Bats

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Our pal Marvelous Mary once spent an evening round out our place watching Jesus Franco’s SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY, and came away with a healthy respect for any filmmaker who could centre a movie around a Crocheted Shawl of Death. Francophiles will recall that star Soledad Miranda dons this garment each time she goes out to shag and kill. A keen and expert knitter, Mary was smitten.

So when Jesus died at Easter, Mary popped round for second helpings. We tried to watch THE GIRL FROM RIO aka THE MILLION EYES OF SUMURU but a technical glitch forced us to resort to DRACULA PRISONER OF FRANKENSTEIN, which meant we had to trade Shirley Eaton and George Sanders for Jason Reitman’s mom and a visibly ailing Dennis Price. Too bad.

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Genevieve Robert as the Gypsy Woman: arguably an advance on Maria Ouspenskaya. For the first time in my life I begin to think of Ivan Reitman as a man of taste.

I often feel that Jesus Franco’s name should be spelled with a comma after the first name and an exclamation mark after the second. This film inspired that feeling with renewed force. It doesn’t so much lack a plot as bodily reject one, like a transplant patient spitting his new heart across the room to watch it spatter in a pointillist nebula on the far wall. Scenes wend hopelessly on without purpose or meaning, the action attenuated and dubbed like porno without the sex.

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Frankenstein Must be Debilitated. Or, “Not the pole dance, Dennis!”

Whilst in Dublin, I received from friend Paul Duane a copy of Dennis Price, A Tribute, by Elliot J. Huntley, a comprehensive, warm, fannish but erudite profile of the Great Actor. Huntley is generous to Franco, seeing the late films as noble rather than embarrassing, proof of Price’s devotion to his craft and desire to put on a good show however trying the circumstances. And DRACULA PRISONER OF FRANKENSTEIN is trying indeed. But Franco appreciated Price’s talents even if he couldn’t show them to their best advantage — “He was subtle and intelligent and quick. I found him magnificent. You could shoot eighteen hours with him” (never mind the quality, feel the width!) —  and Price enjoyed Franco’s company.

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Back seat Dracula.

On the plus side, the music, by Bruno Nicolai and Daniel White, is excellent. There are strange moments that seem straight out of a spaghetti western, which suggest a more bracing genre mash-up that might have been. This enhanced by the score and the constant antarctic whiteout wind effects, and the eerily human cries of a peacock add some indefinable unease to this already potent punch. Fiona pointed out a shot of a ringing church bell which had been apparently speeded-up, resulting in a queer, herky-jerk effect reminiscent of NOSFERATU’s phantom coach.

Franco makes great use of locations, though he doesn’t attempt to disguise that they’re Spanish and Portuguese  rather than Transylvanian. (Nor does he, in JACK THE RIPPER, attempt to pretend his location is Victorian London: it’s Zurich. Honestly, the two things everybody knows about JTR is that he stalked the East End and was never caught. In the Franco film, Klaus Kinski stalks Zurich and GETS CAUGHT.)

Odd bit with a bat in a jar that’s being slowly filled with fake blood. The poor pipistrelle can’t decide whether to struggle for freedom as the unending trickle of raspberry juice spatters its shoulders, or to lap up the delicious fluid. It keeps switching from one course of action to the other. You can read its thoughts, poor thing: “Must get out — gotta think! — mmm, delicious! — maybe if I push upwards — how do they make this stuff? It’s so sweet!” (The scene is undoubtedly cruel, but it looks to me like Franco rescued the poor chiroptera as it went under for the third time, then probably ran it under the tap or something. So that’s OK, and we can get back to worrying about the cruelty being done to the human performers, though mercifully they aren’t tortured with much dialogue.)

The illusions in the film are all curiously naked: the rubber bats on wires are obviously rubber bats on wires, but then they always were, in Universal and Hammer films too. Franco also films a real bat in closeup while some offscreen bat-wrangler flaps its wings for it to pretend it’s in flight. That looks exactly like what it is too. The plastic skeletons are resplendently plastic, and just to be on the safe side Franco performs one of his trademark zooms into ECU on Howard Vernon’s joke-shop fangs, in case we had become concerned they might be genuine.

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The Frankenstein monster appears to have had his makeup applied with a magic marker. And he has a false rubber glue-on chin, like Kenny Everett’s Marcel Wave.

When the angry mob of villagers hove into view, their torches are not quite ablaze — merely smoldering. This may be the most touching low-budget compromise I’ve ever seen. “They provide no illumination, but the smoke trails — cough, cough — allow us to see where we’ve been.”

And then, all at once and for no reason, the wolfman shows up (played by “Brandy”!). He has a papier mache nose. A well-known side-effect of lycanthropy.

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Jesus, Franco!

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19 Responses to “Bats”

  1. david wingrove Says:

    I’ve long been an admirer of Dennis Price…especially since Dirk Bogarde announced that Des was “the only homosexual” on the set of VICTIM. Excuse me?!!

  2. “…and I can say this with confidence because I tried to shag all the other men and they all turned me down.” No, not an actual quote, I’m just riffing.

    PG Wodehouse greatly admired Price’s perf as Jeeves in The World of Wooster TV show.

  3. david wingrove Says:

    Can’t imagine many people turning down our Dirk, whatever their gender or persuasion. But I can REALLY see DP as Jeeves.

  4. Jenny Eardley Says:

    What’s all this talk? Dirk Bogarde fell deeply in love with all of his leading ladies except Monica Vitti who was a beast (presumably not in the good way). A ladies man if ever I saw one.

  5. You gotta have some beasts.

  6. Playing Jeeves was probably Price’s last big success, but the BBC only made two series because Ian Carmichael, who was Wooster, wanted to quit while it was still going strong. IC was quite good casting except he was far too old.

    Dirk nearly married Capucine, we are told.

  7. DRAC PRISONER OF FRANK is poor, despite the great locations and occasional atmospherics. It also features one of the least satisfactory vamp-stakings ever.

    I read that Bruno Nicolai’s inappropriately melodramatic score was lifted from earlier Franco films MARQUIS DE SADE’S JUSTINE (1969) and COUNT DRACULA (1970).

    And I’m not sure how much Daniel White (http://mubi.com/cast_members/81892) music is in the mix but he appears briefly near the start in an amusing wtf scene with that man Luis Barboo (http://mubi.com/cast_members/118848).

  8. david wingrove Says:

    Er…marriage of convenience, perhaps?

  9. Good mug on him, that man Barboo.

    The good thing about the music is it imparts an Eastern European feel to what is blatantly Spain/Portugal.

  10. Christopher Says:

    “the audience,God love ‘em..gotta have a wolfman!”……hell we got time

  11. In a movie where one vampire lady and Dr Frankenstein simply vanish off somewhere at the end, there is time for EVERYTHING.

  12. This was transmitted on ITV in the Central region in the late 80s/early 90s. It’s the only film I ever saw on TV where the continuity announcer apologised for its quality as the end credits rolled…

    I believe the great Dennis Price was also supposed to be in Franco’s The Bloody Judge but he was replaced by Leo Genn.

  13. Yes, I saw it on STV around the same time. 80s, I think. Remember finding it very odd that they hired Price and then gave him hardly any dialogue, but Franco pulls the same trick with a mute Klaus Kinski in Count Dracula.

    In general, the lack of verbiage isn’t a bad idea, though: saves on dubbing, spares us Franco’s often less-than-sparkling repartee, and does make the film distinctive, even if it’s not good. The soundtrack is quite atmospheric: those peacocks!

  14. The vanishing vampiress was that woman Britt Nichols (http://mubi.com/cast_members/96429) who was in a couple of rather better Franco films in the 1972-1974 period (and also got a nasty lashing from de Ossorio’s Knights Templar).

    I saw D PRIS OF F on ITV too! At the time, what made most impression was Paca Gabaldón’s raving.

  15. Jenny Eardley Says:

    This sounds like such an advert. I was looking at the schedule of the Movies 4 Men channel last night (my Dad had Women’s Hour on the other day so I thought, what the hell?) I’m excited to see they have CLASH BY NIGHT this Friday lunchtime, I’ve been wanting to see that. They also have films with many of the people mentioned in this thread: Franco’s 99 WOMEN late on Saturday night; CIRCUS OF FEAR with Kinski and Genn, Monday afternoon; and Price in PICCADILLY THIRD STOP, Tuesday morning. FACES IN THE DARK sounds like something I’d read about on Shadowplay – any interest in that one?

  16. Absolutely — story by Boileau & Narcejac, blind bloke in peril, I’m on the case!

    Clash by Night is worthwhile alright. Didn’t care for the Franco Women in Prison malarkey, but am happy to see that The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein is a million times better and a trillion times stranger than D PRIS OF F.

    The moaning madwoman seems to have been dubbed by someone with a lot of porno experience. So much so that wanton moaning has become a fast habit — a professional hazard for those in that line of work, I’m told.

    Circus of Fear is, I think, a Harry Alan Towers production: the same dodgy dealer who produced several Franco films including those in the Fu Manchu series with Sir Chris Lee.

  17. EROTIC RITES OF F is easily the best and wildest of the loose trilogy of monster flicks that Franco released in 1972, with DRACULA’S DAUGHTER being quite OK and D PRIS OF F being loose indeed. All “star” Howard Vernon, Britt Nichols, Luis Barboo, Daniel White, Fernando Bilbao, Anne Libert and Alberto Dalbés. Also making her debut: a teenaged Lina Romay.

  18. Jenny Eardley Says:

    Owww, I’ve been stitched up like a kipper! It wasn’t the Fritz Lang one; when it said 1963 at the start I realised it probably didn’t feature Marilyn Monroe. I didn’t watch it because I’d just watched THEY MADE ME A FUGITIVE and that was enough postwar British criminals.

  19. Oh, you missed the hilariously terrible Montgomery Tully “thriller” AKA Escape By Night.

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