Wednesday, July 11, 2018


*This article originally appeared in Fangoria Issue 325 (August 2013)

When news of Jesus Franco’s death emerged, fringe-cinema fans worldwide planned tributes to the master of erotic horror. Among them was Dear God No! director and exploitation historian James Bickert. On April 5th, his amazing backyard drive-in played host to the Dusk ‘til Dawn Memorial Franco-thon. Drinks flowed freely, mysterious smoked meats were savored Countess Perverse style, and the Atlanta horror scene praised Jesus under the stars all night long. It’s doubtful that any party could more perfectly capture the same perverse beauty, sleazy atmosphere, and propensity to veer into “what the hell just happened?” territory at a moment’s notice that exemplified the style of the euro-trash auteur.
The marathon kicked off with one of his glossier films, Venus in Furs (1969). The Franco-philes proclaimed their appreciation for the bizarre visuals and dream logic while failing miserably at explaining the barely existent plot to the uninitiated. The heavy doses of sex and jazz were enough to please both camps, eliciting repeated chants of “horns and boobs!” Following Venus was the incredibly sexy Eugenie De Sade (1974) starring the smolderingly gorgeous Soledad Miranda (Franco’s first muse).
Perhaps Eugenie set the bar too high as Sinner (1972), a flick surprisingly few there had seen, couldn’t follow and failed to impress. Despite also being known as Diary of a Nymphomaniac, it lacked sufficiently in both gore and nudity that mob rule led to the film being axed. At that point, the evening took a cue from Franco and careened into the unexplainable and absurd.
The next thing anyone knew, Bloody Bloody Bible Camp had somehow snuck into the playlist. Sometime during that movie, a pack of dogs… yes, actual wild dogs, tried to steal a pork shoulder from the grill. The meat was successfully defended, but it was obviously a sign that we had angered the cinema gods. How to Seduce a Virgin (1974) brought things back to the honoree, playing almost like a satisfying “greatest hits” package of tried and true Franco tropes. Then it was on to hardcore horror with Jack the Ripper (1976), one of his goriest pictures. It was also the nights’ first on screen appearance by the luscious Lina Romay.
After exploring Franco’s softcore and horror sides, and having been exposed to more Klaus Kinski than is probably healthy, we knew that there was only one facet of Franco’s career left to explore. In the wee hours of the morning, we went headlong into XXX territory with Entre Pitos Anda el Juego (1986). The things Romay does in that flick cannot be described in a respectable magazine such as this.
Juliette was to be the last film of the night. In a fitting call back to the way many of us first discovered Franco’s oeuvre, we watched a bootleg VHS with no subtitles. As the impending daybreak threatened to end the party, the grand finale was prepared. It was time to send the inflatable effigy of Lina Romay (think Bartel’s Private Parts) that had been our guest of honor all evening to meet Jesus in the heavens.  While it is true that she died in 2012, this was not a crowd that would let technicalities stand in the way of a grand dramatic gesture. The fact that a blow up doll filled with helium will not float wouldn’t stop the proceedings either. Anything will fly if you attach enough balloons to it, and fly she did. As a final toast was raised to Franco and his leading lady disappeared into the clouds, everyone felt exactly how one should feel after a Franco flick; a little confused, thoroughly debauched, strangely edified, and undeniably entertained.

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