Jess Franco, Exploitation Cinema Icon, Dies At 82

Jesus “Jess” Franco, the iconic director of erotic thrillers, has died from undisclosed causes, according to Deadline. He was 82.

Franco reportedly died in Malaga, Spain, on Tuesday. His death was announced by friend and collaborator Kike Mesa via Facebook. Mesa directed the 2007 film Jess Franco: Way of Life.

Deadline noted that Franco had suffered a stroke earlier today, though it has not been confirmed as his official cause of death.

Franco directed his first feature film at age 29. Called We Are 18 Years Old, the 1959 film was a precursor to the types of gratuitous sex that he became known for in films, such as Vampyros Lesbos, during the 1970s and 1980s.

Throughout his career, Franco would produce a number of soft-core exploitation films and giallo thrillers.

Some of his standouts included She Killed In Ecstasy, Jack the Ripper (with Klaus Kinski), and three collaborations with Christopher Lee (The Blood Of Fu Manchu, The Bloody Judge, and Count Dracula).

In all, Franco would direct 199 titles, about 180 of which were full-length features, a prolific streak that makes Nicolas Cage or James Patterson look lazy.

Perhaps his best known effort was The Awful Dr. Orlof, a grotesque thriller about a crazed prison doctor, who uses the skin of young women to try and repair his daughter’s burned face.

As Adrian Mack of notes, Franco was often maligned by critics for depicting perverse sex and violence in many of his films.

Chicago Reader critic Jonathan Rosenbaum is just one of many, who took aim at Franco during his career, calling him “generally untalented” and adding that he was “the Spanish Ed Wood, albeit without Wood’s gift for humorously inane dialogue.”

(Wood, as most of you probably know, gave us Plan 9 from Outer Space.)

Mack (correctly) writes that Franco “was quite capable of meeting the standards of conventional filmmaking” as depicted in much of his atmospheric horror output during the 1960s, but much of his work settled into a jazzy and undisciplined style.

Fans often critiqued his 1970s and 1980s output as suffering “from sloppy camerawork, haphazard editing, or bizarre narrative choices,” Mack noted, defending Franco for “thinning the membrane between the artist and his art,” and calling his style “uncompromising.”

His last film, Al Pereira vs. The Alligator Women, opened in his native Spain last month.

Have you been introduced to the films of Jess Franco? Which of his prolific output do you think holds up? Here’s a trailer of Franco’s Venus in Furs (NSFW) for the uninitiated.