Jack the Ripper ( Jess Franco,1976)

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When not busy treating the most destitute of London’s paupers, Dr. Dennis Orloff (Klaus Kinski) likes to slash a prostitute or two. He’s Jack the Ripper, you see. After the good doctor is done with them, his trusty lobotomized handmaid dumps the bloodied remains into the Thames. Scotland Yard’s Inspector Selby is on the case, aided by a blind beggar and his dancer ex-girlfriend (Josephine Chaplin – Downtown Heat) .

klaus kinski jack the ripper 1976

This lavishly produced trash from producer Erwin C. Dietrich is Jess Franco’s auto-remake of his early classic Gritos en la La Noche/The Awful Dr. Orloff. With an international star in the lead, Jack the Ripper retains the classical, traditional essence of Jess Franco’s early B/W works while amping up the blood and sex factor. Such Franco themes as peeping, sexy dance routines, unusually wise and perspicacious blind characters, ineffectual policemen are all at hand in Jack the Ripper.

Often underused in Jess Franco films, Klaus Kinski is allowed sufficient screen time in Jack the Ripper this time around and does a good job portraying the mysterious Whitechapel maniac as a frigid, Victorian-era repressed gent with mommy issues.

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Impressive production values (including lavish period costumes and props) aside, Jack the Ripper remains a trash film at heart – but a stylish and entertaining one. Peter Baumgartner’s quality cinematography can be unsubtle, with often overlit exterior nighttime scenes (this is especially noticeable in the Bluray release). Some less-disciplined shots here and there suggest that Franco did get to handle a portion of the camerawork himself. A beautifully crafted flashback/hallucination scene of Kinski being taunted by the ghost of his prostitute mother foreshadows the dazzling visual abstractions Jess Franco would explore some forty years on with the likes of Paula-Paula.

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Klaus Kinski stalking a terrified Lina Romay through a nocturnal pine forest is a highlight. With no score, just some ambient sounds, the scene is a masterclass in subtle chills. Jess Franco spares no close-ups when capturing Lina Romay’s and Josephine Chaplin’s stunning natural beauty, in an out of authentic period costume. The English dubbing is, as per the norm, wretched. German-language track is somewhat more restrained and serious. Klaus Kinski doesn’t have his own voice in either language version, which is of course a sin.

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An improvement on The Awful Dr. Orloff in terms of pacing and consistency, Jack the Ripper packs a good deal of blood and strangeness into its shortish running time. You don’t have to be a Jess Franco fanatic to appreciate what Jack the Ripper has got to offer.

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The Devil’s Honey / Il miele del diavolo ( Lucio Fulci,1986)

il miele del diavolo

From the uninvitingly flat vaseline-coated zoom-in on the protagonist’s face in the opening scene of The Devil’s Honey it immediately transpires that director Fulci is merely going through the motions with this erotic thriller. Bernard Seray (Hell of the Living Dead) is a delight in a supporting part as the overwrought, bitchy producer. Brett Halsey has impressive biceps but looks tired throughout. Lucio Fulci makes an uncharacteristic cameo as a street vendor. Technically competent bur lacking commitment The Devil’s Honey isn’t the film to remember Lucio Fulci by.

Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies ( Jack Sholder,1998)

WISHMASTER 2 ANDREW DIVOFF

Do you remember Artisan Entertainment? The independent company that most famously released The Blair Witch Project, but also brought us many straight-to-video sequels, such as the dreary Candyman : Day of the Dead and the very decent Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies, before being bought out by the expanding Lions Gate.

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Coming from Jack Sholder (who helmed the darkest in tone entry into the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, and an effective slasher Alone in the Dark), Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies is a cost-effective follow-up to Robert Kurtzman’s 1997 Wishmaster. Made with half the budget of the original film and released straight-to-video, Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies is another opportunity for Andrew Divoff to shine in the role that made him famous. Despite its smaller budget, Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies is, if anything, an improvement on the original, that got carried away with the special effects at the expense of the story. The script (by Sholder himself) is focused and the many violent deaths caused by the evil Djinn are certainly graphic and imaginative. Holly Fields (Alien Interceptors) is suitably desperate as the girl who’s unwittingly unleashed the Djinn in the course of a robbery gone badly wrong. The Russian flavour is something that sets Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies apart from the first film. During his stint behind bars, the Djinn recruits the services of a small-time Russian mobster who’s supplying him with souls, while Holly Fields’ character turns to Russian Orthodox Church for spiritual salvation.

With simple, assured direction from Jack Sholder and some bloody special effects scenes (CGI is used very sparingly, thank god), Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies is quality low-budget horror and the last watchable Wishmaster film. Two more utterly worthless sequels followed, without Andrew Divoff or anything to recommend them for.

Dirty Game in Casablanca / Juego sucio en Casablanca ( Jess Franco,1985)

Dirty game in Casablanca (1985) Analia Ivars hot

A surprisingly linear (one could even say restrained) thriller from the notoriously erratic Jess Franco, Juego sucio en Casablanca stars William Berger as an alcoholic american novelist Dean Baker. His family life wrecked, himself toying with suicide, Baker starts an affair with Jill (Analia Ivars), a young girl he meets at a disco. The depressed scribe soon regains his lust for life as five strangers hunt him through the streets of Casablanca.

Dirty game in Casablanca (1985) English subs Jess FrancoDirty game in Casablanca (1985) English subs. William Berger

One could easily mistake Juego sucio en Casablanca for an 80’s TV movie. The cinematography is serviceable, without much experimentation. Jess Franco’s many unflattering closeups  (Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun, Day of the Cobra) show William Berger looking very run-down. There are some occasional visual flourishes which remind us we’re watching a Jess Franco film, such as the sequence at the harbour, with the setting sun shining right down the lens, creating that dreamy look Franco was so adept at capturing.

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Juego sucio en Casablanca is a conventional, somewhat melodramatic thriller, sticking closely to  the screenplay by Santiago Moncada (Hatchet for the Honeymoon), which was previously filmed by Tulio Demicheli (Dracula Versus Frankenstein / Monstruos del Terror) as Ace of Hearts/Juego sucio en Panamá (1975).

It’s very strange seeing Jess Franco attempt such a low-key Hitchcockian thriller during his busy softcore period. With not much in the way of originality, today Juego sucio en Casablanca is chiefly interesting  not for the elaborate yet implausible plot, but for how Jess Franco adapts his meagre resources to bring this pulpy story to life. The characters keep talking about big money and New York city while stuck in humble hotel rooms doing nothing much but smoking. Jess Franco generates the right ambience with generous helpings of stock footage, an ‘ethnic’ score and some suitably exotic Costa del Sol locations (familiar from Mil Sexos Tiene La Noche).

Analia Ivars looks great as Berger’s love interest, while  Antonio Mayans and Ricardo Palacios are not given enough screen time. Lina Romay can be spotted in a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo as one of Dean Baker’s fans. 70s bit-part baddie Luis Barboo plays of the gamblers, but his character turns up dead too soon.

With nothing much to make it stand out among the more daring and playful films of the period, Juego sucio en Casablanca remains an oddly tame entry in the Jess Franco canon.