Midway through She Killed in Ecstasy (1970), a naked lesbian love scene is interrupted when a blonde wig-wearing Soledad Miranda (Vampyros Lesbos) grabs a zebra-striped blow-up pillow and uses it to fatally smother her partner. The pillow is fully inflated and looks like it should be floating in a pool somewhere. The idea that a woman could be smothered with such a thing is dubious, and director Jess Franco doesn’t convince us in the, er, execution. But it quickly becomes clear why the pillow/flotation-device is the weapon of choice: through the black stripes on the plastic he can zoom into the face of the victim struggling for air. The pillow matches the 70’s pop art decor of everything else in She Killed in Ecstasy, and it serves as another inspiration for Franco’s improvisational, shoestring method. If there was ever an opportunity for Franco to shoot through, under, or around something, he’d do it with enthusiasm. Never mind that shots are frequently out of focus, or that the drifting camera sometimes seems a little uncertain of where to go next. Those are byproducts of his approach, more concerned with style than coherence. He was also well aware that his films were exploitation, not art, and the audience would want extreme sex and violence; he might as well have fun with it, and give them something to remember. The opening shots of the film are shelves and shelves of fetuses in jars, as though we’ve wandered into the Mütter Museum, matched, with perfect incongruity, to a soundtrack of groovy lounge music by Manfred Hübler and Siegfried Schwab (Vampyros Lesbos). These things don’t go together, and neither do the words “She Killed in Ecstasy.” Later, Fred Williams (Count Dracula) will anguish at the sight of his destroyed laboratory, plunging into a suicidal depression, and the soundtrack is undeterred; the dance party must go on. So yes, she kills in ecstasy – and vengeful rage – but she does it in style.
Severin Films has restored the rare, uncut version of She Killed in Ecstasy along with its companion film, Vampyros Lesbos, and both are visually ravishing in high definition. Although the lesser of the two films, She Killed has received a limited edition deluxe treatment including an interview with the late Franco and a handful of Franco and Miranda experts, along with a soundtrack CD by Hübler and Schwab (spanning the films Vampyros Lesbos, She Killed in Ecstasy, and The Devil Came from Akasava). Spanish actress Soledad Miranda, still dubbed in German for another German production, is the real raison d’être. She’s given more to do here, playing the grieving wife of Williams’ Dr. Johnson, who kills himself after being disbarred for his experiments with fetuses, “alter[ing] the human organism with the aid of hormones.” Keeping her husband’s corpse tucked in bed, Miranda sets out to seduce and murder members of the Medical Council, including a doctor played by Franco. She not only slits the throat of her first victim (Howard Vernon, The Diabolical Dr. Z), but castrates him. Those next on her hit list speculate that Dr. Johnson is committing the crimes, knowing nothing of his wife, and leaving themselves easy prey for her sexual advances. And because this is a 70’s exploitation film, Franco is sure to give the sexual pairings some variety: one man prefers to be dominated; one of Miranda’s victims is another woman; Franco is simply tied to a chair and tortured to death. If this weren’t enough, Mrs. Johnson even makes love to her husband’s corpse.
It’s all Soledad Miranda’s show really, and the actress, hungry for meatier roles after a 60’s career of simplistic Spanish films produced under the regime of that other Franco, gives it her all. She’s downright feral during the murders, her widescreen-ready eyes going manic; and when she’s stalking her prey or mulling over her schemes, she strides across Spanish beaches in a black dress and a cape of purple crochet. She opens her lips, revealing a mouthful of cigarette smoke. She keeps a knife in her garter. She calls her victims “pigs.” And when her revenge plot has been concluded, she buckles her husband’s corpse into a passenger seat and drives off a cliff – “We will be reunited in death,” she proclaims. Tragically, reality would echo fiction: in August of 1970 Miranda would be fatally injured in a car accident with her husband at the wheel. Wrapping up work on Franco’s The Devil Came from Akasava, she was on her way to meet with the director to sign a contract for more films. Franco was devastated by her death, and in many ways her absence would haunt his films in the years to come. With Severin’s new Blu-Rays of Vampyros Lesbos and She Killed in Ecstasy, it’s easier than ever to appreciate her charisma, talent, and unflagging commitment to Franco’s pop art, B-movie fever dreams.