Blue Rita / Das Frauenhaus (Jess Franco, 1977)

Strippers led by Blue Rita (Martine Fléty) seduce and abduct government officials following a show at a Parisian nightclub. The nude men end up chained, thrown into small cages and doused in bright-green liquid which makes them extremely horny. The female wardens then proceed to tease the ecstatic victims until those give up their government secrets or sign over their money to Blue Rita in exchange for sexual relief.

This spy/erotic comic book film opens with a flashing blue sign “Blue Rita” which is easy to mistake for a title card. The original title of this Erwin C. Dietrich production, Das Frauenhaus (“The House of Women”) comes up later during the colourful opening credits sequence.

The story here is a thin one, punctuated with lengthy striptease performances. The plot twists in the final minutes of the film don’t make any sense to me  even after having seen Blue Rita about five times. According to Pamela Stanford, Blue Rita was actually two separate films edited together, which may explain the lack of plot coherence (but then again, many Franco films were shot from unfinished or half-written scripts).
Male actors (Olivier Mathot – Cannibals, Eric Falk – Mad Foxes, Guy Delorme – Nachtblende) overact like there’s no tomorrow. Their sexual frustration scenes are just hilarious. Bad dubbing (in both German and English versions) further adds to the fun.
Blue Rita‘s cinematic style totally opposite to today’s commercial filmmaking. No attempt is made at creating a character we can identify with, there is no message and no attempt at building up any sort of suspense or intrigue. We’re just allowed to watch the proceedings that develop in a slow, dreamy manner until the rushed, confusing climax.Jess Franco holds each shot for an unbelievably long time without cutting (sort of like in early Fassbinder films). The director chooses to film each scene in a master shot whenever possible, either covering the action from a wide angle (like in the most nightclub scenes) or in a tracking shot (Eric Falk coming out of the club, a female traitor spy being pursued through the Paris streets by Pamela Stanford’s Citroën ).
Each beautifully composed shot is allowed to play out to the full, with shots linked via very rudimentary editing. The editing becomes faster (often to a disorienting effect) during the few brief action scenes (Eric Falk’s nocturnal fight with his bodyguards outside the bar, the final shootout). The stylized striptease scenes are among the most lethargic and unerotic in Franco’s massive filmography, with actresses often barely moving. This lack of passion is compensated through extremely well-executed candy-coloured lighting in the interior scenes. Blue Rita is easily the most visually accomplished of all Jess Franco / Erwin C. Dietrich collaborations. The vivid colours reminded me of Andre Hunebelle’s Fantômas, Fassbinder’s Lola or such Edgar Wallace films as Die Gorilla von Soho. The daytime Paris exteriors, on the contrary, are filmed in natural light. These scenes (presumably filmed by Jess himself and not by Rudolf Kuettel) are grainier and feature the director’s typical use of the zoom and unbalanced framing.
Jess Franco isn’t known to be a perfectionist. You may remember a random fly that lands on Paul Muller’s forehead in She Killed in Ecstasy, Lina Romay bumping her face on the camera lens in Female Vampire.
In Blue Rita Jess often depicts his male actors’ physique in merciless closeup, such as grey-haired Olivier Mathot’s tooth fillings as he’s writhing in ecstasy. Typically of Jess Franco films from the era (see Sexy SistersDie Teuflischen Schwester) male nudity is nearly as frequent as female, so you see not only the ladies unshaven armpits but also the guys sagging bellies and floppy cocks (whereas in most similar Italian genre films of the time male nudity was taboo).
Blue Rita offers us a strange cocktail of weak storytelling, beautiful visuals, a naive, fairy-tale atmosphere mixed with comic book torture scenes…
Blue Rita was one of the very first Jess Franco DVD’s I’ve watched around 2006 and I was happy to recently revisit the film on Blu-ray.
The region-free Blu-ray from Ascot Elite (part of the Jess Franco – Golden Goya collection) is the best way to enjoy Blue Rita. The colours and sharpness are very impressive, and high level of detail reveals how shoddy the sets  are more clearly than in the older DVD version.
For example, the walls of the cages in which male prisoners are kept clearly wobble and the sharp spikes on top of the cages are seemingly made of cardboard and wrapped in tin  foil. Jess Franco’s imaginative framing combined with his love for comic book exaggeration easily compensate for these budget shortcomings.

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) .

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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.

lina romay stripper jack the ripper 1976

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.

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.

Killer Barbys vs. Dracula ( Jess Franco, 2002 )

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version under review is the English-dubbed cut

When a coffin containing the corpse of Count Dracula is brought to Spain, the vampire is woken up by a Killer Barbys song and goes about murdering various colourful characters in a vast amusement park.

With some hilarious dialogues, energetic pacing and a healthy pisstake spirit, Killer Barbys vs. Dracula is Jess Franco’s funniest film and may actually be superior to the slightly more upmarket original Killer Barbys.

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Several generations of Jess Franco actors cross paths in Killer Barbys vs. Dracula: Katja Bienert from Lilian and Diamonds of Kilimandjaro, Fata Morgana and Carmen Montes who would come to be the faces of Franco’s final ‘abstract erotic video art’ phase, with Paul Lapidus of One Shot Productions and Franco muse Lina Romay also at hand. Spanish genre cinema icon Also Sambrell and Italian cult actor Pietro Martellanza aka Peter Martell round out the busy cast. Silvia Superstar does what she does best: looking absolutely gorgeous and singing with the Killer Barbys.

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Dan Van Husen (Der Todesrächer von Soho) turns in a great comic performance as Dr. Seward, a talkative blind man accompanied everywhere by his trusted assistant wielding and enormous wooden stake. He’s like a cross between Dr. Orloff from Female Vampire and blind beggar helping the police in Jack the Ripper. Lina Romay dons a Soviet-style outfit as Comrade Irina, a Romanian communist responsible for bringing Dracula to Spain. Cult italian actor Peter Martell (French Sex Murders) appears as the impostor Dracula, convinced he’s the real deal until the original count doesn’t prove the opposite. Sadly, Lina Romay is dubbed by someone else in the English language version.

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Jess Franco’s direction is focused and energetic with a lot of attention to detail. Cinematography (by Emilio Schargorodsky who went on to direct the excellent Dracula 0.9) is surprisingly well-executed and is handled with more inventiveness than one might have expected.

A wonderful episode shows Dracula stalking his descendant Bela Balasz through a sun-drenched cemetery. It’s blatantly midday yet we see fog roll among the tombstones, which, coupled with Dutch angles, adds to the film’s strange ambience. Aldo Sambrell’s picturesque residence in Killer Barbys vs. Dracula was previously used by Jess Franco as one of the locations of his surreal low-key gem Mil Sexos Tiene la Noche.

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The scene of Dracula seeing his old castle again while on the run from the cops – appropriately scored with the magnificent organ theme from El Sadico de Notre Dame is absolutely amazing. The legendary monster sobs at the sight of his old dwelling, and cries himself to slip in his coffin. Killer Barbys vs. Dracula peakes during this episode, and it might as well have been the final one for nothing that follows can match its combination of camp and genuine melancholy.

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Possibly the last fully fledged ensemble cast film before Franco moved on to making small-scale films for Kevin Collins, Killer Barbys vs. Dracula is a lot of fun for Jess Franco and trash cinema fans. Why the Killer Barbys films weren’t received with more enthusiasm is beyond me, as Jess was giving the fans plenty of action, laughs, gorgeous scenery, in-jokes and allusions. Scored with tracks from German cult band Die Ärzte, Killer Barbys vs. Dracula is inspired cinematic hooliganism from Tio Jess, brimming with inventiveness and belying the sometimes shoddy production values.