we cut immediately to the sight of Lina and Antonio chilling out in deck chairs post-coitus, having seemingly put aside their differences and become best buddies, ready to begin planning their next move vis-à-vis the recovery of the General’s treasure.

Further happy-go-lucky outrages ensue, as Crosby stabs Vicas at the Mandala, and Lina is kidnapped by a debauched, voyeuristic couple who are also after the secrets of the general’s books. A predictably sleazy interrogation / rescue scene ensues, before the remainder of the movie settles down into a comfortable pattern that sees Lina and Antonio alternately shagging and utilising mind-bogglingly invisible logic to decode the clues that will lead them to the gold (at several points, they heroically manage to do both at the same time).

Picking words seemingly at random from the books pilfered from The General, the pair end up with several lengthy strings of Dadaist nonsense (“night / to / open / sound / gold / between / thickness / pointing / at / music”, “what / descent / blood / hearts”, etc). Hiding out in the repurposed home of a Count (who, played by Franco himself, can occasionally be seen tied up in the next room where he shouts things like “Rascals! Communists! You can’t do this to a Count!”, etc), our heroes lounge about arbitrarily repeating this gobbledygook to each other for so long that the scene almost begins to resemble some kind of Dadaist parody or exercise in deliberate tedium, reaching a crescendo of absurdity when, after listlessly roaming just about everywhere else within reach, Franco’s bored camera gives up all pretense of artistry and just zooms straight in on Lina’s naked ass, as the meaningless recitations continue (“blood / the descent / blood”).

Through means that remain inscrutable to us mere mortals, Antonio uses these “clues” to pinpoint the location of the treasure to an area of the coast known locally as “the old god’s finger”, for which the couple immediately depart. There, over beautiful shots of white sunshine glimmering on the waters of the bay, they keep pointing at the books and incessantly repeating variations on “old and finger… the old finger… finger…old..”, as well as indulging in some banter about the fingers of female saints, the sense of which was clearly rather beyond the ken of the person who fan-subbed my copy of the film.

By this point, I’m fairly sure Franco was using this word-game malarkey for deliberate comic effect, creating weird audio/visual juxtapositions that almost resemble some goofball version of William Burroughs and Anthony Balch’s famed cut-up films (“lukewarm night of open sex… fingers pointing at the heart of the descent..” exclaims Antonio’s voiceover, as the camera scans down off a hotel balcony across a non-descript patch of scrubland), and this disorientating vibe only intensifies once Lina and Antonio use their intriguingly holistic methodology to finally pinpoint the location of The General’s gold, which, joy of joys, is concealed within the closest thing to a James Bond villain lair that a 1983 Jess Franco film could afford.

Whilst I think we’re supposed to believe that this complex is located inside a tower-like coastal rock formation, the interiors, if I’m not mistaken, are all filmed within the legendary Ricardo Bofill buildings near Calpe, as featured in ‘Countess Perverse’, She Killed in Ecstasy and numerous other Franco faves. Prominent use is made here of the blood-red, cubist lego-brick staircases that will be familiar to most Franco followers, shot in such a way as make them seem a vertiginous descent into some expressionistic subterranean nightmare.

That these ominous stairways lead only to a mod-ishly decorated sea view apartment (possibly a re-dressed version of some of the interiors seen a decade earlier in ‘She Killed in Ecstasy’ and Vampyros Lesbos, possibly not) may be seen as a disappointment by some viewers, but I’m sure you and I both know that mod-ishly decorated sea view apartments are where EVERYTHING leads as far as Jess Franco is concerned, so what the hey.

Suffice to say, this film’s closing act features Lina sitting down in hot pants to play Franz Liszt’s ‘Liebestraum’ on a pianoforte over-dubbed with a weird, drony synthesizer tone, blocks of wood wrapped in gold paper masquerading as gold bars, reverse cowgirl coitus interruptus and an entirely appropriate “shrug n’ a smile” happy ending that somehow succeeds in providing us with a satisfactory resolution to all this abject nonsense.

As far as ‘Los Noche de los Sexos Abiertos’s prospects as a thriller, a comedy and a piece of narrative cinema goes, that’s about your lot, which means it’s probably time to discuss the sexy stuff, which is plentiful, and, if-you-like-that-sort-of-thing, pretty good. Although heading towards the end of the era in which she took on these full-on erotic roles, ‘Los Noche..’ captures Lina at the peak of her wanton powers, and fans of her ‘70s work will need no further encouragement to check this one out, I’m sure.

Working at their preferred “hard soft” level of explicitness, Jess and Lina are certainly firing on all cylinders during the nightclub sequences in the first half of the film, with a lesbian encounter with an unidentified actress proving a particularly steamy highlight, accompanied by a delirious bit of Italian-style library music that could have come straight from the early ‘70s. Viewers watching in raincoat mode might be annoyed by Franco’s ridiculous habit of having his cast members simulate oral sex by waggling their tongues somewhere in the general vicinity of their partner’s undercarriage, but once again – such silliness is an established motif, and all part of the fun for the director’s fans.

One of the things that to my mind renders Franco’s sex films a lot more enjoyable than those of many of his contemporaries is his tendency to use performers who clearly enjoy acting out this sort of material on camera (Lina herself being the most prominent example of course), and to foster what to all appearances must have been a pretty comfortable atmosphere for them to strut their stuff within, giving his sex scenes an upbeat, inclusive sort of flavor that side-steps the alienating sense of exploitative coercion that so often afflicts cinematic smut (which is somewhat ironic given the strongly Sadean nature of the scenarios Franco often had his casts act out, but that’s a digression for another day).

This can very much be seen in ‘Los Noche..’ during the “private” sex scenes (mainly between Lina and Antonio) which are almost entirely played for laughs, and as such work very well in ribald sort of manner, with running jokes about Lina over-excitedly yelling “my Tarzan!” at her various partners, and about Antonio never taking off his beloved Hawaiian shirt. Somehow it all just seems so.. natural and good natured, it would be difficult for anyone other than a thorough-going prude to really object too strenuously.

Reading back through the plot synopsis above, some readers might well wish to question my repeated use of phrases like “light hearted” and “good natured” to describe a movie that is apparently filled with rape, Nazi-ism and genital torture, but what can I say… jaded from the harder exploitation pictures he’d been making in the late ‘70s, Franco somehow manages to present this potentially offensive material in such a casual, off-hand sort of manner that it just slips by without really making much impression at all.

Like the patently un-real gore effects that frequently turn up in his horror films, Franco-sleaze always has a theatrical, fantasy-land sort of quality about it – he knows he’s just sticking this stuff in to add a ‘shocking’, commercially saleable aspect to the production, and he knows that you know it too. He may enjoy the imagery of sadism, but he realises no one really wants to see realistic pain and suffering when they’re chilling with a blue movie, so what the hell, let’s just have some fun with it, y’know?

Such is the philosophy that defines much of Franco’s work at the end of the day, and, with ‘Los Noche de los Sexos Abiertos’, this easy-going goofery perhaps reaches its apex. Between the ‘really good ones’ and the‘really bad ones’ in his mammoth filmography lie the ‘fun ones’, and here we have a fine example of the way that even the most seemingly trivial items in the director’s catalogue can become deliriously enjoyable experiences, full of odd sparks of invention, random diversions and sheer lunacy that you will encounter nowhere else in cinema.


Kink: 4/5
Creepitude: 1/5
Pulp Thrills: 2/5
Altered States: 3/5
Sight Seeing: 3/5


Saturday, 9 April 2016

Random Paperbacks:
All Night Stand
by Thom Keyes

(Mayflower/Dell, 1967)

Ah, we haven’t had any beatniks on this blog for a while, have we? Yeah, THE BEAT SCENE! Mercurial, untamed, straight from the fridge, da… hang on a minute, a pop group? That doesn’t sound like the sort of endeavour any self-respecting beatniks would get involved in. What year was this thing published again? 1967!? Oh my.

I don’t suppose young Thom Keyes had any aspirations to become the next Hemingway, but he must at least have thought he’d made a solid early entry in the inevitable paisley shirt / groupie rampage “rise and fall of a rock group” paperback sub-genre… and as such, we can only imagine the sheer level of face-palm he must have experienced when he saw what the design team at Mayflower/Dell did to it.

Still, the physics students and the pub stripper they roped in for the photo shoot look like they’re having fun. (Check the upside down painting in the background – because life in our society is, like, UPSIDE DOWN, man!)

Seemingly slightly better known for his SF work, Thom Keyes (1949-1995) is “mainly remembered as the writer of the ‘Space: 1999’ episode ‘The Taybor’”, it says here, and he also contributed to New Worlds.

In and of themselves, the sections of ‘All Night Stand’ I read prior to this post are no great shakes, but for a novel published before its author’s eighteenth birthday it’s a reasonably impressive achievement, I think it’s fair to say.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Franco Files:
The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus

OBLIGATORY VIEWING NOTE: Screengrabs are by necessity taken from the old DVD rather than shiny new Blu-Ray, etc etc.

La Mano de un Hombre Muerto (Spain), Sinfonia per un Sadico (Italy), La Bestia del Castello Maldetto (Italy), Hysterical Sadique (France).

The same year that he introduced us to The Awful Dr. Orlof, the young Jess Franco also brought another, somewhat lesser known, pejorative-prefixed evil-doer to Europe’s shadier movie screens, in the shape of The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus.

Watching this French/Spanish co-production, the reason for the Baron’s failure to achieve the same enduring popularity enjoyed by the good doctor soon becomes abundantly clear. Whilst ‘The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus’ is certainly notable for establishing several important ‘firsts’ within Franco’s cinematic universe (we will go on to discuss these below), it also serves as the first fully-formed example of a frustrating tendency that the director would go on to pursue throughout his career – namely, that of weaving a small handful of potent ideas and images into the fabric of a movie that is otherwise so excruciatingly boring it would challenge the eyelids of even the most dedicated Euro-cult aficionado.

That said, the film’s opening scenes at least betray little sign of the doldrums that await. In fact, they are remarkably cheery for what is ostensibly a gothic horror film, reflecting the breezy bonhomie of the same year’s La Muerte Silba un Blues, as a busy Alpine inn erupts with music, jollity and female pulchritude.

Here, a bearded vagrant blatantly defies conventional ‘show not tell’ wisdom as he gives us a lively run down of the movie’s back story – a familiar tale of the maleficent ancestor of a local aristocrat possessing the bodies of his descendants and periodically sending them out to commit sadistic (yep) outrages against the town’s womenfolk.

“It’s a tale for children, but certainly compelling”, comments a visiting doctor listening in on the conversation, thus inadvertently encapsulating the entire history of European horror filmmaking in a single sentence.

Next, we switch to, uh.. a city? .. where the editor of the indispensable sounding ‘Maidens and Murderers’ magazine has a new assignment for his chief reporter (because yes, in Jess Franco-world, publications with names like ‘Maidens and Murderers’ actually have reporters on their staff who are sent out to chase up stories). Thus, Karl Steiner (Fernando Delgado) – a lecherous, smirking bon vivant who is essentially interchangeable with the male protagonists in most of Franco’s black & white era films - is commanded to jump in his snazzy sports-car and pay a visit to the remote mountain town of Holfen (“..noted for its gothic mood, its trout and its crimes”), to find out what gives.

In true Franco fashion, both plotting and pacing here are extremely lackadaisical, lending TSBVK (if you will) a bit of an ‘off beat’ flavour that immediately sets it apart from its more somber British and Italian gothic contemporaries. The downside of this approach however is that the film soon becomes dominated by a hell of a lot of extraneous yakking, which, though initially rendered in a lively enough fashion to make it fairly entertaining if you’re in the mood, swiftly deteriorates into a hideous, numbing drag as the gears of the plodding police procedural/whodunit stuff begin to grind slowly through their over-familiar motions, meaning that by the time we’re halfway through the eye-watering 110 minute run-time of the full, uncut version, we’ve hit a slump from which the movie never quite manages to recover, despite some intermittent points of interest.

What thrills there are here are largely of the “dark, behatted stranger stalking pretty ladies” variety, with some looming, knife-wielding silhouettes and suchlike that will inevitably have modern viewers yelling “GIALLO!”, even as more contemporary audiences would more likely have associated such imagery with the krimi cycle that was all the rage in the West German film industry at the time. (Joining the dots here, it’s always worth remembering that Mario Bava’s pivotal ‘Blood & Black Lace’ (1964) was initially intended as a cash-in on the krimi trend.)

Actually, in many ways, TSBVK spends far more time being krimi-like than it does being gothic horror-like, despite a storyline and atmosphere that initially recalls the latter genre, with its unnecessarily large cast of suspicious, oddball characters, it’s decidedly realistic and non-supernatural crimes and it’s concentration upon investigative detail all echoing Rialto’s Wallace films. Perhaps we could interpret this as Franco cannily hedging his bets between two formulas currently saleable in different markets, or perhaps just an example of his tendency to throw together a pile of random genre elements and just ramble with them where he pleased - either way, the result is the same.

One of the best things about this film is the unusually lavish scope shooting ratio, which allows Franco to utilise some beautiful faux-Alpine landscapes for establishing shots, atmospheric cut-ins and the like. Although TSBVK was not actually shot in the Alps, Franco and his collaborators took the wise decision to relocate to a small town in the Spanish Pyrenees, which stands in for the picturesque Germanic setting quite well, meaning that no matte paintings or process shots are needed here. (Who knows, perhaps they even used real snow?)

This emphasis on location shooting also allows us to enjoy numerous examples of the young Jess honing the talent for making inspired use ‘real world’ locations that would of course help to define the style of most of his subsequent filmmaking. Most notable in this regard is one particularly impressive sequence that details the killer’s pursuit of the heroine through the shadowed town streets, incorporating a number of excellent, and presumably entirely off-the-cuff, bits of noir-ish style, culminating in an audacious high angle shot across a wide, deserted square that almost seems to join the dots between ‘The Third Man’ and Argento’s use of similar spaces in ‘Suspiria’ and ‘Deep Red’.

In fact, like many of Franco’s black & white films, TSBVK contains number of elaborately composed – almost gratuitously ‘stylish’ - pictorial shots that could well represent examples of the director cheerily taking the opportunity to recreate memorable moments from other movies. Whilst I’m too much of a lazy and half-arsed cinephile to get a positive ID on any of them myself, it is easy to believe that a viewer with a more encyclopedic knowledge of classic film could sit through this one dutifully ticking off nods to Welles, Lang, Bresson and so on.

Another plus for any Jess Franco film of course is the presence of Howard Vernon, and although the role of the titular Baron doesn’t give him a great deal to sink his teeth into (he’s basically the equivalent of one of the ‘obvious red herring’ characters essayed by Klaus Kinski in so many krimis), he’s nonetheless on top form, turning in a creepy-goofy performance that seems very much like a warm up for his “Uncle Howard” persona in ‘A Virgin Among The Living Dead’ a decade later.

Meanwhile, his nephew, Ludwig Von Klaus (Hugo Blanco) is a fresh-faced, serious-minded young fellow who looks as if he might otherwise be found playing bass in a moody post-punk band. Dressed from head to toe in black leather when he is initially introduced, he looks, well, kind of like a SADIST might look, perhaps..?

Ludwig may not have been responsible for the murders that took place before his arrival in town (who WAS responsible is a question that, in true Franco style, the movie never really bothers to address), but by the time Von Klaus Jnr is gazing in awe at the splendidly-appointed subterranean torture chamber that his mother entrusted him with the key to upon her death bed, any aspirations TSBVK might have had toward being a krimi-style whodunit are totally out of the window.

Though this early revelation may render the subsequent outbreaks of plodding investigative detail even more redundant than they might otherwise have been, worry not, for it is with the depredations of the younger Von Klaus that we finally get to the stuff that makes this film worthy of continued attention from Franco enthusiasts.

Aside from the film’s English language export title, the first giveaway vis-à-vis the director’s real intentions with this story comes via the extract Von Klaus reads from the diary of his much-maligned sorcerer/murderer ancestor. Herein, we learn of such things as “..the tragic eroticism of the senses, finally ending in death”, making it clear that, whilst the old Marquis is never mentioned by name, ‘The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus’ nonetheless represents the first of the many, many films Jess Franco would make inspired by the works of De Sade.

Whilst our Baron’s Sadean frolics are necessarily discussed and portrayed far less openly than they would be in Franco’s later films on the subject, TSBVK nonetheless goes some way toward demonstrating that, even in 1962, the director was determined to push the envelope re: acceptable sexual content in his films.

The references in the French language dialogue track to sexual assault as the police examine the bodies of the murderer’s earlier victims are certainly somewhat stronger than anything one would encounter in an English language film of this vintage, and Franco’s perennial obsession with the familial/incestuous aspects of DeSade’s work can be seen here too in the movie’s twist on the standard issue gothic horror “cursed family line” shtick, but really, this all pales in comparison to the central set-piece scene in which we finally get to see the young Baron having his wicked way with one of his victims – a sequence so extraordinarily daring that it seems to belong to a different film – and a different era – altogether.

The victim on this occasion is Margaret, the sultry bar-maid (played by the excellently named Gogó Rojo) whom hetero-male viewers will likely have had half an eye on since the movie began, and, rather than a random abduction, she had actually been involved in a consensual affair with the young Baron. Shortly before he shoves the ol’ chloroform-soaked rag into her face during a passionate make-out session in his car in fact, he tells her, apparently in earnest, that he “loves her to death”, and the suggestion that his crimes may be interpreted semi-sympathetically as ‘acts of love’ – as opposed to the mustache-twirling villainy more commonly portrayed in horror films of this vintage – helps make the scene that follows all the more transgressive.

The Baron’s stripping of Margaret’s semi-conscious form in his subterranean lair is immediately shocking in its voyeuristic directness – I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a film from this era that showed this much skin, let alone in such a grim context – and, as her body is slowly exposed and fondled by Ludwig’s hands, the vibe of kinky, aesthetically-inclined perversity is impossible to miss.

As things start to heat up, Daniel White – whose music is excellent throughout the film, I should note - lets rip with a nerve-jangling avant garde chorale that recalls the kind of thing Morricone knocked up for the giallos a decade later. Meanwhile, the camera executes an audacious vertical pan across a rotting drape curtain to a ceiling mirror in which the lurid action below reflected in full detail, shadows of dark cloth on the bed standing out almost like the eye-holes of a skull as the two bodies writhe upon them… by which point we’re really cooking with gas.

This is Jess Franco’s erotic / cinematic imagination suddenly emerging into full bloom, like some long-repressed fantasy exploding onto the screen as a burst of decadent Sadean freakery that goes way beyond anything contemporary viewers would have expected from a gothic-ish horror movie, even if Franco does at least bow to contemporary standards of decorum by cutting away when the Baron pulls a heated knife from a brazier with which to mutilate the chained girl - even whilst the ensuing shots of her writhing legs remain far more disturbing than some poorly executed gore effect would ever have been.

Strangely, this entire sequence seems to have been shot without direct sound, and, aside from White’s jolting music, it plays out entirely in silence. Add a few juddering, unnatural camera movements and hazy, soft focus photography, and, whether by accident or design, we’re left with the unsettling impression that we could easily be watching some lost fragment of twisted, silent-era pornography.

Starkly cruel, surprisingly explicit and – it must be said – shamelessly misogynistic, this scene is undoubtedly the biggest sado-erotic showstopper in Franco’s entire pre-Necronomicon filmography, a startling fever dream that seems to have emerged from an entirely different world from the comparatively dreary material that surrounds it, and a direct precursor to the sensually over-powering sex/murder sequences of Venus In Furs.

As you might imagine, all of this proved a bit much for the film’s distributors, and initial theatrical releases in both France and Spain saw this whole sequence replaced with a milder, ‘clothed’ version that Franco apparently filmed simultaneously, in an early example of a practice that later become ubiquitous in Spanish horror. The fact that losing the ‘meat’ of the full strength version would render the film an almost total waste of time for its audience was presumably not lost on potential American distributors, who consequently took a pass on it, meaning that, unlike the majority of Franco’s other early horror films, TSBVK didn’t reach English-speaking shores until the DVD era.

Dutifully restored to its full glory via the French re-release print used for the recent Kino/Redemption Blu-Ray, this brief sequence of erotic delirium makes ‘The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus’ a minor revelation for Francophiles, but, even in its unexpurgated form, the film as a whole is unlikely to win over more casual (or indeed, more critical) viewers. Following that one astonishing diversion in fact, the sad truth is that the tedium only increases during the closing twenty minutes, leading ultimately to an attractively shot but crushingly bland finale that ends proceedings on a profound shrug of indifference.

For all of ‘The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus’s kinky transgressions and impressive filmmaking chops, the dictates of conventional plotting and genre expectations hold it back as effectively as a sadist’s chains, consigning at least 75% of its excruciatingly over-extended run-time to a pit of fusty administrative pointlessness. As such, it can’t really be counted amongst Jess Franco’s better black & white pictures, even whilst it houses one solitary sequence that kicks up more sparks than any of them.


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


All else aside, readers are invited to observe that this movie had some *splendid* posters;