(A.k.a. SIE TOTETE IN EKSTASE; DR JEKYLL AND MISS HYDE; MRS HYDE)
Mrs Johnson (Soledad Miranda) narrates through the first twenty minutes of SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY, as we learn via flashbacks of how much she misses her doctor husband (Fred Williams) after having spent just "two fleeting years" in love with him.
We see how Mr Johnson was working on experimenting with human embryos, and had made a breakthrough resulting in stronger immune systems potentially capable of helping people stave off cancer and the like. Alas, Johnson needed the backing of a medical committee to continue with his work, and they weren't having any of it.
On the contrary, when he visits the committee - consisting of unforgiving doctors Walker (Howard Vernon), Donen (writer-director Jess Franco), Crawford (Ewa Stromberg) and Houston (Paul Muller) - they decry his work as "inhumane" and order that he be medically struck off. Worse still, when he returns home to break the bad news to Mrs Johnson, he finds that their cronies have already been round and smashed all of his work to pieces.
Understandably, he's a broken man. "I just want to help people" he insists as he stares listlessly into space while his wife's head loiters provocatively around his crotch area. You know you're in a bad way when you have no interest in Soledad Miranda going south!
Johnson slashes his wrists a short while later. And, faster than you can utter THE BRIDE WORE BLACK, Miranda embarks on a mission of revenge - determined to make the ones responsible for her husband's downfall pay.
Her first port of call is womanising Walker, who she entices back to his hotel by pretending to be a prostitute. Things get kinky for a brief while, before ... well, let's just say Miranda's plan gets well and truly underway at this point.
Filmed virtually back-to-back with VAMPYROS LESBOS in the early 1970s, SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY makes equally fine use of the gorgeous Spanish locations and even better utilisation of star Miranda.
Here, her allure is grounded by a lack of supernatural element to the story, and more of a character for her to flesh out. She becomes even more beautiful, more beguiling, than in the arguably more well-known LESBOS.
A stronger narrative allows for a steadier, more consistent pace too: although the surreal moments and psychedelic affectations are still here, this is by far the more accessible of the two films for Franco newcomers. It retains the director's infamous tropes - zoom-ins, accidental moments of soft-focus (such as the moments before Miranda joins Vernon in bed) and copious nudity - but everything feels a tad more controlled in terms of the story-telling.
Miranda is hypnotic, of course. She's in almost every single scene and it's safe to say she steals each one of them. Whether adorned in a purple velour cape or gracefully showing off her naked wares, there's something undeniably bewitching about her. I did break out of the spell long enough, however, to remark on how clean her nostrils were (we spending a lot of time looking up her pleasingly bogey-free nose).
Vernon, Muller and Franco are as reliably sleazy and intense as ever in their supporting roles. Williams plays his part like a poor man's Jean Sorel, but that's perfectly acceptable in my book. Stromberg completes a very impressive, recognisable cast who all give highly credible performances here.
Manfred Hubler and Sigi Schwab are back, after VAMPYROS LESBOS, with another sexy lounge-jazz score which is great but would sound equally at place in a funky 70s porno. Manuel Merino's efforts stand out once again, his sterling cinematography and keen eye for lively colour schemes enriching almost every scene.
Elsewhere, Franco's script is clever in that it's taut enough to compel, loose enough to allow for patented scenes of dreamlike madness and erotica, and even finds time to dwell on political matters such as the morality of tampering with nature or the pressures on today's youth to fulfil tomorrow's promises, while never coming across as contrived or ill-fitting.
A perfect companion-piece to the singular VAMPYROS LESBOS and, in my opinion, the better film, SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY is excellent.
This is the film's maiden HD voyage in the UK, and Severin's blu-ray directly echoes their US release.
The film is presented uncut in its original 1.66:1 ratio. This version is 80 minutes and 25 seconds long, making it the longest version on home video format - just check out Vernon's death scene for a (mostly seamlessly integrated) extended scene that fans of old may be shocked to see exist.
Picture quality is superb: colours brim with vividness like never before, flesh-tones are warm and natural. Deep blacks and supremely contrast contrast keep the picture noise-free, while a keen sense of cinematic depth can easily be spied through the thin layer of authentic filmic grain. Taken from a largely clean print, this new 16x9 transfer really shines in its full 1080p HD resolution. Some scenes are soft but, as mentioned earlier in this review, these are inherent of how they were shot by Franco on what would've undoubtedly been a very swift production schedule.
German 2.0 audio is of the lossless variety. It's also surprisingly clean, clear and consistent throughout. Optional English subtitles are well-written and easy to read for the most part.
The disc opens to a static main menu page. From there, pop-up menus include a scene selection menu allowing access to the film via 10 chapters.
Extras commence with a most pleasurable 17-minute interview with the late Franco, culled from the same session as his talk on the VAMPYROS LESBOS blu-ray. He speaks in English, again with the benefit of English subtitles for those who struggle with his accent, about how producer Artur Brauner was keen to make more films with Miranda after LESBOS and explains how this production came about from that notion. Totally contradicting what I've said above, Franco also concludes that LESBOS is more accessible than this film!
"Sublime Soledad" is the same 20-minute appreciation of the late actress and model from Amy Brown, which features on the VAMPYROS LESBOS disc. It's so good, we get it twice...
Author Stephen Thrower is on hand too to give his expert critique on the film in a most enjoyable 13-minute featurette. He speaks with affection about the film, highlights Franco's alarming work-rate in the early 70s, and speaks more of Miranda' undeniable appeal.
It's great to have actor Muller's comments on this disc too. He's present for a 6-minute interview in which he describes working with Franco eight times as a "very, very pleasant" experience and elaborates on the unusual, casual manner in which the filmmaker worked. Good stuff.
Finally, we get the film's original German trailer. At 2-and-a-half-minutes in length, this manages to convey a good amount of the film's atmosphere, nudity, lesbianism, violence and chaos into it. In German without English subtitles.
SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY is a fluid, accessible slice of Jess Franco genius from a time when the auteur was at the height of his creative powers. It looks fantastic on Severin's blu-ray and is stacked with interesting, contextual extras. Recommended.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Severin Films|
|see main review|