When discussing films which fall within the genre subgroup of ‘Eurohorror’, there are several filmmaker’s names which stand out from the rest: Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, Jean Rollin and Jess Franco are probably amongst those which spring most readily to mind. However, where directors like Fulci went for the jugular as far as full-on horror was concerned, those like Franco often took a more subtle approach, as his infamous 1970 cult classic She Killed in Ecstasy proves. This obscure slice of 70’s European cinema is a weird, yet intriguing, mix of sleazy violence and soft core porn, set to a funky soundtrack all taking place against the backdrop of a sun-bleached Mediterranean landscape.
Unable to stand the shame after being struck off from the medical register for his unethical research methods, the young and idealistic Dr Johnson (Fred Williams) takes his own life. Distraught at the loss of her beloved husband Johnson’s wife (Soledad Miranda) swears revenge against the members of the committee whom she’s blames for his expulsion and consequent death. Systematically Mrs Johnson seduces, then despatches, each of her husband’s tormentors in a grisly and stylish fashion befitting of their judgemental and elevated position.
Watching She Killed in Ecstasy you could be forgiven for pondering as to whether the film is in fact a horror picture at all. Though there are frequent moments of intense and sustained violence, it has in fact very few of the trappings traditionally associated with the horror genre, particularly those from the 1970s: supernatural or occult overtones, excessive visceral gore and historical, period locations are all significant by their absence. None-the-less She Killed in Ecstasy has a thickly ominous air and just enough crimson blood-letting, to result in a memorably shocking experience.
This film takes delight in focusing, lingeringly, on scenes of an erotic nature: close-ups of mostly female bodies (this is Eurohorror, and a Franco film, after all) writhing nakedly on beds, before short, quick flashes of various sharp instruments bring the action to a bloody climax. Though beautifully shot, these scenes, like the film as a whole, have an underlying feel of seediness, simply serving to emphasise the inescapable grimness of its overall storyline.
Analyse the film more closely however and what comes to the fore – making for a much more interesting result than if Franco had focused merely on the bloodier aspects of the storyline – is its study of Mrs. Johnson’s mental disintegration as the plot unfolds. Initially – when the viewer is introduced to the character and her husband – she is a young, beautiful and carefree woman, besotted with her successful, handsome and sexually enticing spouse. Clearly in love with each other, this merely garners sympathy from the viewer, for the woman who – after Dr Johnson’s suicide – is pushed to extreme lengths in order to take revenge upon the people she sees as responsible for his death. Ultimately – though the work done by the idealistic Dr Johnson, may not be agreeable in the eyes of many – his treatment at the hands of the arrogant and opinionated medical board who blacklist him because of his unorthodox research methods, does seem harsh. As a result – though her actions are clearly shocking – the viewer’s sympathies are always with Mrs Johnson, as she visibly looses all sense of reality in front of your eyes.
Few of the characters – apart from Dr and Mrs Johnson themselves – are visually, or morally, appealing to the viewer. The members of the medical board – portrayed by a group of actors including Franco himself, all well known with the field of European cinema – upon whom the wronged Mrs Johnson wreaks her revenge are clearly older than her, all with a grotesque aura which merely magnifies the mysterious beauty the younger woman. It is Soledad Miranda – Franco’s filmic muse – however who rightly steals the show. The Spanish actress – who would doubtless have gone on to greater things had she not met an untimely death at the age of twenty seven not long after completing She Killed in Ecstasy – commands the screen with an innocent yet alluring presence, as she works her way through the medical board seducing, then killing each of them in fits of unbridled frenzy.
Visually intoxicating – the sun-drenched coastline surrounding Spain’s Alicante where much of the film was shot is peppered with bizarre futuristic architecture ingeniously utilised to heighten the film’s surreal air – She Killed in Ecstasy is a none-the-less bizarre viewing experience, worth seeing if simply for that.
Cleaver Patterson (@Cleaver68 / @ScreenAndGone)