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FOREVER FRANCO

By Andre Salas

Exorcism.Photos Courtesy of Synapse Films

DIRECTOR JESS FRANCO: artiste or hack? It probably depends on who you ask, since rabid fans and detractors alike seem especially (equally?) vehement on the subject: for every piece of ecstatic praise of his oeuvre there is also a virulent dismissal. What no one can deny is Franco’s well-deserved title as Spain’s most outrageous and prolific filmmaker, with 150 movies under his belt that span diverse genres, from horror to westerns. His inimitable and instantly recognizable style, with trademark swooshing zooms and pans, is at once dreamy, sensual and oddly abstract. Watching his better films, it comes as no surprise that Orson Welles used Franco as his assistant on the classic Chimes of Midnight.

While most of Jess Franco’s work remains lost in obscurity, those upstarts at Synapse Films have dedicated themselves to bringing some of the Spaniard’s best and most notorious movies to DVD in order to shock, arouse and even impress the most jaded cinephiles among us.

1970’s Vampyros Lesbos, perhaps Franco’s most famous film, boasts both a best-selling soundtrack album and the indelible presence of lead actress Soledad Miranda as the supernatural creature of the title. She emotes, she sizzles, she kills — and after the opening dance number you won’t even care that Franco is more interested in mood and style than conventional narrative. It’s his feverish wet-dream, and you’re sucked into it (no pun intended).

Made the same year, She Killed In Ecstasy brings back Soledad — this time as a woman bent on avenging the suicide death of her handsome, virile lover. She seduces and murders the doctors — both male and female — who condemned her late boyfriend’s experiments with human embryos. The standard revenge theme is given a decidedly loopy twist and turned right on its ear.

Now Synapse bring you 1974’s Exorcism, a shocking sex-thriller that was released under several titles and in various versions, one even including hard-core sex scenes. The story of a fanatical priest tracking down members of an orgy-cult and ritualistically butchering them, this luxurious special-edition release includes a commentary from the director, a photo gallery, and even a reversible, double-sided cover. Frightening and disturbing, this one isn’t for the faint-hearted, but it’s well worth the trip for those who dare.

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