Thursday, June 25, 2009

Happy Birthday Lina Romay

I always know that my birthday is coming up by remembering one of my favorite starlets special day. Several years ago I penned a little tribute and I thought it would be worth sharing here on my blog as well. I'm actually quite amazed that with my forty first birthday reminder, I've been a fan of hers for over two decades! I may get old, and Lina will age as well, but she will always have a legacy on film for me to enjoy again and again. Pants still optional!

Lina Romay is one of my favorite faces (and other things) in all of cinema...often overlooked, she is a key element in my enjoyment of the films of Jess Franco. She can shift from comedic spy to victimized object of affection and right back to a female vampire with ease and has proven that she can truly handle ANYTHING that Jess Franco could conjure up-and that man has a very bizarre imagination. Thanks for all the fun Lina, and thanks for the many more times I'll be seeing all of you.

“I love the cinema, as an actress, an editor, as a technician and a spectator…It’s said I am an exhibitionist. Every actor is one, I gladly accept that. I’m not a hypocrite."

...Lina Romay (Madrid, April 1996 as quoted in "The Lina Romay File: The Intimate Confessions of an Exhibitionist" - 1-Shot Publications)

Lina Romay is one of the true queens of cult and trash cinema. Period.
Her filmography is staggeringly large-but being prolific is not an instant qualifier towards making an actress great, it is a combination of performances and passion that does that. And this filmography lacks neither of the above factors. Lina’s characters leap over genre and style with an ease that sometimes is lost amidst the staggering array of wild plots and naughty bits that populate the films she appears in. Sure, she may have played a lot of roles where getting naked and surviving some hellish South American prison injustice saves the day… yet her vigorous enthusiasm for both making and enjoying trashy art sets her apart from the pack of “tits out for the boys” women parading around as Scream Queens. Hardly a diva though she has every right to be, Lina Romay is perhaps the most unique actress of the cult cinema-and she is still making movies to this day! Best known for her decades of work and private life with the infamous Jess Franco her contributions are sometimes overshadowed by the director’s outlandish achievements. Not only an actress, she is both a companion and muse to Franco. She does triple and quadruple duty on his films as a technician, a writer, an editor and a performer willing to do everything the script calls for. And she always performs to the nth degree... While Franco’s filmography is long and his camera has captured many a beautiful woman, he may not have become the history making auteur he is today without having gone to the theatre one random night in his life… And you have to love Jess Franco since it was his sense of humor that gave a young Catalan girl the name Lina Romay, scooping it from the famous Spanish songstress who had a starring role in “Senor Droopy” playing opposite the famous MGM Dog. Since they began working together the rechristened Lina Romay continues to bring a bold sense of raw energy to any film in which she appears-be it softcore spy comedy, deranged horror film, naughty women in prison epic or hardcore porn about a talking asshole. And we love her for it. And I’ve yet to see anyone going Droopy on her watch.
Born Rosa Maria Almirall in Barcelona Spain during the summer of 1954, the girl was anything but average, falling prey to a severe wanderlust early in life. She lived all around Europe on her own and wanted only to become an actress--and while working in a small theater she was approached by Jess Franco with an offer to appear in his newest film. I can only smile at the obvious reasons why Franco wanted her of course. The film, which was titled Relax Baby, would never be released unfortunately. Still, the young Lina appeared in various small roles in a fast crafted run of films all made in about one year! These include The Perverse Countess (a fantastically dirty version of The Most Dangerous Game), The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein (in the Spanish version only as Esmeralda), The Other Side Of The Mirror and Jess’ bizarre “Maciste” films. During this boom Lina was married to Franco collaborator Ramon Ardid, though it was becoming obvious that Franco was fond of the young Lina and her talents… and wanted to see more of them.
While it has been said that Franco was still reeling from the death of his previous starlet--Soledad Miranda who died far too young--he certainly saw a similar dark beauty in Lina. It became obvious the two were quite different as time passed however. Franco chose to use her for the lead role in what is the most recognized film in her career, La Comtesse Noire (The Female Vampire, Erotikill, The Bare Breasted Countess-1973). Playing the mute Countess Irina, she uses facial expressions and a nearly hardcore sexual performance to put one of the sexiest vampires ever committed to sinful celluloid into the horror film canon. The tale is tragic with an obsessive love story thrown atop a very bloody and surreal vision of vampirism and Lina plays across from the well seasoned Jack Taylor with ease. The Female Vampire is widely available worldwide in a variety of edits and remains the cornerstone for a union that would continue between the actress and filmmaker. After a few personal adjustments were made the pair became an inseparable unit of filmmaking spectacle.
As Franco’s visions became more bizarre and outrageous in the 70’s, Lina would act them out with a lusty verve. From the dark and personal bondage horror plays of Exorcism to the sexualized screams of Lorna The Exorcist and on back to the cute and funny moments of Celestine-An All Around Maid, each of her characters were played with a life beyond the usual flat and dull porno flesh puppets of similar grindhouse non-epics. The beautiful dark haired girl (whom Franco seemed to relish stripping the clothing from for his audiences delight) became these oddballs and victims completely and abandoned any of her inhibitions to do so. And that hasn’t changed in recent films such as Red Silk and Lust For Frankenstein amazingly enough.
While she did appear in several other directors’ films, including Spanish horror mavens such as Jorge Grau and Carlos Aured, it is obvious that she is best in portraying the flesh of Franco’s fantastic imagination. Nuns, prisoners, cabaret singers, family pets, virgins, vampires and spies were just the start…no profession or carnal practice was held back. As with many European exports at the time, there would be lots of strange diversions and alternate paths for these movies-multiple versions for various countries were created. Lina herself embraced the hardcore porn that was a major part of the Franco filmography-going back to shoot insert sequences and doing most of her own “stunt” work with lusty pleasure. No, she isn’t a diva at all…it’s only a movie in her mind and she obviously loves the chance to play all of the parts out to her best capacity. As the 1970s creeped to an end and the 1980’s grabbed hold the theatrical releasing markets that Franco sold too became very different. The artist and his muse would have to work harder to find funding for their visions, ushering in a time of misfires and strange successes. In the success column Eugenie-Historia De Una Perversion comes to mind first, in which Lina plays the family dog under her 80’s pseudonym of Candy Coster. Lina may have been a bit older than the lead girl Katja Bienert –who was only 13 years old-but Candy Coster is fantastic running about barking mad in a sparkled wig. As always, she is the most memorable part of the film.
Though artful and sleazy as these films were, the buzz was on for alternate markets that were flourishing more than the cinema scene…porn and video. Little cassettes to be enjoyed in private without shame or pants were sweeping theaters closed and sealing the fate of many sticky floored venues.
With a mind and work ethic like Franco’s in the lead of this cottage barmy movie making army Lina became more interested in the technical aspects of film production and used what she had learned over the dozens of rushed productions with her favorite director. Franco loves his pseudonyms-many being winks to jazz greats (Franco is quite accomplished as a musician himself)-and Lina followed suit. Branching out into some directorial work of her own, she made the infamously strange hardcore excursions of the blond wigged and sexually voracious Lulu Laverne. While they are “simply” porn flicks, a striking sense of humor that certainly comes from the influence of Franco permeates each entry so much that they practically ARE Franco films. Intimate Confessions of An Exhibitionist pops the fourth wall screen hymen with Lina’s sly winks… and any lover of strange sinema should see El Ojete de Lulu (translated as Lulu’s Talking Asshole in most English filmographies). This is a very funny film that has Lina’s ass do a lot of talking, smoking (???) and even going head to uh…mouth(?) with an Academy Award Oscar statuette in what surely is a cry against corporate movies. Nah, it’s just a wise-assed joke and a funny one at that. No matter what the projects financial bounds may have been Lina knew to have fun, and that sense of adventure shoots as far as the many gushers of semen on screen.
It wasn’t all tits and roses though… as several projects fizzled out and limited releases of movies like 1990’s Downtown Heat slowed down the Franco factory until a wild experiment in funding brought about Tender Flesh. The Franco beast was re-awakened and Lina was ready for action. Since a group of Franco fans and the One Shot Productions group helped revitalize the pair, they have shot a wide variety of films including Red Silk, Broken Dolls, Lust For Frankenstein, Dr. Wong’s Virtual Hell and the recently released Snakewoman, which also features Antonio Mayans. Truly an amazing feat, the director and his muse have risen up yet again. While these new films evoke strong reactions, I have enjoyed them all. Be sure to look for Lina’s face TAPED to a large fake spider in the bizarre dirty comedy Mari Cookie and the Killer Tarantula! Sexy and wild cinema done right, Lina Romay is an actress who defines those very descriptors. She was, is and always will remain one very sexy and sensual woman who knows how to thrill those in thrall of the Bare Breasted Countess.
Actually experiencing these films is required to give you the sensation of seeing Lina in action…I offer these suggestions for appreciating this unique actress. In this digitized DVD age the back catalog of Jess Franco has been released worldwide making the quest much easier, though intrepid video hunters can find hundreds of hours of fun that still smacks of the forbidden.
So go grab Female Vampire, Lorna The Exorcist, Exorcism, Celestine-An All Around Maid, Barbed Wire Dolls, Rolls Royce Baby, Ilsa The Wicked Warden, El Ojete de Lulu and Jack The Ripper today…and get better acquainted with one of the sexiest women the cinema has ever known. Call her Lulu, call her Candy or even Rosa…the girl who wanted to be an actress if you must, but cult cinemaniacs will always remember Lina Romay with a smile on their face and a tingling in their pants. I certainly will.
The Female Vampire vs. Terry Sharp! Amazing Art from Adrian Salmon!
Lina Romay: A Suggested Viewing Starter List
The Perverse Countess
Rolls Royce Baby
Female Vampire
Ilsa, The Wicked Warden
Lorna The Exorcist
Celestine, An All Around Maid
El Ojete de Lulu
Two Female Spies With Flowered Panties

A tribute to Lina with music by Baby Horror!


Neil D Vokes said...

great post,pally- only one criticism...Droopy was a MGM dog-not Disney...;o)

David A. Zuzelo said...

Thanks sifu, and the post is now fixed! Shows you what I know about musical starlets and animated characters ;)

Douglas A. Waltz said...

Mister Z. Thnaks for the Lina tribute. Since she and I have the same birthday she is near and dear to my heart. I think I might have to post a link to this for people over at my site. Very well done.

David A. Zuzelo said...

Thanks Doug, I know we are both big fans of the lady :) I think I need a Lina Tribute week!