“A double serving of Classic Franco!” screams the press release accompanying Love Camp, which along with Barbed Wire Dolls are the latest two releases in Anchor Bay UK’s The Jess Franco Collection, a series of twelve restorations struck from the original masters held by famed Swiss producer of exploitation films Edwin C Dietrich who bankrolled much of Franco’s output in the 1970s .
Love Camp was the fourth and final chicks-in-chains films Franco made with Deitrich following the commercial success of Barbed Wire Dolls. This time around, the women-in-prison have been acquired by guerrilla fighters to work as prostitutes for the pleasure of the troops and are overseen by another sadistic lesbian wardress. Also a firm believer in the need for discipline she treats the girls to regular floggings and deflowers any virgins with her crop in preparation for conjugal visits from the randy freedom fighters, normally with the only witnesses her parrots, which incessantly skwak “You dirty bitch, you dirty bitch.” After one such girl is brutalised by the wardress as her whip, one of her less than sympathetic cell-mates enquires “Did she run you through with a sword?” before attempting to seduce her. Leader of the guerrilla force carefully selects certain girls for hammock-swinging sex sessions, in which his initially unwilling partners switch from glassy-eyed resignation to orgasmic enthusiasm, and when he falls in love with one of the girls, a love triangle with the evil wardress is formed. In case you hadn’t already guessed, Love Camp is not the height of good taste and political correctness.
For hardcore exploitation fans only, Franco’s films tend to polarise opinion and with their outrageous sadism, wall to wall nudity and scant regard for technical considerations such as ensuring the camera is in focus, you either love them or hate them. Franco’s disdain the normal rules of film-making can be disconcerting for the first-time viewer, and producers as Dietrich reveals in an interview contained on the extras where he recalls seeing Barbed Wire Dolls for the first time and considering it unreleasable. In Love Camp, as the wardress addresses one of the prisoners, Franco chooses to represent the prisoner solely by her breast, which is in the foreground of the shot, out of focus and with tent-peg nipple dominating the corner of the screen. Your reaction to this sort of approach to film-making will tell you if you have it in you to be a Franco aficionado. First revived and championed in the late 80s by Texan Craig Ledbetter through his Xeroxed newsletter European Trash Cinema, the cult of Franco has steadily gathered a hardcore following, and his somewhat slap-dash and low-budget approach to film-making are now compared to a jazz solo or as fore-runners to the Dogma 95 art movement. Any gathering of Franco fans soon resembles the bonding scene on the Orca in Jaws, where instead of comparing shark-bite scars they boast about how many of his films they have watched.
Picture quality is first rate, and as the extras demonstrate in a featurette a huge amount of care and diligence went into restoring the films, ensuring they have never looked so good. The disc contains trailers for other films in the series, cast and crew biographies, production stills and posters. Real care has gone into this series of discs and the quality is something of a revelation, so I would suggest that Francophiles ditch their eight-generation grainy bootlegs and upgrade to these new releases immediately. For the rest of us, the phrase “You can’t polish a turd” springs to mind.
Legendary director of predominantly sex-and-horror-based material, Spanish-born Jesus Franco had as many as 200 directing credits to his name. Trained initially as a musician before studying film at the Sorbonne in Paris, Franco began directing in the late 50s. By using the same actors, sets and locations on many films, Franco has maintained an astonishing workrate, and while the quality of his work has sometimes suffered because of this, films such as Virgin Amongst the Living dead, Eugenie, Succubus and She Killed in Ecstasy remain distinctive slices of 60s/70s art-trash.
Most of his films have been released in multiple versions with wildly differing titles, while Franco himself has directed under a bewildering number of pseudonyms. Actors who have regularly appeared in his films include Klaus Kinski, Christopher Lee and wife Lina Romay; fans should also look out for his name on the credits of Orson Welles' Chimes of Midnight, on which he worked as assistant director.