Jesus "Jess" Franco, the Spanish maverick who wrote, photographed and directed more than 200 films in a career spanning 60 years, has died aged 82. Keeping active in his ninth decade, he was still directing, most recently shooting the typically gonzo Al Pereira Vs. The Alligator Women.
Franco worked tirelessly in the 1950s as a writer, assistant director, director, producer, and even composer - he was a passionate musician all his life - but arguably "arrived" in 1962 with The Awful Dr. Orloff. Concerned with the potential reaction of the Spanish censors, he prepared two versions of the flesh-grafting mad-scientist classic: one with nudity and one without. It was a policy he'd continue throughout his career, although "soft" and "hard" would take on different connotations later.
He's perhaps best known in the UK for his several collaborations with Christopher Lee: a curious Count Dracula (1969) that Lee starred in away from Hammer; The Bloody Judge (1969), where Lee plays the Restoration sadist Judge Jeffreys; and the final two of Lee's five films as Fu Manchu (The Blood Of Fu Manchu and The Castle Of Fu Manchu in 1968 and '69).
He also made the infamous Venus In Furs (1969) with the equally infamous Klaus Kinski, and the bonkers Vampyros Lesbos (1971), which had a resurgance in popularity in the Stereolab-loving 1990s, when its space-pop soundtrack suddenly hit the top ten of the UK alternative chart. Three of his films (Women Behind Bars, Devil Hunter and Bloody Moon) made the UK's list of banned "video nasties" in the 1980s. A vast number of his films, erotic and otherwise, were made with his muse Lina Romay, whom he first met in 1971 and married in 2008. She died early last year.
You'll notice that four of the aforementioned films were made in 1969 alone. That was how Franco rolled, and continued to roll even in the face of critical drubbing and audience indifference. His detractors often called him a pornographer, and it was difficult to argue when he turned to directing actual pornography. The closest he ever came to "reputable" was probably shooting second unit for Orson Welles on Chimes At Midnight (1966).
Neverthless, he enjoyed a cult following and something of a critical renaissance in recent years, and his vast body of work means his legacy is assured. "He ate, slept and breathed moviemaking [and] lived to point his lens at anything that caught his eye," said Fangoria editor and Franco scholar Chris Alexander. "He was too arty for the horror crowd, and too macabre and lowbrow for the art crowd. He existed in a world and a class of his own."