Monday, June 16, 2014

Movie Monday: Mansion of the Living Dead


Note: This scene does not appear in the film!

I was watching some trailers at work the other day (actually part of my job!), and there was a series of films that were the work of infamous sacred cow-poker Jesus "Jess" Franco. I had heard of the man before but, like Eddie Romero, I had never seen a single example of the work, despite the fact that Franco has over 200 films to his credit! So I thought why not give one a shot?

Mansion of the Living Dead's plot, such as it is, is both childlike in its simplicity and also bizarrely confusing. Four girls go on vacation, ending up at hotel resort. They are quite obviously looking to party hard, so much they barely notice that there doesn't seem to be a single soul anywhere around:
Director Franco wastes no time--literally--in getting the girls naked. They pair off into two rooms, and each set starts going to town on each other, convinced that the other pair are frigid prudes. They are all willing to sleep with the first guy they see but, for now, bedding each other will suffice.

They decide to bathe topless when someone from a few floors up throws a meat cleaver at them. It misses but, instead of, you know, leaving, they stick around and have more sex, some of it so explicit I wondered just how far Franco was going to go. Soon after, one of the girls wanders off to take photos, never to be seen again. The other three run into the hotel's gardener, who is only interested in peeping on them.

Another one ends up getting grabbed and dragged off to a nearby courtyard (has anyone seen a mansion yet?), where she is deemed to be a sacrifice but a cult of hooded bad guys wearing skull masks:
They talk a bunch of gibberish about their god and stuff, which all leads to the woman being gang raped then murdered. Meanwhile, not all that far away, Meryl Streep was making Out of Africa. Anyway, Girl #3 stumbles her way into another room where she finds the wife of the hotel's manager, who is kept chained to the wall in perpetuity.

As this woman explains what's going on here, she shovels food in her mouth, explaining that she's only fed once a week. I have to admit, watching her smear food all over her face was, for me, the most difficult scene to watch in the whole enterprise:
Basically, this whole place is built on sacred ground, blah blah blah, and they lure innocent people to this place (damn Travelocity!) and kill them as holy sacrifices. The hotel manager is in on it of course, and he plays a large role in the final scene, where Girl #3 is about to be sacrificed (having, in a stupor, killed Girl #4 earlier):
There's more, but what's the point? If you're the kind of person who wants to see this kind of movie, it doesn't matter how it ends!

I wasn't sure what I was hoping for, trying out some of Franco's work. I've seen enough horrendously gory Italian horror to last me a lifetime, so I wasn't looking for extreme violence. The sex is not very tittilating, either: the girls are shot in such unflattering ways and in such dismal settings that the whole thing just felt dirty, which may of course been part of the point.

Sure, there are some nice moody scenes: Franco shoots this empty hotel in ways that make the place seem terribly threatening, even though there's nothing inherently scary about these bland halls and florescent lighting. A few minutes in, when it becomes clear these four dingbats have exactly zero sense of self-preservation, you have to accept that this world is not like ours, and thereby plays by its own rules: while you or I would put the car in reverse once we saw how big and creepy the hotel is, these girls' natural reaction is to get as naked as possible as quickly as possible.

With literally another 200 films to choose from, I can't say this will the first and last Franco movie I will choose to hunt down, but I'm not exactly in a hurry, either.

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