The Films (EUGENIE, 99 WOMEN, VL, SKiE 4.5/5, ViF 5/5)
In the world of fantastic and cult cinema, Jess Franco is one of its titans. Over his career, he left one of the biggest legacies and filmographies, with more than 200 films. He was a creative volcano with an endless passion for cinema. With a filmography that large, some of them are going to be bad, but with the advent of home video and especially DVDs and Blu-rays, Franco’s gems shine brighter than ever before. The good folks at Umbrella Entertainment have packed five of said gems in one affordable package for new comers to the wild and jazzy world of Jess Franco!
First up is EUGENIE (aka: EUGENIE…THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION, 1970), which tells the story of a young and virginal woman named Eugenie (Marie Lilijedahl), who over a weekend on a European island is soon thrown into the world of sadomasochism, lies, and murder.
EUGENIE is one of Franco’s lavish and sexy productions. This was one of his first adaptations of the works of the Marquis de Sade. Even though this movie is technically a soft-core S&M film, EUGENIE is well made on every level. The cinematography, the bombastic score by Bruno Nicolai, and the unusual editing tricks. The cast too is in top form. Marie Lilijedahl (Swedish sex kitten known for INGA films) is an impossible to look away from. Maria Rohm (Jess Franco’s COUNT DRACULA) and Jack Taylor (VAMPIRES NIGHT ORGY) are charming and completely terrifying as the Brother and step sister act that seduce Eugenie. Christopher Lee (WICKER MAN, HORROR OF DRACULA) is the main highlight as Dolmance, the red velvet smoking jacket wearing leader of the cult. His role may be an extended cameo, but he makes it count.
Next up is, 99 WOMEN (1969) which tells the story of a women’s prison located on a desert island. Ruled by the sadistic and cruel lesbian warden Thelma (Mercedes McCambridge) and the corrupt Governor Santos (Herbert Lom), The island is a hot bed of desperation. The newest prisoner Marie (Maria Rohm) is named 99 and faces the hardships of the prison. Hope may be restored when a new superintendent named Leonie (Maria Schell) comes to inspect the island and clean it up.
99 WOMEN was one of the first in the new line of women in prison sleaze films, that would become more popular thanks to Roger Corman. But 99 WOMEN is not your run of the mill exploitation movie. 99 Women is full of high production value and a stellar cast. The highlight is the captivating performance by Maria Schell (CIMARRON), who sells every line she is given. Her character is the heart of the film. The battle of wits between her and Mercedes McCambridge (voice of the demon in THE EXORCIST and JOHNNY GUITAR) is the stuff of legend. As for the female inmates, Maria Rohm and Elisa Montes are both fantastic as the good girls. Rosalba Neri (LADY FRANKESTEIN) steals the show as the tough as nails and mean spirited Zoie. Herbert Lom is an underrated actor who shines even in his small role here. Overall a marvelous movie with a hypnotic theme song called “The Day I Was Born” by Barbara McNair.
Next up, VENUS IN FURS (1969) tells the story of a jazz trumpet player named Jimmy, who discovers a beautiful dead woman on the beach. Little does he know that she has returned from the grave to get revenge on her murderers and rapists.
VENUS IN FURS is one of Jess Franco’s masterworks. From start to finish, this psychedelic nightmare of lust and revenge surprises and thrills. Maria Rohm is spot on as the mysterious blonde in a fur coat. James Darren is a little too wooden for my taste, but he gives a believable performance. Barbara McNair and Margaret Lee are also two lovely beauties that spice up the movie. The most entertaining performance is from the slightly drugged up looking Klaus Kinski (THE GREAT SILENCE) as the Turkish prince. As a film, VENUS IN FURS is a gorgeous nightmare that must be seen to be believed.
Next is VAMPYROS LESBOS (1971), which tells the story of a young woman (Ewa Stromberg) who is seduced by the Countess Nadine Carody (Soledad Miranda), who is secretly a vampire.
VAMPYROS LESBOS is one of the Franco movies that automatically pops up with discussion of his work and for good reason. VAMPYROS is a bizarre and dream like lesbian retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, with lots of playful touches. Vampires sleeping in swimming pools instead of coffins. Volleyball nets instead of spider web. And of course, sunbathed lesbians and dance club numbers. The movie is an acid trip of erotic energy mixed with macabre thrills. Soledad Miranda (SOUND OF HORROR) is simply spellbinding in her singular role. A must-see Eurohorror classic.
Finishing off the package is Franco’s hidden remake of his earlier classic DIABOLICAL DR. Z (1966), called SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY (1971). Soledad Miranda plays Mrs. Johnson, a mad widow who must get revenge on the team of doctors that drove her husband to suicide.
While technically a loose remake of DIABOLICAL DR Z, SHE KILLED is a masterpiece of the female revenge genre. The whole movie is a Magnificent showcase for Soledad Miranda. Unlike her other films for Franco, Miranda can stretch her acting chops and the camera loves her for it. The rest of the film is a tight fever dream of revenge and bleak doom. In some ways, a great update of BRIDE WORE BLACK. The rest of the cast does well with Jess Franco himself in a small part along with Paul Muller, Howard Vernon, and Ewa Stromberg.
Audio/ Video (3.5/5) *
The five films have various qualities of Audio and Video. All five are 720p upscale to 1080p. 99 WOMEN, EUGENIE, and VENUS IN FURS have a 2.0 Dolby digital audio track. Of the three, 99 WOMEN is best sounding, with a superior mix overall. No hiss or crackles. EUGENIE and VENUS have smooth sound mixes, but a few sections of the films have a hollow room tone. VAMPYROS LESBOS and SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY, both come with a 2.0 German Dolby Digital soundtrack. SHE sounds marvelous with crisp dialogue and a fantastic sounding score. VAMPYROS is sadly lacking. VAMPYROS and SHE come with burnt on English subtitles, while the first three lack subtitles.
The picture quality of the five films is also a mixed bag. The black levels are too soft and corners of the frame are almost pixelated. 99 WOMEN is also slightly soft, but the color scheme is still vivid and impressive considering the vintage. VENUS IN FURS is also soft, but doesn’t have any major problems in close-ups. VAMPYROS is by far the worst looking in the set. The whole picture is full of film burns and jump cuts. The burnt subtitles too are ugly to look at, and the font of the text is too large. SHE looks very quality with crisp detail.
Each movie comes with its own disc. The extras are also a mixed bag. EUGENIE comes with its theatrical trailer. 99 WOMEN has an interview with Jess Franco, deleted and Alternate scenes, and theatrical trailer. VENUS IN FURS comes with a poster and stills gallery and theatrical trailer. VAMPYROS LESBOS has a trailer and trailer gallery. And Finally, SHE KILLED has zero extras.
Overall (3.5/5) **
For the price, The Jess Franco Collection is a great deal. If you’re a newbie to the works of Jess Franco, then this set is a perfect starter pack. But for fans, there’s better special editions on the market. Recommended.