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Jesús Franco aka Jess Franco: Cult Sex and Horror Spanish Filmmaker Dead at 82

Jesus Franco Jess Franco directorJesús Franco a.k.a. Jess Franco: Cult sex & horror Spanish filmmaker dead at 82

“I think I was born because my father and my mother had sex, so why should I be shocked by this thing that was the origin of my life? I think it's beautiful.” No, that's not part of the anti-censorship speech by Oz the Great and Powerful and Interior. Leather Bar's James Franco. Those words were spoken by another Franco, a Spaniard. (Image: Jesús Franco a.k.a. Jess Franco.)

No, not rabid right-wing military ruler Francisco Franco, but filmmaker Jesús Franco, a.k.a. Jess Franco a.k.a. Lulu Laverne a.k.a. Rick Deconinck a.k.a. Rosa M. Almirall, etc. (including aliases in honor of jazz performers Clifford Brown and James P. Johnson), among whose 200 or so movie credits are titles such as Macumba Sexual, The White Slave, The Sexual History of O, Emmanuelle Exposed, The Mistresses of Dr. Jekyll, Vampyros Lesbos, and White Cannibal Queen.

Jesús Franco died earlier today in Malaga, in southern Spain, after suffering a stroke. Franco reportedly had never gotten over the February 2012 death of his wife and muse Lina Romay. The multitalented Madrid-born filmmaker (May 12, 1930), who often produced and/or edited and/or shot and/or acted in and/or wrote the screenplays and/or scores of his own films, was 82.

Jesús Franco / Jess Franco movies

Jesús Franco began his film career in the mid-'50s, composing movie scores and writing screenplays. He was also an assistant director to Juan Antonio Bardem on Death of a Cyclist (1955), among a handful of other films (including Orson Welles' Chimes at Midnight in the mid-'60s). Franco's first solo directorial effort came out in 1957: the documentary short El árbol de España. His first feature film, We Are 18 Years Old, was released in 1959. Two hundred movies later, his last efforts were Crypt of the Condemned, Crypt of the Condemned II, and Al Pereira vs. the Alligator Ladies, all three made last year.

Along with fellow iconoclast Luis Buñuel, in the '60s and early '70s Jesús Franco was reviled by both his namesake Francisco Franco's far-right government and Spain's Catholic Church. Titles such as Sadist Erotica (1969), Sex Charade (1969), and Eugenie… the Story of Her Journey Into Perversion (1970) surely didn't help matters any.

Among the filmmaker's dozens of collaborations with companion Lina Romay were Celestine, Maid at Your Service (1974), Barbed Wire Dolls (1976), Wanda, the Wicked Warden (1977), Swedish Nympho Slaves (1978), and, more recently, Tender Flesh (1997) and Incubus (2002). After having shared their lives for decades, Franco and Romay would get married in 2008.

Other stars who were featured in Jesús Franco's movies – mostly performers who had seen better (or at least bigger-budgeted) days – include James Darren in Venus in Furs; Christopher Lee in Count Dracula, The Bloody Judge, Kiss and Kill, and Eugenie… the Story of Her Journey Into Perversion; Klaus Kinski in Count Dracula, Venus in Furs, and Deadly Sanctuary; Maria Schell in 99 Women and The Bloody Judge; Orson Welles in the short Treasure Island; and Mercedes McCambridge in 99 Women and Deadly Sanctuary.

A few more: Dennis Price in Venus in Furs and Vampyros Lesbos; Richard Greene in Kiss and Kill; Shirley Eaton and George Sanders in Rio 70; and Helmut Berger, Stéphane Audran, Caroline Munro, and Telly Savalas in Faceless – inspired by George Franju's Eyes Without a Face, which would also inspire an effort by another iconoclastic Spanish filmmaker, Pedro Almodóvar's The Skin I Live In.

A couple of frequent Franco collaborators were actresses Soledad Miranda (Juliette, Vampyros Lesbos, She Killed in Ecstasy, etc.), who died in a car accident in 1970, and Maria Rohm (Kiss and Kill, The Bloody Judge, Count Dracula, etc.).

Honorary Goya

In 2009, the Spanish Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded Franco an Honorary Goya in recognition for his contributions to Spanish cinema. That would be (somewhat) akin to having Hollywood's Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences handing out an Honorary Oscar to, say, George Kuchar, Ed Wood, Russ Meyer, or maybe to the John Waters of the '70s, or Deep Throat and The Devil in Miss Jones' Gerard Damiano.

Jesús Franco cult following

Obviously, Jesús Franco's micro-budgeted “exploitation” sex and horror films are not to everyone's tastes. But then again, neither are, say, Channing Tatum's G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Ben Affleck's Argo, Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, and Michael Haneke's Amour. Or It's a Wonderful Life, The Wizard of Oz, and Gone with the Wind, for that matter. Christopher Nolan's Batman movies, Marvel flicks like The Avengers and Iron Man, and the Twilight and Harry Potter franchises may have infinitely more fans than Jesús Franco's The Lustful Amazons, Diary of a Nymphomaniac, and A Virgin Among the Living Dead, but Franco's admirers are as ardent as any.

Fritz Lang (M, Scarlet Street, The Big Heat) was reportedly a big fan of Franco's surrealistic Succubus (1968), referring to this portrayal of a nightclub stripper's fantastical universe as a “beautiful piece of cinema.” On the Spanish publication El Cultural, columnist Fran Perea found it impossible to resist the urge to repeat the old adage, “If Jesús Franco didn't exist, we would have to invent him.” Perea added: “The history of Spanish cinema – in fact, the history of cinema, period – would have been much more tedious, sordid, and colorless” without Franco's oeuvre.

And on Facebook, Brazilian filmmaker Felipe M. Guerra lamented, “It's a pity that the old Jesús Franco didn't die on Good Friday; who knows, he might have been resurrected on Easter Sunday like that other Jesus?"

Fritz Lang quote from Lucas Balbo, Peter Blumenstock, Christian Kessler, and Tim Lucas' Obsession: The Films of Jess Franco, via Quiet Cool.

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