Jesus Franco: Director whose trash aesthetic brought him cult fame

 

There was never a clear school of thought on the films of Jesus Franco. His work was variously given a retrospective at the Cinémathèque Française in 2008, and mocked on Mystery Science Theater 3000, a show devoted to ridiculing the most inept of B-movies, in 1992. What was beyond argument was that his "sexadelic" horror output, running to over 190 films – many made during his most productive period in the late 1960s and 1970s – and boasting titles like Vampyros Lesbos (1971) and A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973), typified his work, as did his habitual use of the zoom lens.

Like the jazz musician he once was, Franco took pleasure in extemporisation. Sometimes, it seemed unimportant which film he was actually making. One of the cast of Necronomicon (1967), Michel Lemoine, recalled filming a gunfight that "went on for three days and had nothing to do with Necronomicon, so we were puzzled. Franco replied imperturbably that it was part of a dream sequence". It ended up being inserted into a previous film of Franco's, Residencia para Espias (1967). As he admitted, "I make certain films only to please myself."

Jesus Franco was born in Madrid to a Mexican mother and Cuban father. His favourite films as a child included the Republic Pictures Saturday-morning serials, and he would always have a fondness for Hollywood film noir of the 1940s. Briefly studying at what later became the Official Film School of Spain, his earliest feature-film credit, as co-writer and assistant director, was El Coyote (1954).

Confounding expectations, Vampiresas 1930 (1960) was not one of his typical works, but had the same premise as Singin' in the Rain, being a musical set in the dying days of the silents. Franco once said that ideally, that film's star, Debbie Reynolds, and Raquel Welch, would have been his leads in Sadisterotica and Kiss Me, Monster (both 1967), two films made back-to-back about the exploits of a pair of glamorous detectives.

Despite the efforts of his most assiduous chroniclers, Franco's claims to have been a published novelist, as David Khune, and to have assisted on the Spanish-made epics Solomon and Sheba (1959), and 55 Days At Peking (1963), have never been verified. It is true that he was Orson Welles's second-unit director on Chimes at Midnight (1965). In later life, Franco needed no persuasion to reminisce about working with Welles, recalling he had vouchsafed dislike of the soundtrack imposed on Touch of Evil by Universal.

Franco's first horror success was a monochrome slasher movie, Gritos En La Noche (1962), owing something to Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face, and its American title, The Awful Dr Orlof, to Riccardo Freda's The Horrible Dr Hichcock. Plump and resembling a young Peter Lorre, Franco can be spotted playing the piano (although he had been a trumpeter, when a jazzman) in one scene; later becoming hirsute, he continued to make Hitchcock-like appearances.

He first indulged in protracted strip sequences, odd camera angles, and his oneiric side in Necronomicon, shown with an X-rating as Succubus in English-speaking countries. It garnered praise from other film-makers, Fritz Lang terming it "a beautiful piece of cinema", and the print shown at the Fantastic Fest, in Austin, Texas in 2009, was on loan from the personal collection of Quentin Tarantino.

Billed as Jess Franco, he made the last two in Christopher Lee's Sax Rohmer adaptations, The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968) and The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969), the latter being chosen for Mystery Science Theater 3000. When Franco characteristically finished shooting The Girl From Rio (1968) a week ahead of schedule, producer Harry Alan Towers wrote 99 Women (1968) over a weekend and Franco shot it in three weeks. The result was briefly No 1 in the US; Franco's other women-in-prison films, Barbed Wire Dolls and Women Behind Bars (both 1975), had less mainstream appeal.

He had begun making outright hardcore with Female Vampire (1973), starring his muse and partner from that year, Lina Romay. Following their release on video, Women Behind Bars, Bloody Moon and Devil Hunter (1980), boasting a pop-eyed cannibal zombie, landed on the Director of Public Prosecutions' first list of "video nasties", and were swiftly banned.

In pre-internet times, finding information on Franco was not easy, and apart from photocopied fanzines and nocturnal screenings on ITV of one of his mildest (and own favourites), Dracula Prisoner of Frankenstein (1972), it was as though he had never existed. In 1996, he appeared on Channel 4's Eurotrash, summing up his view of the cinema as "Blood... Tits!... fantastic!", the last word being much used in his English vocabulary. A frail Franco received a Goya Award for lifetime achievement in 2009. He suffered a stroke in March.

Jesus Franco Manera, film director: born Madrid 12 May 1930; married Nicole Guettard (divorced 1996); 2008 Lina Romay (died 2012); died Malaga 2 April 2013.

Suggested Topics
News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?