The films of Jess Franco could be described as eccentric on any number of levels. There’s the genre bending, the ubiquitous, lengthy nightclub scenes and obsessive recycling of character’s names. In purely cinematic terms there’s the infamous crash zooms, the notorious probing of the pubis and panning of coastal vistas, the relaxed approach to such fine details as focus. Of course one man’s eccentric is another man’s crazy, and few films are as likely to be labelled ‘crazy’ as El sexo esta loco (1980) or, um, Sex is Crazy.

To try to present the plot would be to misrepresent the film because it doesn’t really have one, at least not a single, overarching plot. Instead we have a series of vignettes in which Franco’s troupe adopt different roles and inhabit different spaces, as the film segues from science fiction to romantic comedy, (sort of) satanism and back. We also get a raft of tricks and techniques emphasising the artifice of it all: Characters break the fourth wall, addressing the audience directly. The director himself appears on screen, coaching and cajoling his charges, feeding them lines. It’s all very post-modern, but is it sexy?

“It’s in the screenplay. That’s her line.”

Produced by Triton films and shot primarily in Benidorm, Sex is Crazy apparently had some success in Spanish porn theatres in the early eighties, which really rather boggles my mind. It does contain a lot of sex and nudity but the former is clearly played for laughs and any charge the viewer might have got from the latter is undermined by the absurdist tone of it all. Indeed, the first clear shot we get of the naked Romay is when she is sat on the toilet, being teased by her companion as to what her fans would think if they could see her in such a pose. It begs the question, if eroticism was not the objective, what exactly was Franco aiming for here?

One is tempted to proffer high-minded explanations, to cite moments in which one scene is shown to have been dreamt by a character in the next, or watched on video by characters in the next. One is tempted to reference Brunel, Godard and Lynch, all of whom have employed similar techniques at one time or other. I imagine that Franco would scoff at such talk though, albeit he greatly admired at least the first two. It seems more likely that he was indulging his anarchic tendencies and letting his imagination run wild, rather than making some profound statement on the nature of the medium, the relationship between the artist and the audience.

If we accept that Franco’s intent was probably not to arouse or make some grand artistic statement, we’re left to evaluate the film as a comedy – an often inventive, at times bewildering sex comedy. It certainly makes more sense to me from that perspective, which is not to say I found it particularly funny. Clearly the viewer’s mileage will vary though, with comedy accents, with group marriages, with a bound woman being menaced with a knife . . . and fork.

“Plans? What plans?”

It’s easy to forget how diverse Franco’s filmography is, given the attention afforded the ‘horrotica’ by fans and critics alike. Actually he directed spy films, crime capers and even musicals, in addition to the more notorious fare with which we’re all familiar. El sexo esta loco is not a film I would point a novice to and it’s not a film I would point a sceptic to. It will be of some interest to fans of the writer / director though, partly because it’s so different and partly because he seems to have been so engaged. It certainly looks to have been a creative rather than a commercial endeavour, and that in itself makes it worth the attention of Francophiles. How far it succeeds in those terms may be open to debate.

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Bibliography:

Obsession – the Films of Jess Franco, Balbo, Blumenstock and Kessler (Haufen & Trebbin, 1993)

Bizarre Sinema!, by Carlos Aguilar (Glittering Images, 1999)

The Films of Jess Franco, by Lazaro-Reboll, Olney et al. (Wayne State University Press, 2018)

Flowers of Perversion, Stephen Thrower (Strange Attractor Press, 2018