- Lina Romay, Jess Franco
- Jess Franco
- Carmen Montes, Fata Morgana
There are good directors, there are bad directors, and then there are directors like Jesús “Jess” Franco. I like Franco, but the man is a cipher: his œuvre consists of a great many bad films and a few gems; he seems often to be technically incompetent, but he was good enough to A.D. for Orson Welles; his films are often blatantly pornographic and shamelessly exploitative, but a very few of them are honest-to-god works of genius. You can watch ten of his movies, and nine of them will be awful. Then, just when you’re about to dismiss him as a hack, the tenth will be a weird, surreal, seemingly-accidental masterpiece. I honestly can’t decide if he’s just a hack who happened to make a few good films from some twisted law of probability or if he’s a good director who only occasionally cared enough, was given enough money, and free enough reins to put in some effort. My relationship with Franco’s work is a constant search for those aberrations in his œuvre.
Snakewoman, I’m afraid, isn’t one of those aberrations
What it is instead, basically, is a remake of Vampyros Lesbos shot on video for very little money. Yeah, I don’t get it either. Anyway, what I’m generously calling the plot concerns Carla (Fata Morgana. Yes, that’s really her stage name), who is sent to talk to the family of the legendary singer and actress Oriana about buying the right’s to her work. When she gets there, she finds Oriana (Carmen Montes) alive and well and vampiric. As she has an extreme aversion to clothing, we also learn that she has a tattoo of a snake over her torso, from which the film takes its name. While Oriana philosophises about asses (no, really. Among other nuggets of wisdom, we learn that “the ass is the universal sex organ”), a woman in a mental institute-cum-monastery (yes, really) talks crazily about Oriana and a monk chants in Latin. Meanwhile Carla gets nightly drainings and sex from the Snakewoman and goes to see her therapist, Dr. Van Helsing (Lina Romay). And, basically, that’s it.
Franco’s actors have never been good, and it’s somehow comforting to see that some things don’t change. Carmen Montes shows some signs of an interesting vulnerability, though I’m not entirely sure that’s not the actress rather than the role, and she’s pretty and tanned, but Soledad Miranda she ain’t; where Miranda was mysterious and sensual, Montes is vulgar and pornographic. Fata Morgana (yes, that’s still really her stage name) isn’t much better; she has a pretty smile, but that’s the extent of her talents.
Snakewoman begins promisingly, with a sub-Lynch sequence of a woman driving, set to weird music, but it soon becomes clear that Franco and his co-writer, Lina Romay, have stripped away everything interesting about Vampyros Lesbos, leaving only sleaze and cinematic ineptitude. 1970s Franco was a hack, too, of course, but he was a hack with style, someone you could count on to at the very least do something interesting (or, failing that, something disturbing). 2000s Franco has replaced jazzy montage with vapid nudity. Where Vampyros Lesbos was Euro sleaze with delusions of artistry, Snakewoman is hackneyed video porn. There’s only about fifteen minutes of actual plot in the movie, so they’ve had to stretch it out with tedious sex scenes, shot in locked-off, poorly-framed wide shots. Seriously, I’ve had careers shorter than some of the sex scenes in Snakewoman. There is a subplot involving the last film of Oriana, which is described in a way that makes you expect something along the lines of a Euro exploitation Inland Empire, but when we finally get to see some clips from it, it is, of course, just more of Franco’s poorly-lit pseudo-pornography.
There are actually some pretty nice shots in Snakewoman — and a few amusing sequences: there’s a certain twisted majesty to the scene where Oriana lies naked on a table, while her “father” eats breakfast and an equally-naked male servant serves café con breast milk — bought, at a very handsome price, from immigrants — to Carla, who no-sells the entire situation. That’s the Franco we know and love. But apparently he had a very unreliable drug dealer, because there’s nowhere near enough wacky insanity to make up for the mind-numbing tedium of the rest of the film. It’s possible the entire thing is a big put-on, part of some life-long project to subvert the expectations of pretentious viewers. If it is, the joke is over my head. The whole affair is so damned incompetent, it’s depressing: long static shots of IKEA erotica, lights on camera, driving shots with a soundtrack consisting of wind against the camera mic— If it weren’t so boring, it could pass for so-bad-it’s-good.
You know, I didn’t think Franco had much of a reputation to worry about, but here he is, pissing it away.