During June Horror Channel is celebrating the work of Jesus Franco with a special season of his movies showing under the banner of Eurotica. Each movie is introduced by Stephen Thrower who is an expert on all things Franco so we decided to have a chat with this interesting guy about his knowledge of the genre, Franco's cinematic legacy and why Franco was a true original.
HC: When did you first become aware of the Eurotica genre?
ST: It was back in 1981, when the so-called "video nasty" era started. Suddenly the cinema of the whole world was there on the shelves of your local video emporium. Horror films from Italy and Spain in particular which were far more sexually provocative than most British and American titles, they mixed the erotic with violence and horror in a very startling way. Then, after the government clamped down on these films, fans began to establish networks of contacts here and abroad, which led to a thriving black market in extreme and extraordinary sex-and-horror movies. The ban just led people to seek these treasures further afield than their local video store, and created a highly motivated fan community. The earliest examples of 'Eurotica' I saw were the films of Jess Franco and Jean Rollin: Venus in Furs, Requiem for a Vampire, and many more. You could read about these films in long-forgotten film magazines specialising in erotic fare, but the films had pretty much disappeared from the cinemas - suddenly there they were, pouring into the country via collectors who went out and scoured video shops in France, Holland and Germany, where far more titles were available than we'd seen in the UK.
HC: What are the classic elements of such movies?
ST: A fascination with desire, and its links to obsession and madness. Beautiful women, sadomasochistic situations, a tendency to construct violent scenes as though they were erotic scenes, and vice versa! And frequently, although the women are the main focus of erotic attention, they are often portrayed as the aggressors, not just passive sex objects.
HC: Where and when did the term originate?
ST: I think I first heard the term when Pete Tombs of the Mondo Macabro DVD company made a series of TV documentaries about prominent Eurosleaze directors, back in the late 1990s.
HC: Who are the masters of this genre?
ST: Without a doubt, the leading lights are Jess Franco, Jean Rollin and Joe D'Amato, with Franco probably the most important thanks to his incredibly prolific work-rate - 168 films and counting!
HC: Would you like to see any of the “classics” remade and if so by whom?
ST: No, I would like to see new directors contribute something as unexpected and amazing as the European sex-and-horror directors did, without simply copying or remaking. This century hasn't really seen any major leaps forward in the cinema - we need a new generation of iconoclasts willing to shock their elders and get things moving again!
HC: Why do you think they have such a large following after all these years?
ST: I think these films appeal to people who are bored by the formulaic, predictable, highly polished emptiness of most Hollywood movies. They want some edge, some strangeness and magic, some excitement, the feeling that the filmmaker might take you somewhere you're not sure how to cope with. Horror and sex are two very powerful elements in art, and when you bring them together, the sparks really fly!
HC: A lot of the classic Eurotica titles have been given very generous DVD and Blu-ray editions, some incredibly lavish, why do you think that is?
ST: Firstly, because a highly motivated fan base has entered the film market and bent over backwards to secure the rights for the kind of product they themselves would like to see. People like Bill Lustig at Blue Underground, Pete Tombs at Mondo Macabro, Marc Morris at Nucleus, and many more, these guys are not just selling films like a businessman would sell socks, they're devoted fans of strange and sleazy movies and they try to give the fans what they know they want. Also, many of these films are very beautifully made, so they actually benefit from good quality transfers, and look stunning on Blu-Ray and DVD. Although they're often made cheaply, these films are made by real craftsmen and artists, with a huge amount of visual skill and imagination.
HC: Are there any directors working today that you could say have been influenced by the likes of Franco etc?
ST: I know a lot of established cult directors are impressed by Franco, but Franco's cinema is incredibly personal - his style and his grasp of mood are unique. If anyone is thinking of making films after seeing Franco, and they feel determined not to let anything at all get in their way, that's the kind of inspiration that matters. Franco has directed almost 170 films (so far!) - the guy never ever stops working, he never gives up no matter how hard the business may become. He's unstoppable. He'll probably die with a camera in his hand! If he has an influence, I would hope it's his insatiable drive to create his own personal work, and his absolute determination to achieve total artistic freedom.
HC: Stephen Thrower, thank you very much.