Doriana Grey
Switzerland / 1976
Directed by Jess Franco
Starring
Lina Romay
Monica Swinn
Martine Stendil
Color / 76 Minutes / Not Rated
Format: DVD 
(R0 - NTSC)
VIP Entertainment
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R0/NTSC edition
(Out of Print)
   
 
7
    8   10 = Highest Rating  
Guest Review by Troy Howarth
Doriana Grey (Lina Romay) is a beautiful recluse who lives in a castle somewhere in Europe. One day her world is invaded by a reporter (Monica Swinn) from a women's magazine. She's anxious to write a story on Doriana, to bring to light the rumors surrounding the noblewoman and her twin sister. It transpires that the twins are each lacking an essential element of their libido while Doriana is a sexual vampire who extends her life, if not pleasure, by draining her sexual partners dry, the sister is the one who feels the sensations and they are so overpowering that they've driven her insane...
    In the history of cinema, Jess Franco stands out as a unique, much debated figure. With a filmography fast approaching 200 titles, and many of those available in variant editions that drive collectors of his cinema out of house and home, Franco has dabbled in practically ever genre imaginable. His specialty, however, is a unique fusion of horror and eroticism which has been coined "horrotica" by critics like Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas. Franco first introduced elements of eroticism to his Gothic horror films of the early-to-mid 60s, such as The Awful Dr. Orlof (1961) and The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus (1962), before upping the erotic ante later in the decade with the delirious Succubus (1967) and the magnificent Venus in Furs (1969). By the mid-70s, Franco began dabbling in hardcore porn, often building features around his latest "fetish actress" (and common-law wife), the uninhibited Lina Romay. With Romay, Franco created such explicitly sexual horror fantasies as Lorna The Exorcist (1974, in which Romay, as a teenage virgin, is violated by a witch who uses a giant phallus on her!) and Female Vampire (1973, in which she literally fellates her male and female victims to death... well, there ARE worse ways to go!). Doriana Grey is something of a remake of the latter film, but it's wrong to leave it at that.
    Quite simply, Doriana Grey is one of Franco's strangest and most lyrical films. Whereas the erotic scenes of Female Vampire seemed to disrupt the flow of the narrative, here the fusion of sex and horror seems integral to the proceedings. Make no mistake about it: this is hardcore pornography, with graphic depictions of fellatio, cunnilingus and ejaculation. But it's hardcore porn as art obsessive art, that is. The erotic proceedings manage to be quite, um, stimulating due to the beauty and enthusiasm of Romay and female partners Monica Swinn (a veteran of many Franco films, unforgettable as the monocled warden in Barbed Wire Dolls, 1975) and Martine Stedil, among others. But the film also manages to create and maintain an oddly lyrical, delicate quality that survives the extreme nature of the proceedings. It is, above all, a meditation on the nature of loneliness, with Romay's character wandering about her beautiful estate waiting for the privilege to finally feel something. The sitar-laden soundtrack by Walter Baumgartner, coupled with Peter Baumgartner's naturalistic lighting and handheld camerawork, creates a delicate mood that is subtly intrusive and voyeuristic. Hardcore porn it may be, but Jess Franco proves the possibility of elevating it to a level that goes beyond the dingy raincoat brigade. As usual, Franco gets efficient performances from his small cast the star is clearly Lina Romay and Franco's obsession with her body continues to this day. This is without doubt one of her best roles and she effectively contrasts the stately demeanor of Doriana with the animalistic nature of her demented sister, with a common thread of sadness and isolation to unite the two. A short film at 76 minutes, it feels longer but never gets boring rather, the film maintains an almost hallucinatory grip on the viewer and is all the more fascinating because of it.

This fantastic DVD presentation from VIP and Swissimage is part of their ongoing collection of Jess Franco films. The series aims to present all the films Franco directed for Swiss exploitation king Erwin C. Dietrich in their original director's cuts. I've seen about 6 of these releases so far (among them: Jack the Ripper, 1976; Barbed Wire Dolls, 1975; and Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun, 1976) and they're absolutely splendid. One can only hope that Dietrich will go beyond the films he produced for Franco and release some of the Spanish maverick's other films. First and foremost, the film is completely uncut and uncensored the warning of pornographic content on the packaging is certainly justified, and viewers of a sensitive nature are to be advised ahead of time of the nature of the film. I first saw it, as did many fans, via a miserable fullscreen dupe in German without subtitles despite the paucity of dialogue, there IS a plot and that was lost without subtitles. Here the viewer has the option of watching the film in either its original German track or via newly created English or French tracks. Alas, the English track is fairly absurd although audio quality is very good. One is advised to watch it in English once so you know what's going on, and then watch it in German on repeat viewings. All three tracks are in mono and sound first rate; it's merely the quality of the vocal performances in the English track that make it less than desirable. Alas, none of these releases have yet provided the option of English subtitles hopefully Dietrich will include this option on future releases of Blue Rita (1977) and Sexy Sisters (1977), for example. Returning to the image quality, the picture is absolutely incredible. The print has been painstakingly restored and looks stunning. It seems that some frame damage resulted in toying around with some brief (momentary) slow motion effects in certain scenes, but this is never distracting. The image is appropriately letterboxed at 1.85:1 and has been enhanced for widescreen sets. Extras include a collection of trailers for other Franco and Dietrich titles, this film included (all in German, many with forced Italian subtitles); biographies for Franco, Romay and Dietrich; a collection of stills (many erotic in nature); a featurette on the restoration of the Franco/Dietrich film Jack the Ripper (this is included on all these releases and gives a clue as to the extensive work that went into restoring these titles); and an interview with Dietrich, Franco and Romay. Dietrich tends to repeat himself a lot from one of these interview segments to the next on other DVD releases, but he comes across as sincere in his desire to help preserve Franco's work. Romay is seen smoking and sipping coffee at an outdoor cafe, speaking French with English subtitles. Franco, the only participant to speak in English, is also subtitled, presumably because of his heavy accent (I have no trouble following what he says, but one can understand if others do). The director (age 73 as I write this review) is lively, funny and informative, stopping at the end to announce his desire to take a break and smoke a cigarette! Interviews like this are an invaluable insight into Franco's attitude towards filmmaking. 12/06/03
UPDATE The R0/NTSC version of this DVD (reviewed above) went OOP circa 2008. Used copies are not particularly easy to obtain.
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