Downtown Heat [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Full Moon
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (30th May 2024).
The Film

When patrolling detectives Al Romero (The Ages of Lulu's Óscar Ladoire) and Carlos Rivas (Revenge in the House of Usher's Antonio Mayans) stumble upon the body dump of a prostitute by gangsters, a gunfight ensues and Carlos is killed. Al is in pursuit of the surviving gangster Flores (Rest in Pieces' Daniel Katz) by car until his superior Badal (The Blood Rose's Philippe Lemaire) calls him off the chase upon learning that the getaway car belongs to Don Thomas Radeck (The Bloodstained Shadow's Craig Hill), an American businessman living with his daughter in the fortress that is the Columbian Consulate. Already incensed by having been mysteriously transferred from the drug unit when on the point of identifying the city's major players, Carlos girlfriend and Al's colleague Maria Mendoza (Jack the Ripper's Josephine Chaplin) takes an interest in jazz musician Paul Bowles (Steve Parkman) who has been hanging around the police precinct looking for updates on his wife Alysson, a heroin addict who fell off the wagon and has been missing for almost a month. Al discovers that Carlos has been in contact with American federal agent Steve Previn (Mannix's Mike Connors) who has made it his mission to bring Radeck back to America to face trial, and Steve upon learning of Carlos' death decides to implement a plan to take out Radeck's powerful friends with help of Al and Maria. Meanwhile, Paul tracks down Alysson's lesbian lover Melissa (Female Vampire's Lina Romay) who lives with a bunch of drug-addicted punks in a junkyard. When the pair discover Alysson's body in the trunk of a car, Paul badgers Melissa into identifying Alysson's supplier. While Melissa pays the price for snitching, Paul goes after Alysson's dealer and kills him, nearly losing his own life in the process. When Steve arrives, Maria has brought Paul into the covert operation while Al leans on Badal to switch loyalties when he learns that the corruption in the police force goes farther up.

Often dismissed as one of French studio Eurociné's latter day attempts at the international market in between the early eighties period where much of their better-known "classic" titles had been exhaused on the international video market – including American distribution via Charles Band's Wizard Video line – and the late nineties/early 2000s when they were able to exploit their back catalog for the DVD market – Downtown Heat seems on the surface a rather ordinary action film helmed by for-hire Jess Franco during his own creative slump in between his early eighties S-classification Spanish theatrical films and his nineties cult figure resurgence and the resultant mini-boom of digital video productions that continued up to his death. The scenario of corruption in an unnamed South American republic looks back further than Franco's Ilsa, the Wicked Warden to his early Spanish noir films like Rififi in the City while Ladoire's Al Romero seems like a bastardization of Franco's recurring Al Perreira private eye character. The coastal Spanish settings offer a nice backdrop and the "magic hour" cinematography of Nathalie Abensour is mostly functional but more than a few striking compositions – and the fascination without flaring and out-of-focus neon suggest Franco may have done some of his own operating as he had been known to pick projects in the eighties purely with the aim of exploring new filters and equipment – and the scoring of Daniel White is dominated by a wonderfully dreamy sax and synth piece later reused by Franco in Tender Flesh that also figures prominently in a sequence that vaguely recalls Venus in Furs's musical trance as Paul playing his sax on on his apartment balcony against the glittering sea provokes a flurry of soft focus memories of his life with Alysson culminating in his shocking discovery of her and Melissa together. The reactionary tone and treatment of the drug addicts as anarchic hippies and punks seems rather conservative for Franco, but he may have just been adapting to the times and the American action film model. Although there is some nudity, erotic content is scaled back considerably, and the modestly-staged action sequences feature few squibs and may actually recycle some shots from Franco's and Eurociné's other action films around the period.

While the secret operation involving publicly killing Radeck's powerful associates – including the Chief of Police at an opera featuring an early appearance by Sergi López (Pan's Labyrinth) as a tenor – seems as absurd as a bazooka attack on the Colmbian Consulate, where the film fails in execution is not the hackneyed noir dialogue but its delivery by the actors thanks to a marketing decision to shoot the film in sync-sound English rather than post-dubbing. American-born French translator Michael Katims – brother of American TV show producer Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights) is credited as co-writer and is presumably responsible for making the English dialogue coherent while Robert Long (The Machinist) who plays Radeck's right-hand man Chucho is also credited as the film's dialogue coach. Connors delivers a serviceable performance, and somewhat wooden Parkman simply comes across adequately enough due to his comfort with the language, but it is Hill who gives the film's most nuanced and naturalistic performance. Chaplin – daughter of Charlie and mother of Charlie S. Chaplin who served as assistant director here and later acted in Franco's Killer Barbys – is also adequate but seasoned actor Ladoire is truly awful, unable to ever choose the right inflections to his delivery of the dialogue in an unfamiliar tongue. Lemaire, who had previously appeared in Franco's masterpiece The Other Side of the Mirror, also fares badly with the dialogue and seems quite amateurish most of the time but comes into his own late in the film as he gets to express his character's conflicted nature non-verbally during which he is also more subdued with his dialogue readings. Romay's accent is thicker here than in her later English-language performances for Franco's DTV films but she is effective both as a presence in her punk appearance and in conveying a change in heart after discovering her friend's body. While Franco fails to exploit Spanish horror regular Victor Israel (The Witches Mountain) in their only shared credit, Franco's regular lead during this period Mayans does not even survive the first scene of the film – he does however serve as production manager as he mad on many of the Franco films in which he also starred – while American actor Katz who had prominent roles in Franco's The Night Has a Thousand Desires and The Sexual Story of O – has a slightly meatier role and also served as the film's art director. While Downtown Heat will not convert anyone to the cult of Jess Franco, hopefully the film's reputation will improve in light of other examples of "Franco-noir" becoming more widely available.


Shot and finished in 1990, Downtown Heat became the subject of legal issues between Franco and Eurociné; as such, the film was not released in Franco and Spain until 1994. The international rights were picked up by Germany's Atlas International but it was not sold widely. The film was hard to see in English-speaking territories until it popped up on Anchor Bay UK's Jess Franco Collection 2 in a fullscreen transfer. Full Moon's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 pillarboxed widescreen Blu-ray – released last year through Full Moon exclusively as a single disc and as part of the The Eurocine Collection: Vol. 1 (itself once a website exclusive) – as one of the more recent and lesser-seen Eurociné productions, the materials appear to have been in excellent shape and a slightly-more diligent encoding might have been able to fully exploit this. Colors truly pop, Abensour keeps things in crisp focus for the most part – the more frentetically-shot climactic action sequence pyrotechnics might have been shot by Franco or just with less care as a mix of location work and possible stock shots – and close-ups look great, but some of the deep blacks in the "downtown" sequence can crush and compression is an issue in scenes with fog and some of the hazy, bright backlit shots. In spite of this, it is one of the better-looking Eurociné films on disc if only because of the original materials.


The film was mixed in Ultra Stereo and the default English Dolby Digital 2.0 track actually is stereophonic, although it mostly applies to the scoring. Canned sound effects are largely flat, including gunfire and explosions, and there is little in the way of atmospheric effects. The sync-sound dialogue is subject to the original recording conditions with some uneven levels and the accents of the actors; however, it fares better than what Franco and company gave the sound department to work with for Night of the Eagles which was also mixed in Ultra Stereo but the mono downmix that seems to be the only available source on video is full of sibilence issues and distortion that suggests poor recording and attempts in post to boost the levels. The track fares best during the passages where White's theme seductively washes over the sound field. A Dolby Digital 5.1 upmix is also included, although it is only accessible via your remote's audio button.


There are no extras apart from start-up content and trailers for other Full Moon releases.


While Downtown Heat will not convert anyone to the cult of Jess Franco, hopefully the film's reputation will improve in light of other examples of "Franco-noir" becoming more widely available.


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