Director: Jess Franco
Severin Films

Director: Jess Franco
Severin Films

After years of grinding out exploitation films in a variety of different countries, cult director Jess Franco returned to his homeland of Spain in the early 1980s. With his zoom-loving voyeuristic camera lens and a new sense of freedom (creative and otherwise), Franco continued to combine softcore eroticism and supernatural elements for the likes of MANSION OF THE LIVING DEAD and MACUMBA SEXUAL, shot back-to-back in the Canary Islands using the same lead actors. Never before available commercially to English-speaking audiences, Francophile can rejoice as Severin releases both titles (on the same street date) in pristine new transfers.

In MANSION OF THE LIVING DEAD, four topless waitresses go on a vacation at a beachside hotel that they booked through a Munich travel agent. Pairing off into couples, the women all engage in lesbian sex at night, and strut around the beach in the buff during the day, much to the delight of the hotel’s perverted handyman. As the place seems all but abandoned, sans for several employees, it takes these frolicking broads a while before they release something is seriously wrong. One by one, they are abducted, falling into the hands of a sect of mysterious, seemingly zombified monks who rape the ladies and sacrifice them after a blasphemous ceremony.

Often referred to by fans as Franco’s tribute to the “Blind Dead” series (also a product of Spanish cinema), MANSION OF THE DEAD is basically a delirious excuse to show sex scenes and plenty of naked women jiggling about, as the living dead are just an afterthought here. Franco’s wife, the pleasantly plump Lina Romay (using her Candy Coster pseudonym and sporting a platinum Toni Tennille wig), is nude almost throughout the entire film, and like her three companions, has a number of hot and heavy lesbian lovemaking scenes, spurting lines like, “I always was a tree-hugger.” A pointless but sleazily irresistible subplot has chesty actress Eva León (HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN) naked, starving and collar-chained to a wall like a dog, as her eccentric hotel manager husband (Robert Foster, aka Antonio Mayans) leaves trays of food for her, out of reach (he later pours rat poison and pesticide on her plate!). When the zombie monks appear, their white robes look like they just got back from the dry cleaners, and most of them wear dime-store rubber skull masks, while the main hooded baddie has pancake batter smeared on his face. Unbelievable!

In MACUMBA SEXUAL, Alice Brooks (Lina Romay/Candy Coster wearing the same wig from MANSION) and her boring writer boyfriend (Robert Foster/Antonio Mayans) are staying at a hotel in the Canary Islands, were they are relaxing and enjoying a lot of love making. Alice has wild, sexual dreams about a tall black woman who leashes about a naked women and a naked man as if they were pets on all fours. Leary about what these dreams actually mean, Alice goes about in the desert to search for Princess Tara Obongo (Ajita Wilson) on some sort of real estate business. But the Princess is actually the “Goddess of Unspeakable Lust,” practicing black magic and seducing Alice, and later her boyfriend, as captives in her world of uninhibited orgies involving her two animal-like sex slaves.

Most viewers will frown upon MACUMBA SEXUAL’s plotless absurdity, but those who understand Franco’s world of sleaze-as-art cinema will most likely appreciate this 80 minute “fever dream” filled with exotic locations and endless softcore sequences. Romay is seen nude even more so here, often making untamed love to Foster and Wilson (the latter two also "do" each other). The presence of the late Brooklyn-born Ajita Wilson, a fully operated on transsexual, brings uneasiness to some viewers, while others no doubt will have a fascination watching her in action whether it’s kissing a phallic figurine or aggressively embracing both male and female partners. The beautifully shot but zoom-ridden film includes a bizarre but appropriate score by Franco himself (billed as “Pablo Villa”), and he also appears as an imbecile character under the credit “Juan G. Cabral.”

Severin Films presents MANSION OF THE LIVING DEAD and MACUMBA SEXUAL in transfers that look identical in quality, both excellent and two of the best-looking Franco DVD releases to date. Both films are presented in their original 2.35:1 aspect ratios with anamorphic enhancement, looking very clean and well detailed. Colors are quite striking, and there is never any excessive grain or other blemishes to be witnessed. The clear mono audio is presented in its original Spanish language (these were never dubbed into English) and optional English subtitles are included.

Each disc has its own featurette containing interviews with Franco and Romay. On MANSION is “The Mansion Jess Built” (19 minutes). Franco (talking in English for a change, but still accompanied by English subtitles) discusses his dislike for George Romero’s work and the living dead in general, his opinion of the first “Blind Dead” entry and his “living dead” in MANSION and the film’s location and cast. Romay (speaking in Spanish with English subtitles) tells an anecdote about a knife being thrown on the beach, her thoughts on Robert Foster/Antonio Mayans as an actor and her Candy Coster nom de plume. On MACUMBA is “Voodoo Jess” (22 minutes). Here, Franco talks about his return to making films in Spain, shooting projects back-to-back, the voodoo motifs in the film, and his fondness for “playing the fool” onscreen. Both Franco and Romay have very complimentary things to say about the late Ajita Wilson – Franco seems unsure (and doesn't really care ) about her transsexual status, while Romay confirms it. (George R. Reis)