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Jess Franco's 1996 film Killer Barbys introduces us to a punk band called The Killer Barbies and their manager Mario (Charlie S. Chaplin) who are on the way to their latest show. They decide to take a short cut and, of course, their van breaks down. How could it not? With nowhere else to go, they head towards the creaky old castle that lies not too far away. Here they meet Arkan (Aldo Sambrell), the assistant to the castle's resident, Countess Olga Fledermaus (Maria Angela Giordano). He invites them in to stay for the night.
Flavia (Sylvia Superstar) and her boyfriend Rafa (Carlos Subterfuge) accept the hospitality, as does Mario while Billy (Billy King) and Sharon (Angie Barea) decide to better use their new found alone time to get more intimately acquainted with one another in the back of the van. Not surprisingly, the band members quickly learn that all is not as it seems at this castle. Aldo, with some help from local lunatic Balthazar (Santiago Segura) and a pair of psychotic dwarves named Pipo (Alberto Martínez) and Pipa (Pepa López) take care of Billy and Sharon fairly quickly. While this is going on, Flavia and Rafa uncover the truth about Countess Olga and learn that she's basically a skeleton who has been brought back to her more youthful appearance thanks to a steady diet of blood and… other bodily fluids. When Rafa falls under the countess' mysterious spell, Flavia and Mario try to make their escape. They realize that if they stick around, their days are very numbered indeed… but escape won't be easy when the Countess' henchmen are so intent on making them stay.
A decidedly bizarre genre hopping mishmash, Killer Barbys incorporates dark comedy, musical numbers and the type of gothic horror trappings that Franco had made a name for himself with earlier in his career (think along the lines of the Orloff movies and you're not too far off). It's quirky, to say the least, but you expect that from Franco. You also expect a fair amount of sex from him, at least by this point in his career if not in the aforementioned earlier gothic horror pictures, and you get that as well. The Countess isn't necessarily subtle about how she gets those other bodily fluids out of her male victims mentioned earlier in this piece. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out how that might happen. But as wonky as this one is, and it's pretty wonky, it works better than it probably has any right to. There's some decent atmosphere present throughout the film, the old castle setting proves to be a picture perfect location for a story like this, and the atmospheric cinematography, which uses a lot of unexpected but wholly effective angles, does a very fine job of capturing all of the mayhem.
As to the acting? The Killer Barbies were a real band (they haven't recorded anything since 2003 but were prolific from the mid-nineties up to that point) and we all know that often times when musicians try their hand at acting it can go south pretty quickly. This time around, the band seems in on it. They seem to get what Franco is going for and their performances suit the story well. Sylvia Superstar in particular has good screen presence. It doesn't hurt that she's quite attractive but her acting in the picture is more than decent. Maria Angela Giordano, probably best known to Euro horror fans for her work in the infamous Burial Ground, is also really good here. She's well cast in the part, she has the right look for it and brings a nice screen presence to the film. Aldo Sambrell as her sinister assistant is also a lot of fun to watch, while Alberto Martínez and Pepa López are fairly unforgettable as his pint sized minions!The Blu-ray:
Killer Barbys arrives on Blu-ray from Kino on a 25GB disc framed at 1.66.1 widescreen and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition in a transfer taken from a new 4k scan. In short, this transfer looks really nice. The colors look fantastic and there's impressive detail here (though keep in mind this was shot with some obvious filters and is occasionally meant to look soft with an over the top color scheme). Some small speckling occurs now and then but it's minor, nothing serious at all, while black levels remain fairly deep throughout playback. There's no evidence of any noise reduction or edge enhancement and the image is free of any obvious compression artifacts.Sound:
Redemption offers up French, English and Spanish language DTS-HD 2.0 tracks. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. The Spanish track, which is stereo as opposed to the other two options which are mono, sounds the best of the three mixes. The French and English tracks aren't awful, they're just a bit on the flat side and the dubbing is more obvious here. The Spanish track suits the movie better, particularly when it comes to the music. Regardless of which option you go for, the audio is clean and nicely balanced.Extras:
The only extra on the disc is an audio commentary from Troy Howarth who makes some interesting observations about how this particular film compares to a few of Franco's other films, most notably in its structure and its use of music. As the film plays out he offers some insight into the score, the cast that appear in the picture, the locations and quite a bit more. This is an enjoyable track with a lot of interesting information in it. When he's not giving us scene specific or even feature specific info he's able to still keep the talk centered on the director's work, so it remains engaging.
Menus and chapter selection are also included.Final Thoughts:
Killer Barbys is not Jess Franco's masterpiece but it is a nice mix of horror, humor, sex and rock n roll shot in his inimitable style. It's just as out there as it sounds, but fans of the director's work should appreciate this latter day horror picture from his massive filmography. Redemption's Blu-ray release is light on extras but the commentary is a good one and it's hard to complain about the presentation at all. Franco's films aren't for all tastes but if you're a fan, consider this 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.