I'm tempted to shrug my shoulders and say, "Well, that's Jess Franco for you," but Paroxismus is actually one of the Spanish director's more accessible movies. What I mean is that, despite its impenetrable story, which bears no relation to the Sacher-Masoch novel it's sometimes named for, it's mostly free of Franco's signature idiosyncrasies and personal mythology. While we do get one of his favorite motifs, a singer writhing on her back, there's no "Dr. Orloff" or "Morpho" running around, at least in the English-language version. Venus in Furs takes us to a very strange place, but it isn't Jess Franco's personal world. Franco just makes it compellingly colorful and musical, if also a bit campy and sensual at the same time.
Above, Maria Rohm puts the moves on Margaret Lee. Below, Klaus Kinski contemplates his ill-fated one-man show about the Prophet Muhammad.
The movie actually sustains an air of genuine supernatural mystery until the ending leaves the story making almost no sense whatsoever. As I said, it's unclear how many people know that Wanda is dead, and it's even less clear whether anyone's investigating her apparently unnatural demise. The story as told may be possible only in the absence of a criminal justice system. But given what we can assume finally to be Jimmy's special perspective, can we really be sure that Wanda is dead. On the other hand, what we learn about Jimmy makes his relationship with Rita hard to explain -- except if we assume that his interpretation of his final vision is unreliable. For that matter, the entire film may be nothing but Jimmy's jazzy delirium on the beach, his fantasy of supernatural vengeance substituting for the steps he was apparently incapable of taking to secure justice for Wanda. At its trippy heart, Paroxismus may simply be a guilt trip.
If you're willing to do the interpretive work on your own, you could well appreciate Franco's film as an impressionistic puzzle, a set of variations on an ultimately hidden theme. But you could just as easily dismiss Paroxismus as reels of incoherent pretension, redeemed or not by visual flair and period flavor. It seems appropriate, somehow, that this movie is ultimately whatever each viewer makes of it.