Friday, June 13, 2008

Snakewoman – review


Director: Jess Franco

Release Date: 2005

Contains spoilers

I didn’t think, before viewing this film, that I was going to be writing a review. The film came on to my radar as I heard it was a loose remake of Franco’s own Vampyros Lesbos – though to be truthful it has about as much in common with that as it does with the classic Franco flick Female Vampire. That said, given the title, I was suspicious as to its vampiric content.

We have considered the concept of a snakewoman as a vampire before, actually in the first ‘Vamp or Not?’ I did, in the form of Lair of the White Worm and I was primed to draw examples from that and conjure similes… A pointless beginning. This is a vampire movie (or as close as Franco gets) and it is, by far, one of his better modern efforts that I’ve seen. It has a plot… sort of… and a lyrical quality that was sadly lacking in say Vampire Junction. Even so…. Wait… I’m jumping to a conclusion… let us begin….

Fata Morgana as CarlaActually being non-linear wouldn’t be to bad a thing as the film has a non-linear quality that doesn’t work fantastically, but is there. However we begin with a woman, Carla (Fata Morgana), driving her car. We see flocks of flamingos (a recurring theme through this film) and occasionally she phones Tony (Exequiel Caldas), her boss.

She is heading towards the property owned by the estate of Oriana (Carmen Montes), a star of yesteryear whose shocking films and music have faded to obscurity. Tony wishes to buy the rights to the archive material owned by her descendants and re-release it in the modern world. When Carla gets to the estate it is deserted but he tells her to wait.

wearing capeWe seem to enter a dreamscape as Carla doses in her car, we see Oriana and she is naked bar a cloak and a full body tattoo of a snake. This is, except in ‘old’ film footage, the most we see Oriana dressed and, more often, she is fully naked. There is a failure, on the part of Carla, to secure the media rights… However, she seems to attract the attention of Oriana.

Christie Levin as AlphaThere is a sub-plot of a girl named Alpha (Christie Levin), who is clearly mad and worships ‘the mistress’ (Oriana). She is ‘cared for’ by a man, referred to as Doctor and sometimes seen in monk’s robes, yet credited as Nostradamus (Antonio Mayans). He seems to spend much of the film, especially inter-cut during sex scenes, chanting in Latin. He also seems to know something of Oriana.

archive footageTowards the end of the film Carla appears, having been missing for three days, and is placed under the care of psychiatrist Dr Van Helsing (Lina Romay). Carla, however, is still haunted by Oriana and the estate seems to have relented and sent the footage to Tony. We shall look at why in a moment but let us look at the vampire aspects.

bite for pleasureOriana claims she is the granddaughter of the original and yet later says that to sell the rights to the footage would be to sell her past. It is clear that they look exactly the same (bar the tattoo) and Carla certainly believes her to be the original. She has a tendency to bite – sometimes for pleasure (and feeding we assume) – and sometimes, in the case of Nostradamus, to kill.

watch where you point themWe get a very explicit feeding at the, shall we say, intimate female parts. This has the effect of causing orgasm and generating feelings of love. We also get the feeding, in old film footage, at the intimate male member – though this looked terribly fake! It did seem that Franco was getting close, with this, to actually managing to get his base concept (through his films, through the decades) onto film at last.

Carmen Montes as OrianaOther than that, standard vampire rules seem suspended. We get no bats – though we do get flapping of cape in a bat like way, ala Female Vampire. Sunlight is not an issue, but then it rarely is in Franco movies. If you are wondering why she is the snakewoman, well as far as I could see it was due to her tattoo and nothing more.

blood to cameraWe get a dripping mouth of blood shot, several times, that fails to work as it is onto camera and we can see blood pool on the glass and this would seem a shame. However perhaps Franco was trying to do something else… perhaps it was meant to pool upon the camera lens as it were. Carla views the lost film and, when she is alone at last, the film turns to colour and she is there, with Oriana, in the movie. This is where the film ends and suggests immortality through the medium of film and also seems to be why the footage was sent, having been initially refused, to allow Carla a portal to her love.

The soundtrack is blooming awful; a mixture of jazz, classical, discordant ‘ambient’ messes and dance music. The only standard theme was the habit of characters to sing or whistle out of tune over it (and to a different melody). There was probably a very real reasoning for the way the soundtrack was chosen but it was awfully intrusive, especially as dialogue was minimalist.

The sex scenes are actually quite tastefully shot, and rather explicit.

This is the best modern film Franco has produced, of those I have seen, it could get close to being one of his finest films period, but then misses. The lack of elucidation in respect of plot is problematic as the plot is there (thinly). Teasing us with plot and then failing to deliver is frustrating as is launching into a non-linear aspect part way through for no reason what-so-ever and then returning to a linear structure. The running time is slightly over-long, especially given the lack of exposition.

The oneirism displayed is marvellous, one feels that Franco is close to actually visually communicating exactly what he wants to. This is not, however, going to be popular with those unaware of Franco’s other work. 3 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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