Kiss Me Monster and Succubus

Janine Reynaud and Howard Vernon in Succubus.
(© 1998 Anchor Bay Entertainment. All rights reserved.)

V I D E O   R E V I E W   B Y   S H A N E   M.   D A L L M A N N

The name "Jesus Franco" is a staple for serious students/collectors of world fantasy cinema. The amazingly prolific Spanish filmmaker has been responsible for an almost literally countless number of horror thrillers, action adventures, comedies, dramas, and virtually any other type of film since he began his cinematic career in 1952. A chronicle of Franco's career would be (and has been) a book-length work (Obsession: The Films of Jess Franco, by Lucas Balbo, Peter Blumenstock and Christian Kessler--with additional material by Tim Lucas, was published in 1993).

Even the casual viewer who doesn't recall having heard the name "Jesus Franco" may be surprised by the number of Franco films he has already seen. Several items starring Christopher Lee--the last two Fu Manchu films and the non-Hammer production Count Dracula--were Franco's, as was the Klaus Kinski vehicle Jack the Ripper, for instance.

The home video boom of the 1980s brought a huge amount of Franco product into American video stores. Most distributors took full advantage of the retitling and misrepresentation that ran especially rampant in those days. Fans could expect anything from a fabulous treasure hunt to a wild goose chase. Nowadays, however, legitimate Franco video releases are rare to non-existent in the U.S. Not even 1988's Faceless, with a name cast (Christopher Mitchum, Caroline Munro, and Telly Savalas) and a plot sure to attract the horror audience could land an American distributor. So the arrival on video of two Franco thrillers from 1967 suddenly becomes an event with a significance it wouldn't have had ten years ago.


Succubus was originally released in American theatres with an "X" rating; it would still qualify for an "R" today. At the time, it was advertised in some markets without its title: readers could call the theater for the shocking details. Anchor Bay's VHS and DVD covers naturally carry the title, but the cover art is subtly "wallpapered" with the dictionary definition about a female spirit that seduces men in their sleep. That isn't quite what the film is about, however. Janine Reynaud (whose image also adorns the cover of the aforementioned Obsession book) stars as Lorna, the centerpiece of a creepily erotic nightclub act--which involves the simulated torture and murder of male and female stagemates. The plot of the film concerns the growing possibility that she may be carrying this fantasy into her "real life."

To spell out the story in more detail would be to do an injustice to the film. Franco wasn't particularly concerned with the cold, hard narrative--nor did he want the viewer to be. Succubus (originally titled Necronomicon) is an exercise in dream logic, flavored with '60s psychedelia as seen in the uninhibited behavior of the participants (the nightclub act itself and raucous "animal act" games at fancy parties). My eye was caught by a row of lovingly constructed Aurora monster model kits adorning a fireplace mantel. Each viewer's individual attention will doubtless find something to focus on. Attempts to dispel the delirium with clinical psychology are doomed to failure. Lorna may be subject to another man's control, while the viewer is subject to Franco's.

Succubus is the shortened, American version of a film which ran at least ten minutes longer in Europe. Rumors of a completely different ending are plentiful. Nevertheless, Anchor Bay's edition is "uncut" in that it is the complete U.S. release of a film never before available on video in this country, and it is being made available in a fine-looking, colorful edition.

Kiss Me Monster

Though Kiss Me Monster was briefly available on a long-discontinued American tape, Anchor Bay's new edition still counts as its first serious video exposure. This is the third film in Franco's extremely irregular "Red Lips" spy spoof series--and the only one to ever see release on these shores. The premise is once again simplicity itself: superspies Diana and Regina (the returning Janine Reynaud, here teaming with Rosanna Yanni) stumble upon a diabolical plot to overthrow the world with genetically-enhanced supermen. The story starts abruptly, as if it's assumed that the viewer has seen the previous entry (Sadisterotica, filmed back-to-back with this item and featuring the same duo). The Red Lips are on the case, following clues, and making sure they get a chance to perform their nightclub striptease act at the earliest opportunity!

Meant as lighthearted entertainment, Kiss Me Monster is a distant second to Succubus in nudity, violence, and ominous atmosphere--nevertheless, it's a "trip" in its own right. One character after another (including director Franco in a cameo) gets hit in the back by a thrown knife--always provoking a hilarious reaction from the heroines. In one case, it's deadpan nonchalance, which can't be entirely attributed to the English dubbing. In another it's an exaggerated exhalation through a saxophone during a musical act! One agent is kidnapped by an "Amazonian" female society and tries to shrug the experience off as a dream. A game of cross and double-cross with an all-important suitcase full of secrets leads to a mysterious hooded council straight out of a German crime drama. And other weird surprises await.

Remember, I said the premise was simplicity itself. The plot--well, that's another story. The bizarre story elements, mixed with another generous round of psychedelic nightclub sequences, create an entertainment that many will find impossible to grasp. And yet what will put some people off is exactly what others will treasure about it.

Anchor Bay's tape is presented in 1:66:1 widescreen and features another highly attractive transfer. And as with Succubus, this is as complete a version as ever played in this country. Make no mistake: these titles won't mix with what usually gets rented for a horror party. They're a different breed of animal altogether and can provide some most unexpected rewards to the adventurous viewer. And to that end, Anchor Bay has done a fine job of presenting them.

Succubus and Kiss Me Monster are now available from Anchor Bay Entertainment in both DVD and VHS editions. Suggested retail price: $29.99 for DVD and $14.95 for VHS. Kiss Me Monster is letterboxed at 1.66:1 ratio and Succubus is given a full frame (1.33:1) presentation. Both video/DVDs also contain theatrical trailers.