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

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