For those of you who are regular visitors at our Gore Splattered Corner you may remember I wrote a tribute piece on Jess Franco a while back. While I was doing my research for the piece I came across a documentary called Antena Criminal-Making a Jess Franco Movie, which is an up close and personal film about this prolific auteur. Naturally it piqued my interest and I am honoured to have been given the chance to both review it and catch up with the man behind the film Brian D Horrorwitz and ask him about how the project came about, his band The Ubangis who have featured in several B Movie soundtracks, and his experience in working with such a legend. Brian also runs the amazing Trash Palace where you can pick up tonnes of cult and B-movie obscurities, check it out here.
Antena Criminal gives a rare insight into the world of prolific filmmaker Jess Franco. The 84 minute long film gives a fly on the wall portrayal of Jess as he directs his 2000 venture crime thriller Blind Target. The documentary reveals a tight professional persona very different to the easy going jokey type he normally portrays in interviews. As Jess struggles to assemble his limited cast and crew, in hot hotel rooms and difficult locations the film gives a unique insight into the world of low budget movie making which is unrivalled in anything, at least, I have seen so far. Yet even though working conditions are perhaps not the easiest Jess manages to remain the consummate professional, this is a guy who knows what he is doing, but then given his experience it is not surprising. Antena Criminal bears the soul of low budget movie making for all to see, the sitting around in hotel lobbies waiting, the lack of crew or equipment and having to make do, the frustrations due to lack of time, space, money. Jess was nothing less than a pure genius when it came to making do, as Brian tells me the shot when he appears filming from a wheelchair, which I had assumed was because of mobility problems, was actually an inpromptu camera track. As he orders the guy pushing him to keep up with the shot we get to see steadicam Franco style as he commands the crew member as if he is riding a chariot into battle. Not only does this appeal on the level of a Franco fan but for anyone wanting to know more about this world. And while there is never much money to be made from this type of movie making what there is the cast and crew certainly earn. The cast and crew for Blind Target are very much like a family, everyone taking turns to help out where they can, Jess at the helm in complete control and Lina Romay never far from his side, ever supporting.
There is also a sad resonance to the affair given that this was Jess at the latter end of his lengthy career. Just when he should be winding down in life to enjoy some very well-earned time in retirement something continues to drive him on, ever the workaholic. Film is all he knew and loved and Antena manages to capture his spirit of never giving in.
Being a big fan of Franco I found it an absolute delight to be treated to what is essentially an invitation to be a fly on the wall in Jess’s professional world and as such the film carries certain voyeuristic qualities which seem so fitting given Franco’s own personal unflinching style of filmmaking. Brian films in an unobtrusive, yet all seeing manner, even in some of the more difficult scenes he remains, camera rolling, quietly continuing to capture the moment when others would have perhaps shied away. It was interesting to see the frustrations of low budget filmmaking in an honest and eye opening format. Nothing is off-limits, which must have been difficult for Jess who is normally in control. While it would have been easy to edit and gloss over the material shown in Antena Criminal I feel leaving the footage intact worked amazingly well, as it gives viewers a realistic vision, which I found to be utterly absorbing.
As well as Jess there is also extensive footage of Lina Romay and Linnea Quigley, with Lina and Linnea taking turns on the camera for Antena while Brian was filming some of his scenes (he also has a part in Blind Target). It is interesting to watch the dynamic of the team with both aforementioned actresses showing off their pro skills in contrast to some of the less seasoned members of the cast. Lina is seen to have a great sense of humour too, especially in some of the outtake footage, always laughing and joking around, but then life must have given her an interesting angle on things given some of the roles she played in Franco’s movies. The only thing she does appear to take seriously is her love for Franco and her acting. It would be easy to assume she was just a face for Franco when they first started out their relationship in 1971 when she was just 18 years old, but in watching the film you get a sense she certainly was a very special person and without her who knows where Franco would have been at that point, without her constant support and encouragement.
The relationship between Jess and Romay as shown in the film is extremely touching, there is an obvious strong bond and love there. The voyeur and the exhibitionist, a match made in heaven. Ever the romantic at heart this aspect really appealed to me. It must also be said though boy did those guys do an inordinate amount of cigarette smoking! One of the high points for me came in a scene in which a particularly tense Franco struggles to get an actress to say her lines properly, and after a frustratingly long number of takes in which he still fails to wrap up the scene he leaves to another room and is seen smoking a cigarette and looking defeated. At which point Lina comes and joins him and offers a comforting hand. This scene was especially poignant given the relationship the two had, you can see how genuine the love is, and the special bond they shared. It makes is all the more sad that they are both no longer with us.
For me personally, and perhaps for many fans of Franco alike, Jess Franco was a fascinating mystery. To see someone whose career is so driven, spanning over 6 decades, and one of the most prolific filmmakers of all time, it is fascinating to see what makes him tick. Not much has been written about him, and while as fans we all know him through his films there is always a wanting, for me personally, to know more about this maverick director. Antena Criminal goes some way to satiate this need for knowledge.
Antena Criminal also offers magnificent value for money because not only does it include the main feature but an exclusive 25 minute interview with Jess, plus over 50 minutes of outtakes and deleted footage. You can pick it up from Trash Palace here, and it also comes with the Franco movie Blind Target as a bonus.
The Gore Splattered Corner welcomes Brian Horrorwitz and would like to thank him for his time in chatting to us…
How did the idea of Antena Criminal come about? How easy was it to get Jess on board?
Brian: After I got involved with Jess via his then-producer Kevin Collins (at One Shot Productions) we were working on a number of different potential projects, one of which was a movie I started but never finished that Jess wrote for me to shoot. In the middle of my shoot Kevin approached me with another offer to come to Spain to shoot a kind of elaborate “making-of” type of documentary surrounding Jess’s “Blind Target”. There was a “Making of Tender Flesh” that had kind of been slapped together by One Shot after the fact, but Kevin wanted this to be a more complete movie unto it’s own shot simultaneously with Jess’s movie. Amazingly Jess had already agreed to let me do it. The only other time Jess had agreed to something like this was when Pere Portabella made his great “Cuadecuc, vampir” film while Jess was shooting “Count Dracula” (1970) with Christopher Lee. There were a few restrictions and I’m not sure how thrilled Jess was with the idea but I imagine he thought it would be good for promoting the movie.
What was it like filming him, was he receptive to the idea?
Brian: I believe Jess wasn’t entirely thrilled with the idea but once I was over there he was great. I think he trusted me to stay out of his way. Plus I was also helping out a bit with “Blind Target”, doing a bit of acting and some running around, holding a light here and there, and providing some of the music. “Blind Target”, like a lot of his movies, was extremely low-budget and with Jess’ movies if you’re standing around on the set you’re gonna probably be involved in some way which is great.
Your band The Ubangis have featured in a few of Franco’s films Lust for Frankenstein, Vampire Blues, Blind Target, and of course the documentary, how did you initally get involved with Jess?
Brian: Like a few other American people that worked with him during this period I met him at the Chiller Theater convention in 1996 in New Jersey where my older band Date Bait was performing with The Killer Barbies and Sexy Sadie both of whom flew in from Spain for the show. At a later convention I had given Kevin Collins a Ubangis CD because he was friendly with the cover artist and model, and a few weeks later he called to ask if Jess could use a few of the songs for “Lust for Frankenstein”. From there things went pretty quick. Not long after Jess had us write the theme for “Vampire Blues” with specific descriptions he faxed to us. We ended up sending him 4 tracks and he used them all. Then the offer to buy an original story to for me to shoot, then my involvement in “Blind Target”. It all happened pretty quickly. It really was mostly luck, just my good timing. But also I think Jess felt that he and I connected pretty quickly from a long distance. For instance, when I wrote the lyrics to “Vampire Blues” I had no specific idea what the plot was, but having seen a bunch of his movies I had a pretty good idea what it might be like. And once I found out the plot I didn’t have to change the lyrics at all. I know he sensed that kind of understanding we had between us. We’re both pretty fucked-up I guess!
What was it like being directed by him?
Brian: He was great. I learnt a lot just by watching him. I didn’t have much dialogue and it was strange because they were shooting in English but not too many there spoke much English. But with me he just fed me my lines before each scene and off I went. Jess had very specific ideas about what he wanted from the actors; he would say “when you attack this woman you must act like this is the greatest day in your life.” He wanted me to play a real sadistic kind of psycho. Every direction he gave seemed pre-determined and well thought out in advance. Needless to say he worked very quickly!
How was the experience of working with Jess Franco, Lina Romay, and Linnea Quigley?
Brian: It was all quite surreal and, yes, I was pretty awestruck. Everyone there was as nice as could be. Lina’s English had improved quite a bit since I had met her 4 years earlier. She was very funny and sweet, had a great sense of humor. But when it came to work she was as professional as they come. In that sense it’s no wonder Jess fell for her, they seemed to be made for each other, professionally and otherwise. I doubt he could have made so many movies with anyone else. Linnea too was very professional. I don’t think you’d last so long in the biz by behaving any other way.
What are your top 5 ( I know it’s difficult with so many to choose from) Franco titles?
Brian: Well for me, personally, the 5 that I’d say I watched the most are:
1. Succubus (1967)
2. She Killed In Ecstasy (1970)
3. Lucky the Inscrutable (1967)
4. Kiss Me, Monster (1969)
5. Tender Flesh (1997)
I’ve seen quite a few but I am still tracking down more of his movies that I’ve not seen yet.
Tell me a bit about The Ubangis, where did it all start?
Brian: The Ubangis started as a kind of joke side-project between myself and a few friends whom were mostly already in other bands. I formed the group specifically to fuck with some of the local Rockabilly bands who had adopted a kind-of prima-donna attitude. I just wanted to ruffle their duck-tails a bit, all in good fun. It was supposed to be a part-time thing but we ended up getting more gig offers then we had anticipated so the original guys kind of bailed and I re-started the group with “Saucy” Randy Manos whom I’d met in a record store I was working at and we’ve been playing together for 23 years since.
How did the band get involved in soundtracks, and what have some of the highpoints been?
Brian: Well, we had a big interest in soundtracks from the start but mostly it came out of shmoozing around at these conventions and just pure luck. A lot of the stuff was just re-used from our first CD and I thought it’d be funny to see how many soundtracks I could get it on. I think it’s on like 6 or something? One of them is a sexploitation movie which, unbeknownst to us, turned out to be a REAL xxx porn movie. It’s weird to see people bangin’ and blowin’ to your music!
I think working with Jess was THE high point for me personally. But otherwise it was always fun playing at conventions, getting Rudy Ray Moore to come up on stage, having John Phillip Law sit on stage with us and getting to rub noses with a lot of my cult idols.
Your site Trash Palace boasts the most impressive and extensive set of titles I have ever seen, that must have taken some doing?
Brian: Aw, shucks! Well, thanks! It just grew out of my collection. I started collecting movies on home video in 1980 when my Dad bought a Betamax. I was very lucky to be able to turn it into a business.
One thing we have come across time and time again through our site is that some people just don’t get ‘trash’ films, do you ever come across this attitude in your work? and if so what do you say to the people who just don’t get it?
Brian: Well, I don’t come across that so much because most people coming to my site are already “there”. But I have had many interesting conversations with film fans and often I’ll end up discussing how there really is a connection between all types of movies and all genres. You could take it a step further and say between all art really. The older I get, the more connections I see. Popular culture is diverse but I don’t think it’s spead as far apart as it seems. And I think that the vintage trash aesthetic is such a pure thing, just these people trying to make a buck by pumping up whatever element they were trying to exploit, no deep messages usually, at least not necessarily ones that were intended. There’s something almost innocent about it.
Finally if you could sum up your career so far in 5 words what would they be?
Brian: “No clue what I’m doing.”
Categories: Articles, interviews