George Franju treats the horrific and the strange with the approach of a filmmaker directing the most rote literary adaptation. This produces a slowness to his scenes, to his pacing (Dan Sallitt recently wrote
of a similar effect in Franju's Eyes Without a Face
), a stolid, regular quality to the mise-en-scene
that consequently makes that horror, that strangeness all the more uneasy and abrupt, a lyrical inclusion in what initially seems something regular, unremarkable.
This weight of normality, of unnotable cinema makes Franju's masterfully vignette based, tone-jumping 1963 revision of Louis Fuillade's serial Judex work all the more successfully. It allows the homage to start as a film tracking political terrorism in the guise of surrealist horror, and move from this to trapdoors and automobile getaways, deering-do numbers, a segment centered on the comedic duo of a tramp child and a goofy detective, and a death scene that grants the film's villainess more dignity than a million movie deaths before and after will ever condescend to treat their characters. All this wild divergence is treated with the same stolidness, and as such never seems inconsistent. The fantastic is always possible when it is treated as nothing fantastic at all.
Ending with a coda to the unhappy era that Feuillade's 1914 serial was produced in, Franju's seemingly standard "homage"—pre-pastiche, post-New Wave—predicts a Cold War global catastrophe and posits itself as a predecessor to this future catastrophe: so read into its not-so-equal doses of innocuous costume shenanigans and capitalist terrorism what you will.