Friday, December 21, 2007

MANSION OF THE LIVING DEAD (1982) d. Jess Franco

Reviewed by Simon Oakland

A quartet of strippers go away on vacation to frolic in the sun and get jiggy with the local male population. When the sea resort they made reservations to turns out to be almost entirely devoid of human life, they decide, in turn, to get jiggy with the only people they can... each other! But down the beach a ways is a creepy old monastery inhabited by ancient undead templars who's goal in (un)life is to visit punishment upon women with loose morals by raping and murdering them. Oh, fun!

I've never been a fan of Jess Franco. While he has gathered a rather large and rabid cult fan base over the decades, he has always struck me as a filmmaker with a severe tendency to overextend himself ( lists 187 directorial credits to him over the past 50 years!). If only he chose his projects better and took the time and effort to fully actualize them rather than perpetually doing rush jobs, he could have potentially been in the same league as that other great Spanish director, Luis Bunuel. Whether or not he was ever in a position to do so I couldn't say. What I am clear on, however, is that even though I've only seen a small portion of his filmography, by my estimates, 95% wouldn't even be worthy of lining a cat box with if such a thing were possible. Only 5% of his catalog is worth checking out.

I would place MANSION OF THE LIVING DEAD among that top 5%. While not a "great" film by any stretch of the imagination, it is nevertheless fully entertaining from start to finish. At no point during it's runtime was I ever bored or wanted to nod off, and unlike every other Franco film I've seen, MANSION seemed to be produced and written with a sense of humor. The dialog is (intentionally?) consistently tongue-in-cheek and the situations frequently absurd. For instance, the main characters are habitually parading and gallivanting everywhere and down hotel hallways stark naked as if it were completely normal behavior. (Yeah, I know this is Europe, but still...) And given the subject matter of the movie, the rape scenes are rather tastefully done, which came as a surprise to me. This could have easily turned into one vile, disgusting piece of shit, but it never descends to that level. A lot of fun and recommended, especially if you've seen Amando de Ossorio's BLIND DEAD series, of which MANSION is obviously an homage to.

Severin Films did a wonderful job mastering this DVD. Picture quality is top notch and the original mono soundtrack is nice and clean. Included as an extra is an insightful 19 minute documentary "The Mansion that Jess Built" that features interviews with Franco and lead actress Lina Romay (billed in the credits as Candy Coster).

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