1 Hr., 26 Mins.
Venus in Furs / Bloody Moon July 16, 2019
1 Hr., 24 Mins.
sister Manuela (Nadja Gerganoff) and wheelchair-bound aunt Maria (María Rubio), who together run a boarding school for girls in the balmy, pretty Costa Del Sol.
Readjustment to civilian life isn’t what Bloody Moon, which is a hybrid of the slasher movie and the most raggedy of family dramas, is about, though. It’s more concerned with carnage and chaos, and Miguel’s possible responsibility for it. Shortly after he arrives, killings — and fantastically, inventively violent ones at that — begin bubbling up. Everyone in the area is a target, from the young women attending the school to Miguel’s own kin. (Mostly the former, however.)
In the couple of decades before Bloody Moon was released, Franco, though more than a little willing to dabble in genre, was best known for narcotic, nudity-laden horror movies too taciturn and arty to easily fit in with their peers. Having only been acquainted so far with the sleepy-eyed films for which Franco is today most recognized, from 1971’s Vampyros Lesbos to 1973’s A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973), I found the inflamed and aggressive Bloody Moon a nice change of pace and tone. Franco, though pandering to slasher platitudes and plotting more with style than sense in mind per usual, is far more visually ingenious than American slasher-director counterparts like Steve Miner and Sean S. Cunningham. He seems comfortable, excited here — eager to envelope-push as if his life depended on it. (Contrasting with the fact that Franco considered the film fairly throwaway: it was a work-for-hire production.) A humorously ghastly scene featuring a logging saw and a mannequin head is worth the price of the rental alone.
Venus in Furs: A-
Bloody Moon: B
loody Moon, one of several movies Franco made in 1981, has a great red herring. As the film begins, a man with scraggly brown hair and a prominent facial scar named Miguel (Alexander Waechter) stabs a woman to death at a carnival. He spends the next few years in a psychiatric facility. The movie resumes when he’s reached the end of his five-year sentence, released to live with his beglammed
smitten with her right before she met her seemingly permanent demise. Besides its shared name, the film has little in common with the book that inspired it.
Venus in Furs is more than a little reliant on what Hitchcock sold a decade earlier. But while watching it I didn’t much think to write it off as a rip-off: partially because its storyline doesn’t make a lick of sense anyway (Vertigo was convoluted but was for the most part decipherable), partially because, even with all the similarities, the movies fork aesthetically. Vertigo is an oceanic nightmare — a woozy tale of obsession. Venus in Furs, though also featuring wooziness and obsession, mostly consists of sensual camera work and framing and not much else. We love to gawk at it so much that we don’t mind that, if someone were to ask us to carefully recall what we’d just witnessed after the credits began rolling, we’d probably sit there with our eyes glassy and our lips parted, unsure of how to respond.
The movie stars James Darren, who has intense, dark eyes and owlish eyebrows, as Jimmy, a jazz musician. As the film opens, he discovers a body on the beach. It belongs to a lithe blonde woman named Wanda (Maria Rohm) whom Jimmy recently met, fell in love with, and is pretty sure he saw get murdered by a trio of local pleasure-seekers (Klaus Kinski, Margaret Lee, and Dennis Price) the other day but didn't do anything about it. "Was it last week, last month, or last year?” he wonders while thinking about when he last saw her.
Following this discovery, the narrative of Venus in Furs turns increasingly unfollowable. But what can be gleaned is that not long after the washing-up, a woman who looks exactly like Wanda, just with a Carol-Brady bob rather than locks down to here. Wearing mink, she's not only back to toy with Jimmy’s affections and his current relationship (with a torch singer played by Barbara McNair) but also to enact revenge on the people responsible for her death.
“The screenplay could have been Pauline Kael’s review of Last Year at Marienbad, shot verbatim,” the critic Fernando F. Croce mused in his review of Venus in Furs. This might be considered a brainy insult in some circles or a sniggering backhanded compliment in others. I consider it both an accurate descriptor and a perhaps inadvertent testament to the feature’s appeal. Recall Kael’s write-up of that French movie and you'll remember that it's a testament of ambivalence. Kael's displeasure with the movie’s glamour and mystery and arguable lack of meaning or real investment on the part of its maybe too-tricky creators is obvious. “The people we see have no warmth, no humor or pain, no backgrounds or past, no point of contact with living creatures, so who cares about their past or future, or their present?” Kael wrote. The description is one I disagree with when it comes to Marienbad. But it's conversely an apt one for Venus in Furs. It too is stylish incomprehensibility writ large, but impressively even more so.
Venus in Furs, like Last Year at Marienbad, is overrun with over-stylized visuals. In this particular case, Franco is a sucker for tasteful flesh-ogling, weird fashion-magazine closeups, juxtapositions of vibrant colors, kaleidoscopic lens effects, tableaux comprising ritzy parties hosted by the glitterati, and more. It belies sense in the process. But akin to Marienbad, Venus in Furs has the sort of flair that inspires not just admiration but entrancement. It makes for the uncommon style-over-substance movie where the style’s polished and evocative enough to allow questions like “who cares about the story?” not seem so out of this world.
None of this is to say Venus in Furs is as good as Marienbad, which is far more intentional and compelling in its photography, design, and thematic ideas. Think of it more as a product from a filmmaker lesser than Alain Resnais doing his best to make something similar to that and Vertigo for himself and succeeding. A surprise, considering Franco, who sometimes had so much potential energy stored in him that he could make more than 10 movies in a year, is not someone known for his forethought. I suppose Venus in Furs is an intoxicating exception.
ou might watch Venus in Furs, the Spanish exploitation filmmaker Jesús Franco’s fourth production of 1969, and think of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) rather than the film’s source material, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s 1870 novel of the same name. A major element of its main storyline, just like Vertigo, involves a supposedly dead woman rejoining everyday life to fuck with the film’s protagonist, who was