Monday, October 27, 2008

BLOODY MOON (1981) d. Jesus Franco

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

One of the great benefits about becoming famous is that once you’ve left a lasting impression on the minds of the public, you never have to worry about your legacy. In the film world, the images created by the director speak for themselves and while the faces of some of the famous and infamous may not be familiar, their canon of works is thoroughly memorable. Some film makers have left legacies that immediately conjure a sense of superior quality and style like Alfred Hitchcock or Robert Altman. Other film makers initiate an instantaneous gag reflex and send the movie-lover running for the alka-seltzer like Dick Randall or Harry Novak. Then there are those film makers whose legacy is more complex and challenging due to their penchant for inconsistency or failed promise like Lucio Fulci or Herschell Gordon Lewis. Jesus “Jess” Franco falls into the latter category. With nearly 200 credits as a director, Jess Franco has made some very stylish and visually interesting movies and he has created a lot of drek as well. With titles notched into his directorial belt like THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z, VAMPYROS LESBOS and NIGHT OF THE BLOOD MONSTER among many others, Jess Franco has left a lasting legacy of motion pictures that are filled to the brim with titillation and torture, nudity and nastiness, gorgeous girls and gore and he is still at it. BLOODY MOON (aka DIE SAGE DES TODES) is an example of one of Mr. Franco’s lesser known efforts that evidences much of his usual style and a typical lack of substance.

BLOODY MOON is the story of brother and sister Miguel and Manuela, who live and work at their aunt’s exclusive International Youth-Club Boarding School of Languages. A new class of students has just arrived and while the days are partly spent in uncovering the intricacies of the Spanish tongue, most of the hours of light and shadow are passed in pursuing hedonism, whether it’s bedroom, the pool or the disco club. Unknown to the nubile young lovelies of the school, a maniac is on the loose and one girl after another is ending up dead. One of the students, a girl named Angela, witnesses the death of her friend and her fruitless attempt to get people to realize that something sinister is transpiring drives her to the brink of madness. By the end, licentious plots and devious double crossings are just part of the cat & mouse game between players on a warped chess board filled with debauchery and avarice.

If you are not terribly picky about the sophistication and cohesiveness of the plot of a film or are looking for a movie rich with atmosphere, you very well may find yourself liking BLOODY MOON, for there are some strengths worth mentioning. While not the most stunning visual experience I’ve ever encountered, the attractively shot Spanish coastal exteriors of the resort town of Alicante are quite impressive as are some of the interior scenes where small accent shots of stained glass doors in student bungalows add splashes of color and pizzazz. Nearly all the scenes are either crisply colorful during the daylight hours or darkly dismal at night but still quite comprehensible when the moon rides the sky. BLOODY MOON is also a feast for the eyes if you are interested in seeing stylishly sexy, beautiful young women paraded about in trendy early 80s fashions that highlight their trim figures and youthful curves. While there isn’t as much nudity as was more common to Franco’s films in the 1970s, there is still enough skin to satisfy the pulchritude connoisseur and get the salacious meter into a warmer zone. Coupled with Severin Films’ excellent transfer, BLOODY MOON is enjoyable ocular entertainment and has the capacity for being reasonable horror flick, if you don’t expect too much.

Where BLOODY MOON stumbles is in its story and in its inability to find its subgenre and really mine the vein that it needed to follow. BLOODY MOON can’t seem to decide if it is a giallo laced with sleazy exploitation scenes reminiscent of Dario Argento’s TENEBRE or whether it is a slasher film that ramps up its misogyny ala the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise. By blurring the line between the two genres and constantly swerving off into the territory of a quasi-psychological thriller with its roots firmly in the disco-flick craze, BLOODY MOON’S story tends to meander and its pace is inconsistent. Worse still for the serious horror maven is the fact that while the killing scenes are creatively constructed and replete with plenty of gore, there are long stretches where the body count just doesn’t rise. This wouldn’t be a problem if the narrative was layered in densely applied coats of atmosphere and dramatic imagery, but it isn’t. If you aren’t going to liberally sprinkle murders and mutilations throughout your horror film, you’ve got to flood the screen with mood, but BLOODY MOON lacks that essential element. As a result, the well done death sequences could have and should have been a little more prevalent, nudging this film more clearly into the slasher camp, but sadly that didn’t happen. A brave attempt was made to create a mystery and to wind convolutions like gossamer threads about the plot, but the threadbare tapestry was predictable and forced. In the end, the story of BLOODY MOON wasn’t boring or bad, it just wasn’t scintillating or surreal and as a result it came across as a little pedestrian.

What turned out to be the gem of this DVD is the thin but still rewarding extras menu. In addition to the theatrical trailer, there is a 19 minute interview with director Jess Franco called “Franco Moon” which is not only very informative, but it is quite entertaining as well. Never a smoothy, Mr. Franco has become somewhat of a satyr in his senior years, but his recollections of the lies and struggles he had with the producers of BLOODY MOON lay bare the cynical and self-serving heart of the “suits” behind films then, and who are still just as ubiquitous in the motion picture industry today. Franco’s ribald style and grizzled, debauched looks make this one of the more enjoyable interviews I’ve seen in the many that Severin Films have included on their numerous discs. One of the many reasons I look forward to cracking open a Severin disc is that even when, as in this case, I am not blown away by the film, I come away knowing a little more about cinematic history and get a chance to hear from “the horse’s mouth” the reminiscences of cast and crew members who were there. Such an effort at preserving the past must always be profusely lauded.

Mythical masters of the Silver Screen become lasting legends for a wide variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s their consummate professionalism like Billy Wilder or sometimes its their mix of mastery and madness like Elia Kazan. Sometimes they have interesting extra-curricular activities like Carlo Ponti and his relationship with Sophia Loren or sometimes it’s because their artistry is so cutting edge and bizarre we can’t totally fathom all the creative corridors branching off of one another, like the works of Stanley Kubrick. There are many people who hold up Jess Franco’s works as a director as the quintessential example of Euro-sleaze and sexploitation cinema from a time that has now passed. Others consider him a shameless self-promoter and cinematic “gun-for-hire” who would take just about any script and run with it. Whatever side of the fence you sit on, it isn’t possible to deny the fact that Jess Franco has left an impression that will not fade anytime soon. BLOODY MOON may not be the best illustration of his work, but it has some visually compelling features and a bizarrely jarring soundtrack and if you feel like taking a ride on a train that is uncertain of where it is going to end up, this journey is for you.

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