Wednesday, November 11, 2009


This is going to be more of a photo essay than a review because the appeal of the first film in Jesus Franco's "Red Lips" series (also known in some quarters as Sadisterotica) is primarily visual and, to be frank, the plot doesn't bear much analysis. Here's the situation: "Red Lips" is the sobriquet of a notorious masked cat burglar of the kind that infested 20th century Europe, but for our purposes denotes a two-woman team who can be thieves, spies or private detectives, depending on who pays them. In an enlightening interview on the Blue Underground DVD, Franco explains that his notion was to cross Abbott & Costello with the Sixties comedy-thriller genre, with Bud and Lou reimagined as battling Euro-babes.

In uniform.

Out of uniform.

Sophisticated voice scrambling techniques.

If looks could kill she wouldn't need that gun, though actress Rosanna Yanni could have used such a weapon to shoot her way out of White Comanche a year earlier.

Diana the redhead (Janine Reynaud) is the bossy Bud type and the brains of the group, while Janine the blond (Rosanna Yanni) is proud of her stupidity because that's what men like. But it doesn't take much to be the brains of this outfit. In the English dub Diana is saddled with a horsey sort of voice, somewhere between Carol Burnett and Miss Jane Hathaway, that undercuts her sex appeal, while both voice actresses are stuck with tin-eared English dialogue to read. For instance: the Red Lips have just received a ticking bouquet of flowers from a pretend admirer. After running around with the bomb nearly as long as Adam West did in the Batman movie, they finally dump it into their pool just in time for it to explode and douse them with a spout of water. Their response: "Such a dirty deal!" But then they have to dive into the pool to dodge a drive-by, so at least the dialogue doesn't linger in your mind. It isn't meant to.

For the sake of arguments, the story has the Red Lips stealing a painting from one Napoleon Boulevard (Franco at his most Lorre-ish, protesting that "I don't like it any more than you do."), the subject of which resembles a missing woman whose husband is willing to pay amply to recover her. Negotiating by raiding his house in the middle of the night, RL arranges to be paid $50,000 for the missing girl's delivery, dead or alive. As Diana theorizes a link between the violent artwork and a wave of disappearing women, she sends a skeptical Janine to find out more about the elusive artist, Ernst Tiller.

We already know Tiller's technique: apparently a student of the mad painter from The House With Laughing Windows, he has women kidnapped and tortured by his "good friend" Morpho to incite his muse. It will take Janine time to learn this once she overcomes her natural laziness, prodded by Diana's promise that their take will make a trip to Vegas and a tryst with "Frankie" and "Dino" possible. There will be interviews with elderly lecherous gallery curators who are killed by blow darts, trips to a trippy nightclub where Diana is hit on by an ardent blond, and other adventures that need not detain us now.

Unusual reticence for Franco: Diana doesn't take up the blond's proposition. A few years later, who knows?

Janine is Two Undercover Angels incarnate: dumb as a bag of hammers but oddly attractive to look at. This film finds Franco in a pop-art phrase that gives us bold, colorful images with an almost instinctual eye for cinematography and art direction. He deals in iconography more than polished composition, the screen reflecting his own engagement with provocative situations and symbols. Concepts and characters recur in his films: Morpho, for instance, will reappear in other plots and contexts despite his apparent demise here. The image of the hairy minion has a power over Franco, as if the equivalent for young Jess of Jacinto "Paul Naschy" Molina's encounter with Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man or the fictional impact of Frankenstein on the little girl in Spirit of the Beehive was a viewing of Return of the Vampire. Though Morpho is all evil in the present picture, his bushy visage and dark clothes remind me of Andreas, the pitiable lycanthropic servant of Return who switches sides several times in that movie.

Of Morpho (left), his creator (in the picture, not Franco) says: "Through the science of psychiatry and the use of psychotropic [or is that psychothropic?] substances he became so, and believe me, it wasn't easy."

That's what I mean about evocative imagery and Franco's iconic use of actors. You see the same thing in the eyepatch-sporting mad painter Tiller (who also dons a fez while sojourning in Ankara) and most obviously in our miniskirted gun-toting heroines. They aren't meant to be characters in the conventional sense; their meaning is in the way they look, the clothes they wear and what they do on screen. That can still be meaningless depending on your sensibility, but for me the movie works even if the story and the acting don't. It appeals to my pseudo-nostalgia for a Swinging Europe that I never knew and may never have actually existed, that I only had hints of from the old magazines I used to collect or read at the library and the rare movies that turned up on local TV on weekend afternoons and evenings in the good old days. It's a place and a time I would've loved to visit, and films like this (and better ones, too) are as close as I'll get. Maybe you'd like to visit, too....

And here's a trailer, uploaded to YouTube by thisoydmon. I should perhaps be more critical of the dubbing, but my memory of Spirited Killer is too fresh for me to be judgmental toward anything else.


Rev. Phantom said...

I wanna see this for the imagery alone. Visually it looks better than I even imagined. This is in my Netflix queue somewhere, I need to bump it up.

The Vicar of VHS said...

I also will be putting this on The List immediately. I loved Reynaud in SUCCUBUS, and Yanni aroused my interest (IYKWIM) in her collaborations with Senor Naschy, most of all in THE HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE and COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE. And the imagery in your screen grabs is just exquisite.

Also, I'm a big fan of Morpho in all his guises, from AWFUL DR. ORLOFF on--though my fave is still the silently dangerous, purple-sunglass-wearing assassin in VAMPYROS LESBOS.

Keith said...

I love this movie. I saw it and the sequel back to back some months ago on a weekend. This one was such a cool and swingin' flick. I wasn't sure how good it would be, but I quite enjoyed it. Great post on it. Cheers!

dfordoom said...

I have a soft spot for Franco's light-hearted comic book-style spoof movies, like Lucky the Inscrutable, The Girl from Rio and the Red Lips movies. The Red Lips films are definitely style over substance but when the style is so much fun, who cares?