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The Bottom Shelf by Adam Jahnke

Back Underground (continued)

Back to Part One

Adam Jahnke - Main Page

99 Women: Unrated Director's Cut

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Venus in Furs

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99 Women: Unrated Director's Cut
1969 (2005) - Blue Underground

Film Rating: B-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/C+


Venus in Furs
1969 (2005) - Blue Underground

Film Rating: B
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/C+


The films of Jesus "Jess" Franco are an acquired taste, to put it mildly. For one thing, there's about a zillion of 'em (the ultra-prolific Franco's latest is Killer Barbys vs. Dracula). So unless you have absolutely no taste whatsoever, there's no way you're going to like them all. Hell, even Franco doesn't like a lot of them. For another, most of Franco's body of work rests comfortably in the less reputable corners of the sexploitation arena. While one of his better films is likely the relatively straightforward horror picture The Awful Dr. Orloff, other notable titles include such favorites as Vampyros Lesbos, Eugenie…The Story of Her Journey into Perversion, and these two recently unearthed by Blue Underground.

99 Women is a great title for a surprisingly standard women-in-prison flick. Mercedes McCambridge is the supervisor of an island prison, answering only to Governor Herbert Lom. McCambridge and Lom use the inmates to satisfy their own deviant lusts (of course) until Maria Schell turns up with reform on her mind. Pretty much everything you expect from a women-in-prison movie is here. Inmates in ridiculously skimpy uniforms? Check. Catfight? Double check. Hot girl-on-girl action? Check. Warden with Nazi literature? Check. There's no shower scene but the escaped prisoners do take a bath in a river, so that counts.

What makes 99 Women a Franco film are the delirious flashback sequences ostensibly illustrating the heinous crimes committed by these women. As stylistically interpreted by Franco's zoom lens and lurid colors, the flashbacks are the highlights of the movie. The rest of 99 Women is typical WIP fare you've seen if you've ever seen anything in this genre. But the flashbacks allow Franco to run wild.

Blue Underground has released two versions of this movie: the unrated director's cut and an X-rated French version with hardcore material inserted without Franco's participation. Blue Underground didn't send me the porn version (for my own protection, no doubt) but Franco discusses it in Jess' Women, a featurette on the director's cut DVD, making it clear that he had nothing to do with it. Franco has plenty of stories in this interview, about working with McCambridge and Lom, about his guerilla working methods, and about his distribution troubles. The disc also includes several deleted and alternate scenes, including one long, hilarious sequence clumsily inserted into some prints that completely changes one character's back story (Franco had nothing to do with that change, either). The disc also includes a trailer and the usual B.U. gallery.


If 99 Women is a typical women-in-prison movie with a few Franco flourishes, Venus in Furs isn't your typical anything. James Darren stars as a jazz trumpet player who sees a beautiful girl raped and killed by a trio of perverts (led by king of the perverts, Klaus Kinski). Or maybe he doesn't because he soon runs into her again. Now he's obsessed with her, ignoring his girlfriend and either not noticing or not caring that the perverts are being killed off one by one.

Or something like that, anyway. Venus in Furs is to straightforward linear storytelling what Paris and Nicole's The Simple Life is to quality television. Half the time, I had no idea what was going on in this movie and frankly, I don't think it mattered. All you need to do is kick back and revel in the swinging sixties atmosphere, the untamed sex and violence, and the cool, fab jazz score by Manfred Mann.

Another Franco interview turns up on this disc, though it could really be considered a continuation of the first one. Jesus in Furs gives Franco the opportunity to talk about James Darren, Kinski, his inspiration for the film, and everything else. An audio interview with Maria Rohm is also included here, accompanied by pertinent still photos. Rohm discusses both Venus in Furs and 99 Women here, so if you missed her presence on the 99 Women disc, it's made up for on this one. Wrapping things up are the usual Blue Underground trailer and galleries.

Incidentally, both movies look and sound just fine on these discs. Franco's use of wild colors is more pronounced in Venus in Furs but both movies capture these aspects well on disc in anamorphic widescreen video. Sound is limited to the original mono tracks for both titles (no DTS upgrade for Manfred Mann, I'm afraid) but both are as clean as can be expected.

Jess Franco fans will need no encouragement to pick up both of these discs but if you've yet to take the plunge, these movies are fine introductions to the wild, wild world of Franco. If you enjoy the unhinged free-for-all that is Venus in Furs or the women-in-prison titillation of 99 Women, by all means continue to explore his vast filmography. If they just leave you scratching your head in confusion, you're probably better off leaving it alone. His movies aren't a necessary part of anybody's cinematic diet. They're like rich, exotic, sometimes sloppily-made desserts. Fun if you can handle them but it's no shame on you if you can't.


Killer Nun

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Killer Nun
1978 (2004) - Blue Underground

Film Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/C-


Just in time for the Papal Conclave, a classic piece of nunsploitation straight from the secret files of the Vatican! Anita Ekberg plays Sister Gertrude, a morphine-addicted nun whose patients have developed a nasty habit of turning up all dead-like. Might Sister Gertrude be…the Killer Nun? Mmm… could be. Or it could be her lesbian junior partner (Paola Morra). Or is it one of the other patients?

Even with all the news from the Vatican lately, Killer Nun is infinitely more educational. For instance, did you know that nuns sleep nude in adjoining twin beds separated by diaphanous curtains? Personally, I had no idea. OK, so this is a pretty crappy movie by most standards. But are you going to hold a movie with a title like Killer Nun to most standards? I think not! In nunsploitation terms, this is a hoot and a half with wild plot twists, a fair amount of gore, and some totally insane music (that Blue Underground wisely employs in its menus).


Video is presented in anamorphic widescreen with the original mono sound. Co-writer/director Giulio Berruti is called upon to explain himself in the video interview From the Secret Files of the Vatican. He acquits himself fairly well, though I can't help but think there are other stories to be told here. Apart from the featurette, Blue Underground surprises nobody by providing the trailer and galleries.

What else can I possibly say about this movie? Either you want to see a movie called Killer Nun or you don't. If you want to, like I did, almost nothing is going to disappoint you. I mean, any movie in which Joe Dallesandro plays one of the most normal characters is fairly indefensible in most polite circles. This is not a polite circle. Killer Nun rocks. End of story.


Night Train Murders

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Night Train Murders
1975 (2004) - Blue Underground

Film Rating: C+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/C-


The quote on the front of Blue Underground's cover for Night Train Murders boasts, "More reprehensible than Last House on the Left!" Well, it's not unless you consider it reprehensible that the makers of Night Train Murders ripped off Wes Craven's flick so blatantly.

Two girls heading home for Christmas vacation run afoul of a pair of scumbags. The scumbags have just made the acquaintance of a mysterious woman and she provokes the two guys into a series of sadistic games using the two girls as playthings. The girls end up raped and murdered. But then the mysterious woman and her two underlings meet one of the girls' parents. And if you've ever seen Last House, you know what happens when the parents find out who these bastards really are.


According to the featurette Riding the Night Train, co-writer/director Aldo Lado never even saw Last House on the Left. He was hired by a producer who wanted to make a Last House rip-off and told Lado the basic story. I believe that account because Lado's version has just enough unique elements to make it plausible. It's like a game of Telephone, where Lado has to repeat the story he had whispered to him by the producer. The biggest differences here are the addition of the mystery woman and a creepy voyeur who momentarily joins in. They're unsettling additions, particularly because these two are much more responsible for their actions than the two low-lifes but they get off scott-free.

In terms of sadistic violence, Night Train Murders is not as graphically horrific as Last House. This may be because Last House on the Left has an unsavory feel about its filmmaking. The whole thing seems raw and unfinished, giving its violence more immediacy. Night Train Murders is a more polished production, from the cinematography to the score by Ennio Morricone, resulting in some fine touches but a more distanced feel to its violence. On DVD, you get the film in anamorphic widescreen with the original mono sound. Apart from the featurette, extras are limited to a handful of trailers, radio spots and the by-now expected galleries.

I've never been a huge fan of Last House on the Left. I don't find it frightening so much as just uncomfortable and unpleasant. But I suppose as long as the film makes you feel something, it's working on some level. Night Train Murders is a case of diminishing returns. I don't see a lot of value in making something like Last House on the Left but if you're going to, you can't go halfway. Night Train Murders goes a little farther than halfway but it doesn't take you all the way to the edge.

Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com


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