Lorna Green (Janine Reynaud) is a performer in an erotic cabaret — the latest discovery (and lover) of stage-show producer, William Mulligan (Jack Taylor). Lorna's perverse, sadomasochistic act is also a source of fascination for a mysterious stranger (Michel Lemoine) who may be involved in an obscure conspiracy with Mulligan. Meanwhile Lorna's sense of reality begins to unravel (or expand?) and she enters an ethereal dreamscape where past and present, time and space, even her very sense of identity, are blurred and called into question. As the concepts of dream and reality are surrendered to erotic reverie, Lorna's horrifying true calling and fate are gradually revealed...
Whatever one may actually think of it, sooner or later, anyone interested in European horror cinema has to deal with the formidable body of work produced by Spanish auteur, Jess Franco. His output of one-hundred-and-eighty-plus movies spans almost every genre; from Musicals, Westerns, Gothic Horror, Erotic Horror, Spy Spoofs and Prison flicks; right through to every grade of exploitation including Hard Core Pornography! Arguably though, his most important film is the amazing "Succubus" (1967) — a stunning piece of surreal erotica which helped set the tone for much of the director's later work, including that which has since become most popular with the DVD generation of Euro buffs.
It is certainly an important film historically for Franco, since it led directly to his association with the producer Harry Alan Towers. It is easy to see why Towers would have wanted Franco to direct his version of the Marques de Sade's "Justine"(1969) after seeing "Succubus." It has the erotic and sadistic elements that would become synonymous with Franco's name, including the sadomasochistic scenarios that are eventually revealed to be strange but compelling nightclub routines; but it also represents a rare excursion into Bunuel-like surrealism for the director. The plot moves forward (or sideways) with an impenetrable dream-logic and is peppered with surrealistic images — such as Franco-regular Howard Vernon eating pebbles from a top-hat, and a classical pianist playing from a score-sheet consisting of pie-charts and complex mathematical formulae.
Perhaps another reason the film is important for Franco-buffs is down to the technical side of it. Over the years, Franco's budgets would get smaller and smaller, but that would never stop him from continuing to make films, regardless of their quality! The director began to incorporate these "limitations" into his film-making aesthetic — reveling in what many would see as merely amateurish — but that has inevitably led to the accusation that he is an overrated & sloppy hack. "Succubus" convincingly dispels that notion. Elegantly photographed, intelligently edited, and filled with mesmerising performances, "Succubus" gives us a taste of just what Franco is capable of when blessed with a professional crew and cast — the direction is superlative; the script (co-written by Franco with the film's producer [who also acts in the film], Pier A. Caminnecci), is a complex amalgamation of surreal scenarios suffused with allusions to classic literature and Franco's favourite film-makers (everyone from Kafka to Frankenstein). The musical score ranges from cocktail lounge jazz to classical — often blended seamlessly. It's ahead of its time, predating Mario Bava's equally classy "Lisa and The Devil" (1973), and even looking ahead to contemporary works such as David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" (2002). As Fritz Lang was quoted as saying: it is "a beautiful piece of cinema."
The film's artistic triumph doesn't overshadow the fact that this is an erotic film. The level of nudity on display is quite extreme for the mid-sixties and it got an X-Certificate upon its release in the US. The French star, Janine Reynaud is more conventionally glamorous than many later Franco-starlets: appearing in an endless succession of (revealing) gowns; but also appearing completely nude in several love scenes. Reynaud's co-star, Jack Taylor looks every inch the handsome Hollywood lead — one sequence between the two seems to parody Hollywood screwball comedies until Taylor's character condemns Reynaud's innocent flirtations as "old-fashioned", so she gets naked instead! The dubious fashions and cheesy set-dressings give away the film's sixties origins but that only adds to the charm of the piece. With Franco in top form and Taylor and Vernon giving compelling performances, this is simply a must-see for every fan of European horror.
The latest release from Germany's Dutch Filmworks is a major disappointment!
I had previously seen the film via the old UK VHS, released by "Redemption". It is now discontinued, but still fairly easy to get hold of on eBay or Amazon Marketplace. Unfortunately, it is full-screen and the compositions suffer accordingly. The colour is fairly washed out but the mono sound is not too bad. There had also previously been a DVD released by Anchor Bay a few years ago but it is also now discontinued, and copies exchange hands for quite large sums! It must also be pointed out that both versions are of the American cut which is ten minutes shorter than the European version! Because of this, I was eagerly anticipating the new German release, which had been advertised as being a widescreen presentation. Unfortunately, the DVD turns out to be a fake widescreen transfer, created by taking the old Anchor Bay full-screen release and matting it to a 1:66.1 aspect ratio! In other words, you aren't gaining any extra information at the sides of the screen, but simply losing more from the top and the bottom! The image quality may be slightly sharper than the old UK VHS, but not by so much that you wouldn't be better off seeking out that version for less than half the price!