A curious tale of Europe’s most notorious maverick filmmaker and his enthusiasm for Britain’s biggest metal band.
Pretty much everyone who knows me will have heard this story more than once, but it has yet to be shared with the Reprobate readership, and it’s a cute little anecdote, so I’ll ask forgiveness of those people who even now are groaning “not this again…”. At least now I’ll never have to tell it again.
It’s the early 2000s, and cult movie legend Jess Franco is in London to film a few interviews that will be used as DVD extras by Blue Underground, primarily for The Bloody Judge, one of his Witchfinder General inspired tales of corruption and torture. The morning of the interview, I get a call from the then Blue Underground chaps David Gregory and Carl Daft asking if I fancy coming along to lunch with the great man. This is not entirely altrusitic – Christopher Lee is also being interviewed, and by all accounts does not wish to be reunited with the director that he worked with on several occasions. Apparently, Franco’s excursions into hardcore porn have not amused Lee, who has also been rather disparaging about Franco’s appearance – “he only has one tooth!”, he declared indignantly. I suppose teeth are an important thing to Dracula.
So Carl, Jess and myself head to a Leicester square eatery while David busies himself in preparation for the arrival of Lee in the afternoon. Jess is a connoisseur of the finer things in life, though his definition of ‘finer’ is not everyone’s – Carl has a good story of a meal in Spain with Franco where the director enthused about “good meat” while eating some tough as old boots cut of something or other. Time has dulled the memory of both where we went and what we ate, but on this day, Jess is on top form. As we eat, he enthuses about the work of glossy porn auteur Andrew Blake and we generally avoid discussing his own career too much – the man is socialising, not doing an interview.
Leaving the restaurant, we head back to the hotel where the interviews are taking place – this whole ‘avoiding meeting Lee’ thing seems to have been poorly though out, frankly. En route, I pop into WH Smith to buy a copy of Kerrang. Don’t judge me too harshly – at the time, I was running a music website with Mr Movies and Mania, and so had to keep up with the music press. Upon spotting this, Jess is very excited. “Do you like Eye-Ron Maiden?” he asked eagerly. I give my approval, and he continues “ahh, Bruce Dickinson, he is a genius!” I’ll admit to being rather taken aback at this – of all the things I expected Franco to be a fan of, Iron Maiden was not one. He seemed a cool jazz man more than a metalhead, even if he had worked with the band Killer Barbys on a couple of his lesser projects. I ask is he likes Maiden, and he enthusiastically nods, before dropping the bombshell “they will do the soundtrack for my next movie!”.
This is startling stuff, and I tell Jess that this sounds great – and damn it, I would love for that to have happened. But I do wonder if the band actually know that they have been for this job, which at this point would have been Jess Franco’s Perversion. I guessed not, as the soundtrack failed to materialise and there is no mention of this unlikely collaboration anywhere online… except that in double checking this, I find a 2009ish interview with Franco that appears on the website tapatalk.com. And here is it:
Isn’t it great? It was by sheer chance. Back then they were living in the outskirts of London. I got to know them through Derek Parsons, a wonderful film editor I worked with in my Count Dracula. We all got along very well. We talked a lot about music and, finally, they said that if I wanted to use that stuff of them, I was free to do it. Well, to be precise they gave away their songs to [producer] Tomás Lesoeur, initially for a planned remake of The Awful Dr.Orloff.
Ahh, what might have been. A heavy metal take on the Orloff movie sounds a fascinating prospect, and I have no doubt that Franco could have used the Maiden music more effectively than Dario Argento did (though to be fair, it’s hard to imagine anyone using the music more incompetently). When this meeting took place remains a mystery. I feel like I should interview the band just to ask them about it.
Back at the hotel, the careful plans to keep Franco and Lee from meeting inevitably fall apart. Sat chatting with Jess, I feel two hands on my shoulders, and looking around, there is Mr Lee – no stranger to metal himself, of course, in later years, though at this point he is still making woefully misguided rubbish like She’ll Fall For Me with Gary Curtis. If you haven’t heard the song, then strap yourself in – it’s quite the thing.
Ahem. Back to the story.
Against all the odds, Lee seems happy to meet Franco. Perhaps he’s just acting, but it looks like there is a genuine warmth between the two – and why not, they go back years and had worked together as recently as 1988, when Lee was – in theory at least – long past the need to make Eurotrash movies. In the interview, Lee praises Franco as a filmmaker and laments that he didn’t have a mainstream career but instead went into porn and such… but as anyone familiar with Franco’s films could tell you, he would never have fitted into a traditional filmmaking world, he was too much of a maverick.
Interviews done, Franco joins us in the pub – he seems keen to socialise. Lee, of course, heads back home with a hefty chunk of cash in his pocket. As a day out, it’s certainly one to remember, and as time passes, I’m glad to know that my Iron Maiden story wasn’t a hallucination. It’s to my eternal regret that this collaboration never happened, but the memory of discussing the finer points of the band with one of my favourite directors is something to treasure forever.