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Jess Franco Collection: Eugenie / 99 Women / Venus in Furs / Vampyros Lesbos / She Killed in Ecstasy (Umberella Entertainment) 
Written by: on March 7th, 2017

Theatrical Release Dates: Spain / West Germany, 1970 (Eugenie… the Story of Her Journey into Perversion), Liechtenstein / Spain / Italy / West Germany / UK (99 Women), UK / Italy / West Germany (Venus in Furs), West Germany, July 15th, 1971 (Vampyros Lesbos), West Germany, December 10th, 1971 (She Killed in Ecstasy)
Director: Jesus Franco
Cast: Maria Rohm, Marie Liljedahl, Jack Taylor, Christopher Lee, Paul Muller (Eugenie… the Story of Her Journey into Perversion), Maria Schell, Herbert Lom, Mercedes McCambridge, Maria Rohm, Rosalba Neri (99 Women), James Darren, Klaus Kinski, Maria Rohm, Barbara McNair, Margaret Lee (Venus in Furs), Ewa Strömberg, Soledad Miranda, Andrés Monales, Dennis Price, Paul Muller (Vampyros Lesbos), Soledad Miranda, Fred Williams, Paul Muller, Howard Vernon, Ewa Strömberg, Horst Tappert, Jesus Franco (She Killed in Ecstasy)

DVD released: March 1st, 2017
Approximate running times: 87 Minutes (Eugenie), 90 Minutes (99 Women), 83 Minutes (Venus in Furs), 86 Minutes (Vampyros Lesbos), 80 Minutes (She Killed in Ecstasy)
Aspect Ratios: 1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen (99 Women, She Killed in Ecstasy), 1.78:1 Anamoprhic Widescreen (Vampyros Lesbos), 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen (Venus in Furs), 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen (Eugenie)
Rating: R 18+ (Australia)
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English (Eugenie, 99 Women, Venus in Furs), Dolby Digital Mono (Vampyros Lesbos, She Killed in Ecstasy)
Subtitles: English (Vampyros Lesbos, She Killed in Ecstasy)
DVD Release: Umbrella Entertainment
Region Coding: Region 0 NTSC (Eugenie, 99 Women), Region 0 PAL (Venus in Furs), Region 4 PAL (Vampyros Lesbos, She Killed in Ecstasy)
Retail Price: $39.99

Eugenie… the Story of Her Journey into Perversion: A young woman named Eugenie is sent away to a remote island to spend time with her fathers’ mistress and her stepbrother. What should have been a relaxing weekend getaway, quickly turns into decadent game where the line between pleasure and plain are blurred.

Over the course of two years Jess Franco would collaborate with producer Harry Allen Towers on a total of nine films. With Eugenie… the Story of Her Journey into Perversion being their seventh collaboration and their 2nd adaption from the literary works of the Marquise De Sade. And once again the screenplay would be written Harry Allan Towers under the pseudonym Peter Welbeck.

Content wise, where their previous De Sade adaption Marquis de Sade’s Justine was an epic in scope costume drama set in the 18th century. This time around they would set the story at hand during the present and make it more intimate setting. Fortunately these changes greatly added to what the Franco’s vision and not a more sanitized version for the masses like its predecessor. Needless to say the end result as Eugenie… the Story of Her Journey into Perversion is clearly the superior of the two Franco / Towers De Sade adaptions.

When compared to Marquis de Sade’s Justine the first thing that immediately grabs you while watching Eugenie… the Story of Her Journey into Perversion is how much more explicit of adaption it is then its predecessor. And nowhere is this more evident then in its graphic deception of sexuality and sadism. With the film’s key moment of depravity being a scene where Eugenie’s will is finally broken by Madame Saint Ange and her stepbrother. Also while watching this film one can clearly see themes which would dominate Franco’s cinema from the 1970’s and beyond.

From a production standpoint the film is filled with gorgeous visuals and many moments that are filled with a tremendous amount of atmosphere. And when it comes to this film two leading Ladies Franco does not waste moment to showcase the more than ample assets. With one of the best moments in this regard being a scene where Madame Saint Ange helps Eugenie as she is taking a bath. Another strength of this film is when it comes to pacing it is never an issues as things are always moving forward.

From a casting perspective this film features another strong ensemble cast and more importantly a more inspired choice in regards to the casting of Marie Liljedahl (Inga) in the role of the film’s protagonist Eugenie. She delivers a captivating performance that finds just the right balance between naïveté and decadent behavior. Another remarkable performance includes Maria Rohm (Venus in Furs) in the role of Madame Saint Ange, she is Eugenie’s fathers’ mistress. Other notable cast members include, Paul Muller (Eugenie De Sade) in the role Eugenie’s father, Jack Taylor (Succubus) in the role of Madame Saint Ange’s step brother and Christopher Lee (Count Dracula) in the role of Dolmance, this character serves as a narrator for Eugenie’s journey.

99 Women: A young woman named Marie has been sent to a prison on a remote island that is run by a wicked warden. And if being in prison wasn’t hard enough Marie soon finds out that the warden is repaying Governor Santos the warden of the men’s prison which is located on the other side of the island by giving him his choice of the female prisoners. His eyes and libido quickly fix on the prisons latest fresh meat Marie who he arranges a sexual rendezvous with via the warden. Rumors of abuse and misconduct at the prison force the government then to send in Leonie Caroll to investigate the validity of these complaints. Shortly there after Leonie befriends Marie and even promises to look into her case, but when it appears that her promise was for nothing. Marie and two other inmates plan a daring escape through the thick and treacherous jungle.

With 99 Women Jess Franco, would unleash upon the world a more depraved version of WIP films then had ever been seen to that point. And though Franco has often returned to the WIP genre, there is something magical about 99 Women his first foray into this genre.

From a production stand point 99 Women does not disappoint or come up short in area. The film is anchored by a solid premise, the narrative is well constructed and when it comes to pacing this film moves along at a good momentum. The film features a remarkable score from Bruno Nicolai (Marquis de Sade’s Justine, Eugenie… the Story of Her Journey into Perversion) the perfectly captures the mood of the story at hand.

Not to be overlooked are this film’s visuals, which once again are filled with Franco’s usual trademark shots and other artistic flourishes that heighten the what is occurring onscreen. Two of the more memorable moments in this film include the two flashback scenes. With Marie’s flashback scene overflowing with surrealism and Zoie’s flashback scene as a nightclub dancer foreshadowing a similar moment from Vampyros Lesbos.

Though Franco in his post Towers films would work with a core group of actors and actresses throughout the 1970’s. There is no denying Towers ability to draw name actors and actresses to the nine films he made with Franco. With that being said, the performances in 99 Women rank amongst the best to ever appear in a Franco film.

Front and center among these performances are Mercedes McCambridge (All the King’s Men) in the role of the warden and Herbert Lom (A Shot in the Dark) in the role of Governor Santos. Other notable performances include Luciana Paluzzi (A Black Veil for Lisa) in the role of a heroin addict named Natalie, Rosalba Neri (Top Sensation) in the role of Zoie, a former nightclub dancer who was convicted of killing her boss and Maria Rohm (Venus in Furs) in the role of Marie, the young woman who was assaulted by a biker game and during said assault she killed on one of them.

Venus in Furs: Trumpeter Jimmy Logan’s (James Darren) life starts to unravel when he discovers the dead body of Wanda Reed (Maria Rohm) on the beach one day. He soon remembers that she was the woman at the party he attended a few weeks before. He had witnessed three of the guests as they sadistically beat and raped her. Now in Rio, Jimmy discovers that Wanda is still alive. Jimmy refuses to leave Wanda now that he has been given a second chance. Has Jimmy found happiness or will his obsession lead his demise?

Jess Franco is a prolific director who has directed around 200 films over the past fifty years. Several of his films were released in alternate versions which often contain footage not shot by Franco. His career as a director can be broken up into distinctive periods with his most successful films made in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Venus in Furs is has several alternative titles like Paroxsysmos and Black Angel. Venus in Furs is totally a product of its time the late 1960’s. Psychedelic music and films filled with surreal imagery ruled the pop culture landscape.

Venus in Furs bears similarities to two films from this time period Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up and Franco’s own film Necronomicon (known as Succubus) in the America. Venus in Furs main connection to Blow-Up is their use of rock musicians for the films score. Both films also feature Protagonist’s who witness a murder that consumes them like an obsession. There is also a scene in Venus in Furs were Wanda Reed is photographed by Olga in Blow-Up like stylized camera set ups. In Venus in Furs Franco expands the dream like tapestries that he had first explored in Necronomicon.

Franco has had to overcome many obstacles due to lack of budget on most of his films. Venus in Furs doesn’t suffer from this problem. In fact it is one of his most wide open films that used various locations including Italy, Rio and Istanbul. Cinematographer Angelo Lotti who also photographed the Umberto Lezni giallo Seven Blood-Stained Orchids uses every inch of the frame as he composes picturesque compositions. There is a car chase in the film that proves Franco can more then handle himself when shooting an action sequence.

Franco through the years has worked with his fare share of talented actors and the cast for Venus in Furs is one his strongest casts that he ever worked with. The casting of James Darren in the lead role of Jimmy Logan may appear like an odd choice on the surface. His subtle performance perfectly compliments Maria Rohm sexually charged portrayal of the films heroine Wanda Reed. Margaret Lee and Dennis Price are very good in supporting roles. Klaus Kinski does what he does best play characters with piercing eyes that have a tendency to be sadistic and charming at the same time. Unfortunately Kinski’s role in nothing more then a mere cameo as he makes an appearance at the beginning before returning briefly near the end of the film. The jazzy score by Manfred Mann and Mike Hugg helps add atmosphere to the films surreal images. Venus in Furs has many elements that Franco would use in many of his films and even with all these things in place there is something about the film that makes it feel unlike any other Franco film.

Venus in Furs is the good starting point for anyone who is just getting into the cinema of Jess Franco. Overall Franco made a nearly flawless film and outside of the overused slow motion technique everything else perfectly falls into place.

Vampyros Lesbos: Linda Westinghouse goes to a night club with her boyfriend Omar and while there that night they first encounter the woman who has since invaded her dreams. From there Linda is assigned by her job to go to Anatolia and once there she is too interview a Countess named Carody. Her first impression of the countess is that she looks like the same woman who has been calling out to her in her dreams. Feelings of déjà vu aside other odd occurs start to happen to Linda during her stay with the Countess. Was this all just a dream or will Linda fall under Countesses spell ultimately leading to her demise?

Throughout Jess Franco’s career he has had several key stages where he worked extensively with a producer. And in 1970 Franco would end his collaboration with producer Harry Alan Towers with yet another adaption of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Out of all of the producers that worked with Franco over the years none offered him a larger canvas to work with financial then Towers. Feeling confined by the films that Towers wanted to make Franco ended their collaboration. At first he ventured out as an independent filmmaker making a trio of films before settling into the next phase of his evolution as a filmmaker, a trio of films with producer Artur Brauner.

Content wise, Vampyros Lesbos bears more than a striking resemblance to Franco’s last film with Harry Alan Towers, Count Dracula. With the main twist being that the protagonist role being switched from a man to a woman. Other influences that crop up during Franco’s gender bender Vampyros Lesbos include just a hint of the Marquis De Sade, which is another carry over from his Towers collaborations. And all of these moments sadism all revolve around the character that Franco portrays in the film. Influences aside this is clearly a film that signaled that its auteur had finally broke through creatively and that everything that came before this film was merely a warm up for what was yet to come from him.

And though Vampyros Lesbos takes many of its cues from Stoker’s Dracula. When it comes to the vibe of these films this is where these two entities are on the polar opposite ends of the spectrum. Where Stoker’s novel Dracula is known for its Gothic Romanticism, While Franco’s film Vampyros Lesbos is a manic fusion of Surrealism and Eroticism.

By this point in Franco’s career as a filmmaker plot and dialog are not much more than a means to further what he was trying to say with his visuals which have by this point become the focal point. With one of the most iconic moments to ever emerge from a Franco film being this Soledad Miranda’s striptease scene with a mannequin (or at least what at first appeared to be a mannequin). There is a fluidity in her movements that reinforces the sensuality of this scene. Another standout moment visually is a scene the Linda character realizes that the only way that she will be free of Countess is if she kills her. Once again Franco ensures this moment of pathos achieves its desired effect be meticulously building up the moment to its optimal moment of climax.

When speaking about Vampyro’s Lesbos once can’t overlooked the importance of Soledad Miranda. Needless to say that the films that he made with Miranda, especially the ones were she is the lead actress like she is in Vampyros Lesbos. These films could not have been made with another actress, since her undeniable presence is the main reason why these film’s standout amongst Franco’s voluminous output as a filmmaker. Besides Miranda’s tour de force, other notable performances come from Dennis Price (Twins of Evil, Theatre of Blood) in a role of Dr. Alwin Seward (a Van Helsing like persona) and Ewa Strömberg (The Devil Came from Akasava, She Killed in Ecstasy) in the role of Linda Westinghouse. The scenes where her character and the countess interact are exceptional. Also she has a tremendous amount of chemistry with Miranda and it really shine through during their more intimate moments.

Last but certainly not least is Jess Franco’s own performance in the film and this time around he portrays a deranged husband who wife has been seduced by the Countess. From there on out his opinion of women is very low and he has a sinister urge to inflict pain on women in a De Sade like way. His character has this film’s most shocking moment which is a scene where he has captured and now is torturing the Linda character, whom reminds him of his wife.

Another wonderful asset that this film has is its Jazz infused score that was composed by Manfred Hübler and Sigi Schwab. There album Psychedelic Dance Party and Sexadelic would serve as the soundtrack for these three Franco films, She killed in Ecstasy, The Devil Came from Akasava and Vampyros Lesbos.

No matter how many times over the years that I have revisited Vampyros Lesbos, it is a film that has never lost any of its luster. And with each new viewing my appreciation for the film continues to grow. Ultimately Vampyros Lesbos is the ultimate Jess Franco film and more than any other of his films, it captures the essence of his cinematic style.

She Killed in Ecstasy: Dr. Johnson has been conducting experiments human embryos. He approaches the medical board with his findings. When they reject all of his work he falls into a deep depression before he finally takes his own life. Devastated his wife concocts a plan to avenge the demise of her husband. She seduces all the members of the medical board as they all fall into her web of sweet revenge.

There are two things that clearly inspired She Killed in Ecstasy and actually a third connection to something else if one factors in that the film is a loose remake of Jess Franco’s own film The Diabolical Dr. Z. With the other two inspirations being Franco’s fondness monster / mad scientist type films and last but most definitely not least, there is a more then passing similarity between She Killed in Ecstasy and François Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black.

Structurally this film’s narrative is more fleshed out then the other films that Franco was making during this phase of his career. The premise is simple the protagonist stalks and kills those who drove her husband to kill himself. And after a brief set up things from there on until the finale move along at a brisk pace. Also another strength of this film is that all of the main players and their motivations well defined?

In other areas of this film there a satisfying mix of carnage and eroticism. With the scenes that shine the most in this regard being the well-executed death scenes, most notably a scene Howard Vernon’s character gets stabbed over a dozen times in his genitals.

From a performance stand point the world once again revolves around Soledad Miranda whose captivating performance finds that ever so perfect balanced between alluring seductress and an angel of death that exacts their vengeance on those who have down them wrong. With the moment where her character reflects on what she has done half naked on her couch being her defining moment as an actress.

Several cast members from Vampyros Lesbos return for She Killed in Ecstasy, albeit in different roles. With this time around the casts functionality beyond Miranda’s performance are basically mere props that Franco exploits as the right moment. Unfortunately the performance that leaves the most to be desired is Fred Williams in the role of Soledad’s husband who has taken his own life after his life’s work has been rejected by colleagues. His emotionless performance makes its difficult to car for his plight.

On the other hand the other three main performances are great in their respective roles as they just sit back and let Miranda’s character savagely inflict pain on them. Also there is a scene that is oddly reminiscent of moment from Vampyros Lesbos in this film. And in this scene Franco’s character becomes the victim as Miranda’s character slowly tortures him while he sits in a chair.

Another wonderful asset that this film has is its Jazz infused score that was composed by Manfred Hübler and Sigi Schwab. There album Psychedelic Dance Party and Sexadelic would serve as the soundtrack for these three Franco films, She killed in Ecstasy, The Devil Came from Akasava and Vampyros Lesbos.

Shoot back to back with Vampyros Lesbos, there is an immediacy to the events which unfold in She Killed in Ecstasy. Unfortunately Franco and Miranda would only go onto make one more film together The Devil Came from Akasava. She would die tragically in a car crash shortly thereafter. Ultimately She Killed in Ecstasy is an extraordinary film that makes a perfect companion piece to Vampyros Lesbos.

The DVD:

All of the films are presented in an anamorphic widescreen. Eugenie and 99 Women are presented in NTSC and Venus in Furs, Vampyros Lesbos and She Killed in Ecstasy are presented in PAL. All of these films have been previous released by Umbrella Entertainment and these discs appear to be direct ports of those disc. The sources used for these transfers are in very good shape.

Eugenie, 99 Women and Venus in Furs each come with one audio option, a Dolby Digital mono mix in English. Vampyros Lesbos and She Killed in Ecstasy each comes with one audio option, a Dolby Digital mono mix in German and non-removable English subtitles have been included for these two films. The audio mixes for all of these films sounds, clean, clear and balanced throughout.

Extras for Eugenie include, a trailer for the film (3 minutes 20 seconds). This disc comes with no menu and this trailer plays after the main feature.

Extras for 99 Women include, a trailer for the film (1 minute 41 seconds), three deleted & alternate scenes (There is text a text explanation before each one these scenes) – scene #1 Marie’s Flashback (4 minutes 54 seconds), scene #2 Zoie’s Flashback (16 minutes 25 seconds), scene #3 Extended Ending (1 minute 34 seconds) and interview with director Jess Franco titled Jess’ Women (17 minutes 31 seconds, in French with English subtitles).

Topics discussed in the interview with Jess Franco include, the things he likes the most about 99 Woman, how the project began as a treatment written by Harry Towers, how the initial footage for 99 Women was shot while making The Girl from Rio, the cast and his thoughts about their performances, censorship and why there are multiple versions of 99 Women and audience reaction to the film.

Extras for Venus in Furs include, a poster & stills gallery and a trailer for the film (2 minutes 51 seconds). Other extra content includes, trailers for Vampyros Lesbos, Daughters of Darkness, Possession and The Big Doll House.

Extras for Vampyros Lesbos includes, a trailer for the film (2 minutes 32 seconds) and the section titled Umbrella Propaganda contains the following trailers, Deep Red, Pacific Banana and a documentary about John Holmes titled Wadd.

Four of the five films included as part of this collection have been given Blu-Ray upgrades and in the case of Vampyros Lesbos Umbrella Entertainment’s Blu-Ray release for this film improves upon their previous DVD release. With that being said, though this is not a collection that is geared towards more hardcore Jess Franco fans. It makes a very affordable introduction for those who want to explore Jess Franco’s cinema.

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