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Vampyros Lesbos and She Killed in Ecstasy

Revered by many and reviled by many others, Jess Franco is one of the seminal figures of international cult cinema, a lifelong maverick responsible for hundreds of bizarre, mostly low-budget films made all over the European continent and under a variety of pseudonyms. Usually shot quickly but with an artist's eye, and with a certain narrative unevenness (some would say ineptitude) that heightens an already dreamlike, disconnected feel, Franco's films are not always necessarily very good, but they're rarely forgettable.Sex and horror are Franco's twin obsessions, and you won't find those obsessions fused to better effect than in two of the director's signature works from 1970/1971, Vampyros Lesbos and She Killed in Ecstasy, both newly released on DVD by Image Entertainment. Vampyros Lesbos is the better known of the pair, largely because of a fabulous psychedelic-jazz-rock soundtrack that was popularized by Quentin Tarantino in Jackie Brown. The film itself is a knockout blend of art-house abstractions and softcore exploitation, with the intensely charismatic Soledad Miranda (who was killed shortly after Vampyros Lesbos was shot) starring as a mysterious countess who lures a female real estate agent into a world of, what else, vampirism and lesbianism. There are lots of rough edges here (Franco's notorious zoom shots are much in evidence, and as annoying as ever), but the film's surrealism-by-default is absolutely hypnotic, its pop art designs are as strangely stylish as anything Franco ever did, and the nightclub scenes are to die for.

She Killed in Ecstasy is a sort of companion piece to Vampyros Lesbos, even though the supernatural element is nowhere to be found. Making use of many of the same cast and crew members as Vampyros, and even recycling elements of the soundtrack, Ecstasy again stars the sultry, iconic Miranda, this time as a distraught woman plotting the deaths of those who ruined her husband's life and drove him to suicide. That revenge scheme involves major amounts of naked flesh rubbing up against naked flesh, naturally, and where there's sex in a Franco film you can bet that kinky violence and death isn't far behind. She Killed in Ecstasy takes that equation to new extremes, with Franco filling the screen and our eyes with scene after scene of stylish eroticism that gives way at some point to someone's lurid and gleefully gruesome demise.

Both of these films were released on subpar and now out-of-print DVDs way back in 1999 (the metazoic phase of the digital era), but Image Entertainment has taken considerable care to finally do right by them. The new DVDs are beauties, with each film given a state-of-the-art 16X9 anamorphic transfer that lovingly caresses and extends Franco's often remarkable visual strategies (although the cropping on Vampyros Lesbos sometimes seems a little odd). The image quality here is significantly sharper than what was available on the previous DVD releases, with much more vivid colors and natural flesh tones on both discs, and virtually none of the blemishes, grain and other flaws that marred the original releases. The sound also benefits from the restoration, a richer, fuller mix that really showcases that crazy, acid-fusion soundtrack and eliminates the lion's share of the pops and hisses that previously plagued both films. There are only a few extras here (just some trailers and the obligatory stills galleries), but with these films finally looking and sounding so good, you'll hardly notice.

—Lance Goldenberg

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