Movie Fan Man: Cinema Connoisseur

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Black Widow Vengeance: The Seductive Murderess

by Tony Nash

(The Art of the Erotic Thriller Miniseries 1: Part 1)

(Mild Spoilers)

(All Opinions are of the author alone)

(This review is of the German language version)

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Sie Totete in Ekstase (She Killed in Ecstasy) (1970) **** R

Soledad Miranda: Mrs. Johnson

Paul Muller: Dr. Franklin Houston

Ewa Stromberg: Dr. Crawford (as Ewa Stroemberg)

Howard Vernon: Prof. Jonathan Walker

Horst Tappert: The Police Inspector

Jesus Franco: Dr. Donen

Fred Williams: Dr. Johnson

Written & Directed by: Jesus Franco (as Frank Hollmann)

Synopsis: After her husband commits suicide when his experiments are considered inhuman, the distraught widow decides to murder the four people she deems responsible. Using her charms and a set of disguises, she lures the three men and one woman to their fates.

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Jess Franco, named as one of the masters of exploitation cinema, shows he could do a lot more when allotted the time and money to be creative with this unique Thriller. During the early 70’s, the controversy involving experiments with human embryos was only beginning but already gained many who approved and many who disapproved of it, and Franco decided to use the issue as the backdrop for his story of a woman driven to madness after her scientist husband kills himself when he is condemned as a criminal and monster for engaging in questionable experiments. Unlike many other filmmakers of the time who would’ve continued with the embryo theme as the main point of the film, Franco only references it within the first 10 or 15 minutes of it, and the remainder is used to show the widow’s slow and systematic killing of those who drove her husband to his death. While much of Franco’s films were considered schlock, this film and many others were actually quite well made and intelligent in their own right, especially when he was giving ample time and the money to accomplish it. The film plays up primarily like a series of set pieces, only the first half hour or so done as a straight linear story, though the investigation by the police do help to interconnect everything at the end.

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Now with most Franco films, it’s generally style over substance, and this film is certainly fitting of that category. The locations of the film are magnificent to behold, and shows Franco tended to be more of a visual filmmaker, though many of his plot elements were good in their own right, especially when he didn’t have to cut corners to meet a producer’s low amount in finance and time. Producers Artur Brauner and Harry Alan Towers seemed to be the ones who gave him the most freedom to be creative even when they themselves had tight, but not restricting, budgets. Usually though, his films tend to be more of a visual experience rather than one for plot devices or some other cinematic forms, though many of his actors still gave really good performances even in the face of such difficulties.

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Soledad Miranda, a Spanish actress who’s blossoming stardom was tragically cut short when she was killed in an auto accident, exudes a menacing and alluring aura of beauty and sexuality in the role of Mrs. Johnson. Little is said of or revealed about the character, but it’s made clear she had a deep love and devotion to her husband, to the point that when he went crazy after being dismissed from his work, a part of her lost her mind as well. She completely loses her grip on reality when she can do nothing to prevent her husband from ending his own life, and vows to destroy those who destroyed him. Using her beauty, and also a chameleon like series of disguises, mostly through wigs and a clever use of make-up and voice, she lures the unexpecting quartet one at a time to their erotic and violent demises. Miranda’s face was exceptionally beautiful and could often evoke more with her eyes and facial expressions more than with dialogue, hence why her character tends to speak more via inner thoughts narration, as her face and body go through a varied amount of emotions, which Franco uses extremely well. In moments of pure hatred and rage, Miranda could be quite frightening to look at, and in the murder scenes, is most effective with it.

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The other actors give pretty much one-dimensional portrayals of their characters, but veteran character actors Paul Muller and Howard Vernon are the standouts. Muller, a Swiss-Italian actor, gets the most time on screen to give off emotion, and is shown as very worried and bereaved as all of his colleagues are being killed off in strange fashions. He isn’t sure what’s going on or why it’s happening in the first place. Howard Vernon, a Swiss-French actor, gets the most philosophical dialogue of the whole cast, and while his screen time is short, is able to convey a kind of pompous and at times, smug, attitude which makes watching his character get killed off a little more interesting. Ewa Stromberg, a Swedish actress, whose career only last a short while, does a good job with the little screen time she has with her character, even playing her up as bisexual to add to the irony of her characters demise. Franco himself even plays a little part in the film, albeit uncredited.

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One of Franco’s more interesting efforts, Sie Totete lacks the narrative effort almost entirely, but makes up for it with amazing visuals, music and performances. An artistic hit in its own right because Franco used what little he often had to work with to great advantage and took his viewers on crazy set piece oddities that were surreal and psychedelic to the point of looking like something from an Andy Warhol painting. Bizarre, surreal, and intriguing, the film has an atmosphere and a presence that makes it curious viewing.

(This is one of the few times I’ll say that I recommend a film with caution. Jess Franco is a filmmaker whose work is either really good or really bad. He certainly has plenty of decent films that are worth watching, but you often have to search for them and do research. This is one of the ones I’d say is worth taking the chance on as it is very well made. The IMDb lists it as a Horror film, but I can state categorically that this isn’t a Horror film at all, but a fairly intense Thriller. Soledad Miranda certainly gives her character some terrifying looks when she’s about to kill her victims, but that’s what makes her character interesting in that her mind completely goes after her husband dies,a and she ventures down the darkest of rabbit holes. The Blu Ray from Severin Films offers a beautiful visual and audio transfer, the picture looking gorgeous as if it was filmed recently, and with the German audio being the only known one to have existed, is crisp.)

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google Images and their respective owners.

For more information

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0066104/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/She_Killed_in_Ecstasy

Buying options

https://www.amazon.com/She-Killed-Ecstasy-Blu-ray-CD/dp/B00VEUX3WM

She Killed In Ecstasy [2-Disc Limited Edition Blu-ray]

 

 

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

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