Wednesday, June 3, 2015

SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY (1971) Blu-ray Review

She Killed in Ecstasy (1971) d. Jess Franco (West Germany/Spain)

For his daring experiments in genetically modifying human embryos to eliminate birth defects and disease, an ambitious young doctor (Fred Williams) is disbarred and hounded from the medical community. Despite the efforts of his beautiful wife (Soledad Miranda), he lapses into inconsolable depression and eventually takes his own life. Driven mad with grief, she swears vengeance on the quartet of doctors who destroyed her husband’s career (played by Howard Vernon, Ewa Strömberg, Paul Muller, and writer/director Franco), seducing and murdering them one by one.

As with the majority of Franco’s efforts, the synopsis above barely does justice to the viewing experience, for as veterans of his work well know, plot is hardly the main concern. In this case, however, the story’s streamlined nature makes She Killed in Ecstasy one of the wildly erratic director’s most accessible and innately enjoyable works. Because those three introductory sentences are quite literally all there is to the screen story, we are able to enjoy the sultry and bewitching presence of Miranda (billed again, as she was for Vampyros Lesbos, as Susann Korda) in her stunning star turn as she lines up the sexual crosshairs on each of her prospective victims and then takes them down just at the moment of climax.

Since the film very much functions like a chapter-play, it also allows each of her capable co-stars their moment in the sun, and all embrace the opportunity fully. Vernon, a frequent Franco flyer, particularly seems to enjoy his S/M-themed temptation and demise, while Muller revels in his character’s feeble attempts to escape Miranda’s clutches, emphatically and fruitlessly denying her advances. Strömberg affects the same dead-eyed charm used in Vampyros, her limits as an actress outweighed by her physical assets. And then there’s Jess himself, who can barely restrain his glee at being stripped, strapped, and slapped around in the final reel by his muse.

That was a good take... Let's do one more for safety.

Also back in action are pop-lounge composers Siegfried Schwab and Manfred Hubler, whose zippy refrains are much more successful this time around, providing a surprisingly effective aural backdrop for the crimes of passion and the preludes thereto. As with their previous effort, there are a limited number of cues endlessly recycled throughout, complimenting and contrasting the onscreen action (more on that in a second).

Making its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Severin Films, this newly remastered HD presentation retains Franco’s original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, with colors bright and shadows deep. Like their concurrent release of Vampyros, the Limited Edition comes packed with supplemental materials, specially packaged in a die-cut slip case with newly created cover art by Wes Benscoter.

The extras include another extended (and subtitled) interview with Franco, who expresses some disappointment in Ecstasy, in that it didn’t quite match the artistic highs achieved with Vampyros, but concedes that it was a great pleasure working once again with the same creative team, and that the final film is a marvelous showcase for his star. “Sublime Soledad” is the same interview held with Miranda historian Amy Brown that appears on Vampyros (see review for details), but it’s so engaging that a second viewing is more familiar pleasure than redundant chore.

There’s also a genial sit-down with Muller, who teamed with the prolific auteur on multiple occasions. He shares a few laughs and memories, such as an editor friend bemoaning the state of onscreen romance (“They look like they’re eating each other!”) and Muller assuring his comrade that he shared his sentiments and would never engage in such behavior. Flash forward a few weeks, whereupon said editor rang Muller up to hotly chastise him; on a film he was currently cutting, what should roll across his Moviola but scenes of the actor engaging in heavy lip-lock action!

Stephen Thrower, author of Nightmare U.S.A. and the upcoming Murderous Passions – The Delirious Cinema of Jess Franco, is always a welcome presence, armed with a keen intellect and a deep appreciation for just this sort of Euro-horror offering. As with his discourse on the Vampyros disc, he provides a marvelous sense of context for where Franco was in his career at the time of production, and the hows and whys behind the film’s genesis. He also has a bit of a giggle over Franco’s casting himself as the final focus of Miranda’s character’s fury, commenting that Jess looks like he might be enjoying his “torment” just a little too much.

But probably the most exciting feature of this release is the digital repressing of the ultra rare 24-track 3 Films By Jess Franco: Vampyros Lesbos / She Killed In Ecstasy / The Devil Came From Akasava. At long last, you can hear these uber-catchy tunes as often as you choose, and how telling is it that three full-length motion picture soundtracks can fit on a single silver platter? You thought I was kidding about the repetitive nature, didn’t you? Think again. But now when you’ve got Schwab and Hubler’s “Ecstasy” song from Vampyros (actually called “The Message” – who knew?) going through your head the way I have for the past three days, you can scratch that itch and quickly.

She Killed in Ecstasy is available now on Limited Edition (4000 copies) Blu-ray from Severin Films and can be ordered HERE:


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