Blue Underground // 1969 // 79 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // August 1st, 2006
She is the essence of evil...a devil on earth!
All I have to say is: this is a Jess Franco film. If you're familiar with the phrase, you know what you are in for. If you're a neophyte to his world then Succubus is not a good place to start. Seek out Venus in Furs or his masterwork Vampyros Lesbos before you enter this dark, moody, surreal film. Then again, what does it matter? You either love or hate the man of over two hundred assumed names, there is no in-between. So I imagine if you start with Succubus you'll know the outcome of your affair with Franco. I am an unapologetic "Franco"-phile, I groove on the man's work and find it fascinating. Franco is a cheap schlock heir to Fritz Lang, Benuel, or Cocteau -- the B-movie incarnation of the consummate artist. He's a sexualized Godard without any political agenda -- he's always thinking with the little head first.
Lorna (Janine Reynaid, Two Undercover Angels) is a performer in a live S&M show. She's the dominatrix everyone wants to be with, and her icy stage mask is beginning to slip and overtake her real life. Lorna lives in dreams as much as she lives in reality; the two are indistinguishable to her. As the dreams grow more disturbing, so does her reality. She's a film monster in the tradition of Dracula, The Wolfman, or The Phantom of the Opera. She begins to realize her murderous rage in slumber has to manifest itself in reality. She has sold her soul to live out her fantasy of being a depraved celebrity. It's the Faust tale or the biography of Madonna -- I always get those two confused.
Succubus is jazz committed to celluloid. It rambles, it riffs, and it scats all over the place masquerading as erotic horror. You won't find much to horrify you, the sex is subdued, but the images make the film a disturbing trip that even the best acid could not take you on. If you crave eroticism and surreality in equal doses, you'll love this one. It's an esoteric psychological journey where the characters discuss geography, films, novels, and philosophers off the cuff. If you want narrative cinema that has logical progressions then you are in the wrong joint altogether. This is a dream of a movie, and makes no pretense to even start making sense in a traditional way. It is felt, and it is never going to stoop to feed you the answers you hunger for easily.
There's really no point in analyzing any of the film, so here is a handy
list of strange elements I noted while watching:
* If you have trouble figuring it out -- the dreams are in soft focus and reality is shot normally. Not that this will help, because honestly both stories are strange enough to intertwine.
* Lorna is attacked by party goers on LSD acting as if they were all dogs. Even a midget gets in on the fun. The only one to not partake is a drag queen who dances with a parakeet. Could there be a message here?
* Lorna lives in a castle Satan built for her. Yet her bed has no mattress? What does Satan have against Serta?
* Lorna doesn't need planes. She gets to Berlin without one. Maybe she traveled on the strength of her false eyelashes -- they look like wings.
* The psychologist holds up a pig, but calls it a pachyderm. Is this a clue? Why would anyone confuse a pig with an elephant? That's the kind of question that kept me up all night after watching the film.
* The finale takes place in Berlin which at the time was a divided city. Could it be the best physical locale for Lorna's split between two personalities and her dream world?
Lorna is played with fervor by model Janine Reynaud, who understands that the game is not acting but being. She simply uses her libertine sense of high fashion to bring the character to life. She was in her late thirties when Succubus was filmed, and had a mature sexiness you don't often find in exploitation cinema. She's a wonderful presence, and has charisma to spare. She's perfectly comfortable going from Karl Lagerfeld dresses to nothing with grace and ease. Her co-star, Jack Taylor (The Ninth Gate), matches the model's icy persona with his dazzling blue eyes and rapid-fire vocal cadence. The actors are engaged with this happening, and they are game to do perversely naughty things.
Blue Underground provides a suitably respectful package for the release of Succubus. Even though the picture is remastered from original vault materials, the film stock is grainy and more often soft than sharp. The mono sound is fine, but I wish some music aficionados would demand the excellent jazz score be translated in to stereo. The interview with director Jess Franco runs twenty minutes, and it's all you need in lieu of the commentary. Fun to see a seven minute interview with star Jack Taylor, and he provides further insight in to working with Franco and his style. I'm in love with Blue Underground, because they treat these titles so well with supplemental material, and Succubus is a superb example of their commitment to cult cinema.
Jess Franco is not for everyone. If you hate '60s eroticism, horror, and style over substance turn away now and never look back. Don't worry, Lorna and her friends will not miss you as find consolation in an epic film by someone like Michael Bay. Lorna's vagina could eat that asteroid with Bruce Willis on it. So run my lovely lamb chop, run.
Strange word games, a sex scene with mannequins, hot jazz, cold women, and murder. How could you not love this movie? It's typical Jess Franco which means it is atypical for anything else. Succubus isn't a film as much as it's a moody experience in dadaist jazz phrases. You have to take the ride, and not worry about mining for meaning. In interviews Jess Franco famously admitted he himself didn't wholly understand the movie, so why assume you will? Blue Underground provides a solid package, and it's a great treat for fans of Franco.
Robes. Nothing Underneath.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 79 Minutes
Release Year: 1969
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Interview with Director Jess Franco
* Interview with Actor Jack Taylor