Euro-Horror Director Jesus Franco Dies at 82

Mark Deming
Movie Talk
April 2, 2013
Jesus Franco
Jesus Franco

A legendary figure in international genre cinema is gone. Jesus Franco, a Spanish writer and director who made close to two hundred films in a career that spanned seven decades, died in Malaga, Spain on Tuesday at the age of 82, due to complications from a stroke.

Franco's twin specialties were horror and eroticism, and he often mixed the two in cult favorites like "Succubus," "She Killed In Ecstasy," "A Virgin Among The Living Dead," "Vampyros Lesbos," and "Daughter of Dracula."

Franco was born Jesus Franco Manera in Madrid in 1930. Franco's first love was music, and he studied piano at the Real Conservatorio de Madrid, but he later developed a passion for cinema and was a student at the Instituto de Investigaciones y Experiencias Cinematograicas in Spain as well as the L'Institut des Hautes Etudes Cinematographiques in France. As he made his way into the Spanish film industry, Franco was an assistant to Orson Welles for the production of the unreleased "Don Quixote" in the late 1950s and early '60s (Franco would later help assemble Welles' footage into a feature released in 1992), and went on to direct his first feature in 1959, "Tenemos 18 Anos" (aka "We Are 18 Years Old").

Franco enjoyed his first international success in 1962 with "Gritos en la Noche," released in America as "The Awful Dr. Orlof." The story of a mad surgeon who uses the flesh of kidnapped women to restore the beauty of his disfigured daughter, it was the first of several films that Franco would make focusing on the Orlof character, and its success not only launched Franco's prolific directorial career but helped make Spain a hub for European horror filmmaking in the 1960s and '70s. Franco's early career was an uphill battle, due to strict government censorship of sex and violence, but the success of Franco's films helped ease local restrictions on content, and fans of European genre fare soon developed a taste for Franco's glossy mixture of blood and sex.

Franco had a reputation for being able to work fast on a modest budget, and he could knock out films at an impressive rate - he released eight features in 1970, nine in 1972, and twelve in 1973. He also used a variety of names for his work, including Jesus Franco, Jess Franco, Clifford Brown, Chuck Evans, David Khune, and Pablo Villa. But despite the relentless pace, his films had a polished visual style and he knew how to deliver soft-core eroticism with a kinky touch in "Venus In Furs," "Marquis de Sade's Justine," and "Eugenie, The Story of Her Journey into Perversion" as well as more traditional horror fare such as "Count Dracula" (starring Christopher Lee and Klaus Kinski) and "Dracula vs. Frankenstein" and the women-in-prison picture "99 Women."

By the mid-1970s, interest in Franco's horror films began to wane, and he devoted more of his time to sex pictures, many starring his muse (and later spouse) Lina Romay. By the 1980s, Franco was also directing hard-core porn, but as a new generation was rediscovering classic European horror, Franco returned to the genre with 1988's "Faceless," starring Helmut Berger and Telly Savalas. Through the rest of his career, Franco moved back and forth between sex and horror films, an remained active into his last months, having recently completed "Al Pereira vs. The Alligator Ladies."

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