Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Strange Personal Life of Jesus Franco

Jesús Franco is a man with problems. The creator of more films than I've had seconds of life, Franco has had ample opportunity to put his life on film. Look at Woody Allen, that man's made only a handful of films (by comparison) and most of them have something to do with his own neuroses. Franco is a different sort of filmmaker. In Italy (Spain, Germany, and France, too, but to a lesser extent) movies are just a business. Franco's a pretty decent example of this; the man made 69 films in the 70s alone. Somewhere in there, he did pour his heart out just a bit, but unless you were familiar with his biography, you would have no idea. To the untrained eye, a movie like A Virgin Among The Living Dead is simply pornography that makes no fucking sense. To someone who knows a little bit about Franco, it's very personal pornography that makes no fucking sense. And by the time it ends, you're gonna feel pretty goddamned cheated out of your 80 minutes.

A Virgin Among The Living Dead
by Jesús Franco
Let's start the fun shall we? Ok, so Christina Benton is an orphan staying at an inn. She's at this inn because it's a halfway point to her uncle's estate. Uncle Howard (a common Spanish name I'm sure) is her only family now that her father has died offscreen. In the middle of the night, while Christina is wandering about in her underwear, she starts up a conversation with the hotels only other guest ("you don't happen to be a writer do you?" "No, I'm a doctor." Thanks, Jess) when her uncle's valet, Basilio arrives. He is some kind of mongoloid who can't form words, so how Christina understands that this is the man she's supposed to get into a driverless car with is beyond me. Interestingly enough, he's played by the director. So, Christina blathers on in voice over about her eerie surroundings for ten minutes or so and then arrives to meet the bunch of loonies that make up our supporting cast. There's Howard, a man who spends all of his spare time lounging about and leering at everything insight like he's on some Quaalude that causes malevolent demeanor. His sister-in-law, Christina's step mom Herminia, is on death's door and dies as soon as Christina visits her. Howard's wife Abigail must be on the same drug as Howard cause she never looks pleased. Carmenze, the blonde, whose relationship is never explained may be the weirdest of them all (except maybe Basilio). She kisses Christina whenever she can, hangs around in varying states of near-nudity for most of the movie and writhes around on the floor at inappropriate times (like after the reading of Christina's dad's will). Then there's the blind ghost who hangs around and visits Christina in her dreams.

Christina has a few days before the lawyer can show up to read the will to this bunch of degenerates, so Christina has plenty of time to wander around aimlessly and walk into increasingly stranger situations. She swims naked in a lily pond while two creepy men peep on her. A local boy drives them away and then he and Christina begin a sort of relationship. Christina wakes from a violent dream to discover Carmenze sitting over her in her underwear ("Have you been here long?" "Just an hour." Uh...huh). She walks in on Carmenze having just stabbed the blind ghost with a pair of scissors; the two are naked and Carmenze laughs and invites Christina (for what seems like an eternity) to join them. She finds Basilio and Abigail holding one of Herminia's severed hands which they don't explain to her (and still she doesn't leave). She finds a giant wooden penis on her bedroom floor one morning (the hell?). The real icing on the cake comes when she sees her dead father with a noose around his neck. And before long she can't distinguish between dream and reality, just like everyone in the audience.
A Virgin Among The Living Dead is a pretty trying movie. It asks you to sit through a funereally paced nonsensical parade of nudity and strangely passive violent images and just when you think you have a grip on things, Franco reveals the films only secret, which, though illuminating, is pretty fucking aggravating. I'll give you a hint: why would a movie strive to feel as illogical as a dream? Anyway, the film is shoddily put together, makes little to no sense even at its lucid moments and is generally unpleasant to watch. Franco makes frequent use of what be called his signature camera angle, whenever Christina lies down to sleep, Franco zooms right up into vagina like he's being subtle for placing her there. So, I hear you asking, how does an onslaught of naked women amount to anything personal? Well, I'll tell you.

Jesús Franco started off making films that were taboo breaking for their time. Films like Vampyros Lesbos. For whatever reason people really love these movies, I don't get it. The few times I've watched his movies is because of the promise of zombies (many of you who notice a paucity of zombies in this review can take it up with the title). The reason this movie is more than just Christina Von Blanc skinnydipping is because of Soledad Miranda. Miranda was Franco's favorite actress to work with; his Diane Keaton, if you will. She was in many of his best remembered films like Vampyros Lesbos and The Devil Came From Akasava. One evening, Miranda and her husband were driving to meet Franco to discuss their next project when they were in a fatal car accident. Franco was crushed and went into a deep depression. A Virgin Among The Living Dead is what you might call closure. It's all his feelings for Miranda in one confusing, hard to follow fever dream. I guess he felt he had done her wrong - and truth be told, he had. I'd be a pretty angry ghost if my legacy was flashing my tits in a few cheap-ass vampire movies directed by a nutcase. Oh, did I mention that Jesús Franco has claimed to see Soledad Miranda in his dreams after she died and she would tell him things. Apparently he altered pretty big plans on her advice. Serves him right I suppose. When Franco met Lina Romay, she became his new muse, and their partnership has lasted for many, many years. In fact as late as 2005's The Snakewoman, they're still making movies.
So does all this bizarre history make the film worth watching? Not on your life! I watched this with a friend who at about the halfway mark shouted "This is just porn!" Ordinarily I'd have chimed in with some obscure piece of sorta-redeeming information, but in this case, I couldn't argue. I didn't even want to argue; I fast-forwarded out of guilt. While knowing why Franco made this movie the way he did is empowering in a sense, it doesn't make A Virgin Among The Living Dead even a half-way decent sleaze film. In fact I'd count it as one of the most agonizingly aimless movies I've yet seen. I can think of no redeeming feature to recommend it, I can think of no element worth complimenting, I can think of no better film to forget (except maybe other Franco films).

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