Every couple of months, I get an intense craving to watch a Jess Franco film I haven’t seen. Luckily the guy made over two-hundred films before his death in 2013, so, at the pace I’m going, I’m pretty much guaranteed to have a Franco flick to satisfy my cravings till the end of my sad, sad life. It’s always a little unnerving watching a Franco film for the first time. Franco has made great films. He’s also made some of the most intolerably unwatchable films in existence. Totally understandable when you pumped them out at his pace. The 80s was a particularly unpredictable period for Ol’ Uncle Jess, so it was with much trepidation and some excitement that I delved into…
MANSION OF THE LIVING DEAD
original title: La mansión de los muertos vivientes
Spain, 1985, Jesús Franco
The four waitresses are on a holiday. They’ve been saving for it for ages — they tell us this several times. They’re staying at a beachside hotel, and they’re looking forward to fucking every beach bum hunk they come across. But when they show up at the hotel, it’s practically empty save for creepy and handsome Carlo the Manager (Antonio Mayans) and creepy and not handsome Marleno the Gardener (Albino Graziani).
The girls are split into couples and forced to stay at different ends of the hotel. They complain loudly. But this is but a blessing in disguise for our leading ladies. You see both couples are secretly carrying out steamy lesbian affairs and think that the other pair are prudes! Let the comedy and mid-pee toilet kisses begin!
The rather pathetic holiday kicks into gear with some nude sunbathing. This is interrupted by a knife, which is flung from a hotel room and lands between our naked heroes. This, understandably, pisses off the girls, but neither manager Carlo nor gardener Marleno seem to care.
Oh, it’s also revealed that Carlo is a total sadist and keeps a naked woman, Olivia (Eva León), chained up in a hotel room.
One of the waitresses wanders off and disappears from the film. The others walk around hotel hallways buck naked. There’s a lot of bush licking. Lina Romay, Jess Franco’s real life partner, emerges as the film’s lead.
We are introduced to the film’s living dead — a gang of Blind Dead inspired undead monks that wear grinning skull masks under their hoods. One of them appears to have pancake batter smeared over his face. They abduct “sluts” and rape them to death, making sure to explain to their victims that they’re not deriving any sexual pleasure from the act.
Like most Franco efforts, Mansion of the Living Dead is fucking insane. There is no mansion in the film. And the living dead feel like an afterthought. Grimy bush munching and scenes of sadism take priority over the horror. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but there’s something about the way Franco shoots erotic scenes that sometimes makes me feel a little ill. All of his fetishes bubble to the surface through the often out of focus cinematography. A sequence in which the chained up and naked Olivia messily gulps down a meal made me gag.
Rape and sadism aside, Mansion of the Living Dead is one of Franco’s funniest films. The four leading girls are hilariously loud and obnoxious. A shot of them struggling to walk down a small hill with their heels on had me laughing quite hard, and their Carry On-esque antics are quite funny.
The cinematography and editing is a mess of zooms, shots that linger too long, and wobbly close-ups. But there is certainly a kind of mad artistry behind it. There are some fabulously framed shots, like a grim shot of a beach with Marleno sitting on a dirty tin drum. The locations are also perfect and give the film a dreamlike quality.
Mansion of the Living Dead is one of Franco’s better 80s efforts, but for most it will be excruciating to sit through. The film chugs along at a snail’s pace. Some scenes feel like they’ll never end. It is often incoherent and operates on its own brand of logic. However, hardened Franco fans will find a lot to enjoy. For better or worse, this is a Franco film through and through.
Mansion of the Living Dead is available on DVD in the US from the great Severin Films. The DVD features an interviews with Jess Franco and Lina Romay. In the UK, it is available from Anchor Bay in the Jess Franco Collection Vol. 2. It doesn’t have the extra features, but it has a 5.1 sound mix if that sort of thing matters to you.