Sunday, October 30, 2016

Spermula (1976)

You're probably thinking the same thing I once thought-"Spermula? Really?!", and to answer your question, no actually, this movie isn't a porn parody of Dracula. Spermula is just a futuristic science fiction-y word, and any relation to the name Dracula is presumably coincidental. I frankly have no idea where the title comes from or how it came about. It's not even a tacked on American title-It's the original French one! Perhaps words ending with 'ula' aren't automatically associated with the famous vampire to the French...

In the 1930's, there was an American cult who gathered in the Ritz. This sect rejected the concept of love, and artistic expression, which they considered evil. A few years later, they mysteriously vanished, and despite the efforts of a lone reporter in tracking them down, leading to his disappearance too, the cult was seemingly gone forever. In the present day, however, their 'daughters' have returned. Seemingly bearing little resemblance to humans anymore, this group of beings get accustomed to normal female bodies, and after leaving their massive flying boat, they use their extensive resources and contacts to net them a baroque villa in a town where they will enact their master plan to sway the world to their way of thinking...

Written and directed by painter Charles Matton, Spermula is a bit of a confusingly vague movie. It's simultaneously overwritten, yet underwritten. For example, while there are probably around 30 characters in the film, we know barely even the bare basics of who these mysterious women are. Are they human or alien? From South America or space? What exactly is their plan, and why are they doing it? To rid the world of love? To what end? So that everyone will be 'free', supposedly, but I'd appreciate it if you elaborated on that, ladies! The story mostly focuses on the myriad of other characters, and it's hard to care when we're still having trouble working out what the movie's even really about.

The dialogue is kinda impenetrable. It's right on the edge of being pretentious, and if it does actually mean something, perhaps it's either lost in translation, or was never written all that well. Some is quite good and interesting, or at the least fun. "Our voices are already wandering among the monsters", "She's only saved by the tangos in her head", and more that are screencapped throughout this post.

Whether or not I'll write an essay on the movie remains to be seen, because I can't tell if the movie's intelligent enough to actually mean something, and is making a message beyond 'love is all around'. If I wanted to know that, I'd either watch Love Actually, or the finale to The Prisoner! Like I said, this movie really could've benefited from being fleshed out more. And leaving other stuff on the cutting room floor for that matter, because Spermula is pretty darn long! I mean, it's under two hours, but it's still over 100 minutes!

As you can guess, this film suffers from there being too many damn characters! Many of them either blend together, or are so numerous that it's simply hard keeping track of them, and I say this as someone who's seen the film multiple times! The hardest to keep track of are definitely the mysterious women themselves, who aren't characterised individually all that well, not helped by there being at least a dozen of them.

The editing here is fucking awful, as if the job was done by a madman. It's all over the place! This movie feels disjointed, and not in an effective way! The overlapping dialogue in a few scenes also doesn't help! Nor does the general feeling that there are scenes missing, which all go towards making this movie a chore to follow.

Spermula is sometimes very visually interesting, with it's fantasy/sci-fi 1930's art deco look. However, therein lies my biggest problem with the movie-How it underuses said visuals. Granted, the locales the movie is shot on look fine, but once you've introduced such cool concepts and art designs as this movie does, it bugs me that we only see them for like a minute, tops, and the rest of the film is pretty mundane. It's for this reason that this movie could do with a remake. You could even call it Angels of the Future (that being dialogue from the end), which makes more sense, and isn't as ridiculous as the title we got instead.

Frequently dark and murky, the garbage low-quality print of the film also does it NO favours! I'd really like to see a remastered version of Spermula, to the point where I'd even give it another shot if seeing it in high quality.

Onto the good stuff, there's plenty of nudity, and sex, to the point that the movie is almost a softcore porno. About as hardcore as it gets is showing champagne being 'subtly' uncorked, or people suggestively fingering flowerbuds. There may have been genuine hardcore footage, but if so, it was excised before the movie saw release by censors.

The score is ok, with some decent tracks, but there's not a lot of them, and they feel overused, sometimes to an ill-fitting degree

The acting ranges from pretty good, to kinda dull, and not very good. Dayle Haddon is alluring and ethereal as Ingrid, and plays the part well, even if she's hampered by an unclear script. Unfortunately Udo Kier's character is pretty normal, so he doesn't really get a chance to shine like in other roles. That said, he's still one of the best actors in the movie. By the way, it's odd how a difference in language can make one's voice unfamiliar. In this case, I've no idea if Udio Kier himself was speaking French, or if he was overdubbed by someone else. Probably the former, since I've read that he knows several languages.

Something of note to mention about Spermula is that it very briefly features Eva Ionesco*, whose involvement in the movie was more offscreen than on. Her infamous mother (notorious for taking nude photos of her kid as if she were an adult) is believed to have worked on Spermula in some capacity (possibly aiding in set design, reference photographs, or something?), and took little Eva on set a few times, snapping up some gasp-inducing pictures, to look like movie/production stills. They were likely never actually part of the movie, but were done by Ionesco to drum up controversy, aka publicity for herself (and possibly also for the movie).

*Apparently she's the skipping silhouette at the beginning of the film.

In closing, Spermula isn't all that great a movie. It's a curious piece of somewhat sophisticated eurotrash, but nothing all that special, and if you're seeking it out based on the porntastic title, you're probably going to end up disappointed...


Now lets get into the version of Spermula that most people are familiar with, and yes, there is more than one version of this movie! While most English dubs are satisfied with just translating the script, possibly simplifying it along the way, they usually keep it relatively intact. Not so with Spermula, which I suppose was too inscrutable for the American company releasing it, and they didn't think anyone else would understand it either, so chose to do do it what some European countries did to The Persuaders. They basically chucked the script out the window and wrote a new one.

This new script was more of an overt sci-fi tale, as opposed to the original more leaning towards fantasy, and most noticeably, it's a comedy! Yep, the U.S. distributors redubbed Spermula as a wacky sex-comedy! This goes over about as well as you can imagine!

The new plot sees the ethereal women as actual aliens from the planet Spermula, which is dying, so the Big Mother sends her top Spermulites to suck all semen from the world's men, to make them weak and docile, ripe for takeover...

The biggest problem with this dub is that it's simply trying to be a different movie, and there's only so far (read: not far at all) that it can go when it's constrained by the boundaries of the movie it's overdubbing. It's painfully obvious that this audio isn't part of the original, and it never really has a chance for that reason. If it was its own movie, then it could actually show the outlandish and over-the-top things it's frequently describing, and not break the 'show, don't tell' rule so much. It'd be one thing if the movie was amusing regardless, but it's not. Hell, even if it was, I don't think it could overcome this issue.

The story is improved in some ways though. For example, for all it's difficulty in gelling to the film, I at least had less trouble understanding the plot of this version. It excises all of the artistic elements, which is a shame, but at least the movie makes sense, and I actually know more clearly what the mysterious women are and what they want. This cut of the film is also a good deal shorter than the 103 minute original, at only 88 minutes long.

I can't complain much about the changes in characterization, since there wasn't a whole lot to work with when it came to quite a few characters in the original. Probably the biggest is in regards to Udo Kier's character Werner, who in the context off the re-dub is a hermaphrodite, as a result of a botched attempt at turning a Spermulite human, making them a visible male rather than female. This new addition is easier said than done when said actor is literally never out of his tuxedo. Unfortunately the movie can do nothing with the concept, as Kier's character isn't a hermaphodite in the original film. A disappointment, because I'm now picturing Spermula going all out with a nude Udo Kier with double genitals! C'mon, you know that's what you assumed someone like Udo Kier would be up to in this movie, didn't you!

The humour here is pretty puerile and immature for the most part. Some lines are pretty funny ("This is the missionary position...It is recommended by the church, though attempts to actually enjoy it are discouraged.", "Open your mouth, spread your legs, and conquer."), but most are pretty weak. There's also a lack of humour in the last half-hour. Again, it's a hassle ending the movie when the original conclusion was wildly different (and also way darker in some elements) than yours.

This incarnation of Spermula is of course toned down from the original, but not by a whole lot. While the more explicit close-ups have been excised, a lot of the sex scenes remain relatively intact, and some even contain extra seconds of footage that aren't in the French version. The twenty-six* minutes this version of the film is missing is a lot of  stuff with side characters, particularly with the abusive M. Grop, and the crazy mother.

*This paragraph was from a previous draft. Not sure how how I got the number 26, but I'm mentioning this for posterity in-case it turns out that's actually correct, and Wikipedia/IMDb's listed running times are borked up. Pretty sure they're not, but I'll leave this little note here just in-case.

I'm not sure if I recommend this version of Spermula any more or less then the previous one. You'd probably do best to steer clear, but I suppose it is a fun movie to say you've watched! FIY, I've seen it around 5 times at this stage. No, not because I like it that much, but rather I was going to write a review the first time, never got around to it, was going to do the same on my second viewing (well, viewings, what with it being two movies), and also never got around to it. Well at least this time I have, so I never fucking have to see Spermula ever again!...Unless I do end up writing that essay on it. Oh crap...


  1. Aaaaah, 'Spermula'... "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet"... or perhaps not. ;)

    My favourite Udo Kier character is Professor Pericles in 'Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated'. :D

  2. Hahaha! Udo Kier may have not appeared in the greatest of movies some of the time, but he sure knew how to pick 'em, if that above screenshot is any indication. Even if the movie was bad, he was no doubt enjoying himself!

    I still can't believe that UDO KIER of all people was in Scooby Doo! And not a one-off performance either, but as a lead villain! :D And I agree, that's probably my favourite too. :)