Monday, July 21, 2008


On the surface, it would appear that the 1982 film MANSION OF THE LIVING DEAD was simply Jess Franco's answer to the BLIND DEAD series, but those familiar with the director's work will know that you rarely get a mere rehash from the man--more often, you get a rehash brimming with constant zoom lenses, meandering conversations masquerading as storylines, and abundant but vaguely unappealing nudity. MANSION, in many ways, is typical of the apathetic, skin-heavy hackwork that's defined the latter half of his career.

Four swingin' single females (led by Franco's wife Lina Romay, hiding beneath the name Candy Coster, as well as a really ugly wig) on vacation at a beach resort find the hotel deserted, save for a few creepy employees; whereas most young women would be freaked out by being alone with these perverts, they find it rather convenient, since it gives them more time to indulge in gratuitous sunbathing and sex scenes. But they soon find that there's more to the hotel than the concierge's wife chained to a wall in her room (don't ask), and it has to do with the monk-robed, skeletal figures that dwell in a crumbling building near the hotel.

While it goes without saying that MANSION is inferior to Amando de Ossorio's films in every regard, Franco still manages to create a bare-bones atmosphere with shots of the empty hotel and a howling wind on the soundtrack. But the horror trappings are just window-dressing, a means of crossover appeal for what is essentially a softcore porno romp. And an uninteresting romp at that, as the (fairly graphic) lesbian sex exist as much to pad the film to a releaseable length than to create any excitement. Franco directs with the same blunt, fetishistic gaze, lingering over the ample female flesh on display, yet the sex scenes yield little passion or heat; he even uses the zombie angle to serve the prurient aspect of the film rather than the horrific one, using gang-rape and humiliation to thrill the audience. (I've never been fond of either one for sexual gratification, but I highly doubt those that are will find anything here to stimulate them.)

It's hard to recommend MANSION OF THE LIVING DEAD, since it fails as both a horror film and an erotic vehicle. Franco completists who are immune to his more irritating habits may be compelled to check it out, and Romay certainly has her share of devotees--but those wanting to glimpse a side of the actress similar to that in, say, THE BARE-BREASTED COUNTESS are going to be disappointed, as Franco makes her as frumpy as possible (a naked frump, yeah, but still somewhat unattractive). Really, the only suitable audience I can think of would be hormonally-addled teenage boys without Internet access.

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