by Jim Pyke
Twice a year (in spring and again in fall) Media Publications' Trevor Barley works tirelessly to put together a program of over half a dozen European horror and fantastique films that will most likely never again be seen on the big screen by any of the festival attendees. Then as if this weren't enough, Trevor brings in a few star guests. In years past these have included Spanish/Mexican cult horror star Paul Naschy and the late Italian maestro Lucio Fulci. Pile on top of this the sales tables filled to overflowing with rare books, magazines, posters, soundtrack CDs, and videos imported from across Europe, and you have the premiere event for Euro-cultists across the United Kingdommaybe even in the entire Western World.
What makes Eurofest so compelling is how specialized it is. Trevor, his assistant Domi, and the rest of his crew cater to the most fanatical of fantastique film fans. The silent reverence with which the standing-room-only crowd views each film is testament to this fanaticism, as is the shoulder-to-shoulder press at the sales tables during every break.
Each year the festival is held at the Everyman Cinema in Hampstead, North London. The Everyman is the oldest repertory theater in the world and has a full cafe/bar in the basement. This feature makes it particularly well suited for this year's festival, which was the first all-niter. With about eighteen hours to fill for the 300-plus crowd, Trevor has gone to great lengths to get the best 35-mm print available of each film on display. In some cases they are the only prints in existence and have come directly from their directors or producers.
The focus of Eurofest '96 is on French horror and fantastique film, so of course the day's featured guest is France's original and only director of erotic vampire films: Jean Rollin. For more on him (including an interview) check out the Rollin article elsewhere in this issue.
Sharing the stage with Rollin is the French porn queen and crossover genre film star Brigitte Lahaie. Born in 1955 in Northern France, Brigitte broke away from an extremely sheltered childhood to become one of the biggest stars of French porn films in the late 1970s. Then, just as she had reached the top of her career and was even getting offers from American porn producers, she decided to attempt the difficult transition to more mainstream film roles.
It was with a man who had directed one of her first porn films, Jean Rollin, that she got her first "real" film rolea woman driven murderously mad by toxic wine in THE GRAPES OF DEATH. She went on to star in several more of his films (including the gripping FASCINATION and, most recently, THE TWO ORPHAN VAMPIRES) in addition to working with Jess Franco on three films, including FACELESS. Brigitte has also had small parts in Jean-Jacques Beineix's DIVA, and Philip Kaufman's HENRY AND JUNE. Throughout her career, she has remained proud of and vocal about her porn past, and she has also spoken out for sexual freedom and understanding.
In 1987 she sealed the success of her difficult departure from porn with a best-selling autobiographyMoi, la Scandaleuse (Me, the Scandalous)and has gone on to write four more books, star in several stage plays, host a talk radio program, and just last year publish an adult CD ROMBrigitte Liveincorporating clips of some of her best porn performances.
Tonight she's on-screen in three of the festival films, signing autographs down in the cafe, and on-stage with Caroline Munro to introduce FACELESS, and again with Jean Rollin to be interviewed by Immoral Tales co-author Pete Tombs.
Aside from the star guests, there is also a large contingent of genre critics from the U.K. and the Continent: Lucas Balbo and Peter Blumenstock (co-authors of Obsession, the exhaustive Jess Franco reference), Allan Bryce (editor of England's popular genre magazine The Dark Side), Nigel Burrell (author of the definitive Blind Dead film series analysis, Knights of Terror), Paul Brown (editor of Uncut), and Adrian Smith (editor of Delirium, a year-by-year reference to Italian genre films).
The prints (all 35 mm) are in beautiful condition although there is some audience disappointment with the fact that half of them are in French, with no subtitles. This deters only a handful from sitting through each film with rapt attention; the theater remains filled to capacity throughout the night.
For this and the other Rollin films in the festival, see the separate Rollin article.
VAMPYRES (Jose Larraz, 1974)
U.K. critic Tim Greaves calls this film "the ultimate in erotic horror cinema," and it's difficult to disagree. The film focuses on the escapades of two female vampires who draw male victims into their lair with the implicit promise of granting them sexual favors. These they do indeed promptly grant, butunfortunately for the menthe "favors" culminate with Fran and Miriam tearing open their flesh to suck out the blood and gore within. They don't rely on the traditional jugular vein either, rending arms, legs, and bellies to get their fill instead. These scenes take the metaphor of eating one's sex partner to a literal and rather explicit extreme, and the dark intensity with which they are shot is the engine that drives the film.
FACELESS (Jess Franco, 1988)
FACELESS is the goriest entry in the festival, with nasty scenes ranging from a scissors-to-neck stabbing to a close-up eyeball-injection of poison. For a relatively low-budget feature the effects are surprisingly sick-making. The story concerns a plastic surgeon's (Helmut Berger) efforts to restore his sister's former beauty in the wake of a facial acid bath given to her by a distraught former patient. Toward this end Berger enlists the aid of his wife (played by Brigitte Lahaie) to seduce women for facial fodder, and a former Third Reich master surgeon to perform the surgery. The plot thickens when Telly Savalas sends gum-chewing detective Chris Mitchum to investigate the abduction of Savalas' daughter (Caroline Munro) by Berger. Because of the weird double ending it's any body's guess who actually comes out the winner.
THE BEAST (Walerian Borowczyk, 1975)
If Luis Buæuel had ever made a porn movie, it might have looked something like this delirious anti-bourgeois bestiality fairy tale. We know we're in for a unique viewing experience during the opening of the film, as we are treated to a long horse copulation sequence as arousing as a human porn scene. Things quickly go from weird to weirder as the film's human charactersa morally corrupt old-money family on the brink of financial collapseare introduced. As the film unspools we are treated to unsettling images ranging from the Comte de l'Esperance washing his adult son and murdering his uncle to extended idyllic sequences of the family's female ancestor sexing a black bear to death (complete with spewing, bucket-filling come shots from the guyrumored to be Borowczyk himselfin the anatomically outrageous bear suit). As one might guess, this film wins the most enthusiastic and appreciative audience response of the evening.
FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET (Dario Argento, 1972)
In this highly stylized giallo thriller, Michael Brandon and Mimsy Farmer star as a hip young couple torn apart by a bizarre chain of events that starts off with Brandon being framed for murder by a freakishly masked figure. Argento throws enough red herrings into the spiraling plot to keep everyone guessing who's behind the mask until the film's explosive final scene. Of particular note are a few shots during this sequence filmed with a super-high-speed scientific camera which slows the final images of a car windshield shattering to a delicate shower of menacing, glittering splinters.
EYES WITHOUT A FACE (Georges Franju, 1959)
The last film of the night is a seminal work of surgical horror that has provided lasting inspiration for much of modern horrorranging from Franco's FACELESS to Clive Barker's HELLRAISER and Michele Soavi's THE DEVIL'S DAUGHTER. With its long, unsettling silences and delicate black-and-white cinematography, this film remains a landmark of atmospheric terror nearly 40 years after its creation.
Capping the festival's events is the announcement of the Magazine of the Year award and a drawing for prizes including a wall-sized TWO ORPHAN VAMPIRES poster and a set of Jean Rollin's films on video from England's Redemption Films.
Now I' m left trying to figure out how to get back to London in October for Eurofest '96, Part 2the guests will likely be genre queen Lina Romay and her husband Jess Franco. Watch this space for more information, or contact Trevor Barley at Media Publications (UNHT C, 2 LESWIN PLACE, LONDON, N16 7NJ, ENGLAND) and tell him you read about it in STIM. </end>
JIM PYKE lives and works in Ann Arbor. Surprisingly, he spends a lot of time in dark theaters offering advice to fellow patrons.