"Paroxismus", aka "Venus in Furs", (1969) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)


I've written about Director Jesus "Jess" Franco many times before. He is the king of grade-z Euro-Crap. He is primarily known for his Horrotica films, but Franco did not restrict himself to making bad horror films. He made many other kinds of bad films as well, and I use the word "many" advisedly. He may have made more movies than anybody else in history. Working as a director, writer, actor, cinematographer, editor, and musical composer, he has been involved in the creation of some 200 films over the course of some 50 years, including everything from legitimate films to hard core porn. He has been credited under dozens of different aliases, including Jess Franck, Jeff Frank, Jesus Manera, and Betty Carter. (I'm not kidding. Betty Carter.)

In fact, the uncanny range of his contributions would be a truly extraordinary accomplishment were it not for the fact that he totally sucks in every capacity. Unfortunately, Franco couldn't match his love for cinema with any kind of competence. His only positive in general is the ability to imagine some artistically conceived shots, but they are generally spoiled by weak execution, so even his nicely composed scenes are spoiled by poor lighting or fuzzy focus or his characteristic overuse of slo-mo or the zoom lens. Probably the most remarkable thing about Franco is that in a half a century of filmmaking, including a stint working with Orson Welles, he didn't learn one blessed thing. The movies he made in the 90s were every bit as bad as his first efforts in the 50s. Probably worse.

Here are some of his recent efforts (IMDb scores to the left):

'Nuff said.

The premise of Venus in Furs is actually pretty good for a Jess Franco movie. It's a Twilight Zone episode with some tits.

A jazz musician walks along the beach in Istanbul. He's looking for the spot where he buried his horn. He finds it, starts playing it, when he spots a body washing ashore. He retrieves the body and realizes that it is a woman whose murder he actually witnessed in a seedy part of Istanbul. He realizes there must be some weird connection between him and the woman.

He knows he has to get out of Istanbul, so he takes a gig in Rio. As he wails away in a Brazilian club during Carnival, the mysterious dead woman walks into the club, and she appears to be very much alive. As the movie progresses, he starts to have an affair with her, drawn by that same mysterious feeling of connection.

In time, they both realize they have to return to Istanbul, but by now the police are searching for her. She is suspected of murdering several people. She knows that the so-called victims are the people who actually murdered her, but she doesn't really understand why she is alive, or even who she is ...

 ... well, skipping all the detail, the ending is pretty cool. The movie kind of starts over. The musician is walking along the shore again, playing his horn, he sees a body wash up on shore, and ... this time it is his own body. Of course. That explains the mysterious connection. He was also dead.

OK, pretty tight Rod Serling premise, right? If Franco had stuck close to that without any loony distractions, it might have been a good watch.


Now here's how it got Francofied.

To start with, the jazz musician is played by the washed-up cornball actor-singer James Darren, the guy who played Moondoggy in the Gidget movies, and sang "Goodbye, Cruel World." (Later in life he made a comeback, if you can call it that, in Shatner's  "TJ Hooker".) Darren must have been really desperate for work after "Time Tunnel" was cancelled, because movies like Venus in Furs pay nothing. Well, ol' Darren plays a bebop hepcat knockin' down some riffs in the key of sad, if you can dig my groove, daddy-o, and he must have the worst dialogue ever. (How did the MST3K people miss this film?). He narrates the entire movie in a post-beatnik voice-over. It starts out semi-poetic, when he says:

"Don't ask me why I buried my horn or why I dug it up. I just had to have it again. Musicians will understand, because a musician without his horn is like a man without words.".

Not so bad, really. But the rest of his dialogue sounds like a bad impression of Sammy Davis Jr:

"Wanda and I let Carnival swallow us up, like there was no tomorrow, and there was no yesterday. She was on some crazy, drugged-out trip. But, hey, if that was her bag, then I was cool with it."

(You can click on this image to see how beautifully the DVD was rendered)

At one point, Darren peers through a fence and sees the legendary nutbag Klaus Kinski and two other people whipping Dead Chick mercilessly. She is obviously not a willing participant. Does he help her? No, he takes off. His voice-over explains:

"Man, it was a wild scene! But, like, if they wanted to go that route, it was their bag. Maybe I split because I was just as sick as they were, but couldn't face up to it."

(Darren was a friend of Frank Sinatra - sort of a little mouse in the Rat Pack - can you tell?)

Anyway, Darren gets a lot of nagging in this movie from his girlfriend, a nightclub singer. I can see why she was upset since  Darren didn't really spend much quality time with her, preferring instead the company of a dead woman wearing nothing but underpants and a mink coat - in the height of the Brazilian summer. (Venus in Furs. Get it?)  Of course, if the singer had seen the movie's ending, that point wouldn't have bothered her very much, since she herself was sleeping with a dead man, and therefore had much bigger issues to worry about.

There is also some weird sub-plot with Klaus Kinski as an ancient caliph who tortures his slave girl until she gains the upper hand and tortures him. (Kinski is pictured to the right. Is that guy Turkish looking, or what?). And then they keep coming back to life and torturing each other for generations. Well, as luck would have it, the sub-plot winds in with the main plot. The dead woman on the beach is also the ancient slave girl, and the guy who killed her is Kinski. Then, when the slave girl comes back to life in Rio, she sleeps with Darren, and decides to go back to Istanbul to get her revenge on Kinski so their sadomasochistic cycle can continue ...

 ... except that Kinski and Dead Chick apparently didn't see the ending of the movie, because if Darren is dead, then she's hasn't really come back to life, but merely back to his limbo world. So maybe Dead Chick in Furs is just stopping by in limbo on her way between death and life, presumably because she just had to hear Darren sing "Goodbye, Cruel World" one last time. Whatever.

For the musical score, Franco falls back on the old movie device of having the same musical theme recur in every situation. When Darren walks along the beach in Istanbul, he plays the haunting "Venus in Furs" theme. In Rio, when Barbara McNair sings in the nightclub, she sings ... (have you already guessed) ... Brazil's #1 smash hit at the time, "Venus in Furs". The way it was used may be a cliché, but the score itself is good. I don't just mean better than the usual crap in Franco movies, but really, surprisingly good. On a scale from 1 to 10, with one being Franco's other movies and ten being The Magnificent Seven, this film is a seven or eight! Jazz great Manfred Mann actually co-wrote the score with a member of his ensemble. Somehow, the solid musical score makes the cheesy movie seem cheesier. Imagine if you took the music from Chinatown and put it behind Plan 9 From Outer Space, and you'll get the idea.

The overall effect is ... well, do you know the term "high camp"? This is celestial camp.



  • interview with director Jess Franco
  • audio interview with star Maria Rohm
  • poster and still gallery
  • to my knowledge, this is the first time the original uncut version of the film has been available in a theatrical aspect ratio. The visual quality is not completely consistent (a couple of scenes are filled with streaks, noise, and artifacts. Perhaps this cut was pieced together from multiple sources), but in general, Blue Underground did an outstanding job on this DVD, as you can see if you click the Darren picture above.


  • Maria Rohm shows her breasts several times and her bum in one scene. She also appears topless in B&W stills shot during the filming.
  • Margareth Lee shows her bum in a lesbian sex scene.
  • Several other topless women are seen at parties and in the flashbacks to the ancient kingdom.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Here is an exceptionally good and thoughtful review of this movie. I don't agree with one word, but it's an excellent read and is an effective presentation of the "pro" case.



The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 6.9/10. (That's outrageously high, but is based on only 40 voters.)

Miscellaneous ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is ... who knows ... a C+, I guess. Horrotica genre fans love it, so C+ seems to be right. You could probably call it an E with just as much justification, but it can be really enjoyable in a loopy way. How can you go wrong with Klaus Kinski as a blue-eyed caliph?

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