Thursday, January 7, 2010

Jess Franco's She Killed in Ecstasy (Sie tötete in Ekstase) (1970)

"With 31 films already behind her (more if you count the various alternative versions of Franco's films), Soledad Miranda sped along a highway in Lisbon to her death, sometime in late 1971," writes Tim Lucas in his memorial essay about the actress, "The Black Stare of Soledad Miranda," in Obsession: The Films of Jess Franco. "'The day before she died, she received the greatest news of her life,' Franco recounted. 'I visited her apartment in Lisbon with a German producer, who came to offer her a two-year contract with CCC, which would assure her of at least two starring roles per year in big-budget films. She was going to become a major star in Germany. The next day as her contract was being drafted, she had the accident. When the hospital called me to break the news...I nearly passed out.'" The gorgeous Spanish actress died at the age of twenty-seven, and Lucas continues: "Contrary to German production yearbooks and CCC sources, which declare Der Teufel Kam aus Akasava [The Devil Came from Akasava] as the last of Soledad Miranda's films to be released, Franco has identified Mrs. Hyde (Sie tötete in Ekstase, 'She Killed in Ecstacy (sic)') in interviews as their final collaboration." (All facts and quotes from within this paragraph are from Lucas's essay.)
Author Peter Blumenstock describes Miranda in She Killed in Ecstasy within Obsession: "Actress Soledad Miranda's physical presence alone brings an atmosphere of mysterious eroticism and melancholy to the film that is seldom to be seen in Franco's other work...Sie tötete in Ekstase ("She Killed in Ecstasy") is, like Vampyros Lesbos of the same year, a straight "star vehicle" built around Miranda. In most of the film's 75 minutes it is her--in countless costumes and wigs (and of course nude)--sporting with numerous lovers of both sexes." The authors of Immoral Tales: European Sex & Horror Movies, 1956-1984 write: "For a film filled with nudity, strange decor and kitschy muzak Sie tötete in Ekstase is a downbeat, depressing affair. Even the presence of the lovely Soledad Miranda fails to revive the tortured, repetitive plot. The film overflows with death and thwarted desire...Sie tötete in Ekstase is deadly serious. Too serious to be entertaining." The authors of Bizarre Sinema: Jess Franco : El Sexo Del Horror have this to say about She Killed in Ecstasy, after declaring that Vampyros Lesbos is the best production of the post-Harry Alan Towers, Karl-Heinz Mannchen/Artur Brauner/Miranda era: "In a singular way, Las Vampiras/Vampyros Lesbos defines and sublimates Franco's fondess for lesbianism, already preponderant in Necronomicon and in a few Towers movies. So, for Franco's pleasure, Soledad Miranda 'gave life,' once again, to a lesbian relationship, re-proposing the same couple featured in Las Vampiras/Vampyros Lesbos, in another film of this set, Sie tötete in Ekstase. Her partner was the actress Ewa Strömberg, a very attractive blond-haired Swedish...Beyond this remarkable lesbian-personal coincidence, nothing more can be said about Sie tötete in Ekstase, an anonimous (sic) and rushed variation on the theme of Miss Muerte/Dans les griffes du maniaque, filmed with the title Mrs. Hyde."
Any viewer who watches Jess Franco's She Killed in Ecstasy (Sie tötete in Ekstase) (1970) is immediately confronted by Soledad Miranda's powerful presence and performance in Franco's extremely simplistic narrative. Dr. Johnson (Fred Williams) engages in cutting-edge embryonic research and he approaches the medical association with his research who find the doctor's work unethical and too controversial. The association expels Dr. Johnson and effectively ends his career goals and aspirations. He commits suicide with his only survivor his loving wife (Miranda). His death induces madness in the young widow, and she learns the identity of the association doctors (portrayed by Howard Vernon, Ewa Strömberg, Paul Muller, and Franco) and seeks revenge. Her revenge takes the form of seduction, from simple to elaborate, then murder.
Jess Franco and Soledad Miranda's final collaboration becomes a de facto love letter to its leading lady. Manuel Merino's photography focuses solely and seductively upon Miranda, as she seduces the film's characters. Franco's compositions are a little too clean for my tastes and too formal, as if he doesn't want to taint the beauty of Miranda. Numerous close-ups of her face and hypnotic eyes fill She Killed in Ecstasy, as Miranda is often able to portray her descent into madness and despair through only the windows into her soul. Franco's solemnity for Miranda's presence is offset by his usual playful nature: for example, Vernon's character is easily seduced by Miranda in a bar with a look and a flash of her legs. Back in Vernon's hotel room, he reveals that his kink is to be degraded and beaten while having sex. Miranda's character has no problem whatsoever complying with this request, as Vernon climbs too far into his ecstasy to notice that Miranda's beating and degrading is genuine. Strömberg's seduction is the film's most intimate, and its intimacy creates an odd blend of steamy eroticism and uncomfortable emotion, as the viewer knows, simmering inside is a deep hatred within Miranda's character. Muller's seduction and encounter with Miranda is the most circuitous and elaborate and the most entertaining of She Killed in Ecstasy.
Those seeking strong narratives should look elsewhere. Those seeking a strong and another seductive performance by beauty Soledad Miranda need to look only to She Killed in Ecstasy.


Alex B. said...

Ewa Strömberg's suffocation with a see-through plastic pillow is a definite highlight, as well as Miranda chasing Paul Muller through the sunny streets.
This isn't my favourite Franco,(the undercurrent of bitterness and depression is too strong)yet I find myself revisiting it quite often.
Hubler & Schwab upbeat score is sometimes at odds with the actual goings-on.

Jenn said...

I love this movie only because of the presence of Soledad Miranda. She's so amazingly beautiful. And what a tragedy her life ended so abruptly.

Hans A. said...

Alex--it's interesting and important that you mentioned the score, since I neglected to mention it in my entry. Alone, it's a catchy, kitzchy tune; but in the film, it alters the tone a little too much. Not my favorite Franco, either, but, like you, I revisit it quite often. Thnx again for sharing your thoughts, Alex.

Jenn--Thnx for visiting again! I agree about Miranda and I'm certain this film wouldn't be as well known without her presence. She had that "it" quality that few actresses have ever possessed.

Alex B. said...

I heard the Hubler & Schwab "Sexadelic Dance Party" soundtrack compilation before I got to see any of the Franco films that featured these tracks.
For me,the music fits "Der Teufel kam aus Akasava", best as it's a lighthearted and completely silly spy romp. With "Sie tötete in Ekstase" and "Vampyros Lesbos" it's another story, as they're both slightly melancholy films.

Dr.LargePackage said...

Large and in charge review, Hans.