Spanish director Jesús “Jess” Franco passed away this morning at the age of 82 after suffering a stroke last week. Franco was known for his incredible output despite a lack of funding – he directed almost 200 films in a wide range of genres – and his utterly joyous disregard for good taste. His first major film was The Awful Dr. Orloff (1961), a Eurotrash riff on Georges Franju’s subtle surgery horror film Eyes Without a Face (1960). From there he directed horror, erotica, porn, exploitation, women-in-prison films, gialli, crime films, adventures, spy movies, sci-fi, and, my favorite, nunsploitation. He worked with some wonderful actors like Klaus Kinski and Christopher Lee, who claimed that Franco’s Count Dracula was his favorite Dracula adaptation. Franco also made cult stars of his muses, namely Soledad Miranda, who tragically died young, and his second muse, Lina Romay, who became his life partner and wife. She sadly passed away last year from cancer.
Franco’s films never achieved major commercial success and his work is still unknown to mainstream audiences, but he deserves to be recognized as an auteur. Though he worked across a wide range of genres, all of Franco’s films are undoubtedly ingrained with his personal style. His fantastic, often surreal films lovingly celebrated the female nude, and though he made a lot of exploitation films, his cinematic world proved that women were equal to men in games of power, sex, and crime. He loved jazz music and was an accomplished musician in his own right. His films, even the cheapest and most utilitarian among them, are charming and imaginative. I never had the pleasure to meet Franco personally, but I’ve only heard positive things about the man, his zest for life and art, and his desire to live and breathe cinema.
Unlike many other cult directors, Franco’s work was fortunately recognized and celebrated during his life time, particularly in the last decade. His films have begun to turn up on special edition DVD releases and he was given a lifetime achievement award in his home country, Spain. Look for more of some of his previously unavailable films to be released in the upcoming year.
If you’re unfamiliar with Franco’s work, here are a few of my favorites to start with: The Awful Dr. Orloff and the Orloff series, Franco’s Fu Manchu films, especially The Castle of Fu Manchu, 99 Women, Justine, Venus in Furs, Count Dracula, Jack the Ripper, Virgin Among the Living Dead, Eugenie, She Killed in Ecstasy, Vampyros Lesbos, Female Vampire, Lorna the Exorcist, and Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun. There are many, many more. If you want to know more about this wonderful man and his imaginative works, check out Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs’ Immoral Tales: European Sex & Horror Movies 1956-1984. Musician and film critic Stephen Thrower is currently working on a book about Franco and his films.
My thoughts are with Franco’s family, friends, and fans, but I’m sure where ever he is, one of cinema’s most fascinating figures is still making movies with his beloved Lina.