REVIEW: JESS FRANCO’S SLAVES UNCUT
(C) 2017, Robert Monell
DIE SKLAVINNEN/SLAVES (1977), now released in a restored version by Full Moon, is not really a women-in-prison film, but it exists in a related sub-genre, the women-in-peril film. A story about women brutalized/kidnapped/tortured/manipulated/murdered by ruthless criminals or sometimes friends and associates. Other women-in-peril Jess Franco films include his two Fu-Manchu films. THE BLOOD OF FU MANCHU (1968) and THE CASTLE OF FU MANCHU (1970), ESCLAVAS DEL CRIMEN (1987), JE BRULE DE PARTOUT (1978), EUGENIE, HISTORIA DE UNA PERVERSION (1980), OPALO DE FUEGE (1978), DIE TEUFLISCHEN SCHWESTERN (1977), MADCHEN IM NACHTVERKEHR (1976), FRAUEN OHNEUNSCHULD (1977), ORGIA DE NINOFOMANAS/LINDA (1980), the last a personal favorite. SLAVES falls squarely into the sub-genre. American exploitation cinema also had a run of these films, termed “roughies” or “nudie-roughies” films which focused on sexualized sadism visited upon captive/exploited women. In fact the US VHS release of LINDA was retitled CAPTIVE WOMEN 5. Many of these women-in -peril titles where German co-productions.
SLAVES opens with a shot of a huge tropical plant somewhere in the jungles of a tropical island, more shots of foliage before the action shifts to an office of the Federal Police. Marta (Esther Moser SEXY SISTERS) makes her way through the jungle (now represented by some obviously potted/artificial tropical flora decorated a dark interior set), finally collapsing as she reaches the police outpost. The sleepy duty officer wonders why she is dressed in only see-through lingerie, something is up. The rest of the film is narrated by Madama Araminda, or Princess Arminda, the owner of the Pagoda, a highly profitable brothel located in the jungles of Chao Island, frequented by police officials who give Arminda protection.
Cut to Arminda escaping from Snake Island Prison, where she has been incarcerated on Marta’s testimony. Her escape is enabled by two individuals who have plans to gather a fortune in ransom from one of the kidnappings executed by Arminda’s drug financed syndicate. The rest of the film is narrated by Arminda, this sudden change in point-of-view, complicated by a flashback structure, makes for a kind of tropical Film Noir, and the fact that it’s narrated by a dead person illustrates the influence of the Billy Wilder classic, SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950). The escape is filmed with Franco’s typical pan-telezoon style where he zooms back from the Golden Gate style bridge in Lisbon and then zooms in on Arminda lowering herself down the side of the prison. Very efficient, very minimal, all done without fuss. Picked up Ebenholz (Aida Vargas) she is immediately abducted by the brutal agent (Jess Franco) of Amos Radeck (Victor Mendes), who spends the rest of the film directing Franco through various torture methods, cigarette burns, waterboarding, bondage, etc. Radeck’s daughter (Martine Stedil) was kidnapped by Arminda and disappeared after he paid a film million dollar ransom. Cat faced Stedil does a good job of playing the blase victim whose demise is preordained. Franco regulars of this period, Peggy Markoff and handsome hunk Eric Falk are also on hand, albeit in small roles. Torture, lesbian interludes, rape and summary execute abound in this trim 76 minute effort. In the end, if there is a point, is that it’s a dog eat dog world and only the most ruthless survive.
The most interesting elements here are the eye catching Zurich and Sintra locations, filmed in a less fly-by-night than usual fashion by Franco, who shared DP tasks with the reliable Peter Baumgartner, who lensed the Dietrich produced, JACK THE RIPPER (1976), which is probably the best feature of Franco’s two year contract with the producer. There’s also a sometimes jazzy, sometimes brooding score by Walter Baumgartner, along with the constant sounds of wild jungle animals. Stock footage represents Chao Island, (cf the opening scenes in CALL OF THE BLONDE GODDESS, also 1977). Franco’s trademark Nightclub scenes all seem to have been shot in one day, in a black walled set, dressed with wicker furniture and a few more tropical plants. The Zurich interiors tend to be rendered in hot pinks and ice cold blues while the Portuguese jungle settings, including Sintra’s Monserrate Palace, familiar from A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD and CECILIA, are sometimes breathtaking to behold, the latter scenes were the work of Baumgartner, according to the director.
The massive Victor Mendes is in full Syndney Greenstreet mode as the sinister billionaire who read comics as Franco conducts the torture shows. Lina Romay is also quite credible as the shifty, coldhearted Arminda, who pays the ultimate price for her criminal activities. Franco himself is also quite effective as Radeck’s quietly efficient enforcer, who has the last laugh in this very downbeat crime film.
A very watchable, entertaining feature which is now available remastered and restored from Full Moon. The colors are absolutely stunning, eye piercingly vivid, they pop off the screen.
The definition is razor sharp, brimming with detail. The soundtrack is in German, with English subtitles.
The most intriguing Special Feature is a 40m interview, FRANCO, BLOODY FRANCO, conducted with the director at a Zurich hotel, during the making of JACK THE RIPPER in 1976. This was an unsubtitled Feature of previous Ascot Elite Blu-rays. I’m very pleased it’s now more widely available in an English friendly release. Franco speaks in French, stating his theory of directing, to let the action evolve from the daily shooting, rather than strict adherence to the script, and his respect for the talents of Klaus Kinski. He also details how he visioned the film as a further examination into the themes in his first horror film, GRITOS EN LA NOCHE, and how he wanted to explore the twisted personality of the Ripper while maintaining a sympathetic distance. Nothing the difference between historical suggestions on the Ripper identity, he comes down on the side of Fantastique, rather than a realistic-historical approach, which he did not want to make.
He also has some very negative things to say about Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy, rejecting his induction into the realm Fantastique creators and the dubious aesthetics of Hammer Horror. He lavishes much praise on the American B movie titan, Roger Corman, whom he claims as a spiritual equal. A vintage trailer reel is also included. English subtitles are included for the extended interview which has been ported from the German Ascot Elite JESS FRANCO GOLDEN GOYA COLLECTION, which was a HD release. As far as I’m concerned this release is worth the price for the revealing Franco interview alone.
Robert Monell is a filmmaker, writer, critic and blogger. He is the creator and editor of I’M IN A JESS FRANCO STATE OF MIND and CINEMADROME www.cinemadrome.yuku.com. His films include the screenplays for the web series RETURN OF THE BLOODSUCKING NAZI ZOMBIES, the short feature ZOMBIE 2024