Tragic news today for fans of horror, erotica, international cinema, cult movies and nudity. Director Jesús "Jess" Franco has died at the age of 82, after suffering from a stroke.
Jess Franco had one of the most prolific careers of any filmmaker in the history of the medium. With nearly 200 films directed, over 150 films written, nearly 100 credited on-screen performances, over 70 musical scores composed and nearly 50 films edited under his own name or various pseudonyms (including "Jess Frank," "David Khune," "Lulu Laverne" and "Pablo Villa"), he made nearly everyone else in the industry look like slackers. He even managed to complete Don Quixote, the famously unfinished motion picture that Orson Welles shot between 1957 and 1969 and had continued editing until his death in 1985. However, Franco's version has, according to experts, little in common with Welles' original vision.
Franco was most famous for a long string of horror films with an erotic slant, including 1972's Vampyros Lesbos, perhaps his most famous picture. The film stars Ewa Stroemberg as a businesswoman lured into the world of undead sensuality by a mysterious vampire, played by Soledad Miranda. The score for Vampyros Lesbos, composed by Franco, Manfred Hübler and Siegfried Schwab, would go on to become a Top Ten hit in Europe in the mid-1990s, when it was released on the compilation album Vampyros Lesbos: Sexadelic Dance Party.
Jess Franco discovered a then-17-year-old actress named Lina Romay in 1972's The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein. Romay would go on to appear in over 100 of Franco's films – including The Bare Breasted Countess (aka Female Vampire), Barbed Wire Dolls and Swedish Nympho Slaves – and the pair were romantically involved for decades. Jess Franco and Lina Romay were eventually married in 2008. Romay passed away in 2012, from cancer.
Jess Franco's last completed film, Al Pereira vs. The Alligator Ladies, was released in Spain earlier in 2013. The story – about a formerly amoral detective turned right-wing politician, seduced back to to sin by the daughter's of Dr. Fu Manchu – sounds familiar to fans of Franco's work, who came to expect his sultry, often downright sleazy perspective on horror story tropes.
He leaves behind a legacy of eroticism, horror and sometimes outright schlockiness. Jess Franco will be dearly, sorely missed.
William Bibbiani is the editor of CraveOnline's Film Channel, co-host of The B-Movies Podcast, co-star of The Trailer Hitch, and the writer of The Test of Time. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.