Jess Franco On Blu-ray: SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY And VAMPYROS LESBOS From Severin Films
With nearly 200 films to his name, Jess Franco is among the most prolific directors of the modern age. However, even the staunchest Franco fan will tell you that among the masses there are regrettably few true gems. The 1971 sexy revenge thriller She Killed in Ecstasy is one of them. The film treads a lot the same ground as Francois Trauffat's The Bride Wore Black, in which a scorned woman seeks out and kills the men who killed her fiance. In this case, however, Mrs. Johnson, the titular She, is seeking revenge on the people she holds responsible for her husband's suicide. The trick is, she does it by seducing them, men and women, before her lethal strike.
The film starts out with Mrs. Johnson, portrayed by the painfully beautiful Soledad Miranda, flouncing about in a sort of shiny metal chandelier of a top as her husband explains that his medical experiments involving human embryos will change the world for the better. It's the kind of clumsy exposition that serves solely to set the plot in motion, and it's certainly not Franco's strong suit. The film then quickly moves to a sort of peer tribunal in which the medical community rebukes Dr. Johnson's claim and strips him of his medical license. The arguments used on both sides are eerily reminiscent of the ongoing stem cell debate happening the United States today, I honestly didn't expect that kind of topicality. Following his expulsion from the medical profession, Dr. Johnson literally loses the will to live and soon offs himself, in the cinematically traditional way, with a razor blade in the shower. Mrs. Johnson loses her cool and decides to destroy the lives of the people who destroyed her happy, and exceptionally erotic life.
What follows is a series of sexually violent vignettes in which Mrs. Johnson seduces and then murders each of her husband's tormentors one and a time. Among these are Franco regulars Howard Vernon, Ewa Stromberg, and Franco himself, as the final masochistic villain to succumb to Miranda's irrefutable charms. After he first murder, a pretty standard stalk and slash operation, the potential victims begin to get nervous and cautious, which in turn forces Mrs. Johnson to get more creative and less inhibited with each passing corpse. This is one of the rarer cases in which Franco's incessant drive to create actually did him some good, his never ending creativity often forced him into subpar films with lackluster production, but this film is quite good, objectively speaking, not something a person can say about most of his other work, which is an acquired taste at best.
Franco's oeuvre is an intimidating one, and the ratio of diamonds to chunks of coal is frustratingly low, but for anyone looking to see what he could do when he was on top of his game, She Killed in Ecstasy is an excellent starting point. Soledad Miranda is inescapably magnetic on screen, and Franco smartly keeps here there for the vast majority of the film. Her piercing black eyes and long dark brunette hair frame her as a force to be reckoned with, even when she's not wearing anything but a flowing purple cape, and it's difficult for a waifishly pretty woman like that to be intimidating when she's completely naked, unless she's Soledad Miranda. This one is definitely recommended.
She Killed in Ecstasy is presented as the original German dub, the film was a German production, so the German dub was essential to recouping costs. The image quality, while not as pristine as some films from the era, is more than acceptable, even with frequent damage on the print. The clarity and colors are mostly gorgeous, and if anything, the film's presentation here illustrates Franco's frequent disregard for plane of focus in his films. What could easily have been just the damage inherent to shitty bootlegs is now shown to be on the actual prints of the film. Actors wander in and out of focus, seemingly with no regard for the final product, it's quite bizarre at times, but definitely a staple of Franco's work. The audio is not quite as impressive as the video, with there being a couple of demonstrably jarring sections in which the audio either completely drops out or is replaced by loud hissing. However, the film almost certainly sounds better than it ever has on home video, including the fantastic trademarked jazzy score that makes Franco's odd little films all the more compelling.
In terms of extras, Severin is certainly no slouch, and the effort expended on this piece is well worth it for viewers. Jess Franco died a few years back and one would think that supplementary materials would be tough to come by, however, David Gregory at Severin had the foresight to record hours upon hours of interviews with the man before his death. These interviews have come out in pieces over the last five years on Severin and Intervision's various Franco releases. Everything from The Sinister Eyes of Dr. Orloff, to Paula-Paula, to The House of Linda and their other releases have seen interviews from this session, and they are spell binding, and in this case, smartly subtitled. Even though Franco was speaking English at the time, the combination of his advanced age, poor health, and heavy accent did no favors to other releases. In addition to that there is a wonderful appreciation for the film from Franco authority, and author of the upcoming Murderous Passions: The Delirious Passions of Jesus Franco, Stephen Thrower, who has also authored definitive books on American drive-in horror and Lucio Fulci. The man is a wealth of information and a scholarly look at Franco is always appreciated.
The rest of the extras focus on the performers, supporting actor Paul Muller and the star Soledad Miranda. Paul Muller's interview is fairly short and non-specific, but still interesting to hear as he was a frequent collaborator with Franco and part of his usual troupe. The segment on Soledad Miranda is far more substantial, as Miranda-phile Amy Brown is the person to talk to about the woman who absolutely owns this film. Brown's scholarship on Miranda ties in with her exceptional fandom for this woman who died far too young shortly after the completion of her most well-known films. The piece is an essential primer for those, like myself, who knew little about Soledad Miranda but are curious about the woman behind those dark eyes.
The second disc in this set is a compilation of the jazzy, sexy scores from Ecstasy, Vampyros Lesbos, and The Devil Came From Akasava , three of Franco's films with Soledad Miranda, and three supremely groovy soundtracks.
She Killed in Ecstasy is an exceptional piece of early '70s sleaze from the time in Franco's career immediately before he put quantity over quality. It's sharp, fairly well written, and to the point. A fantastic primer.