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She Killed In Ecstasy
As one of the world's most prolific directors, Jess Franco gets a lot of mixed reactions from movie buffs, particularly those of us fascinated by European cult films. Franco has made all sorts of different films on all sorts of different budgets and in all sorts of different genres but widely considered some of his best are the few films he made with the smolderingly sexy Soledad Miranda. In a sense, she acted as his muse, and more so than any other woman (save for Lina Romay) she is most often associated with his work.
In She Killed In Ecstasy, Dr. Johnson (played by Fred Williams who also worked with Franco on El Conde Dracula and other pictures) has a happy life that he shares with his jaw droppingly gorgeous wife, played by Miranda (of Vampyros Lesbos and Eugenie DeSade fame). When Johnson's experiments bring him under the scrutiny of the local medical community based on their rather unusual methods and the involvement of human embryos, he's cast out of their circle and his license to practice is revoked. Johnson, a wreck because of this decision, takes a knife and cuts his wrists, leaving his wife alone and upset over her loss. In order to avenge his death, Mrs. Johnson seduces four people (played by a rather interesting cast including Howard Vernon, Paul Muller, Ewa Stromberg and the director himself!) she holds responsible for her husband's suicide, and once she has them where she wants them, takes their lives in return.
While much of Franco's work is sporadic and uneven, She Killed In Ecstasy almost seems a little too straight forward in its plot, which when you get to the heart of it is simply an eroticized tale of revenge from a woman who truly was scorned. Franco doesn't go too hog wild with his trademark zooms though his use of loungey jazz music (some of which is eerily reminiscent of some of the cues from Vampyros Lesbos, the films do complement each other quite nicely) to compliment the action on screen is a big part of this one. His pop artist sensibility in regards to his use of comic book style colors on his filmic canvas are also ever present here. While it isn't necessarily a mainstream film in the traditional sense of the word (and by mainstream I mean a film that is meant for a large audience, one that is accessible to those who may not necessarily be so well versed in arthouse or European genre movies) and it may not be the best film to get someone started on a Franco kick, it moves along at a reasonably brisk pace and benefits from a pretty decent storyline as well.
While Franco's direction creates and maintains a very dreamlike (or nightmarish) ambience, the real star of the film is Soledad Miranda, a woman who could make any man swoon for her. She's perfectly cast as a woman who is out to use her feminine wiles to entrance her soon to be victims. She's just gorgeous enough to be convincing working under this premise. While some of the more sexual elements are in there for presumably exploitative reasons the film never goes so far as to reach the hardcore level that some of the director's other 'erotic horror' films have such as Lorna The Exorcist or Dorianna Grey. These scenes make for an interesting contrast against the bloody murders Miranda's character enacts, and this contrast in a sense embodies much of Franco's work. Supporting efforts from Franco regulars Fred Williams, Howard Vernon, Paul Muller, Ewa Stromberg are fun to watch and add round out the cast nicely but this really is Soledad's show through and through.
Worth noting is that the version of the movie contained on this disc runs a few minutes longer than past domestic releases have, with the main extension being the lengthening of a certain death scene. We won't spoil it here but it definitely takes that scene much further than we've seen before and it ups the ante in terms of the movie's effectiveness as a horror picture.The Blu-ray:
Severin presents She Killed In Ecstasy in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.66.1 widescreen in a transfer that looks very nice indeed. Detail is obviously improved over standard definition offerings from the opening scene through to the finish while colors typically look fantastic throughout. Some very minor print damage can be spotted here and there but nothing so serious as to distract from the visuals. Skin tones look very and accurate and black levels are quite strong as well. There's good texture here and a fair bit more depth to the picture than some will probably expect.Audio:
The only audio option offered for the movie is a German language track in LPCM Mono with optional subtitles provided in English only. There are no problems here, the lossless track has good depth and range and really enhances the score put together for the picture. Dialogue sounds nice and natural and the subtitles are clear and easy to read.Extras:
Extras on the disc start out with a featurette called Jess Killed In Ecstasy: Interview With Writer-Director Jess Franco. Here the late director once again speaks quite kindly about the German producers he worked with on this picture, how the film was sped along to take advantage of the success ofVampyros Lesbos and what it was like working not only with Miranda on the film but some of the other cast members as well. He also talks about what it was like and how it affected him when he learned that Miranda had been killed. It's both informative and touching. Definitely take the time to watch this.
Up next is Sublime Soledad: Interview With Soledad Miranda Historian Amy Brown. As the title implies, this piece allows Brown to elaborate on Miranda's career not only as an actress but as a pop chanteuse as well! We get some great archival clips and footage in here as Brown talks about her filmography and about the late actresses work with Franco. It's a nicely put together piece that does a fine job of shedding some light on what makes Miranda more than just another pretty face.
Stephen Thrower On She Killed In Ecstasy is an interview with the author of the upcoming Franco book Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema Of Jess Franco. Once again, Thrower offers up some insightful comments about the film's effectiveness and notes how it really saw Franco ramping up his production output around this time. He offers his thoughts on the story, performances and more.
Additionally, we get Paul Muller On Jess Franco, an interview with a man who starred in many a Franco picture. He offers up some fun stories about what it was like working for Franco, when and how scripts were used and when they weren't used, his work in Franco's infamous cannibal movie and quite a bit more.
Rounding out the extras on the Blu-ray are a German language theatrical trailer, static menus and chapter selection.
Severin has also included, on a separate CD, the complete soundtrack recordings for She Killed In Ecstasy, Vamypros Lesbos and The Devil Came From Akasava. The complete track listing on the CD is as follows:
The Lions And The Cucumber / Psycho Contact: Part One / There Is No Satisfaction / Psycho Contact: Part Two / The Message / Psycho Contact: Part Three / Ghosts Of Good And Bad Onions / Psycho Contact: Part Four / Countdown To Nowhere / Psycho Contact: Part Five / Droge CX 9 / Dedicaeted To Love / People's Playground: Version A / We Don't Care / People's Playground: Version B / The Ballad Of A Fair Singer / People's Playground: Version C / Necromania / Kama Sutra / People's Playground: Version D / Shindai Lovers / Konkubination / People's Playground: Version E / The Six Wisdoms Of Aspasia
The two discs that make up this release come housed inside a clear plastic keepcase which in turn fits inside a cardboard slipcover that has been coyly designed to obscure specific parts of the cover art insert. It's a nice touch.Final Thoughts:
She Killed In Ecstasy remains a stand out film in Franco's filmography thanks to some slick camera work, great locations and a fantastic cast. Soledad Miranda's performance is reason enough to want to see this but there's more to the film than just her presence: it's moody, bizarre and occasionally even a little eerie. Severin has done right by the film with this Blu-ray release, providing an excellent presentation and a top notch selection of supplements as well.
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.