Eye For Film >> Movies >> Jess Franco Double Bill Volume 2: Devil's Island Lovers and Night Of The Assassins (2006) Film Review
Jess Franco Double Bill Volume 2: Devil's Island Lovers and Night Of The Assassins
Reviewed by: Keith Hennessey Brown
This double-dvd set features two films by Franco. The first, Devil's Island Lovers, is set in an unspecified South American dictatorship. It is the tragic tale of a young couple, Raymond (Andrés Resino) and Beatriz (Geneviève Robert), whose naivete, idealism and desire for political change see them become the victims of the regional governor and his mistress who, playing a more Sadean version of Dangerous Liasons, had them framed for murder and sent to prison.
Now on his deathbed, the repentant governor calls for the foreign lawyer who represented the couple to hear his confession. Armed with this knowledge, the lawyer may be able to secure their release – assuming it isn't already too late and that the governor wasn't just enjoying one last laugh at his victims…
Meanwhile, in Night of the Assassins, murder is afoot. Someone has just bumped off Lord Archibald by the unusual – and decidedly horrible – method of burying him alive. As his assorted relatives come out of the woodwork for the reading of the will, Inspector Bore (Vicente Roca) is sent to investigate the case and is soon followed by Brooks (Alberto Dalbés) of Scotland Yard. The abilities of both men are tested as the body-count mounts…
The killer is clearly taking inspiration from the Book of the Apocalypse – "Four elements created – earth to bury us, wind to scourge us, water to drown us, fire to burn us" – found in Archibald's library. But who and why?
The key words that describe this double-bill are restraint and taste – not terms that many would immediately associate with the Spanish sleazemeister – with gratuitous nudity, zooms and out-of-focus shots conspicuous in their (near) absence.
It is an approach that works better in the case of Night Of The Assassins because of its more self-consciously old-fashioned nature, hearkening back to the kind of films Tod Browning and James Whale made in the 1920s and 1930s by way of the German krimi Edgar Wallace adaptations of the 1960s – though the film is erroneously described as being based on Edgar Allan Poe's The Cat And the Canary its true source seems closer to Wallace's The Indian Scarf, filmed by Alfred Vohrer in 1963.
Though the Iberian locations do not always convince as Victorian England – Bore wears a sombrero rather than a bowler, for instance – this does not detract too much and indeed perhaps again helps to recall the skewed perspectives of the kind of films that it is paying tribute to – it is not as if Browning made London At Midnight on location, after all, while the London of the krimis was invariably geographically and temporally off.
Most importantly, Franco clearly understands the dynamics of the form, and knows how to conjure up the right atmosphere, all dark shadows, furtive glances and sudden lightning flashes.
Rather more awkward is the casting of his muse Lina Romay as the Archibalds' illegitimate mulatto daughter. It's not her acting – another thing which may come as a major surprise to many – as much as the fact that she just does not look the part. Again, maybe this is the point, as another allusion to the film's models and the racial attitudes then prevalent but if so it needed a little more explanation.
Turning to Devil's Island Lovers, the immediate problem is that the words restrained and tasteful make for strange bedfellows with what is, at one level, a woman in prison film, a genre not known for its tastefulness – not least in Franco's numerous contributions to the genre, including the not-appearing-anytime-soon Women in Cell Block 9, refused certification in 2004 on grounds of its "eroticised sexual violence" amongst other things.
More positively, however, this also means that the tragic qualities of the story and its anti-fascist sentiments – sentiments which we must recall had particular relevance in the context of early 1970s Spain – are emphasised and have to be taken seriously.
Yet, despite this, Devil's Island Lovers is not an impersonal work for hire. The governor's mistress is, after all, named Franval after the heroine of De Sade's Eugenie de Franval, which the director had earlier made a free adaptation of with Eugenie de Sade. The connections are there – you just have to seek them out.
Mention should also be made of Bruno Nicolai's enjoyable score – even if it does sound very much like a selection of outtakes from a spaghetti western.Reviewed on: 03 Oct 2006