AL PEREIRA VS. THE ALLIGATOR LADIES, one of the late Jess Franco’s last finished films gets an English-friendly DVD release courtesy of Spanish label Cameo.
Two somewhat familiar-looking naked ladies (SNAKEWOMAN’s Carmen Montes and PAULA-PAULA’s Paula Davis) are dancing in a hotel ballroom. Are they yet another variation on Franco’s “Red Lips” spy duo (from TWO UNDERCOVER ANGELS, KISS ME MONSTER, TWO SPIES IN FLOWERED PANTIES, and RED SILK)? Are they succubus Lorna and her daughter (SUCCUBUS, LORNA THE EXORCIST, INCUBUS)? A pair of “vampyros lesbos” (from, well… VAMPYROS LESBOS and VAMPIRE BLUES)? Prey for Morpho or Dr. Orlof’s other henchmen (AWFUL DR. ORLOF, SINSITER DR. ORLOF, DR. ORLOF’S MONSTER)? It turns out they are two of the daughter of Fu Manchu (from Franco’s THE CASTLE OF FU MANCHU and BLOOD OF FU MANCHU, and later lampooned in DR. WONG’S VIRTUAL HELL) and “Wo Man Chu” (Nestora Robles) – think about it – and they, along with their sister (Irene Verdú) are after hard-boiled detective Al Pereira (this time played by Franco regular Antonio Mayans). Fortunately, Pereira is after them too, and his only defenses are his machismo and his gun; which are pretty much the same thing when your enemy is using sex as a weapon (“I can see your alligators!”).
Technically not the late Jess Franco’s final film, but the last one he fully edited, AL PEREIRA VS. THE ALLIGATOR LADIES seems like a mess of a film, feeling more loosely structured than anything he’s done before (well, anything of his more widely available considering the handful of HD video productions that have not yet been seen outside Spain as yet). Mayans had played Franco’s recurring detective Al Pereira previously in five 1980s productions including LA NOCHE DE LOS SEXOS ABIERTOS, TWO SPIES IN FLOWERED PANTIES (aka PICK-UP GIRLS), and the jungle pic THE DIAMONDS OF KILIMANJARO, but the character had previously been essayed by Franco regulars Olivier Mathot (MIDNIGHT PARTY) and Howard Vernon (VIBRATING GIRLS), as well as earlier by “Lemmy Caution” himself Eddie Constantine (ATTACK OF THE ROBOTS) and AWFUL DR. ORLOF’s detective hero Conrado San Martin (AGENT 077), as well as Franco himself in DOWNTOWN (1975) while Lina Romay had played an “Alma Pereira” in PAULA-PAULA (2010).
Although the “Al Pereira” films were usually sexy spoofs of film noir and spy films, the current feature – with its serial-like title – is an episodic, even non-linear, string of encounters that may or may not be a pursuit (it’s difficult to tell if Pereira is tailing the Alligator Ladies or vice versa). Whenever he does catch up with them, he merely disapproves of their licentiousness while they ridicule his masculinity for his reluctance to be seduced by them. Is this conservative turn in Al’s behavior a remnant of Mayan’s previous role as a monk in SNAKEWOMAN which shares some of the same locations (as well as actress Montes); or is he just smart enough not to be taken in by them while egging them on for the audience’s gratification (and possibly his own) with his insults? It’s probably not healthy to overthink anything in this film, or even to expect Franco to explain it despite the fact that he places himself in the thick of it here as director.
Franco’s reflection seems to at first be accidentally captured filming in the mirror with production manager Mayans over his shoulder, but this gives way to a sequence – perhaps only partially contrived and partially real not unlike his interjections in EL SEXO ESTA LOCO (1981) – in which he directs the actress in her line delivery and striptease (he even tells her to actually slap the camera, although not to break it). Although Franco is seen photographing some sequences, the film was mostly shot by Fernando Barranquero who also has an onscreen role, and recently lensed DRACULA 0.9 (2012) directed by Emilio Schargorodsky (who shot much of Franco’s DTV output as well as a handful of the Severin-produced extras for Severin’s and Blue Underground’s Franco releases). What seems to be a behind-the-scenes peek at Franco milling around with his actresses and musing is then revealed to be the rehearsal and blocking of a sequence that follows with Mayans in Franco’s place. An experienced musician whose editing and camera movements were sometimes dictated by tracks he intended to use or cues he was working on his own or with Daniel White (FEMALE VAMPIRE), Franco can also be heard humming music as part of his choreography of a sequence. Towards the end, “We made Al Pereira into a real dickhead”; that he then says it doesn’t matter is not indicative of him knowing it was his last film so much as that the character has had so many different incarnations, and that he might have ended up portrayed with a different temperament or by a different actor in REVENGE OF THE ALLIGATOR LADIES (announced in the closing credits). Ultimately, AL PEREIRA VS. THE ALLIGATOR LADIES – as a film and as a DVD – is certainly not a great starting point for newbies (especially as an import from Spain what with international shipping rates as they are), and it might even disappoint Franco fans; but diehard Franco-ites should consider this an irresistible pick-up.
Other than Mayans –usually credited as “Robert Foster” as part of the cast and under his own name as production manager on Franco’s eighties productions (and here credited under his own name in the cast but as “Robert Fotrer” as production manager) – the only other long-term collaborator is “Alligator Lady” Carmen Montes who first worked with Franco on KILLER BARBYS VS. DRACULA (2002) – a more light-hearted follow-up to Franco’s somewhat more traditional gothic horror KILLER BARBIES – and then his Sadeian DTV duo FLOWERS OF PASSION and FLOWERS OF PERVERSION, the admirable SNAKEWOMAN, the aforementioned PAULA-PAULA, and his dual two-parter epics A BAD DAY AT THE CEMETERY and THE CRYPT OF THE DAMNED (as yet unreleased in English-friendly form). Luisje Moyano – who, in a very typical Franco fashion, also doubled as art director – plays a variation on Franco’s “idiot” henchman character during the second half of the film, not unlike A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD’s Basilio or GEMIDOS DE PLACER’s Fenul (played by cinematographer Juan Soler but dubbed by Franco). The score features the recurring use of a couple Daniel White/Jess Franco-penned tracks originally composed for Franco’s first DTV film TENDER FLESH (1997). Technically the score also features Daniel White’s church organ theme for Franco’s THE SADIST OF NOTRE DAME – his 1979 recut/reshoot of EXORCISM (1974) – but that track had already been appended to the end of the TENDER FLESH track “Out of Breath”; in fact, the score is credited to Pablo Villa, the joint pseudonym of Franco and White used on Franco’s 1980s Spanish pictures. A guitar cue sounds like a variation on the “Madeira” song from THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MIRROR, and some pensive organ music that might be from his eighties Daniel White collaborations.
Cameo’s Spanish PAL Region 0 dual-layer DVD (and all-region Blu-ray) features an anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer. Since the film was lensed in high definition, it’s one of the better-looking DVDs of Franco’s video-era productions (some of his other recent films have been lensed in HD but they’re not widely available yet to assess). Skintones are a bit warm, but that may be intentional (either post-production color grading or purposefully fooling the camera’s white balance) and highlights are clipped outside of windows during the interior scenes (even Franco’s 35mm work often exposed for the interiors without adjusting for windows, albeit with prettier-if-roughhewn effects on film). The Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track favors the music since the dialogue was recorded on-set and subject to the original recording levels. Optional subtitles are included in English, Spanish, and Italian for the feature only. The English ones contain a few errors but are sufficient to follow the film – as much as any other aspect – and can be witty at times.
Most of the extras, however, have no subtitle translation. Under the “Filming” section are four featurettes about the AL PEREIRA SHOOT. It’s a pity that the “Behind the Scenes” (26:42) featurette is not subtitled since it perhaps offers a truer representation of Franco’s production process. Mayans can be seen applying blood to the actresses. When Franco is not able to operate the camera, he is seen auditing the images on either a TV monitor or on a portable field monitor. In "The Anger of Jesús" (2:32), Franco loses he cool while directing, but the actresses take it stride. “Testing the Camera” (1:02) appears to be exactly that with Franco making comments to the operator as he zooms in and out and adjusts focus. Lastly, there is an interview with director Jesús Franco and actor Antonio Mayans (19:07) conducted by Francesco Cesari. The first two thirds are with Mayans and photographed at an outdoor café in which he is asked how it is playing Al Pereira after so many years, and his theories on the more experimental turns in Franco’s work. Then Mayans joins Franco for a shorter interview indoors. Also untranslated is footage from four of the film’s premiere screenings including "Pies de Gato TV" in Barcelona (13:01) coverage of the "Cine Maldà" premiere – where the film was introduced with a performance by “Retarded Rebel Rejects”, as well as another "Cine Maldà" featurette (10:13), the Festival de Málaga premiere (4:03) which was introduced by Mayans, and one titled "The Night of the Alligator Ladies" (14:45) taking place at “Artistic Metropol” in Madrid. They all find the rowdy audiences receptive to Franco’s style of comedy, and the “Artistic Metropol” premiere includes footage from an after party at a bar where images from seventies pornography – and possibly some Franco works – are projected on the walls.
Also included are all four episodes of the 2010 web series dedicated to Eurocine titled "Return of the Bloodsucking Nazi Zombies" written by “I’m in a Jess Franco State of Mind” blog and Cinemadrome forum admin Robert Monell, and directed by Alex Bakshaev (under Franco’s EXORCISM/SADIST OF NOTRE DAME character name “Mathis Vogel”), in which Dr. Mabuse and Dr. Orlof create androids and send them to Earth to destroy “Howard Vernon”. The episodes include: "Dr. Orloff's Monster" (6:24), "Factory of the Living Dead" (5:12), "The Sinister Dr. Orloff" (8:06), and "Female Vampire" (4:36). Scored with dissonant jazz cues, their style is more evocative of Franco’s psychedelic DTV work than his Eurocine productions, but some of the same WWII-movie stock footage used in OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES is utilized here, and there are a handful of atmospheric images of the zombies that recall the imagery from that film (although their “female vampire” keeps her underwear on while she wanders the woods Irina-style). The "Bizarre & Underground Film Festival" features four shorts, including two by Naxo Fiol (who shot the making-of footage for AL PEREIRA off-camera and onscreen): "Arrozzorra" (12:15, Spanish with burnt-in English subtitles) and the silent "Coños y Barro" (3:27), as well as "Horrormanía" by Juan Carlos Gallardo (12:00), and the unsubtitled "Jenny" by Julio Cerrillo (4:37). Besides the feature’s trailer (2:08), there is also one for the forthcoming documentary "A Ritmo de Jess" (3:29). (Eric Cotenas)
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