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Jess Franco Double-Feature

Sadist of Notre Dame

(Spanish: El sádico de Notre-Dame; French: L'éventreur de Notre-Dame; aka: The Ripper of Notre Dame, 1979)
A defrocked priest (Jess Franco) becomes a hooker-slashing psychopath who prowls the streets of Paris in a fever of violence, voyeurism, and sado-masochistic depravity. (From Severin’s official synopsis)

No one has ever accused Jess Franco of being anything but a thrifty filmmaker. Afterall, you don’t become one of the most prolific directors in history by asking investors for more money. At his best/worst, he was not above recycling footage from old films – usually, but not exclusively his own – to make new ones. One movie he got a lot of mileage out of was 1974’s Exorcism; from its many alternate titles and censored versions (it is aka: Demoniac, Exorcism and Black Masses, and a million others), to the recut XXX version, Sexorcismes (1975), and this cruel variation on slasher motifs. Franco reportedly considered Sadist of Notre Dame his ‘most personal’ film, which is particularly disturbing, because he cast himself as a mad killer who gropes, tortures, and murders women he deems morally corrupt. Creepy self-insertion aside, Sadist of Notre Dame feels and flows like a typical late ’70s Franco film, to the point that it’s actually pretty hard to differentiate the exclusive footage from the recycled Exorcism sequences. I suppose this isn’t necessarily a good thing, since it would indicate a definite monotony in the director’s style and themes, but I think most Francophiles (as in the director, not the country) relish such uniformity. In this regard, I would recommend that novice Franco avoid Sadist of Notre Dame until they have some of his more definitive pictures already under their belt. The key issues, as they often are, come down to weird pacing (the strangest case here being a two minute break in the middle of an orgy where a woman tries and fails to get a butler to join in) and a lack of cohesive storytelling. Viewers looking for graphic violence will also be disappointed, but this isn’t a surprise, as Franco usually preferred to avoid the technical demands of staged gore. There are, however, plenty of outrageous S&M tableaus borrowed from Exorcism.

Sadist of Notre Dame is among the rarest Franco movies to actually get any kind of home video release. And, by ‘any kind of home video release,’ I mean that it was put out on PAL VHS by Eagle 6 in Denmark and non-anamorphic DVD by Manga Films in Spain. Severin has rescued it from utter obscurity using a 35mm exhibition print, which they have scanned in 4K and present in 1.66:1, 1080p HD video. Severin warns the audience that the print was damaged and that they were unable to correct all of its problems, but I found this transfer a pretty standard older European exploitation release. The footage is particularly grainy, but not abnormally so, and the gritty qualities are pretty consistent throughout. Details are slightly hindered by cinematographer Raymond Heil’s focal choices, but there’s still plenty of complexity to be found in the background textures. The largely neutral palette is pumped up with garish late ’70s fashion and moody interior lighting schemes. The most acute film damage artefacts are stuttering shots (often during the scenes that were taken from Exorcism, which also tend to have higher contrast levels), white blotches, black streaks, and a few, brief frames that seem to have been reconstructed using tape.

The original mono Spanish, English, and French soundtracks are all presented in uncompressed LPCM. Each is dubbed and the actors appear to be speaking different languages on-set (though there’s very little dialogue at all), so your choice of track will probably come down to tonal taste. The Spanish track has the roundest quality, including a deeper aural field and warmer bass, and features more dialogue (much of the narration is missing from the other tracks). The English dub is crisp and well-balanced, but also exhibits the most distortion effects and is tinier than its counterparts. The French track is a good balance of the other two and, while the lip-sync tends to be pretty far off, the French dialogue tends to fit the effects and musical volume levels. Composer Daniel White’s jazz-infused, organ-heavy score is repetitive, but definitely helps to set the mood and offers as much production value as the lush locations.

Extras include:
  • The Gory Days of Le Brady (30:58, HD) – Writer and former projectionist Jacques Thorens discusses the history of the legendary Parisian horror cinema known as Le Brady. The featurette ends with a visit to the location and then & now comparisons.
  • Stephen Thrower on Sadist of Notre Dame  (27:50, HD) – The author of Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jesus Franco (2015) traces the history of Sadist of Notre Dame and Franco’s career & personal life leading up to its completion. While marking the differences between the film and Exorcism, Thrower claims that the Franco didn’t reuse 75 minutes of footage purely for the sake of convenience, but that he genuinely thought he could improve the older production.
  • Audio essay with I'm in a Jess Franco State of Mind webmaster Robert Monell (6:31, HD) – Monell offers more context for the film as well as select scene commentary.
  • Treblemakers (5:02, HD) – Another Franco biographer, Alain Petit, author of Jess Franco ou les Prospérités du bis (2015), discusses his experience seeing the film in France.


 Jess Franco Double-Feature

 Jess Franco Double-Feature

 Jess Franco Double-Feature

 Jess Franco Double-Feature

 Jess Franco Double-Feature


Jess Franco Double-Feature

Sinfonia Erotica

(1980)
When an unstable noblewoman (Lina Romay) returns to her lavish estate, she will find herself – along with her libertine husband, his male lover, and a young nun with a craving for violation – trapped in a web of unholy hungers and decadent perversions. (From Severin’s official synopsis)

Franco’s best films are, without a doubt, his earliest black & white horror thrillers and his most esoteric sexploitation work. He prided himself on revisiting the works of the Marquis de Sade and, while he couldn’t help but dump a couple dozen cheap-o weekend projects on the market, some of these adaptations exceeded the modest expectations of the bulk of his work. Sinfonia Erotica was released at the tail end of the director’s ‘peak years’ and isn’t up to the standard of ]Vampyros Lesbos (1970) or The Diabolical Dr. Z (1966), but it has plenty of that patented Franco flair. Though clearly made more quickly and cheaply than the superior Harry Alan Towers-produced period pieces (Marquis de Sade: Justine, 1968, Count Dracula, 1969, and others), the director’s dreamy, downright opaque approach transcends some of the more obvious production problems. As far as I’m concerned, he never matched the pure artistry of Walerian Borowczyk’s similarly perverse costume dramas, but, when his heart is in it, his de Sade-based work has a unique sense of obscene poetry. Here, the line between good and bad filmmaking is blurred by deliberately obtuse camera angles, rushed editing, and eccentric performances. Sinfonia Erotica was made between some of the director’s worst horror films. Franco has since stated that those films were forced on him by producers, who were attempting to chase popular Italian subgenres (including three subpar cannibal-themed movies, White Cannibal Queen, Cannibal Terror, and Devil Hunter, in 1980 alone). Knowing that he didn’t care about those films and comparing their qualities to this one goes a long way to prove that the choices made here, no matter how bizarre, were part of his design, rather than the side effects of lazy filmmaking, and that’s pretty fascinating. Needless to say, it’s not going to be everyone’s – or hardly anyone’s – cup of tea.

Sinfonia Erotica has slightly wider recognition than Sadist of Notre Dame, but was still difficult to find on home video, outside of another Spanish DVD and non-English-friendly VHS tapes from Italy and Denmark. This Blu-ray/general North American debut was taken from another 35mm print (rather than a negative) and scanned in 4K. It is presented in 1.66:1, 1080p HD video. Once again, the film opens with a warning from Severin that the presentation shows signs of wear & tear and, once again, I think the results are pretty impressive, as well as comparable to the Sadist of Notre Dame disc. The print-based scan leads to somewhat crushy shadows and equally blown-out highlights, but, given that Franco and cinematographer Lyoner Efe’s photography is more stylish than that of Sadist of Notre Dame, these artefacts are less distracting. Besides some snowy moments and issues with shimmer, the more pertinent – and likely unsolvable – issue is the coolness and washed-out qualities of the colour palette. I imagine that the film was meant to appear blue/purple to some degree, but the maroon skin tones and lack of warm highlights leads me to assume  that the print had faded somewhat.

This time, Severin was only able to secure the original mono Spanish track, which is again presented in uncompressed LPCM sound. I assume that most of the cast was speaking Spanish on set this time, but the dubbing is especially strange here. Not only is the lip-sync off, but the voices rarely match the faces and several sequences are slathered in thick reverb effects. This detached aural approach was a deliberate means to disorent the viewer and press the hypnotic tone. Franco himself provided some of the musical soundtrack for Sinfonia Erotica and he mixes his own motifs with others from Daniel White, and concertos by Franz Liszt. The score flows almost constantly beneath the images, sometimes repeating itself on a loop and adding yet another layer of quixotic oddness to the movie.

Extras include:
  • Jess Franco on his first wife Nicole Guettard (6:34, HD) – During Severin’s final, long-form interview with Franco, they asked him about his late first wife, who is credited as the set decorator on Sinfonia Erotica.
  • [i]Stephen Thrower on Sinfonia Erotica (22:22, HD) – Thrower returns for another in-depth discussion concerning Franco’s obsession with adapting Marquis de Sade stories, the development of his visual style, and the making of Sinfonia Erotica.


 Jess Franco Double-Feature

 Jess Franco Double-Feature

 Jess Franco Double-Feature

 Jess Franco Double-Feature

 Jess Franco Double-Feature

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-rays, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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