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Jess Franco's Soledad Miranda-Trilogy

by Mike Haberfelner

January 2006

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Nowadays, director Jess Franco is considered by many as nothing but a producer of badly-done horror and cheap sleaze, partly because his bad horror- and sleaze-films are those most readily available on the DVD-market (e.g. Oasis of the Zombies, Bloody Moon, Sadomania, Golden Temple Amazones, White Cannibal Queen, ...).

 

In the 1960's however, he proved himself to be an inventive horror filmmaker who could have been up there with the best of them (and I am talking Mario Bava or Ricardo Freda here) would he have been more discriminating about what to film, would he have insisted on adequate budgets, would he have had better producers and would his career never have taken the direction towards sleaze (that said, many of his sleaze pics are far funnier than those of other directors).

Still the 1960's were a good period for Franco, and he managed to make quite a few first class horror tales (e.g. The Awful Dr.Orloff, Miss Muerte/The Diabolical Dr.Z, Succubus,...) which easily stand the test of time.

 

This article however centers on a trio of films starring Spanish beauty Soledad Miranda he made in 1970 for Artur Brauner's CCC-Filmkunst, a trio that I'd like to call (in absence of a better name) 

 

Jess Franco's Soledad Miranda-Trilogy

 

The three films in question are Sie tötete in Ekstase/She Killed in Ecstasy, Vampyros Lesbos and Der Teufel kam aus Akasava/The Devil Came from Akasava.

Not that these three films are the only ones Franco did with Soledad Miranda, nor are they the first, however, despite being rather dissimilar in theme, the three films build a stylistic unity ...

 

But first a few words about Soledad Miranda:

Miranda is an exceptional, sensuous beauty, she looks as erotic in the nude as she does dressed - and the three films have plenty of both. Her charisma, her aura even, makes some of the ridiculously kinky outfits or way-too-cheap lingerie in which she is occasionally put, work, and she is equally convincing as stripper, prostitute, woman of the world, hippie girl and vampire.

Miranda was born in 1943, in Sevilla, Spain. In 1959, she made her film debut in La Bella Mimí as lead dancer (one of her natural talents), and in 1961, she collaborated the first time with Jess Franco (though in an uncredited role) in La Reina del Tabarín, which was also one of his first movies. Then Franco's and Miranda's ways parted - for a while.

 

 

Over the years, Miranda could be seen in many other (usually forgettable) Spanish and Italian B's, however, it were the roles in Franco's films in the late 1960's/early 1970's that really gained her recognition among the cult crowd (even if she appeared under her nome de plûme Susann Korda in most of these films, allegedly because she was afraid her parents could find out she was doing sexfilms): There's Bram Stoker's Count Dracula from 1969 and Eugenie De Sade, Nightmares Come at Night and Sex Charade, and of course the trio I'm talking about here.

When she died in a car accident in 1970, shortly after having signed a two-year contract with CCC-Filmkunst, it was a tragic loss, for Jess Franco (who occasionally called her his muse and even claimed he was haunted by her) personally and for the (exploitation-)filmworld as a whole.

Sie tötete in Ekstase/She Killed in Ecstasy, Vampyros Lesbos and Der Teufel kam aus Akasava/The Devil Came from Akasava would be her last three films, and probably those who do her most justice.

 

... when Jess Franco started making Sie tötete in Ekstase, hae had just ended his relationship with producer Harry Alan Towers, with whom he made films like Venus in Furs, 99 Women, The Girl from Rio, The Bloody Judge, The Castle of Fu Manchu and Blood of Fu Manchu. Looking for a new production company to whelm their projects, Franco and his producer Karl-Heinz Mannchen found partner in Artur Brauner's CCC-Filmkunst.

 

Artur Brauner always liked to see himself as being the one and only great German producer (which is probably why he called his autobiography Mich gibt's nur Einmal - translation: I'm one of a Kind), but in reality he was one who would jump any bandwagon without hesitation (which he has proved numerous times in the 1960's), and back in 1970, erotic films was the thing to do, which was something Jess Franco was into and by that time already known for. And Brauner was an incredibly cost-cutting producer, while Franco was also known for working very cheaply - a match made in heaven ? (Not really in fact, but for our trilogy, they worked well together.)

 

 


Flix.com

Sie tötete in Ekstase, the first of the bunch, pretty much set the tone: This one is an erotic revenge story which is at least in parts is a remake of Franco's 1966 film Miss Muerte, which in turn was based on the Cornell Woolrich-story The Bride Wore Black (which got its official adaptation in 1968, directed by Francois Truffaut). In Sie tötete in Ekstase, Soledad Miranda plays an avenging angel who uses sex to lure those (Howard Vernon, Ewa Strömberg, Paul Muller and Jess Franco himself) she helds responsible for the death of her husband into her trap. The plot might seem simple, and the dialogue is often stupid, but there is something triplike and hallucinogenic about this film, which can again be observed in the other films of the trilogy.

 


Flix.com

The second film, Vampyros Lesbos, is without a doubt the most famous and also the best of the bunch, a triplike blend of lesbian love story and vampire movie. It tells the story of vampire Soledad Miranda trying to seduce Ewa Strömberg and ultimately turn her into a vampire to be her companion in all eternity ... but Strömberg refuses and fights the vampire. The film also stars Jess Franco as a psycho killer, as well as Dennis Price and Paul Muller.

 


The third of the bunch is also the weakest. Based on a story by Edgar Wallace, Der Teufel kam aus Akasava is a (late) attempt to cash in on the Edgar Wallace series by CCC-Filmkunst's main (and usually more successful) rival Rialto - which is why it also features Edgar Wallace-regular Siegfried Schürenberg. The film's plot itself is a mess, a not really thought through blend of whodunnit, erotica, science fiction and espionage ... but Jess Franco's tongue-in-cheek-approach, his triplike (yeah, I'm overusing this word in this article) direction, and of course wonderful Soledad Miranda save this movie from a total mess - if you're up for a good laugh. The film also stars Ewa Strömberg, Horst Tappert, Fred Williams, Paul Muller and Howard Vernon.

 

Without a doubt, Soledad Miranda was the main ingredience of these films, playing the leads - strong yet erotic and seductive women - in all three of them with aplomb and transmitting an open eroticism that is hard to come by or parallel.

But it would be unfair to reduce these three films on her alone, the other thing about them is their other-worldly atmosphere, thanks to Jess Franco's very unique style of direction. Never would Franco apply his erotic, erratic cinematic language better than in Sie tötete in Ekstase/She Killed in Ecstasy, Vampyros Lesbos and Der Teufel kam aus Akasava/The Devil Came from Akasava. His unusual camera setups, weird camera angles, spontaneous camera movements, of course his massive zoom-ins and zoom-outs (often repeatedly in the same shot), and his ability to depict weird details of the scenery would give the films an unreal, dreamlike, triplike atmosphere, and a healthy disregard for both genre conventions and realism would further disattach these films from reality (or other films of the same ilk). This style, combined with the early-1970's outfits and sets makes these films looks nothing short of unreal and otherworldly ... and somehow, despite being clearly made in the early 1970's, these films look fresh even today.

 



And last but not least, one must not forget the groovy soundtrack by Manfred Hübler and Siegfried Schwab that these three films share, which doesn't sound like your typical (horror-)film soundtrack, instead the viewer is presented with original, inventive pieces of what can best be termed as psychedelic jazz. In fact the soundtrack is so good that, when German record label Crippled Dick Hot Wax re-released it in 1995 (as Vampyros Lesbos - Sexadelic Dance Party), the music fell on open ears with the acid jazz-trip hop-rare grooves crowd.

Eventually, one of the tracks, The Lions and the Cucumber, also found its way onto the soundtrack of Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown, and Crippled Dick Hot Wax released an album of remixes titled The Spirit of Vampyros Lesbos in 1997, employing then contemporary top talent like Rockers Hi-Fi, DJ Hell, Alec Empire or Two Lone Swordsmen.

 

All this helped to introduce our little trio of films to a whole new, appreciative audience.

And the films ?

They looked as fresh, as triplike and as otherworldly as ever. Just too bad that they don't make them like that any more ...

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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On the same day
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and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
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Rudy Barrow

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