Eurotika, Part 1

I have written, already, about how severing my relationship to Letterboxd and abandoning logging the movies I’m watching has helped to change my relationship with film for the best. It has relaxed it, to some capacity. On a whim, I thought it would be fun to revisit the 12 part Eurotika series that the BBC ran in 1999, dedicated, as the title would indicate, to Eurotrash. The series was produced before a lot of eurotrash titles had been “rediscovered” (and before there were HD transfers of many of these titles), so most of the clips are just shit video transfers from Salvation Video. There’s an odd charm to this video quality, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t help highlight the otherworld quality that many of these titles carry.

I’ve seen them all 12 episodes before, but it’s been, I imagine, over 10 years. Because I feel like I’ve seen everything “obvious” and have spent too much time searching for lost titles that no one is talking about, this little project is an attempt to help try to recapture what it is that I fell in love with.

As such, I’ve taken it upon myself to rewatch the series and then watch 2 films related to each episode: one that I’ve seen before, and one that I haven’t. I thought it’d be nice to explore this experience as a series of blog posts as well, each post covering 3 episodes and 6 films. I’m in no rush to get through this, but I’ve gone through the first 3 episodes (& six related films), so figured I’d start writing down some thoughts.

Episode 1 – Vampires and Virgins: The Films of Jean Rollin

The last time I watched a Rollin film was in 2016 when I watched The Escapees in 2016, and before that it was when I watched Two Orphan Vampires in 2015, so needless to say it’s been a while since I’ve had a positive experience — both the aforementioned films are Rollin to the core, but felt lackluster and missing the sort of dreamy pulp oneiricism that drew me to Rollin in the first place. The Eurotika episode highlights a lot of the moments from what used to be the most well known Rollin films (aka the vampire films of the 60s & 70s), and I found myself yearning to revisit this timeline of Rollin’s career.

Rewatch: The Nude Vampire (1970)
New to me: Sidewalks of Bangkok (1984)

Rewatching The Nude Vampire was extremely satisfying and immediately rekindled the fascination I encountered with these sorts of films when I first encountered them — they followed their own logic despite being very much under the influence of pulp & genre trops, but are more interested in dreamy oneiricism and poetry that inherently following the genre’s by-laws. Rollin is so idiosyncratic in his tastes, but he films his obsessions with such a pure sense of joy that it carries well.

After being underwhelmed by the last few post-1980 films of Rollin’s that I’d seen, I was worried that Sidewalks of Bangkok would kill the spell the I had fallen under during La Vampire Nue (I watched these two back-to-back in a rare occurence of being willing to sit for 3 hours), but I was blissfully surprised that I found as much pleasure in Sidewalks of Bangkok. In a way it reminded me of Rollin doing a take on a Robbe-Grillet film (and of course, Robbe-Grillet’s orientlist nods are also their own takes on pulp tropes), but with more love for his protagonists as individuals (even if at times they are ciphers for ideas rather than “developed” “humans”). I felt high on the first two films I watched for this project and looked forward to what was to come.

Episode 2 – The Diabolical Mr. Franco: The Films of Jess Franco
I have been a long time fan of Franco, falling under his spell at the dawn of the DVD age and spending a lot of time with VHS and DVDR bootlegs in the pre-torrent days of video trading. Even the films that didn’t floor me always had something going for them that I appreciated, and I was always constantly amused by each new film I watched. This episode was a nice reminder of the verisimilitude that Franco displays within his stock obsessions, and of the pure joy Uncle Jess himself brings to the table. I’ve seen something like 75 of Franco’s films (I’ve honestly never been able to actually hone in on the actual number lmao), and it probably would have suited me better to rewatch something I hadn’t seen in years and years, but instead I made other choices.

Rewatch: Eugenie (1980)
New to me: Dr. Wong’s Virtual Hell (1999)

My choice for rewatch was the 1980 version of Eugenie with Katja Biernart, because in the last year or so a slightly better looking copy has surfaced and when I first watched the film I found it a new fave and remember explicitly commenting that being able to see a cleaned up copy would be revelatory. Unfortunately, I found myself squarely not in the right headspace to enjoy Franco’s work, which has been a problem I’ve encountered quite a bit over the last few years when I’ve tried to dive back into his work. I don’t necessarily think that I’m “over” Franco at this point in my life, but rather I just spend too much time cultivating energy when to really sink into a Franco film one must be able to kind of fall into the fever dreams that he paints on screen, being willing to accept a 20 minute scene of Lina Romay, er, excuse me, Candy Coster, as “human dog” moaning while she rubs her genitals. I have written a lot about how certain experimental film requires you to give yourself over to the space the film is projecting, and how the films do not fully work if you’re unwilling to meet the film in its own space, and it’s absolutely the same for Franco.

I also wanted to watch a late-period Franco film as my “new” film, as in the past the biggest stumbling block I’ve had with late-90s/00/10s Franco has been the video quality, but somehow over the last few years I’ve finally gotten past that aesthetic roadblock and have no problems with the medium. The impression I got of Dr. Wong’s was that it’d be a sort of weird digital fever dream, and I thought it would be interesting in a completely different sort of way from what I’m used to. To a certain extent, I was right, but unfortunately I was still not in the right space to give myself over to the film , and at nearly 100 minutes runtime, this felt even MORE endless. When I managed to pay attention there were definitely some interesting things that Uncle Jess was managing to pull off with the medium, and in all honesty I bet if I managed to find myself in the right headspace to watch the film I’d actually enjoy it quite a bit (despite being, perhaps, problematique), but this past week was not the right time for it.

So a bit of a bummer that my love of Franco was not fully resparked with the films I chose, but as I mentioned above, I’m not convinced that this means I’m fully “over” Franco–like any old friend, when the time is right you can always “come home” to them.

Episode 3 – Blood and Black Lace: A Short History of the Italian Horror Film
This episode arguably covers a lot more ground (filmmaker-wise) than the first two episodes, as it follows Italian horror from Bava on, and it’s too wide of a berth to really nail with just two films. I was sorely tempted to use this an an opportunity to revisit one of Polselli’s films, but as I have lowkey aspiriations of revisiting his work as a whole I decided I’d hold off on that for now. This episode was also a nice reminder of the wide-berth of purely Italian directors that I don’t think enough about too!
Rewatch: Blood and Black Lace (Mario Bava, 1964)
New to me: The Washing Machine (Ruggero Deodata, 1993)
I decided my rewatch would be Bava’s Blood and Black Lace since it is where the episode gets its name, and to be honest I’ve never been that big of a fan of Bava (despite knowing this, I have done my due dilligence as a fucking eurotrash nerd by watching literally all of his horror films–and I much prefer his peplum!). I can admire some of the formal elegance of Bava’s cinematography, and there’s a sort of perversity hidden behind the mores of the (end of the) early-60s that starts to be interesting, but I definitely spaced out on this despite the fact that I remembered almost nothing from my first watch. A lot of these euro-horror films that become well known often take place inside truly fascinating environments (fashion house, ballet school, etc) that they hardly make use of, which I always find unfortunate–it always makes the decisions of location feel like window-dressing rather than anything interesting. I have little to say of merit here because Bava’s horror work is just very much not my cup of poison.

For the second film I went with the early-90s post-giallo sleaze “epic” The Washing Machine, a somewhat arbitrary decision as a clip is briefly shown on screen in the second half of the episode as an example of Italohorror in the 90s, but it’s one I’d been curious about for a while so I took it as a sign. This was slightly more interesting to me, but when I watched the first half I was a bit distracted so the brief elements of plot went over my head. I took a few days off before finishing it, and had the second half on while I was doing some computer work, and oddly enough this made me much more receptive to it and enjoy it a bit more. There are other films that to me are stronger examples of perverse and bizarre 90s Italohorror, but this was fun enough.

More to come!