She Killed in Ecstasy Blu-ray Review (originally published 2015)
The late Jesús ‘Jess’ Franco, who passed away on April 2nd of 2013 , was among the most prolific filmmakers of all time. There are wonderfully weird diamonds mixed among the more than 200 films he directed, but there’s only maybe a dozen even a cult film fan can appreciate. His value as an eccentric artist was all but lost in a sea of pornography (both the hardcore and softcore varieties) and a cursory brand of cheap exploitation that gives cheap exploitation a bad name. Unlike other smut-peddling ‘auteurs,’ like Aristide Massaccesi (aka: Joe D’Amato) and Jean Rollin, Franco didn’t really appreciate pure horror. His disinterest is readily apparent in most of his dull and listless genre films he released throughout the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. His attempts at zombie (Oasis of the Zombies, 1982), women in prison (Women Behind Bars, 1975), and cannibal movies (Mondo Cannibale, 1980) are among the worst the already junk-burdened subgenres have to offer. However, like his contemporaries, Franco was capable of making unique movies that endured beyond the constraints of his reputation as a purveyor of trash.
She Killed in Ecstasy (German: Sie tötete in Ekstase; Spanish: Mrs. Hyde, 1971) was shot back to back with Vampyros Lesbos (1971), utilizing a lot of the same cast and crew. It’s definitely the B-side in this particular double-feature, while still being one of Franco’s more accomplished and gratifying movies. The more distinctive plot (as distinctive as a plot can be in a Jess Franco movie) was liberally borrowed from The Diabolical Dr. Z (aka: Miss Muerte, Miss Death, and Miss Death and Dr. Z in the Grip of the Maniac, 1965) and Venus in Furs (aka: Paroxismus and Black Angel, 1969), and makes a nice companion piece to those films, in addition to Vampyros Lesbos. Miranda plays the wife of a doctor who is shunned by the medical community for his unconventional tests with human fetuses. Ashamed and distraught, he cuts his wrists and bleeds out in the bathroom. Miranda swears vengeance and gets to work, seducing and murdering the four doctors she deems responsible for his suicide.
This more coherent and straightforward narrative is matched by Franco’s (as always, very strange) version of mainstream exploitation filmmaking. Miranda seduces and kills multiple victims, necessitating multiple sex scenes and relatively gory murders, though Franco never matches the bloody extremes seen in the straight horror films of Hammer, the budding Italian giallo tradition, or even fellow Spanish countryman, Paul Naschy’s horror movies. All of these quote mainstream unquote conventions secure Vampyros Lesbos’ place as the more stunning overall concoction, but She Killed in Ecstasy has it beat from shot to shot. Returning cinematographer Manuel Merino frames some absolutely stunning compositions and Franco orchestrates particularly complex sequences, such as the one where Miranda slowly chases actor Paul Muller across a series of glass walkways and stairwells. The sudden snap zooms, focus pulls, and off-time editing remain jarring while serving the heightened qualities of this more character-driven piece. The literally in-your-face approach to melodrama is a singular experience, even if there’s something slightly disappointing about watching Franco trying to make real movie following his finest anti-movie.
Soledad Miranda gives a more intense and passionate performance here than she did in Vampyros Lesbos. This is a mixed blessing as her mania shows a broader range, but she also cracks the façade of perfect, effortless presence, reminding us that she was relatively unfamiliar with this type of darker material. She is fantastic in the scenes where she’s forced to hide her contempt as she seduces her hapless victims, though, and holds her own against the ham-fisted fury of Fred Williams and Franco regular Howard Vernon this time, as well as Franco himself, who gets significant screen-time as one of the rival doctors. And her deathly stare is a force of nature. Miranda was tragically killed in a car accident on the highway to Lisbon in August of 1970. None of her post-Queen of the Tabarin Club (1960) Franco collaborations had been released stateside (one film, Juliette, was never finished). Most of them hadn’t even been released in France or Spain at the time. This postmortem breakthrough only emphasized her legendary and enigmatic reputation. She is sorely missed in Franco’s follow-up work, where he desperately replaced her with the likes of Sabrina Siani and long-term life-partner Lina Romay, neither of whom were up to the challenge.
She Killed in Ecstasy was also released twice in a row by Synapse (non-anamorphic 1.66:1), then Image (anamorphic, cropped to 1.78:1) and is making its world-wide Blu-ray here. This limited edition (only 4000 copies), 1.66:1, 1080p disc’s image matches the standard set by the Vampyros Lesbos disc. It appears that the print was in slightly better shape, because there are fewer instances of major print damage artefacts and, generally speaking, the grain levels are more consistent and less likely to clump. However, some of the scenes that were censored for violence and then reinstated are notably dirtier, including white streaks and water damage. I might give this transfer a slight advantage in detail, specifically in the many (many, many) facial close-ups. Colors are a bit less vivid, simply because the palette isn’t as wild, but are still very eclectic and pretty natural (aside from some slightly red skin tones). Black levels are, again, stronger than their standard definition counterparts, hampered only by some ‘bluing’ in the brightest outdoor shots and along the sides of the frame during a handful of sequences.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 German mono soundtrack also meets expectations with similarly loud and well-maintained results. The sound floor is a hair lower with slightly less hiss and pop, but there are more discrepancies in volume. Composers Manfred Hübler and Siegfried Schwab return with another infectious blend of funky rock and ambient jazz that recalls the compositions Ennio Morricone was producing for Italian giallo thrillers around the same time. Again, the music seems to have been mixed from a cleaner source than the dialogue and effects tracks.
Disc 1 (Blu-Ray):
Jess Killed In Ecstasy[/I] (17:00, HD) – More from that same Franco interview featured on the Vampyros Lesbos disc. This time, he talks more specifically about She Killed in Ecstasy, including story inspiration, the outrageous locations, what he didn’t like about the film (this time, he blames a lot of it on Fred Williams’ over-the-top performance), censorship standards, Miranda’s pseudonym (Susan Korda), trying to find a replacement when she died unexpectedly, and his Goya Lifetime Achievement Award.
Sublime Soledad (20:30, HD) – A featurette concerning actress’ career with Soledad Miranda Historian Amy Brown. This informative short spans Miranda’s life and includes footage from her rarely-seen non-genre films. It’s fantastic to see her singing, dancing, and being melodramatic.
Stephen Thrower on She Killed in Ecstasy (13:10, HD) – The author of Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema Of Jess Franco (Strange Attractor Press, 2015) returns to discuss the film, Franco’s crazy filming schedule, and Miranda’s talent.
Paul Muller on Jess Franco (6:30, HD) – An interview with frequent collaborator Paul Muller, who appears in both Vampyros Lesbos and She Killed in Ecstasy, as well as Venus in Furs, Count Dracula, Eugenie, and others. It doesn’t seem like he’s being interviewed for this release, because he brings Franco up in the context of not realizing he had appeared in Mondo Cannibale. He asks the interviewer if he’s familiar with Franco, before quickly running down their many collaborations.
Disc 2 (CD):
Original motion picture soundtracks – A repressing of the OOP Three Films By Jess Franco: Vampyros Lesbos, She Killed In Ecstasy, The Devil Came From Akasava soundtrack release.
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