She Killed in Ecstasy (1970)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2015-05-17 22:56

She Killed in Ecstasy (1971)
Studio: Severin Films
Release date: May 12th, 2015

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

The movie:

She Killed in Ecstasy is an intriguing case when considering Jess Franco’s auteurism. While there’s no mistaking it as a Franco film, it must also be said that star Soledad Miranda commandeers it so forcefully that it’s more apt to discuss it as a vehicle for one of cinema’s more fleeting and tragic careers. When her life was cut short shortly after the film’s release, it also ended a still burgeoning career that may have seen her claim the Eurorhorror queen crown—if not more. Instead, we have only fragments, a brief transmission from that reality, many of them helmed by Franco, who had little trouble tapping into (and perhaps exploiting) her alluring sexuality.

Just how indelible is Miranda in She Killed in Ecstasy? Consider that Franco barely leans on his entrancing, dream-like aesthetic simply and allows her to bewitch his audience as Mrs. Johnson, the wife of a scientist (Fred Williams) attempting to conduct stem-cell research. His fellow scientists have other ideas: after dismissing his work as witchcraft, they strip him of his license and turn him into a suicidal pariah. Eventually, his despondency overwhelms him and compels him to slit his writs in the bathtub, much to the horror of this wife. Enraged, she vows to exact revenge on the men and women who drove her husband to such a gruesome fate.

A remarkably straightforward and generally coherent film by Franco standards, She Killed in Ecstasy is a scorned woman riff in the order of The Bride Wore Black, a staple the director similarly recycled in Venus in Furs and The Diabolical Dr. Z. This is an especially lean variation with few diversions: once again, it’s all right there in the title, as the film chronicles Mrs. Johnson’s madness and bloodlust, with each revenge sequence serving as an elaborate showcase for Miranda’s sultry talents. With such a spellbinding actress, Franco’s camera can’t help but gaze with long, absorbing takes of her seducing her targets. Her sexual encounters are somehow clinical and erotic all at once—Mrs. Johnson’s ecstasy is marked not by carnal pleasure but by the intense, wild-eyed lunacy of Miranda’s eyes.

In this role, Miranda joins the pantheon of other unforgettable femme fatales from this sub-genre, her face a maelstrom of rage, pity, insanity, and doe-eyed innocence. The latter is only deceptive for those she hunts; for audiences, her sympathy is the key element that elevates the film above its schlocky frame. Miranda is an incredible presence throughout, whether she’s quietly simmering with rage the scientists condemn or husband (Franco’s trademark zooms are at their best here, as they capture the rush of boiling anger) or playfully seducing her next target. Even when Franco indulges in unhinged stuff that has her cradling and cooing at her husband’s corpse, Miranda finds heartbreaking pathos at the film’s center.

It’s some real A Rose for Emily shit, only it’s accentuated by a jazzy, wah-wah score and lush European architecture. Per usual, Franco’s characters flail about in gorgeous locales whose modern art-deco flourishes conceal the savagery unfolding within. She Killed in Ecstasy is another dazzling, sun-splashed trip to an exotic island that turns into a delirious nightmare highlighted by castration, asphyxiation, and evisceration. As it was produced only a few months into the 70s, Franco hadn’t completely plunged into the depths of gratuitous depravity he would plunder later in the decade, so the film strikes a balance between graceful erotica and outright Eurotrash. It might not be as elegant as Truffaut, but it’s hardly as exploitative as Meir Zarchi.

Franco does adore his muse just as much, though, so much so that he practically cedes the film to Miranda. Her (often) nude body isn’t an object but a symbol of righteous justice exacted upon conservative groupthink. She’s Frankenstein’s bride in a tale that sympathizes with a mad scientist that isn’t so mad after all; here, it’s the townspeople who are the monsters trying to stunt progress. It’s a good, cathartic release for anyone still frustrated by an anti-science mentality that still pervades today’s bureaucracy 45 years later. Not that I think Franco could have anticipated as much, of course, but he’s a filmmaker whose willingness rankle the status-quo is laudable. Casting himself to play one of the scientists feels like a great in-joke.

Doing so also allows him to literally yield to Miranda: She Killed in Ecstasy may be directed by Jess Franco, but it’s a Soledad Miranda film. From her opening narration, she haunts the film with a sadness that’s compounded by her real-life fate. As she waxes poetically (well, as poetically as Franco’s ever-stilted dialogue allows) about her dead husband and the short time she spend with him, it’s difficult not to consider it as a eulogy for an actress that transfixed audiences before dying far too young. You imagine the hell she, Franco, and Lina Romay could have raised, and you weep.

The disc:

Appropriately arriving on Blu-ray alongside Vampyros Lesbos (Franco—as was his tendency—recycled much of the cast and crew from that film for this one), She Killed in Ecstasy has been lovingly restored in high definition by Severin Films. Here’s another stunning transfer that helps lay to rest the notion that Franco’s films are all grungy, grubby exercises in sleaze: She Killed in Ecstasy is a lavish, colorful exercise in erotica and violence deserving of such a treatment.

The extras for this film are similar to those found on the Vampyros Lesbos dis: interviews with Franco himself and star Paul Muller provide first-hand accounts, while scholars Amy Brown and Stephen Thrower provide insight Miranda and Franco, respectively. A German trailer rounds out the supplements on the first disc, which is joined by a CD featuring the soundtracks for this film, Vampyros Lesbos, and The Devil Came from Akasawa. Truly, this is a must-have release for Francophiles.

For the uninitiated, the one-two punch of Vampyros Lesbos and She Killed in Ecstasy is an odd entry point into the world of Franco. Both sort of function as two sides of the same coin: the former is dreamy, hypnotic, and fractured, the latter a more direct erotic revenge thriller. Their disparity dismisses the criticism that Franco was a one-trick pony and gives viewers a glimpse of a director attempting to find his way in a bold new decade. These films are bridges between Franco’s early work and the efforts that would make him notorious later in the 70s. 45 years later, they’re important snapshots of an auteur and his muse crafting an alchemic blend of elegant sleaze. As derivative as Franco could be, there is still certainly nothing quite like his work.
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