Jesús Franco Manera, known as Jess Franco, was born in Madrid, Spain in 1930. With around 160 director credits to his name, he is one of the most (quite possibly the most!) prolific film directors in cinema history, churning out a variety of bona fide horror classics, B-movie potboilers and some of the strangest and trashiest cinematic achievements of all time. Encompassing everything from skin-grafting psychopaths to cannibal gods, naked vampires and squawking bird-women, Franco’s cinema plunges into the downright bizarre, but always with his own trademark style and a healthy amount of flesh and blood. Yet many fans of cinema have never even heard of the Spanish B-movie maverick.
88 Films are soon set to release one of his later horror efforts, the gory cannibal romp Devil Hunter on UK Blu-ray for the first time. Featuring a leading turn from Italian horror legend Al Cliver (Zombie Flesh Eaters, The Beyond), Devil Hunter is part Indiana Jones, part Cannibal Holocaust and all outrageous insanity as Franco throws-in babes, bare-flesh and blood in an onslaught of cannibalistic carnage. For fans of cheesy 80s horror, it doesn’t get any better than the Spanish B-movie maverick’s deranged cannibal classic Devil Hunter, which is finally making its way to UK Blu-ray to be devoured by gorehounds and video nasty enthusiasts alike.
Join us as we countdown the 10 reasons why Jess Franco is the most insane filmmaker you’ve probably never heard of!
Jess Franco was a master at quick, low-budget filmmaking with many of his films made in a matter of weeks – how else could he have been so prolific! In order to churn out films quickly, he employed a variety of techniques to save on time and money. For example, In one scene in Devil Hunter, leading man Al Cliver is seen traversing up the side of a mountain. But with Devil Hunter being the cheap and cheerful adventure romp that it is, to save on time and effort the scene was shot with Cliver crawling across a rugged rocky floor and then the image was turned on its side to give the impression he’s climbing up a cliff-edge. Not a bad trick!
SOME OF THE STRANGEST FILM TITLES OF ALL TIME
Revenge of the Alligator Ladies; Two Female Spies with Flowered Panties; Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein; The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein; The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus – these are just a few of the gems in Franco’s epic filmography! These titles played up the lurid aspects of these films as much as possible to sucker in the crowds, who’d then be dumbstruck by the strange events they witnessed on screen. But with titles like Robinson and His Tempestuous Slaves, what did they expect?
SOME TRULY BIZARRE PLOTLINES
With a vast number of luridly titled films in his filmography, you’d expect a healthy amount of strange and bizarre stories to go with them. The Erotic Rites of Frankenstiein is one such example. In the film gothic horror mainstay Dr Frankenstein has been working hard to bring his creation to life! Quite possible the oddest Frankenstein’s monster to grace the screen, this incarnation is muscly behind belief and inexplicably painted silver. Meanwhile dark wizard Cagliostro is hoping to get his hands on the shiny monster to mate him with a half-bird, half-woman to create a new master race. Sound good?
CRASH ZOOMS ALL THE TIME!
If you’re familiar with European horror from the 1970s, you’ll most likely be familiar with the cinematographic shot of the choice – the crash zoom! But no filmmaker was more of a fan of this technique than Franco. Often used to save time, the crash zoom allowed the opportunity to show two shots (long range and short range) in quick succession, without having to set the camera up twice for the two different shots. But it was a stylistic choice too, with the director pulling the audience’s attention to what was on screen as well as the cinematic technique itself. To see Franco’s crash-zoom is full effect be sure to check out Devil Hunter or his 1970s bloodsucking odyssey Female Vampire.
BIG NAME STARS
In addition to working with many of cult horror’s best known stars such as Klaus Kinski (Nosferatu the Vampyre), Soledad Miranda (Vampyros Lesbos) and Al Cliver (Zombie Flesh Eaters), Franco also worked with some of the biggest names in the business. In the early 1970s, Christopher Lee (The Lord of the Rings series), starred in his movies The Bloody Judge and Count Dracula (playing the Count of course!). But Franco also worked as a Unit Director on Orson Welles’ Falstaff and he cast one the biggest names in the world, Mark Hamill (Star Wars), in his late 80s war movie Fall of the Eagles. After spending so much time in the industry, he was a seriously connected guy!
JAZZ, JAZZ AND MORE JAZZ
Franco was a huge fan of jazz music, something that becomes apparent when working your way through his filmography. Unlike the Italian gialli that often opted for slow jazzy music to help create a sultry atmosphere (Blood and Black Lace being a prime example), Franco’s films used full-on jazz complete with insane time signatures and high tempos. Franco was a jazz musician himself, and this passion overflowed onto the screen in many of his films. For a classic Franco jazz scene check out his 1973 horror The Other Side of the Mirror.
A WEIRD FOCUS ON SKIN-GRAFTING
Across a filmography littered with zombies, cannibals and vampires, strangely it is skin-grafting that Franco’s work is often associated with. The Awful Dr Orloff was Franco’s first feature-length film and it’s a gothic horror classic in a similar vein to George Franju’s Eyes Without a Face. The mad Dr Orloff was played by Howard Vernon, and the Dr Orloff character would become a Franco-movie staple, appearing in a number of films throughout his career. The skin-grafting plot was resurrected for Franco’s 80s horror hit Faceless, again starring Vernon as an evil doctor.
FLESH AND BLOOD
Whether it’s people getting chopped into pieces by massive circular saws like in his 1980s slasher Bloody Moon or the tonnes of nudity (both male and female) that fill his cinematic frames, flesh and blood were big focuses for Franco. Devil Hunter is a prime example of the Franco splatter flick, with lashings of Kensington gore and offal being gobbled up by hungry cannibals but for Franco’s more sensual side maybe check out Female Vampire… also known as Bare Breasted Countess!
For a super strange viewing experience, be sure to check out Franco’s Night has a Thousand Desires a trippy erotic mystery that has one of the most hypnotic sequences in cinema. Four characters have a joint-smoking orgy while which lasts 15 minutes of the film’s 94-minute runtime, complete with plenty of weird dissonant noises on the soundtrack. Hypnotic atmosphere is a dominant force in many a Franco flick, with his version of Venus in Furs starring B-movie legend Klaus Kinski being another great example. Many Franco films where shot as quickly as possible, with little to no script which accounts for a rambling quality – some find this style fascinating, while others may be reaching for their phones.
CHEAP AND CHEERFUL CASH-INS
For every genuine Franco classic, there’s four or five cheap and cheerful, hastily-shot shockers. In his mid-career, around the beginning of the 80s, Franco started working more in cash-in territory churning out horror films designed to ride on the coattails of previous box office hits. One of these was George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead which Franco responded to with his schlocky Mansion of the Living Dead. The other was Cannibal Holocaust, which got the Franco treatment in Devil Hunter, but with the director’s typically salacious twist.