2013 Drive-In/Exploitation/B-Movie Challenge! PART 5

by kdlough

TODAY: A quick look at some representative films from fallen comrades…

14. Vampyros Lesbos * (1970) Genre: Lesbian Vampires (in case you couldn’t guess)

Despite the fact that I’m a big fan of genre movies, horror movies, and weirdo artsy horror movies in particular, I’ve never felt a particular desire to plunge into the filmography of director Jesús Franco; as far as I can remember, his only movie I’ve seen all the way through is Oasis of the Zombies (which I kinda enjoyed, but in a very masochistic way). There’s a couple reasons for this: one, outside of hardcore bad-cinephile circles he has a toxic reputation, usually regarded as little more than a porno schlockmeister. And two: I always get him confused with Jean Rollin.

So it’s a pleasant surprise that Vampyros Lesbos is sometimes very good, frequently trance-inducing, and only every now and then quite bad. I wasn’t expecting this to be a retelling of Dracula, and while at first I was a bit annoyed to be watching yet another variation on the same old story, after a while I started to appreciate the frequent Stoker allusions, mainly because without them the movie would have made no sense at all. Yes folks, this one is not very plot-heavy; honestly I’m hard-pressed to remember anything that happens in the final 15 minutes. But the haziness WORKS, and it’s intentional; even the near-constant zooming, which reaches parodic levels in other Franco films, is well-used here.

However, in the interest of public service, here’s my regular Thing About The Movie I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before I Watched It: a good fifth of the movie is dedicated to watching the vampire (or a woman who looks like the vampire?) perform a nightclub act – in full – TWICE. I looooathe movies that use this stupid time-waster device, a prejudice that probably dates back to the trauma of watching The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?. Sure, movies like this are usually the film equivalent of a sleazy vaudeville/burlesque show anyway, and it’s not totally pointless in this case, but still… TWICE??!

15. The Awful Dr. Orloff * (1962) Genre: Gothic Horror

One of Franco’s earlier films; the story concerns a mad scientist who kidnaps beautiful women and skins them (or something) in an attempt to make his comatose daughter beautiful again. A very different kind of movie in style if not in content from Franco’s later works, the first of many Orloff films bears obvious influence from Freda and Bava’s contemporaneous black and white Gothics. Despite the title, this Orloff entry is not awful (see what I did there?), and the often nice-looking cinematography should be enough to convince Franco nay-sayers that the guy was more than just a perv with a zoom lens – he did know what he was doing, at least.

I wasn’t just crazy about either Franco film I watched for this challenge, but I did enjoy them both and I’m glad I gave them a shot. He made so many movies, so many of which have so many terrible reviews on the internet, that it was always a bit intimidating  to give him a proper shot. And now, to return to my observation above: have I ever watched a Jean Rollin movie all the way through?

16. Beach Party * (1963) Genre: Beachsploitation

With the recent passing of Annette Funicello, I figured it’d be a good time to dive into the Beach movies. Frankie and Annette aren’t top-billed in their first movie together, with the top spots going to the dopey adult couple. The story involves an anthropologist studying teenage beach goers who gets romantically involved with teen Annette, who’s trying to make her boyfriend Frankie Avalon jealous. Sound creepy and weird? It is!

I read a good analysis of these movies (by who? David Foster Wallace? Somebody help me remember!) which argued that, despite their assumed popularity with teens, these movies were really aimed at pervy adults. The plot and casting (Morey Amsterdam??!) of this one seem to back that up. 90 minutes of dopey jokes, 4th wall breaking, some good second unit surfing footage, and songs that range from okay (Dick Dale) to terrible (everything else). Obviously I enjoyed it.

Would Godard eat up the cartoony primary colors of Frankie and Annette’s blue and red surf boards in the back of their canary yellow beach buggy? What about the plot’s diegetical literalization of the movie’s role as adult fantasy fodder with the character of the adult teenage researcher/peeping tom? And is Frankie’s character named “Frankie” because that’s all he would respond to, or is he actually playing himself? A good movie should be fun to think about.