Tuesday, 25 October 2016

The Ninth Annual Stereo Sanctity / Breakfast in the Ruins Samhain Freakout.

Cross-posted with Stereo Sanctity.

Hopefully arriving with sufficient notice for you to fully absorb it as you set about cultivating appropriate state of mind prior to next week’s big night, I’m afraid I must warn you that, for better or worse, this year’s Halloween comp has emerged as quite possibly the darkest and gnarliest to date. Decidedly low on jollity, what we have here is a thoroughly shuddersome mixture of anguished subterranean punk, ferocious funereal metal and eerie psychedelic aberrations of one kind or another, guaranteed to get you in the mood for a full-on, cemetery-stalking Halloween.

Once this general atmosphere had taken hold, I thought I might as well go with it, and as such I have finally taken the opportunity to include in its entirety one of my all time favourite trad doom tracks, Reverend Bizarre’s ‘Strange Horizons’. You may think you know ‘epic metal’ with yr new fangled Neurosis and Opeth and what-not, but trust me my friends – this is one you need to experience. It’s a thing of beauty.

Also noteworthy here meanwhile is the inclusion of the first ever hip-hop track on one of these mixes (courtesy of my long overdue immersion in Gravediggaz’ ‘Six Feet Deep’ album – hey, only nineteen years late), and, I believe, our first ever vocal jazz ballad too, courtesy of Ada Moore. Let’s hope there’s more of both to come in future.

Relatively little movie content this year, but nonetheless, featured films include: ‘Les Demons’ (Jess Franco, 1972), ‘All The Colors of the Dark’ (Sergio Martino, 1972) and ‘Eugenie: The Story of Her Journey Into Perversion’ (Jess Franco, 1970).

As ever – enjoy.

Downloadable here.

Monday, 17 October 2016

October Shorts:
A Pre-Halloween Horror Round-up.

Every year, when October rolls around, I survey the movie bloggers and film forums undertaking “31 films in 31 days” pre-Halloween countdowns and so forth, and feel a profound sense of envy as I consider those lucky enough to enjoy a lifestyle that allows them the time to view, let alone write about, a feature film every single day - that being a circumstance which usually feels beyond the reach of my wildest dreams at this time of year, sad to say.

Nonetheless though, this year I’ve been doing my best – aggressively ring-fencing movie-watching time, squeezing in double-bills wherever possible, prioritising horror above all other genres and trying to find a few minutes to scribble down some thoughts afterwards. Thus far I’ve only clocked up a mere six films in seventeen days, but believe me – under the circumstances, I count that a success.

Hopefully I’ll be able to rack up enough to compile a “Part # 2” to this post later in the month, but for now, let’s crack on. Needless to say, all the write-ups that follow are “first thought / best thought” type efforts banged out with a minimum of forethought or proof reading, so make of them what you will.

The Wasp Woman 
(Roger Corman, 1959)

Well, this was… quite alright I suppose. It’s snappily paced, smartly scripted (by b-Western ‘heavy’ actor Leo Gordon, no less), has an agreeably loopy premise and is full of likeable characters portrayed by a crew of familiar AIP/Corman faces. Unlike Corman’s best black & white era films however, ‘The Wasp Woman’ never really manages to transcend its status as a five-day-wonder double bill timewaster, failing to offer up anything that is liable to live long in our memories the way that ‘A Bucket of Blood’ or ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ did, or to challenge an audience’s pre-existing expectations of a movie named “The Wasp Woman”. There are any number of interesting directions that the Countess Bathory-esque ‘aging-woman-will-go-to-any-lengths-to-preserve-beauty’ storyline could have been taken in, but instead Corman and Gordon just serve it straight, avoiding of any social commentary/satirical twist despite the film’s self-aware, cosmopolitan atmosphere and Madison Avenue setting.

Still, it’s a thoroughly diverting seventy-something minutes that remains approximately 126 times as entertaining as what might have resulted had any other director active in 1959 made a film about a woman turning into a giant wasp with a budget roughly equivalent to Charlton Heston’s dry-cleaning bill.

Shock Waves 
(Ken Wiederhorn, 1977)

Similarly, this little number – in which Peter Cushing and John Carradine lead a cast of younger/lesser known performers pitting their wits against undead Nazi super-soldiers in the Florida keys – has all the necessary ingredients in place for an absolutely bad-ass under-the-radar ‘70s horror…. but somehow, it just never manages to get the engine running.

The main boons to the film’s intermittent effectiveness come from it’s incredibly atmospheric shooting locations, which convey a convincing sense of isolated deprivation, and it’s uniquely conceived antagonists, who rise from the water uniformed and be-goggled like some nightmare combination of Golan-Globus ninjas and Amando de Ossorio’s Blind Dead. The cast are all fairly good too (Brooke Adams, who went to better things in the ’78 ‘Invasion of The Body Snatchers’ particularly stands out), and much of the photography is superb, despite being shot on 16mm.

Quite why such a promising outlay eventually fails to deliver the expected thrills therefore, I’m unsure, but let’s reluctantly grit our teeth and think it through. Firstly, continuity is all over the place (at several points early in the film, the characters seem to be discussing and acting upon terrible events that we have not been privy to), and, cool though it is, the whole Nazi zombie concept is rather undeveloped, as early suggestions that we’re dealing with an occult/supernatural menace are dropped in favour a presumably scientific rationale for their existence, which likewise remains unexplored, as does their obvious thematic status as a potent return-of-the-repressed atavistic terror, ala those aforementioned Blind Dead.

Furthermore, once they’re wandering about on land, the zombies gradually shed their initial menace, moving like ordinary human beings (presumably whilst being shouted at by an Assistant Director) and failing to demonstrate any abilities that would render them significantly more threatening than any other bunch of semi-mindless, unarmed men.

Perhaps most damaging of all though is the production’s decision to avoid any gore or explicit violence, which, though in some sense admirable, also wreaks havoc with the essential build up and release of tension necessary to the success of any chase/stalk/kill-orientated horror movie. When the expected crescendo of bloodshed that would traditionally accompany the demise of each of the zombies’ victims is watered down to an “oh, well… I guess he’s supposed to be dead now?” damp squib, the theoretically remorseless survival horror showdown of the film’s final act is stripped of any real urgency, leaving us instead to simply admire the view and reflect that the poor extras in the nazi/zombie get-up must have had a really rough time shooting this thing.

Carradine and Cushing are both under-used – presumably bacause the production cut corners by only hiring them for a few days each, which I’m cool with – but, whilst the former is as boisterous as ever, this is sadly one those mid-‘70s movies in which poor Peter seems to be at his lowest ebb, looking more cadaverous than ever before. Though professional to a tee, his lack of engagement with the material is clear, as he fails to really put any meat on the bones of his potentially fascinating character, the way he would almost certainly have done a decade earlier.

But, I should step back at this point and stop knocking this movie. I’ve made my point. If nothing else, it’s a fairly unique entry in the canon of ’70s American horror, and if you come to it with your expectations primed for ‘interesting failure’ rather than ‘lost classic’, you’ll likely find it a somewhat worthwhile experience.

Count Dracula’s Great Love 
(Javier Aguirre, 1972)

Ah, now we’re talkin’! Despite a plodding and rather campy opening half much concerned with hunts for lost coach wheels and inconsequential romantic trysts, Paul Naschy’s sole outing as the Count eventually warms up into not only one of his best films, but one of the most exultantly delirious slices of euro-horror nirvana ever to emerge from the sainted ‘70s. The set up that gets us there may be clumsy, but as soon as “Dracula”s voice-over starts delivering ultra-reverbed metaphysical pronouncements and his be-fanged ladies begin their slow motion peregrinations through the cobwebbed corridors, we’re on a different plain entirely, supping an intoxicating brew that leaves our heads spinning happily as love and death commingle, footsteps clang through a brace of effects pedals and Kensington (Madrid?) Gore dribbles ‘pon cleavage.

Infused (in its stronger ‘export’ cut, at least) with a degree of sexual content that pushes it firmly into the realm of the Erotic Castle Movie, the genius of ‘Count Dracula’s Great Love’ is that, whilst it is undoubtedly delirious, it nonetheless remains emotionally coherent throughout, as the trivial faffing about of the film’s poorly drawn human characters is gradually replaced by that of a love story from another world, played out with aching seriousness, as Naschy – ever the tragic romantic – essays one of strangest and most conflicted Draculas in screen history, anticipating a conclusion that is startling to say the least for devotees of vampire lore.

Over the past few years, I’ve watched this film several times in various stages of degradation, and each time the closing card rears up and the music plays out over blackness, it never fails to hit me with that feeling of having just awakened from some extraordinary dream, the usual whys and wherefores of cinema long forgotten – an instant hit of exactly the phenomena that keeps me coming back to these mind-warping euro-horrors again and again in other words, and to finally see it returned to its full glory via Vinegar Syndrome’s recent blu-ray edition feels like a minor miracle. Really, just an absolute pleasure to experience this one again in such fine form.

Dracula AD 1972 
(Alan Gibson, 1972)

As you will no doubt be aware, this film has attracted its fair share of mockery and critical brick-bats over the years, so now I think is as good as time as any to come out and say it loud and proud: I really like ‘Dracula AD 1972’.

Though it is certainly not one of Hammer’s best, and the damaging effect it’s oft-lamented drawbacks (the five-years-out-of-date Swinging London goofery, the almost total absence of Dracula, the rushed and inconclusive final confrontation, the antics of “Johnny Alucard”) remains substantial, I nonetheless maintain that this one is a lot of fun, and actually has quite a lot going for it beside the potential for ironic sniggering. Though not in the same league as the genuinely great ‘Taste the Blood of..’ (which the script here to some extent reworks), I’d probably place it above most of the other ‘Dracula’ sequels.

For one thing, I love the way that it – as is only appropriate, I suppose - oozes pure essence of “Britain in the early ‘70s”, in spite of the uproariously off-message ‘youth culture’ stuff. From the young Mr Alucard’s straight-from-a-NEL-paperback occult proclamations at his black mass, to the heavy-handed allusions to the Manson murders, to the Scotland Yard detective with a desk covered in ‘executive toys’ who dresses and behaves like a slightly younger and posher dry run for Jack Regan in ‘The Sweeney’ (I particularly love the bit where his partner begs some time off to get “a cup of coffee and a cheese roll” before they head off to bust the kids’ drug party)…. you could just bottle this stuff and I’d buy it by the crate.

It helps too that Alan Gibson largely directs the picture more like a crime drama than a traditional horror, rendering it one of the snappiest films Hammer ever made, with Van Helsing Jr and the cops’ pursuit of the vampire menace taking on a frantic feel akin to an episode of ‘Kolchak: The Night Stalker’ – an approach I very much appreciate.

The ‘deconsecrated church’ set upon which much of the action takes place is genuinely impressive too, and the aforementioned black mass, with reversed tape recorder freakouts and Johnny slitting his wrists all over Caroline Munro, is a real showstopper, probably one of the coolest scenes of its kind in early ‘70s horror.

Meanwhile, Peter Cushing – in stark contrast to his subdued turn in ‘Shock Waves’ - just radiates gravitas here, playing it straight enough to add weight to any amount of patently ridiculous plotting, and momentarily imbuing his final confrontation with Lee with a fateful intensity that successfully recalls their hair-raising showdown in Hammer’s first Dracula all those years ago (until the filmmakers bugger it all up a few moments later, but the less said about that the better).

I even quite like weird, ‘alternate world’ aspect of the script, wherein we’re presented with a 1970s wherein Count Dracula isn’t a pop culture household name, but a dread figure of obscure esoteric lore, mentioned alongside Belphegor and Belial in Johnny Alucard’s run-down of demonic top trumps, whom “legend has it” was buried somewhere in Hyde Park one hundred years prior.

Oh yeah, and if that wasn’t enough to win you over, I’ll put it to you that Stoneground’s ‘Alligator Man’ absolutely rules – a monster jam that sounds like it could have come straight off Lou Reed’s ‘Transformer’, perhaps lending credence to the argument that those upright cats at Hammer weren’t as far off the pulse of AD 1972 as is generally supposed.

The Brood 
(David Cronenberg, 1980)

Almost four decades later, and this remains Cronenberg’s most thoroughly disturbing film to date [persuasive counter-arguments welcomed at the usual address]. Almost entirely devoid of the “don’t worry kids, it’s just a horror movie” retreats into genre convention that softened the unsavoury subject matter of his earlier (and indeed, later) efforts, his heavy-handed use of a SF/horror metaphor to unpack the cyclical nature of familial abuse, together with a side order of disdain for the machinations of the psychiatric profession, grinds toward its conclusion with a sense of doom-laden inevitability, leavened only by the creepy feeling of ‘scientific distance’ from human behavior that characterizes so much of the director’s work.

With the exception of a startlingly effective horror movie ‘kill scene’ early on, no diversions, escape routes or sign-posts toward more conventional “entertainment” are offered to the viewer at any point, as Cronenberg’s determination to rub our faces in the nasty, serious business of his troubled characters’ case histories, and to generally go there each time we kinda wish he’d hold back, make this both, a) a remarkable and shocking film, and b) an extremely poor choice to open a Saturday night horror movie marathon. Cue uneasy silence and sombre discussion as the credits roll.

A couple of observations that occurred to me on this particular repeat viewing:

1. There are some striking (if entirely incidental) crossovers with the narrative of Andrzej Zulawski’s ‘Possession’ going on here. Given that that film was made roughly a year later, could we consider the possibility that a few scenes and ideas might have sunk into Zulawski’s consciousness during a screening of ‘The Brood’ and popped up again during the writing process for his own film..? Somehow I’d imagine no one ever dared put the question to him, but… just a thought.

2. Oliver Reed’s performance in ‘The Brood’ is really good. The character he plays is extremely ambiguous, as scripted –  a cruel arch-manipulator whose Frankensteinian disregard for professional ethics was solely responsible for letting the film’s supernatural menace get out of hand, but who also backs up his ‘tough love’ attitude with a genuine streak of well-meaning heroism - yet Reed embodies these contradictory impulses brilliantly. At this stage in his career, you’d have very much expected him to phone in his turn in a cheap Canadian horror flick from the nearest hotel bar, so it's surprising - and great - to instead find him putting in one of his best ever turns as a ‘serious actor’.

Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers 
(Fred Olen Ray, 1988)

And meanwhile, at completely the other end of the horror spectrum... let’s just say that if you knowingly sit down to watch a film named “Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers”, you’ll get exactly what you expect and/or deserve from this godawful piece of weirdly charming crap.

Camp as a row of tents and artlessly shot on what seems to be the same grubby, rescued-from-a-bin film stock utilised by John Waters on his early features, this basically seems to chronicle what happens when some people who theoretically work in ‘the film industry’ lower their expectations and instead begin competing with backyard SOV gore flicks made by horny teenagers – and if we think they should know better at their age, well, we’re the ones who paid money to watch the bloody thing, so who’s laughing now?

Telling the tale of a generic hardboiled private eye (yes, there are “private dick” jokes aplenty) who ends up on the trail of a cabal of prostitutes who belong to a quasi-Egyptian “chainsaw cult”(?!) overseen by TCM’s Gunnar Hansen (who, it turns out, has the least appropriate speaking voice imaginable for playing a cult leader), what we’re left with is essentially a non-stop pep rally for the delights of good ol’ LA sleaze, nothing more, nothing less, but if you’re in the right mood, then hey - dive right in.

The ostensible “gore scenes” – in which topless women wave chainsaws at off-screen victims whilst stage-hands throw blood and rubber limbs at them – are a disgrace to all concerned, whilst the relentless one-liners and tongue in cheek misogyny runs the gamut from knee-slapping to groan-inducing depending on your state of mind. Happily on this occasion, I found myself veering more toward the former. (“What do ya do, pray to Black & Decker?” was my favourite).

By the closing act, the whole thing has built up enough of a head of steam to become pleasantly deranged, and when we get to Linnea Quigley’s body painted double chainsaw dance, well… what need I do except repeat the phrase “Linnea Quigley’s body painted double chainsaw dance” and remind you that this film is commercially available on various formats? Actually, she doesn’t appear to be dancing all that effectively with those saws (they must have been quite heavy), but what the hell, it's still great, and Fred Olen Ray wins again!

Seriously though, for all my nose-holding, I had a pretty good time with this one – it’s a heck of a lot more likeable and good-natured than the Troma-type films it was presumably in competition with upon its initial release, and it’s really short too, so as long as you don’t make the rookie error of watching it sober, you’ll be home safe.


To be continued (I hope)....

Monday, 3 October 2016

The Great Jess Franco Location Tour, Part # 1: Calpe.

Whilst visiting friends and attending a music event on Valencia’s Costa Blanca in Southern Spain this September, I naturally made sure that we put a day aside to pay a visit to the town of Calpe [Calp in its alternative Catalan spelling], which lies but a short drive East along the coast from the high rise nightmare of Benidorm and the idyllic historical town of Altea.

Although there are a number of equally sacred spots for Jess Franco fanatics scattered around Western Europe, Franco returned to Calpe to film again and again throughout his career, giving it, I think, a pretty good claim to being the director’s spiritual home – helped no doubt by the fact that Alicante and the Costa Blanca was also his actual home and base of operations for the last thirty plus years of his life.

Whilst it is still to some extent a working port town with a small fishing fleet, Calpe in 2016 is largely resigned to its status as a tourist town, if thankfully one with a slightly more refined and low key character than the nearby ‘fleshpots’. The gleaming, recently built towers of the town centre and shopping district have a rather bland, comfortable feeling about them, which extends unchallenged through the rows of identikit tourist restaurants that line the pristine beach-front, leading to the slightly lower and shabbier high rises of the older hotels around the harbour. (And who knows what kind of shenanigans Franco might have filmed within them over the year, although unfortunately trying to identify forty year old hotel interiors is likely to prove a pretty tough gig.)

One feature of Calpe that is definitely neither bland nor comforting however is the astonishing Peñón de Ifach, the titanic limestone rock formation that overlooks the harbour, its shape visible along the coastline for miles in either direction.

Wherever you are in Calpe, the Peñón will invariably draw your attention – it dominates the town to an extent that is almost surreal, with its sheer size becoming almost head-spinning at close quarters. As such, it’s no wonder that it requently caught the eye of Jess Franco’s ever-roving camera lens, often appearing like some weird totem before he pans down and across into an establishing shot of the harbour area.

This is how the Peñón de Ifach appears in what is (to my knowledge) the earliest film Franco shot around Calpe, 1966’s Cartes Sur Table / ‘Attack of the Robots’:

And this is as close as I could get to recreating that shot in September 2016:

Spinning around to a reverse shot meanwhile, this harbour will be all too familiar to Francophiles…

…and, I’m pretty sure that this must be the road on which the ‘final girl’ character in Bloody Moon (1981) has a run-in with an unconvincing falling ‘boulder’ and subsequently instigates a health & safety-related altercation with the local police. No doubt she’d be pleased to see they now have a warning sign up there.

Turning back toward the ocean meanwhile, the lighthouse at the end of the spit that forms the entrance to Calpe’s harbour appears to have been slightly remodelled since 1973 (perhaps as a result of storm damage?), but is still clearly recognisible as the port from which Robert Woods and Tania Busselier cast off, bearing Lina Romay to the “island” of Count and Countess Zaroff in that year’s Countess Perverse.

Although both ‘Countess Perverse’ and She Killed In Ecstasy (1970) create the illusion that the iconic ‘Xanadu’ building designed by architect Ricardo Bofill stands alone on a remote island, it is in fact located on the mainland, about a twenty minute walk along the beach-front from the harbour pictured above, in a heavily developed clifftop area just on the other side of the bay around which the town is built.

This imaginative reordering of the local geography must have proved pretty disorientating for any viewers familiar with the area, but for visitors following the path of Franco’s characters by land, the right road to follow is pretty easy to spot once you reach the far side of the beach;

After a few minutes journey along the cliff-top path, we turn a corner…

…and lo and behold – there it is!

Helpfully, there is an information board for visitors, with English text included, which saves me from having to fill you in on the pertinent details myself.

Descending those spine-tinglingly familiar steps down the cliff-face to the shore (see below), my first order of business is to solemnly tread the same ground Soledad Miranda herself once stood upon, as her character gazed out to sea mourning the death of her husband in ‘She Killed in Ecstasy’.

Whilst my cheap digital camera couldn’t really compete with the low angle majesty of Franco’s camerawork, the shots below are about as close as we got to matching up with my reference pic. (Many thanks to Satori for her modelling assistance here – as you can see, she picked her finest mod threads for the occasion).

In the opposite direction meanwhile, collapsed paving stones now make it difficult to stand on the exact spot from which Soledad once looked out to sea, but you’ll notice that the small outcrop of rock in the lower half of both of the pics below, which remains recognisible almost fifty years later.

(Note too the manner in which Franco has framed his shot to drastically crop the top of the facing headland, hiding the other buildings from view in order to maintain the illusion of a ‘private island’, whilst also making the fairly gentle cliff face look taller and more severe into the bargain. Low budget ingenuity at its finest!)

Returning to ‘Countess Perverse’, the sandy beaches and jagged rocks upon which the victims of the Zaroffs are initially seen landing upon the “island” must be located elsewhere (as the preceding photo demonstrates, the shore directly beneath the Bofill complex is actually pretty sparse), but thereafter we can at least retrace the characters’ progress toward the house up those magnificently sinister steps.

Beginning with a few shots of Kali Hansa making the ascent at the start of the film, we will subsequently move onto a few shots from later portions of the movie.

As pictured in some of the preceding shots, the circular stone archway through which Count and Countess Zaroff (Howard Vernon and Alice Arno) are seen viewing boats approaching their island in ‘Countess Perverse’ can be found halfway up the stairway leading to Xanadu. Note again how Franco’s frame is carefully arranged to disguise the fact that the headland visible on the far left is in fact the all-too-familiar Peñón (which is of course supposed to be situated far away on the “mainland”). Once again, Satori steps in the model for the third picture below.

Another part of the Xanadu / Bofill complex that Franco used extensively is the single-storied, round-windowed stone building overlooking the ocean at the bottom of the stairway. I’m unsure whether or not Ricardo Bofill actually played a role in designing this building, but it apparently used to function as a restaurant (or at least, cooking and dining area) for the residents of the apartments above.

It is here that the Zaroffs’ cannibal feasts take place in ‘Countess Perverse’, and it is also where Soledad Miranda stalks Paul Muller’s character in ‘She Killed In Ecstasy’.

Regrettably for the present day residents of Xanadu and La Muralla Roja however, 2016 finds this building in a pretty sorry state. Entirely ruined and left open to the elements, it seems to have become a haunt for vagrants and/or local teenagers. Covered in graffiti, it carried a pungent aroma of rotting trash and sun-baked urine on the blisteringly hot day upon which we visited, although the shade it provided was welcome, at least.

[Intriguingly, the closest I can get to a viable translation of the graffiti on the roof is possibly something like “with you until the moon forgets your face”..? Any Spanish speakers out there able to clarify?]

For me personally, seeing the site of such mod-ish Mediterranean ‘70s grandeur reduced to little more than rubble proved quite affecting, even as the chance to spend some time exploring a quintessential part of Franco’s unique interior geography, feeling it transform into an actual, physical space before my eyes, was simultaneously exhilarating. A strange mixture of feelings.

Here then are a few comparisons I attempted with frames from the meal scene in ‘Countess Perverse’, followed by a few additional shots illustrating the current state of the round-windowed dining room.

[Note the ‘elder sign’ graffiti in the last picture.]

I’m not sure whether Howard Vernon’s Count Zaroff made use of the barbeque / oven adjacent to this dining room to prepare his “speciality” dishes in ‘Countess Perverse’ - having re-checked the film, all we’re offered are close-up insert shots of a slab of meat sizzling on a grill, its location unclear – but it would certainly be nice to think the Count did his cooking here.

In Franco’s 1980 version of Eugenie - which was shot almost entirely in the vicinity of the Bofill buildings - we learn that, at that point in time at least, the ‘restaurant’ building also incorporated a swimming pool and sun-bathing area (which, needless to say, Franco’s characters proceed to make full use of for some erotic shenanigans).

Again, to survey the ruins of this lost corner of the Costa Blanca high life, memories of its former glory inadvertently kept alive by diehard Franco fans as bootleg VHS transfers of the film travel between servers and hard drives across the world, it a strange feeling indeed.

Of course, for those visiting the ‘Carrer Ricardo Bofill’ primarily as modernist architecture aficionados, Xanadu and its curious annex will be little more than a warm up for the main attraction, which stands adjacent to them in a slight natural valley – the extraordinary ‘Muralla Roja’. (The reference pic below is also taken from the 1980 ‘Eugenie’.)

In actual fact, Franco featured the exterior of La Muralla Roja surprisingly rarely in his films. Although Stephen Thrower’s book reveals that he began shooting an unfinished project named ‘El Misterio del Castillo Rojo’ there in 1972, the aforementioned ‘Eugenie’ is one of the few extant films in which it is used as a primary location. Conversely though, views of the building’s interior turn up frequently through the ‘70s and ‘80s.

In particular, Franco seems to have been fascinated by the network of bright red, Escher-esque interlocking staircases that connect the building’s apartments. These are used to represent an expressionistic ‘descent into hell’ in numerous Franco films, from ‘Countess Perverse’ (it which the local geography is further warped by the suggestion that the staircases connect the Xanadu building to the dining room beneath it) to the surrealistic conclusion to Los Noche de los Sexos Abiertos (1983), which posits it as the interior of some kind of coastal tower / lighthouse (presumably located elsewhere in this area, although I’m not sure where exactly).

Much to my disappointment however, the interiors of La Muralla Roja are very much off limits to casual visitors in the 21st century. The current residents of the complex evidently value their privacy, and the building is surrounded by security fences, locked gates bearing anti-trespassing notices and, in some places, thick rows of trees that seem to have been deliberately cultivated to block the view from outside.

At the time of our visit, some of the residents were busy preparing tables for a formal meal in the grounds of the complex, and, given that none of them gave any indication of looking favourably upon the nosy foreigners skulking around outside their gates wielding cameras, any hope I may have entertained of stealing a glimpse of those famous staircases, or indeed the equally iconic crucifix-shaped swimming pool on the roof, was firmly off the menu.

Whilst these circumstances regrettably forced me to abandon any attempts to match up any particular shots from Franco’s films, the exterior façade of La Muralla Roja remains jaw-dropping – one of the most striking and beautiful 20th century buildings I have ever seen in fact, as the following shots will hopefully to some extent testify. (And if not, a far more extensive and professional range of photographs can be enjoyed on Ricardo Bofill’s website here.)

And so, this brings us to the point at which, exhausted by our sight-seeing exertions and feeling our skin practically sizzling under the sun’s assault, we bid farewell to this otherworldly corner of the Mediterranean dream, and retreated at full speed back toward the beach and the air-conditioned comfort of the nearest tourist restaurant, where ice cold beer and reassuringly tasteless pizza awaited.

Shortly thereafter, our schedule dictated that it was time to bid farewell to Calpe. It would be nice think that I will be able to return at some point in the future, perhaps spend a bit more time soaking up the atmosphere, scouting some less obvious Jess Franco shooting locations, perhaps even try to book in advance for a few nights in the one no doubt highly coveted holiday apartment within La Muralla Roja.

In reality though, who knows then I will be back. As mentioned in my introductory paragraph, there are so many other Franco Location Tour hot spots to hit over the course of future holidays… and if any spendthrift publishers in the audience want to consider covering my travel expenses for a coffee table book on noteworthy Euro-horror locations, well, I’m all ears.