The name "Lorna" got attached to a special breed of sensual--some might say "sex crazed"--femme fatale during the 1960s. From Russ Meyers' untamable hellcat in the film of the same name to the repeated use of that moniker in the films of Jess Franco, the image of Lorna as a beautiful, moody, and dangerous woman has been cemented in my brain. Lorna is the kind of woman to whom you wouldn't want to give your real name and phone number, but whose charms are utterly irresistible.
The central character in Jess Franco's cinematic tone poem* "Succubus" (also known as "Necronomicon" and approximately forty-two other iterations, as is the case with Eurotrash cinema) is this kind of Lorna distilled to her most provocative and deadly essence.
*Metaphors--I'ze mixin' 'em all up today.
Lorna is a Berlin nightclub performer whose nightly displays of ritualized murder are echoed in her dreams. As Lorna's hazy fantasies begin to have echoes in reality, she comes to believe she may be an instrument in something sinister. Told without much in the way of exposition, and with a majority of the dialogue devoted to wordplay and absurdist monologues, the story is really a support system for elaborate dream sequences and groovy nightclub scenes. It's an exploration of the id of one hypnotic woman and, as one might expect, it's got sex, style, and psychedelia to spare.
Were I a nightclub promoter (and I'm not, because I don't have nearly that appetite for illicit chemicals, underage lovers, and artificial friends), I'd watch Jess Franco's scenes of cabaret performances on a loop until they were seared into my brain and I could call them to mind by rote. Then again, I've been to more than my fair share of nightclubs with kinky cabaret acts, and they're never as captivating as the ones Franco lenses. There's something to be said for voyeurism through the proxy of an on-screen voyeur (to say nothing of the caliber of slinky ladies employed in Franco's films, which out-slinkies the slinkiest nightclub performer I've seen to date) to heighten the thrill of these scenes. The audiences in a Franco nightclub scene gaze on the performance--in this case, a satin-clad dominatrix teases, tortures, and murders a man and a woman strapped to matching Saint Andrews's Crosses--with a mixture of icy matter-of-fact-ness and jaded reverie. There's the sense that these over-the-top displays are just on their way to being outmoded, and while popular, something more intense is going to replace their thrill.
Mysterious people come into Lorna's orbit, claiming to know her and pining for her company. Her confusion about her life's history grows as the line between her dreams and her waking life becomes more blurred. Hell, if you found yourself at a drug-blissed bohemian party with free-flowing J&B and a little person in full evening attire, you'd question your reality, too.
"Succubus" combines the ridiculous with the beautiful and develops its own aesthetic vocabulary that's at once pompous and giddy. This movie LOVES word association, and as Lorna is hypnotized by her therapist, the following exchange occurs:
Lorna: "Attract me."
Lorna: "ATTRACT ME."
Lorna: "I WON'T ANSWER!"
Lorna: "Leave me alone!"
This movie made me want to speak entirely in mysterious couplets and insane non-sequiturs. It's an element of Continental Affect that I can only aspire to. First, one must master the False Eyelashes--the Insane Non-Sequitur is probably the Twenty-Third Chamber of Eurotrash.
I cannot get enough of this dialogue, and I'll assume you can't, either! There's a superb sequence where Lorna exchanges wordplay gobblydegook with Admiral Kapp (played by Howard Vernon) in a bar staffed entirely by nude men.
Lorna: "The Inferno."
Kapp: "The Unconcious?"
Lorna: "Marquis de Sade."
As you might've surmised by now, "Succubus" is an exercise in style--groovy mother-hatin' STYLE, baby--over any kind of tangible narrative substance. The film is aesthetically uber-pleasing, with an artist's eye for detail. The colors of Lorna's gowns are carefully chosen, from the green minidress that complements her fiery hair to her red decollete-bearing robe to the series of white pieces she wears during her dreams. And, really, who can express surprise at this, considering current Chanel creative director-slash-Japanese plastic toy subject-slash "Grand Theft Auto IV" DJ Karl Lagerfeld** created Lorna's costumes? No--really; check the credits.
**I could go on SUCH a tangent here about how I think Karl Lagerfeld should team up with Grace Jones and Udo Kier to create a legion of superfabulous superevil, but I'll spare you.
Fellow Franco fans will flog me with a wet noodle if I didn't note the jazzy soundtrack cleverly arranged around Baroque themes, which echoes the credit sequence that plays over Old Master paintings. I can't quite untangle the film's seeming allusions to this period of art, as its look and feel is very contemporary with the time of its filming. This is just another one of those lovely mysteries in the rich and bizarre vocabulary of Jess Franco!
It would be easy for the actors to be overwhelmed with such a visuals-forward approach to filmmaking, but Janine Reynaud makes the enigmatic Lorna a compelling character. Physically, Reynaud reminds me of Dyanne Thorne, with her atypically attractive features. While she has some scenes of overbearing and even mad-eyed authority, she brings a vulnerability to her depiction of the confused, eroticized woman who is alternately in peril and putting others in peril. It's a tricky feat, but Reynaud balances her villainous moments with ones of sensuality and melancholy.
"Succubus" is another gem from Franco's most lyrical period in filmmaking. It's an artifact of its time, with its unusual structure, bold use of visuals, and playfully absurd moments. There's a real sense of exploration of the medium that is a pleasure to watch. Not all experiments are successful, but there's an ethereal magic going on here that should be appreciated by fans of erotic and unusual cinema.