“She Killed In Ecstasy” (1970)
Exploitation films by common definition are not meant to be high art or sterling looks into the human spirit, but in the hands of Jesus (or Jess if you prefer) Franco, that generalisation tends to come apart. Franco has an eye for turning trash into treasure and prurience into precious. With his luminous muse Soledad Miranda in tow, “She Killed In Ecstasy” really has huge reason to be a widely-adored cult favourite.
The Johnsons have it all. Money, good health, amazing 70’s fashion sense and fiery passionate love on their shag pile rug on a regular basis. Mr. Johnson is a successful doctor who is brilliant at what he does (growing human embryos from animal cells, completely normal practice!), however there are vengeful rivals out there who wish to put him out of commission- permanently. When Mr. Johson is disgraced and discredited, he takes his own life, but Mrs. Johnson (Miranda) is determined to make those responsible for her beloved husbands’ death pay and with interest, in some cases minus her clothes.
The sexy/crazy ‘black widow’ trope has been duplicated again and again in the history of cinema, some more credible than others. Such a basic plot line is perfect exploitation fodder, but Franco donates a fresh energy to a tired formula, with the help from the exquisite and enigmatic Miranda. Miranda could have overacted her heart out in this role, but here, rather than going into histrionics, she radiates an almost volcanic intensity combined with a massive sense of deep-rooted pathos. She isn’t just some one-note loon- she was a woman in love and her love was taken from her so cruelly.
In her eyes, the retribution must fit the crime. While she does bare her divine body several times, you get the feeling it’s not due to Franco pandering to the hot-blooded masculine sense of entitlement. She is doing it as a means to an end- to avenge the loss of her life and subsequently her sanity. What adds more to the tragedy of Mrs. Johnson is the fact that shortly after this film was completed, Ms. Miranda died in a terrible car accident- in an essence, this movie was her swan song, but it also became a part of an immortal legacy. While the other performances in the movie are certainly worth their salt, there is no denying this was Mirandas’ show. She is the core of the story and the reason why we care.
Visually, this shows Franco in his prime- mind-bending psychedelic colours and sensuously serpentine shadows saturate each frame- it feels like being hypnotised by a siren’s song. It oozes danger but also sensuality and mystery that you cannot deny even if you wanted to. The use of sound and music in the movie, as with many other of Franco’s works, has a sinister insectile quality that burrows into your brain and digs it’s delicate pincers in and does not let go. It’s really a unique combination for the senses.
This movie may seem like an unusual choice for a Halloween movie (though for me, any time of the year is great for Franco), but let us look at it from this perspective- what would you do if you lost somebody you love to a terrible fate? How far would you go? How would you live with yourself if you committed the very crime that was committed against you? Would you retain your sanity or would you begin to slip? “She Killed In Ecstasy” does not provide the answers to these questions, only a point of view which proves that there is nothing more destructive than what humans do to themselves as well as each other.
Review written by Bea Harper