“JESS FRANCO ON BLU-RAY” Wow, those are words I never ever thought I’d see strung together in the same sentence., but here we are. It’s not surprising really. Or what should be surprising is that it took so long. For a while there it seemed ole Jess was one of the most well represented directors on DVD. Labels like Image and Blue Underground were pumping out Franco title after title bursting with special features while “respectable” directors like Robert Altman and Roman Polanski got only the occasional major studio, toss-off, bare-bones release. But there was Jess: chain-smoking up a storm and espousing his wisdom in interview after interview for flicks like The Bloody Judge, Justine, Eugenie, Bloody Moon, and on and on. But that was then.
All had been quiet for a while on the Franco-front and it was indeed doubtful that he would ever make the leap to the blu format. It didn’t help that guys like Bill Lustig of Blue Underground had shrugged off the concept altogether. But here Jess is in 2012 (in full 1080p) still smoking and still kicking and seemingly having a ball discussing his 1973 opus Female Vampire. This remains a key work in the Franco canon and it’s only fitting that it kicks off the man’s door bursting into the high definition format. The film stars (the unfortunately recently departed) Lina Romay and marks the beginning of a life-long obsession on Franco’s part with the gorgeous brunette. And it’s not hard to see why. Mrs. Romay held a particularly supernatural beauty but beyond that was an especially intriguing on-screen presence. She had amazingly expressive face and the camera seemed to love her just as much as the guy twitching through the viewfinder trying to explore every conceivable inch of her. This pretty much describes the film itself, by the way.
And if Mrs. Romay doesn’t float your boat, the flick won’t either. Simple as that. What we have here are a few guys, a few girls, and Mrs. Romay in what has to be one of THE greatest costume design jobs in film history: a cape, a belt, shiny black boots, and that’s it. (I wonder why this hasn’t caught on as a Halloween standard with the ladies) We also have the rather stunning location of Madeira Portugal where Franco seems just as obsessed with filming the local birds, boats, and pedestrians as he does Lina’s nether regions. And a lot of Lina’s nether regions we get, but from a decidedly non-erotic and frankly quite disturbing manner. But this is in keeping with the film. In it, Lina portrays a centuries old descendent of that dreaded Karnstein family of vampires and wastes away her time masturbating in front of her idiot man-servant, roaming around the hotel pool and, oh, occasionally seducing a local woodsman or dame and performing oral sex on them and literally sucking out their life force while at it. Yeah, that’s right. Something like the best and worst date possible all in one. But it seems Romay’s character has no choice in the matter and must pursue such activity in order to simply exist. This is all fine and dandy until the er, strapping and, uh, handsome Mr. Jack Taylor comes onto the scene talking to himself and reading books of poetry while wandering the halls of his hotel and pressing the button for the elevator and then……walking off in the opposite direction!
But alas, Mrs. Romay is attracted and the two soon become fixated and deeply connected by their mutual longings for both love and death. It seems Jack has found just the right girl, huh? ….. Will she or won’t she is about all the suspense we get and in the meantime, Lina pays a visit to an S&M dungeon and puts her own spin on the proceedings while a disheveled Jess Franco (as the local coroner) investigates the trail of fellated-to-death bodies while nursing his own pet obsession with the responsible party. In fact the moment in which Franco’s character finally attempts to confront his prey pretty much sets the tone for much of his filmography to come….. As Lina writhes and contorts in a bathtub full of blood, Jess just stands there in the doorway, too transfixed to do anything heroic let-alone direct his own film into anything resembling what most moviegoers would recognize as a proper narrative/structured work. But who needs any of that when you have honest-to-God personal obsession right there on the screen?
So, how does it all look on 1080p Blu-Ray? Well, considering the condition of the elements themselves and the fact that no Criterion style restoration work was performed: quite good. The film has always looked dreary and dull via preceding formats, so, to see the occasional red/blue gel lighting just bursting off the screen is something of a revelation. Lina looks more amazing than ever and the whole thing just pulls you in like it never quite managed to before. Franco fans should rejoice, though the uninitiated should wait until something from his “craftsman” period like Awful Dr. Orloff or Diabolical Dr. Z get the hi-def treatment.