In the film that was tagged as 'The sensual experience of '69,' the strikingly lovely Janine Reynaud plays Lorna, a striptease artist whose act incorporates strange (and staged) sadomasochistic elements at the nightclub where she is employed. Lorna might not be completely 'with it' upstairs, however, as she seems to fade in and out of a dreamlike state often and for no apparent reason.
After the opening scene in which she performs her act with glee much to the delight of the loyal audience of perverts gathered in the club to watch her do her thing, reality and her strange dream world begin to collide in the sense that we, the audience, are no longer told in specific detail what is happening in her mind or subconciousness and what is happening in the physical world. Lorna goes on a journey of sorts, and as this journey progresses it seems as if the fictitious world that she's created for her act is starting to meld with the real world. She may be responsible for murder as we do see her kill, she might be a demon as she is referred to as a devil at one point, or she might be having a nightmare. Franco really lets us make up our own minds about all of this.
Though not the best starting point for those unaccustomed to the strange cinema of Jess Franco, Succubus, also known as Necronomicon, does embody much of what is interesting about his movies. The dreamy eroticism that much of his work from the late sixties through to the early eighties is known for is on display throughout as we witness whippings, lesbian encounters, straight sex and plenty of blatant sadomasochistic images. Many of the performers we see in the film appeared in multiple Franco movies: Janine Reynaud also starred in Kiss Me Monster and Two Undercover Angels as did Adrian Hoven, Jack Taylor also shows up in Sexy Sisters and Voodoo Passion amount others, while the omnipresent Howard Vernon has been in too many of Franco's films to count. Additionally, there's a swanky free jazz score which plays out over top of the events and a few of Franco's trademark zoom shots in here as well, not to mention a female lead character named Lorna – all odd little traits for which he's known.
What puts a lot of people off about the film is the common argument that it just doesn't make any sense. In a way, this is true and it's certainly easy to see where one could easily find ammunition to feed that argument but at the same time, it doesn't really have to make sense. Like a few of Franco's best films, Doriana Grey and Vampyros Lesbos to name but two, the film succeeds not so much as a traditional narrative but as a series of odd images and set pieces linked more by a central character than by a central storyline. Succubus jumps around a bit, it places its situations in unusual locations and it polishes everything with some sultry gothic ambience. Reynaud, like Lina Romay in so many of Franco's films and like the late Soledad Miranda before her is fetishized by Franco whenever she's on camera. She becomes the object of his obsession, his muse so to speak, and in turn he presents her to us as such. He's not necessarily trying to tell us something so much as it would seem that he's just trying to show us what he likes, to let us in on his kinks – something we see time and time again in his work, from Exorcism (a deeply personal shot at the Catholic Church through Eugenie De Sade (in which his obsession with Miranda dominates the movie). It's all very personal, and it's likely that he made the movie for himself as he always has.
Succubus is not Franco's best film, that honor would have to go to Vampyros Lesbos or Venus In Furs, but it is still in the upper echelon of his rather massive filmography. At times it's a little too abstract and too impenetrable but that never keeps it from being a genuinely interesting movie with some wild, kinky visuals and a great score – the movie has presence, it has atmosphere and it has a strange charm. If it makes no sense, that's quite alright, it doesn't really need to.
The anamorphic 1.66.1 widescreen transfer is quite nice. The colors look great, and considering how important a part they play in the look and feel of the film it is to Blue Underground's credit that they did a good job in that department as there's no bleeding at all, the color scheme stays distinct. While most of the film exhibits some moderate grain and some minor print damage, for the most part the movie is in very nice shape and there's a surprisingly high level of detail present in this transfer. Compared to the previous DVD release from Anchor Bay Entertainment (which was fullframe), there looks to be more information present on the left and right side of the frame, an improvement in color reproduction, and overall the image is cleaner and more detailed – a very definite improvement. Flesh tones look nice and natural, black levels are deep and don't pixilate or get murky at all, and aside from some really minor edge enhancement, there's not a whole lot to complain about here.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono sound mix is fine. The jazzy score bounces through the front channel nicely but doesn't over power the dialogue in the film, and it always stays very clear. There are no problems with hiss or distortion at all, everything sounds very nice and very clean and even a little bit robust in this mix, which surprised me considering the low budget origins and age of the film.
The biggest and best of the supplements on this release is From Necronomicon To Succubus, a twenty-two minute long video interview with director Jess Franco. Reasonably amicable here, Franco talks about his casting decisions, the influences that lead him to make the movie, and more. Scattered throughout the interviews are some clips from the film and music from the soundtrack plays out over portions of it. It's interesting to hear him reminisce about the production and the people he worked with, while he sits nonchalantly with his baseball cap on and his ever-present cigarette in his hand. He speaks in French, and English subtitles are supplied.
Also included on this disc is a second interview entitled Back In Berlin in which Jack Taylor talks about his work on the film for seven minutes. Shot in Berlin, near the areas where the film was shot, Taylor speaks about how certain parts of the movie were performed in Spanish and what it was like working with Franco, and where the director got the money from for the picture. Again, clips are used from the movie to illustrate certain points, and Taylor makes for a pretty interesting guy to hear from as he remembers a fair bit about the movie and it's history. He speaks well of Justine Reynaud and Franco and how his involvement in the film was considered 'immoral.'
Rounding out the supplements are the film's original theatrical trailer, animated menus and chapter selection.
A dreamy, sexy, and at times rather unsettling erotic horror film, Succubus looks and sounds pretty impressive on this much improved second release. Franco's eye for odd compositions and dreamlike atmosphere works well here which make this one of his better film, and while logic is pretty much thrown out the window, the movie is never the less pretty effective. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.