Sunday, May 26, 2013

LORNA THE EXORCIST (1974) / CASTLE OF FU MANCHU (1969) movie reviews

(Only got two flicks in this week, but since I had a bit to say about them, I figured I'd give them their own slot.)

I’ll come straight out and say it: I’m not really a fan of Jess Franco’s films. I’ve seen at least twenty of the prolific Spanish auteur's efforts at this point and there’s not one that I can point to as a “favorite” or even one that I genuinely “enjoy.” There are some that have more interesting elements than others (Venus in Furs, Awful Dr. Orloff, Vampyros Lesbos, and Eugenie), some of which even manage to entertain on occasion (though never, let it be noted, as a cohesive whole). When sitting down for a Franco flick, I am now braced for tedium, disappointment and/or questionable cinematic technique; while watching, I am frequently reminded of other, better films that proved more engaging, competent, challenging, artistic, etc. The guy might have made hundreds of features, but somehow this never translated into his becoming a genuinely accomplished filmmaker – in itself is a pretty amazing feat.

I don’t want to speak ill of the recently deceased (Franco passed on April 2 from a stroke), nor do I begrudge anyone who counts themselves among his followers to continue enjoying his movies – I just don’t get it. How he reached his station as a cult icon is a mystery; I can’t help but think there were others more deserving of his spot.

The sole notable aspect that I can point to (other than all the boobs) is his inspired employment of musical themes, in that he repeats two or three melodic refrains ad infinitum such that they are securely anchored in the viewer’s brain for days afterwards. But again, this is a matter of personal taste; I’m sure others view this artistic choice as misguided and/or lazy. I can easily imagine a group viewing featuring uproarious laughter erupting every time “that damn song” starts playing again; were a drinking game attached, ambulances would be called before the first hour expired.

This said, you can imagine my delight upon hearing this month’s Kryptic Army assignment. However, being the dutiful soldier that I am, I sucked it up and dug around on the internet to add a couple more pics to my reluctantly growing Franco checklist. Here’s what I came up with:

(AHEAD LIES MILD NUDITY AND SEXUAL SITUATIONS.  Prudes are advised to stop scrolling now.):

Castle of Fu Manchu, The (1969) (1st viewing) d. Franco, Jess (Spain)

The last of Christopher Lee’s five turns as novelist Sax Rohmer’s towering Asian menace, and his second under Franco’s guidance (following the previous year’s The Blood of Fu Manchu), kicks off with (stock? stolen?) footage from Roy Ward Baker’s 1958 Titanic film A Night to Remember. This event is quickly rationalized by explaining that the immoveable iceberg conjured in the Caribbean (yep, we’re not supposed to recognize the Titanic; it’s just some big nameless ocean liner, move along, move along) was the result of Fu’s new apocalyptic weapon.

Seems the Original Yellow Bastard has almost worked out a scheme to freeze the world’s oceans and announces his intention to do soon as he fixes the big refrigerator switch. (Who does this?) After double crossing Jose Manuel Martin’s gangster, he kidnaps feeble-hearted scientist Gustavo Re to work out the bugs, then kidnaps surgeon Gunther Stoll and Maria Perschy to perform a heart transplant on the poor bastard.

Rosalba Neri (of Lady Frankenstein fame) pops up as one of Fu’s allies, who is then double-crossed herself, while oodles of faceless henchmen on both sides of the fence whale on each other to keep up the ostensible action. All of this leads to a dam-bursting climax...also lifted from another film, 1957’s Campbell’s Kingdom starring Dirk Bogarde.

If the above description sounds like’s not. In fact, don’t take my word for it – trust Joel ‘n the bots from MST3K, since this was the episode that nearly did them in.

Lorna...the Exorcist (1974) (1st viewing) d. Franco, Jess (France)

On the eve of his daughter’s 18th birthday, successful businessman Guy Delorme receives a phone call from mysterious ex-lover Pamela Stanford demanding that they meet. Seems the formerly down-on-his-luck cad once engaged in a Faustian bargain with the eye shadow-loving temptress, terms of which involved the standard “first-born for financial gain” contract. Time has come to pay the piper.

One look at the release date on this bad boy explains its title, although there’s no head-spinning or pea soup-blasting hijinks to be found (or demonic possession or exorcists, for that matter). Instead, this mystical tale is shored up with that time-honored special effect: CHICKS TAKING THEIR CLOTHES OFF!

As Delorme’s nubile offspring, frequent Franco muse Lina Romay shucks the duds for some carnal Stanford coupling while mom Jacqueline Laurent lounges in the buff dodging phantom sand crabs. Meanwhile, in the loony bin next door, scantily clad bughouse resident Catherine Lafferiere writhes and lustily moans our titular antagonist’s name.

Be advised: This is not a flick to watch with your kids or parents in the room. There’s enough randy skin on display to justify a slot on the Spice Channel, particularly the sequences where Romay and Stanford exchange tongue braiding techniques on each other’s pubes.

For those keeping score, Lorna marks one of Romay’s most lively and animated performances, as she moves from guileless innocent to impassioned lover to crazy-eyed vessel of evil.

André Benichou and Robert de Nesle are credited with the hypnotic if repetitious soundtrack, while Howard Vernon puts in a cameo best entitled, “Best Use of Sea Shell by Villainous Henchman.”  Overall passing fair fare, enlivened by the frequent naughty bits.  

2013 Totals to date: 145 films, 138 1st time views, 76 horror, 48 cinema


  1. I have to confess, this is the first mission I've felt the need to sit out since I joined the Army. I've only seen a handful of Franco's films over the years (and one of them was Castle of Fu Manchu, courtesy of MST3K), so that means I have more to choose from than you did, but I just can't justify watching any more.

    Actually, that's not quite true. I am planning on seeing The Diabolical Dr. Z at some point since it was co-written by Jean-Claude Carrière, but I honestly can't come up with a second one to watch in addition to it.

    1. The ones that I noted above (Venus in Furs, Awful Dr. Orloff, Vampyros Lesbos, and Eugenie) are worth a look-see, as are Diabolicial Dr. Z and Faceless. I'm surprised you didn't just suck it up and soldier on - not like you...

    2. What can I say? May turned out to be a very busy month for me, movie-wise, and I couldn't justify taking the time away from films I actually wanted to see. (Maybe if I hadn't already watched The Awful Dr. Orloff back in March, I would have paired it up with Dr. Z.)

    3. Hmmmm, sounds like you're placing your personal priorities over that of the Army. You could be shot for insubordination.