Lips Double Feature
DVD Release Date: July
"Extra Cheese" icon applies to Kiss
goes the Franco...
Spanish director Jesus ("Jess")
Franco — now with
almost 200 directing credits and counting —
has made films in virtually every genre and subgenre
imaginable. His most prolific and diverse period
was the decade spanning 1967-77; in those ten
years he helmed 74 (!) motion pictures, encompassing
motifs of horror, comedy, mystery, erotica, adventure,
exploitation and even hardcore porn. The late
'60s saw him team with German actor/producer Adrian
Hoven to unleash the avant-garde art house "horrotica"
Succubus, which, regardless
of what one might think of it, ranks among Franco's
seminal works. After the critical splash made
by that film the Franco-Hoven Axis next set its
collective sights on more commercial fare... Using
some of the same actors featured in Succubus,
Franco whipped up a pair of decidedly more accessible
pop-art confections: Two
Undercover Angels (AKA Sadisterotika)
and a direct sequel, Kiss
Each is a mélange of different elements
— much as was the director's career at the time.
The title of Two
Undercover Angels refers to freelance detectives
Diana (Janine Reynaud) and Regina (Rosanna Yanni),
collectively known as "Red Lips" for
the signature lipstick imprint they sometimes
leave as a calling card. They're fashion-conscious
gals who spend as much time lounging about their
comfortably mod pad — in various states of dress
(and undress) — than actually solving any crimes.
(The film, as does its sequel, has a difficult
time making clear just who the gals are working
for at any given moment, although they apparently
have frequent contacts with Interpol.) Their investigation
into a series of kidnappings/murders, all with
models or dancers as the victims, ties into a
shady art dealer (Franco) who is himself slain
by a mysterious man wearing an eyepatch (Adrian
Hoven). The artiste in 'Monsieur Cyclops'
is inspired by the terrorizing and killing of
captive women, with his beastial servant Morpho
(Michel Lemoine, made up like Bela Lugosi in The
Ape Man) doing the actual dirty work.
Me, Monster sees the Red Lips team planning
to leave the world of crime and espionage behind
to embark on careers as a cabaret/striptease act.
(We're treated to two of their performances during
the film; it's painfully obvious that they'd be
far better off sticking with sleuthing.) Showbiz
dreams must take a back seat, however, when the
ladies are drawn into the case of a missing scientist.
It seems everybody wants to get their hands on
his secret formula for creating a race of supermen.
When Diana and Regina are passed a cryptic clue
— disguised within a folk song — to the formula's
hidden location, the bodies start piling up around
them. (To include Franco himself, appearing briefly
as a shifty informant who gets knifed. He kills
himself off in both flicks!) To get to the bottom
of things, our cheerfully unflappable heroines
deal with horny Interpol agents, a cabal of hooded
cultists, a society of female "queer virgins"
and a nefarious, not-so-ambiguously-gay duo (Lemoine,
controlling a pair of muscular, loincloth-wearing
Andros I and Andros II.
both "Red Lips" films, Franco goes for
a tongue-in-cheek Modesty
Blaise sort of vibe but with a sprinkling
of horror, sci-fi, mild S&M
bondage and the occasional topless go-go dancer.
(Praise Jesus for the latter!) They may be more
commercial than his typical output for the time
but odd little touches here and there — not to
mention zoom shots — clearly imbue them with the
director's personal stamp.
it never really comes together. There are three
big problems with these movies: (1) the
stories are weak and obtuse; (2) the comedic bits
tend to fall very flat; and (3) the English
dubbing is absolutely appalling. You'd
expect a horrible dub job to have a significant
impact on the humor, of course, but it also doesn't
do the films' plots any favors, either. The scene
in Kiss Me, Monster,
in which Interpol agent Adrian Hoven explains
the nature of the missing scientist's experiments,
is a prime example of the latter... Something
about a super-nutrition formula, extracted ovaries,
and a race of genetically perfect humans with
minds like dogs. As Hoven lays this out in a quick
series of disjointed sentences, his spymaster,
a 12-year old girl (!) named Yolanda, occasionally
pipes in with additional info. Honestly, I've
seen much better dubbing in Shaw Brothers kung
fu movies from the early '70s.
It's a critical scene in the film, revealing just
what the heck all the characters are after (as
well as the origin of murderous musclemen Andros
I and Andros II), and I'll guarantee you'll be
sitting there with invisible question marks hovering
over your skull — then backing up the disc to
run through it again. I simply cannot overemphasize
how torturously clumsy the translated scripts
are. The English voice actors struggle valiantly
to deliver lines while the onscreen performers'
lips are still moving, sounding like automatons
as a result. A lot of the dialog makes absolutely
no sense, and I have no earthly idea, given the
ridiculous dubbing, whether it's even supposed
to. The non sequiturs and awkward phrasing are
good for a cheesy laugh now and then — the club
M.C. in Angels is
weirdly amusing, for one ("Hello, friends!
It's starting now!") — but not nearly
film is particularly well structured. Franco
mounts some interesting, stylish tableaux but
his images are ill-served by the slapdash manner
in which they're strung together. Tight, intricate
narratives haven't ever been a staple of Franco's
works, nor are they required for pulpy, tongue-in-cheek
romps... but a viewer should at least be somewhat
motivated to give a crap about what's going on.
Confusion reigns in these films. For significant
portions of their running times I guarantee you'll
have but the vaguest sense of who's who and why
they're doing what they're doing.
parts of these flicks are undeniably fun.
(Much more so in the case of Two
Undercover Angels than Kiss
Me, Monster.) The chemistry of scarlet-maned
Reynaud (star of Succubus)
and the voluptuous blonde Yanni (War
Goddess) is readily apparent even through
the poor dubbing; the duo makes an engaging team.
The long-running (albeit often differently presented)
character of Morpho, a notable presence in a host
of disparate Franco films over the years, lends
some monstrous menace to Angels;
I always enjoy it when Jess finds a way to work
the hulking henchman into his stories.
Visual aesthetics are first-rate
considering the low budgets Franco and crew had
to work with. Accentuated with picturesque location
photography, both films are kaleidoscopes of comic
book colors and pop-art design. Movies
made in the 1960s often look terribly dated but
the Red Lips pics tend to buck that trend.
Through Franco's lens the Age of Aquarius looks
like a truly happenin' time... Even the
fashions are more groovy than goofy. And
the music is great. It's a yummy jazz-lounge-pop
soufflé, with Kiss
Me, Monster adding a dash of South American
rhythm and '60s rockin' soul (the latter courtesy
of the band Blow Up, shown performing live in
a nightclub). Maria Dom's enthusiastic topless
go-go dancing in Angels
certainly livens things up — naturally, the scene
in question has nothing to do with the
plot. Like a lot of stuff in Franco movies, it
just happens. (Watch her shimmy with abandon in
the video clip accompanying this review.)
Previously available separately
on long-OOP DVDs from Anchor Bay, the films are
smartly and stylishly packaged together in a new
two-disc set by Blue Underground. For nearly 40-year
old pics they look and sound terrific via these
new anamorphic 1.66:1 transfers. Print damage
is virtually nil; colors are as bold and bright
as they should be given the pop-art visual design.
The mono audio tracks are clean and clear.
Each film is allotted a disc of its own, accompanied
by the respective theatrical trailer and an interview
with Franco (who speaks
in subtitled French). In the Disc 1 featurette,
The Case of the Red Lips (14 min.), he
discusses how the idea for the flicks came together,
their back-to-back shooting schedule, working
with the casts and the good time had by all during
filming. Disc 2's offering, the more free-ranging
Jess' Tangents (22 min.), will particularly
delight Francophiles. Sardonic and funny, he expounds
on LSD and psychedelia, porno films, living under
fascism, working with Orson Welles, and his concepts
of cinema as both art and commercial product.
Whether you love the man's movies or hate them
— or fall somewhere in between — there's no denying
he's an interesting conversationalist.