Jesús "Jess" Franco (born Jesús Franco Manera; 12 May 1930 – 2 April 2013) was a Spanish film director, writer, composer, cinematographer and actor.
Franco started out in 1954 as an assistant director in the Spanish film industry, performing many tasks including composing music for some of the films as well as co-writing a number of the screenplays. He assisted a number of well-known directors such as Joaquin Romero Marchent, Leon Klimovsky and Juan Antonio Bardem. After working on more than 20 films, he decided to get into directing films in 1959, making a few musicals and a crime drama called Red Lips.
In 1960, Franco took a producer friend to a cinema to see the newly released Hammer horror film The Brides of Dracula and the two decided to get into the horror film business. His career took off in 1961 with his cult classic The Awful Dr. Orloff (aka Gritos en la noche), which received wide distribution in the United States and the UK. Franco wrote and directed Orloff, and even supplied some of the music for the film. In the mid-1960s, he went on to direct two other horror films, then proceeded to turn out a number of James Bond-like spy thrillers and softcore sex films based on the works of the Marquis de Sade (which remained one of his major influences throughout his career). Though he had some American box office success with Necronomicon (1967), Ninety-Nine Women (1968) and two 1969 Christopher Lee films — The Bloody Judge (es) and Count Dracula — he never achieved wide commercial success.
After discovering the beautiful Soledad Miranda (he first used her in his Count Dracula), Franco moved from Spain to France in 1969 so that he could make more violent and erotic films, and it was at this point that his career began to go downhill commercially, as he turned to low-budget filmmaking with an accent on more adult material. Soledad starred in a series of 6 sexy thrillers for Franco, all made within a one-year period (including his cult classic Vampyros Lesbos), after which she was killed in a tragic automobile accident in Portugal in 1970. A year later, a grieving Franco discovered a new leading lady in the person of Lina Romay, and the two went on to live and work together for the next 40 years, churning out literally dozens of often sleazy, very low-budget movies.
Although he produced a number of relatively successful horror films in the early 70's (Dracula vs. Frankenstein, The Bare-Breasted Countess, A Virgin Among the Living Dead), many people in the industry considered him a porn director due to the huge number of X-rated adult films he began turning out. Franco returned to low-budget horror in a brief comeback period from 1980-1983 (Bloody Moon, Oasis of the Zombies, Revenge in the House of Usher), but after 1983, his career took a second downturn as he returned to making mostly pornographic films.
In his later years, he did however get the opportunity to turn out two rather big-budget horror films — Faceless (1988) and Killer Barbys (1996) — both of which showed what great work he could still do when his projects were adequately funded. The entirety of his work after 1996 was direct-to-video films of very low quality, none of which were distributed theatrically. Sadly, Lina Romay died of cancer in 2012, after which Franco died in April 2013 of natural causes at the age of 82.