If we were to be so bold as to suggest Jesús Franco might just be Germany’s greatest living auteur, you could be forgiven for finding this view somewhat contentious. At the very least, you’d point out he was Spanish. You might also point out that he’s been dead for two years. They’re pertinent points so who could blame you? But you might also pause for breath and say, “Wasn’t he the bloke who made about two million zero-budget sexploitation movies with vampires in? Wasn’t he, if you’ll forgive me, a bit rubbish?” It’s certainly a valid point of view.
But consider the shattered continuity of his oeuvre: She Killed in Ecstasy was made within weeks of Vampyros Lesbos with much of the same cast and what appears, to the untrained eye, to be the same locations. But Jesús is the tricksy one for much of his vision is subtlety altered. While there are still lesbians, vampires are always more noticeable by their absence and our expectation is being cleverly subverted. Instead, his then-muse, Soledad Miranda portrays the widow of a medical genius whose experiments with human embryos cause difficulties for the neo-orthodox medical establishment. Their cruel rejection leads to him taking his own life and his wife’s obsession to kill the four doctors responsible. Four doctors? Jesús, you old rascal . Right from the off, Jesús wrong foots us like a five-legged fox by repeatedly showing us those tragic human foetuses in jars while we are treated to the staggeringly inappropriate funk soundtrack. The genius of that groove is repeated throughout: whenever we should not be hearing funk, Jesús punctuates the mise-en-scène by defiantly giving us funk. As Miranda removes the penis from her mercifully dead yet masochistic first victim? Yes, get down because it’s time for more red-hot funk.
But the continuous continuity is preserved as Miranda continues the previous film’s seemingly doomed lesbian relationship with Ewa Strömberg. While Strömberg was only seemingly stalked before, this time she really is the prey as Miranda kills her at the height of passion with a transparent inflatable cushion. Savour that image. As Strömberg gurns through the suffocating plastic of fashionable soft furnishing, it is impossible not to raise a smile. The grotesque is being destroyed by merciless modernity. We are celebrating the arrival of the new decade and yet it is killing her just as the monstrous architecture and unspeakable interior design of the ‘70s is slowly eating our souls. What kind of hell is this?
But Jesús tops it all by casting himself as another masochist in the climatic murder that sees them both in ecstasy by duel means as he is tortured and butchered in pleasure and pain. He seems almost to be screaming “I’ve worked with Christopher Lee, dammit! Why won’t anyone give me a decent budget?!” We cannot help but reach out to poor Jesús who is, like Eleanor of Aquitaine, pitiful and yet pitied by no one.
We are left with a single question: this is tosh, but what kind of tosh is this?
Special Features: Four interviews (Jesús Franco, Paul Muller, Stephen Thrower, and Soledad Miranda historian Amy Brown) / German trailer
SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY (1971) / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: JESÚS FRANCO / STARRING: SOLEDAD MIRANDA, FRED WILLIAMS, EWA STRÖMBERG, PAUL MULLER, HOWARD VERNON, HORST TAPPERT, JESÚS FRANCO / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW