Cult Filmmaker Jess Franco Dies at 82

Spanish helmer best known for 'Necronomicon,' 'Count Dracula'

Jess Franco, the prolific Spanish filmmaker who became renowned for his low-budget cult films, died in Malaga, Spain, of heart complications. He was 82.

Franco’s feature pic debut came in 1959 with “We Are 18 Years Old,” but the helmer found more mainstream success with 1962’s “The Awful Dr. Orlof,” which received wide distribution Stateside and in Blighty. He is best known for his contributions to the cinema fantastique genre, which veered away from the mainstream and employed supernatural phenomena in otherwise realistic narratives. Notable credits include “Necronomicon,” (1967), “Count Dracula” (1969), “Vampyros Lesbos” (1970), “Dracula: Prisoner of Frankenstein” (1971), and “Oasis of the Zombies” (1983).

The auteur steered the 1960s Spanish horror boom, and even in the face of fascist censorship, placed sex, blood and gore at the front and center of his motion pics.

Born Jesus Franco on May 12, 1930, in Madrid, Spain, the would-be cineaste got his start composing music at age six and followed that passion to the Real Conservatorio de Madrid, where he studied piano and harmony. Franco penned work as an easy-read novelist before entering the Instituto de Investigaciones y Experiencias Cinematograicas and enrolling at the I.D.H.E.C. (U. of Sorbonne), where he studied helming techniques.

Back in Spain, Franco began composing and worked at Agata Films S.A. as a production manager and scribe. And when the censorship curtain on the home front was raised in the ’70s, Franco’s foray into bizarre filmmaking blossomed. Additional credits include “Succubus” (1968), which was nommed for the Festival of Berlin, and the Christopher Lee-starrer “Count Dracula” (1969). Franco also worked frequently with thesp Soledad Miranda and wife Lina Romay.

Auteur’s career spanned nearly six decades, and Franco snagged an honorary Goya award in 2009. Franco’s final work, “Al Pereira vs The Alligator Women,” opened last month in Spain.

Franco was predeceased last year by Romay.

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