Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Macumba Sexual (1983)

For me, going back to Macumba Sexual is going back to my Jess Franco origins, as it was the second Jess Franco film I ever saw, the first being Mansion of the Living Dead (1982). I came across both Severin DVDs of these films at a video store in 2007 and took a chance with Mansion first even though I was expecting it to be terrible (I had heard of Jess Franco and a not so revered zombie movie by the name of Oasis of the Zombies (1982)). At the time, I was desperate for something new, and I was sort of fascinated by the cheap looking blind dead Templar rip-offs on the DVD cover (Diet Tombs of the Blind Dead?). My expectations were low, but it turned out to be a funny, sexy, ultra-weird, and surprisingly atmospheric horror movie with a captivating lead actress, Lina Romay (born Rosa Maria Almirall). I shortly went back to the store for Macumba Sexual and, despite some frustrations, have been hooked on Jess Franco ever since (thanks Severin!).

Mansion of the Living Dead and Macumba Sexual both benefit beautifully from the Gran Canaria filming locations in the Canary Islands. As with Vampyros Lesbos (1971), Jess Franco once again does Dracula his way. With Macumba Sexual, the Dracula storyline is whisked away, transformed, sexually charged, and reborn in Las Palmas in southern Gran Canaria and retold in eternal daylight (not a single scene in the movie is shot at night). Dracula is now a Macumba Priestess, Princess Tara Obongo, played by transsexual actress Ajita Wilson, who resides in her desert oasis lair furnished with African artifacts and statues, where she remotely casts a spell and haunts the sex life of two tourists: real estate agent Alice Brooks (Lina Romay) and her (nameless) writer husband (Antonio Mayans).

From her hotel room, Alice has sun drenched nightmares of Tara and of being sexually ravaged by her human beast servants. She wakes up shaken and horny and satiates herself by fellating and then fucking her husband, but Tara haunts the vacationing couple’s coitus in a way that appears to enhance it, as the Princess sexually possesses them both and inserts her astral self into the act in a beautifully eerie way that makes for a real witchy and haunting three-way. Neither Alice or her husband seem to realize what transpired, while Alice slowly comes-to after an intense orgasm.

Alice’s vacation is interrupted when she gets a call from her company requesting her to take a boat ride to a nearby island to meet with a Princess Tara Obongo, who is interested in buying a house in America from them. Could that be the same Princess from her nightmares? You better believe it. 

Macumba Sexual has its fair share of fever sex dreams, prompting fantasies of ritualistic orgies on the hot desert sand that you never knew you had. The base storyline is similar to Vampyros Lesbos, but here there are more elongated sex scenes that drag down the pace a little. But it really is a wildly bizarre world to get lost in for eighty minutes, and everything is always so hypnotic and otherworldly that it is hard to lose interest. The three key players played by Romay, Wilson, and Mayans do give great performances. Plus, Jess Franco is also on hand indulging in his favorite acting role of playing the fool, the hotel manager Mehmet, who almost feels a little like a reprisal of Basilio from A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1971). Tara’s animalistic sex slaves nicely round out the small cast. Speaking of Tara’s sex slaves, during Alice’s nightmare, the shot of the Princess walking two of her human pets on leashes is so brilliant and striking. It’s a BDSM nightmare visual from another world, a simple idea that goes a long way.

The sex scene between Antonio Mayans and Lina Romay isn't half bad, but it’s Ajita Wilson and Lina Romay who have terrific chemistry. Mayans and Wilson have scenes together, too, and the Princess’s servants are thrown into the mix to explore further combinations of orgies in the film’s particular brand of ritualistic, wild, and surreal sex scenes, although it is a bit rubbish that the film excludes male-to-male interaction, which Jess Franco did not shy away from in an earlier film Sinfonia erotica (1980).

The soundtrack consisting of a lot of chanting and vocal cantations very much draws you in and helps engulf you in the film’s world and atmosphere. The shamanistic vocals sound a lot like Jess Franco (although there really doesn't seem to be any confirmation on this), who frequently contributes to his own soundtracks.

I really like the homage to The Shining (1980), mainly due to a creepy subtlety. If you pause the film and look closely at the top of the typewriter text, in the particular scene, you’ll see Alice’s husband, who’s working on a novel, writing a perfectly normal story at first, with dialogue between characters, that suddenly transforms midway to “Tara, Tara, Tara” repeatedly for many lines, pinpointing the exact moment he was bewitched/possessed by the Princess. It’s very creepy and convincing.

Lina Romay proves that she is one of the greatest screamers in cinema, especially her screams at the end of Macumba Sexual, which are chilling but also work on an emotional and empathy-inducing level. 

Lina Romay’s wig in this, as I understand it, is not to everyone’s liking, but I thought her bobbed blonde look was rather cute and rebellious (maybe even a little like a blonde Valentina-now that I think of it, Macumba Sexual does have a few similarities to Guido Crepax’s Baba Yaga). I’ve referred to it in the past as the Candy Coster wig. Candy Coster was a screen pseudonym Lina used during several productions in the early ‘80s timeframe (she went by Candice Coster for Sinfonia erotica where she wore a long blond wig). Since it somehow was thought that Lina Romay was in too many movies, she changed her screen name, put on the wig, and became someone else. Lina also appears in the same wig in Mansion of the Living Dead, La casa de las mujeres perdidas (1983), and Camino solitario (1984).

Ajita Wilson is the most memorable and an incredible addition to the film. I actually like to think that this is her movie. During the esoteric rituals with runes and statues in the desert, Ajita gives it her all when she goes into a mad, religious trance after fellating a phallic looking monk statue. These rituals, as well as the shots of Tara standing outside of her lair, were some of the most evocative images that stayed with me long after watching Macumba Sexual. Ajita should’ve done more films with Jess Franco. I believe it was just Macumba Sexual and Sadomania (1981). In the interview that was included on the Severin DVD, Voodoo Jess, Jess Franco refers to Ajita Wilson as "a kind of female Christopher Lee" who "was born to make horror films" and was a “very expressive” “force of nature”. 

© At the Mansion of Madness

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Evil Eye / Malocchio (1975)

Evil Eye is that kind of movie that gracefully tries to do it all but ends up not really knowing what to do with itself afterwards. When looking at the film as a whole, it feels like a nice recap of the enduring motifs of the giallo, occult, gothic horror, and erotica film, and for that it will surely find a place in the hearts of Eurocult fans (it certainly has for me), but it’s hard to tell if it is a work of genius, a mistake of a masterpiece, or just an empty, routine cash-in. Is it great or not-great? I honestly have referred to it as both.
The Spanish, Italian, Mexican co-production Evil Eye (aka Mal de ojo in Spain, Malocchio and Eroticofollia in Italy, and Más allá del exorcismo in Mexico) is directed and co-written by Mario Siciliano. It was also co-written by Spanish writers Julio Buchs and Federico De Urrutia. Interestingly, Buchs and De Urrutia have several co-writing credits together, such as Alta tension (1972) and A Bullet for Sandoval (1969), many of which Buchs directed. Evil Eye seems to be the very last film either writer worked on. Julio Buchs died in 1973 before the film was released.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Sex of Angels / Il sesso degli angeli (1968)

This wicked looking poster for the nominally X-rated Italian/German drama The Sex of Angels and the Google plot synopsis, which reads “young women steal a yacht and kidnap a young man and spend a weekend having sex and doing drugs,” really aren’t all that misleading, although there’s a lot more to the story. The poster also exaggerates the situation, as what is depicted is rather the result of a conundrum brought on by irresponsibility followed by an even more irresponsible course of action. 

The setup to The Sex of Angels is, of course, an appealing one to the male fancy. Being seized by three beautiful modern-day angels and taken on a boat ride into the endless summer of ’68? Why not? It sounds like a good time, and for the most part it is, but in trying to postulate what the film might be trying to say with its outcome, I can’t help but put it in the context of ‘60s youth counter culture and the sexual revolution and see it as a cautionary tale of seduction and widespread use of LSD and what I thought was a kind of critical impression of the behaviors of the “sexually liberated.”

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Alice or the Last Escapade / Alice ou la dernière fugue (1977)

I’ve been a fan of Alice in Wonderland since I was a kid, although I didn’t read Lewis Carroll’s Alice books until I was an adult, which was prompted by my first viewing of Jan Svankmajer’s Alice (1988), and ever since reading them I’ve been pretty enthusiastic about keeping an eye out for films inspired by or adapted from the books, which was what attracted me to the French surrealist film Alice or the Last Escapade in the first place. I thought the film did a pretty good job at creating an interesting new take on Alice in Wonderland (without actually being about Alice in Wonderland) while also being a bit derivative and having an ending that viewers will no doubt have seen before that I still thought was beautifully executed. It’s also very much of the ‘70s Eurocult sensibility and a product of its time, but it feels like there’s also a little something here for everyone, including the curious Alice in wonderland fan (who doesn’t mind a lightly inspired non-adaptation), and even the surreal, the arthouse, or even the gothic horror fan.

Friday, December 21, 2018

House of the Damned / La loba y la Paloma (1974)

House of the Damned is that generically titled, sort of misleading, pleasant delight that reminds me of why I still enjoy exploring near-forgotten Eurocult films from decades past with the word “House” in their titles. It’s far from the traditional haunted house horror and is more of a peculiar seaside murder drama that still hits a lot of the right notes for Spanish horror fans. The translation of the Spanish title is something like The She Wolf and the Dove, which I think is referring to Sandra and Maria (played by Carmen Sevilla and Muriel Catalá), the two main female characters who are also featured on the different regional title posters.
Which one of them is supposed to be the wolf and which one is the dove?

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Dunwich Horror (1970)

Before AIP’s The Dunwich Horror, a 1970 film adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s horror novella The Dunwich Horror from 1929, not a whole lot had been done yet to try and bring Lovecraft to the screen. The Haunted Palace from 1963 is partially based on The Case of Charles Dexter Ward; Die, Monster, Die! from 1965 is a loose adaptation of The Color out of Space; The Shuttered Room from 1967 is an adaptation of August Derleth's story of the same name that was inspired by Lovecraft, and The Crimson Cult from 1969 only takes mild inspiration from Dreams in the Witch House. As far as I can tell, The Dunwich Horror is the first film to be a faithful attempt at a direct title adaptation of an HP Lovecraft story. Not surprisingly some liberties were taken with this film, such as updating it for the late '60s, early '70s, but that’s always to be expected. I do think the The Dunwich Horror movie, for its era, does do Lovecraft justice, even if it doesn’t quite live up to the novella.

It was filmed in Mendocino California, a small coastal community that kind of passes for a New England looking town. I don’t think there was any kind of ocean near Dunwich in the original story, but the seaside connection is suitably Lovecraftian and serves the film well, as it’s usually filmed at night to look dark and ominous with unseen horrors.

The stylish occult and satanic animated intro credits set to the classical and catchy main theme by Les Baxter is a great start that gets you into both a ‘70s and a Lovecraft mood. It has a cartoony and imaginative way of painting the ceremonial birth of the main character Wilbur Whateley on Sentinel Hill. Even the film's detractors agree that this animated segment is terrific.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Sex of the Devil / Il sesso del diavolo - Trittico (1971)

How could any Eurocult horror fan resist being attracted to a movie with a poster like this and a title like Sex of the Devil? Whether or not the movie delivers what it promises on the cover is another matter, but when beholding such an epic, suggestively satanic, occult, and erotic poster like this one (centering on what I thought looked a little like a possessed Mia farrow), a spectacular fantasy of a movie is birthed in the mind of the observer, one that is often very different from the movie in reality, for better or worse. I admit to initially being attracted and baited in to this film based solely on this poster. Sex of the Devil not surprisingly turned out to be something other than I had imagined, and if it weren’t for that advertisement I may have never found it. So basically, the movie poster did its job, and I slowly fell in love with another movie.

Despite not being what I expected and bearing the usual pacing and plot resolution issues, Sex of the Devil still delivered the goods, and, in the end, it ended up delivering what it promised on the poster as well.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A Whisper in the Dark / Un sussurro nel buio (1976)

A Whisper in the Dark is a personal favorite of mine. It has been referred to as the Italian The Turn of the Screw (1898) and is a subtle take on the haunted family category of storytelling, focusing on a wealthy family living in a gorgeous and at times spooky villa that’s like a hotel resort (probably because it was filmed at a hotel, the five-star Hotel Villa Condulmer near Venice). It’s got that gothic horror aesthetic but downplays the horror in favor of exploring family dynamics with shades of the supernatural that are symbolic of unresolved family problems. The supernatural is always kept ambiguous; almost everything strange that happens can be explained, but the circumstances do leave a lot to the imagination. As is usually the case, the ambiguity is the film’s strength and its weakness.

The cinematography by Claudio Cirillo is really the main attraction, and with Marcello Aliprandi’s direction, the visuals, coupled with Pino Donaggio’s sweet and melancholic score, end up being the stuff of fairytales, comprising some of the most majestic locations and set pieces. The villa and its somber exterior and grounds, dating back to the sixteenth century, have a deep, haunting presence, a rich sense of past generations emanating from it. And the children’s ball is an enchanting segment, with costumes and constantly falling confetti, which concludes with a phantasmagoric night time burning of an effigy floating on the river. According to Cirillo the different weather conditions, such as the foggy atmosphere seen during the opening credits, were by chance. Listening to Cirillo vibrantly talk about his craft on the NoShame DVD interview, you can tell the man is an artist.

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