Mansion of the Living Dead (1985)
By: Mr Intolerance on December 17, 2009  | 
Severin (USA). All Region, NTSC. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). Spanish DD 2.0 mono. English Subtitles. 93 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Jess Franco
Starring: Candy Coster, Mabel Escano, Robert Foster, Eva Leon
Screenplay: Jess Franco
Country: Spain
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Think about how many films you've seen with the words "of the Living Dead" in the title. Now think about how many of them you've watched because they had the words "of the Living Dead" in them. Now think about how many of them were actually any good. Jess Franco's Mansion of the Living Dead isn't one of them.

In 1981, after years of shooting films for foreign producers in foreign lands, Franco took his crash zoom lens back to Spain and shot two films back to back in the Canary Islands: this rather benighted affair, and Macumba Sexual (starring transsexual Ajita Wilson, of Franco's Sadomania). Now, I'm going on record right here and right now (and probably leading with my chin) by saying that I'm quite a fan of Jess Franco's work. He's got a fine eye for the visual, can wring more value out of a dollar than anyone this side of Roger Corman, and rides a fine line between art and soft-core porn while still catering for both crowds, but when his heart isn't in it, as is most obviously the case here before you even get the interview in the Special Features, it shows, and painfully so.

The basic story is this: four German lesbian barmaids (two couples, although neither couple knows the other are lesbians, each accusing the other of being prudes – although considering how quickly these ladies are willing to get nekkid, which is how they spend the majority of the film, that's a somewhat erroneous call) go on holidays to a seaside resort in the Mediterranean. Unbeknownst to them, the nearby seventeenth century monastery has some centuries old zombie Templars residing, and they want the girls as a means of prolonging their undeath. That's pretty much about it. Oh, and throw in lots of nudity, soft core lesbian action, bondage, rape, some quite nasty death scenes, atrociously bad special effects, awful make-up (the head Templar looks as though he's been basted with rhubarb and custard) and a plot devoid of any kind of tension, or indeed, story.

Now, at this point, you may well be thinking, but didn't this handsome reviewer say that he was a fan of Franco's work? He did say that indeed. When Franco is on (Justine, Eugenie, Vampyros Lesbos, Female Vampire, Ilsa: The Wicked Warden, or Barbed Wire Dolls, just to name a few), he is right on – the sleaze is fine, the connection he feels with the work he's creating is obvious, and everything works. On films he does as simply a jobbing director, he produces movies that are little better than a ninety-minute endurance test. As a fan of trash cinema I have a high tolerance for shit, lord knows I've sat through enough of it, but this cold, clinical and lifeless film has nothing of the man at his best, besides some attractive shots of Franco's partner-in-grime, Lina Romay, who bills herself here as "Candy Coster", for some reason, and even more inexplicably wears a very dodgy platinum blonde wig.

Why doesn't Mansion of the Living Dead work? There are a number of reasons. Firstly, Franco's disconnection with the story; this is painfully evident, as mentioned above. Secondly, the script is excruciatingly bad; I was not going in expecting Goethe, but even by the standards of trash film, this is lame. Thirdly, the special effects could probably have been bettered by an autistic five year old. Fourthly, there is no tension, and as this is ostensibly a horror film, that is inexcusable. Look, I could keep on enumerating points of contention I have with the film, but frankly, why should I? The point has been made and more so.

Do you know what actually is interesting about Mansion of the Living Dead? Some of you might have picked up on an important word to do with Spanish horror films I mentioned a while back. That's right: Templars. For those of you who've not been paying attention, in 1971 Amando de Ossorio gave us the truly unnerving Tombs of the Blind Dead, a nightmarish tale of undead Knights Templar come back from the dead to feast on the blood of the living. A genuinely eerie and horrifying film, it spawned three sequels which never quite lived up to their illustrious forebear, while each did have their own merits. Franco acknowledges his debt to Tombs of the Blind Dead, as well as the short stories of 19th century Andalusian author Becquer (although oddly the film's credits state that it was based around a novel by one David Khunne – a pseudonym of Franco's, and guess what? The novel never even existed!), and quite openly states that he enjoyed it, and attempted to create an equally 100% Spanish horror film. In the interview he speaks quite energetically about the film, which makes me rethink his level of connection with it, but given the end product, I'm not all that convinced.

One thing that's worth noting given the mention of the Blind Dead films, is Franco's rather succinct addressing of the levels of sadism that's in them. If you consider Mansion of the Living Dead to be Franco's "homage" to those films, and some folks do (given the Templar's costuming here, it's easy to see why), then you can see that he was not too far off the mark in presenting sex and violence in a way that's quite accurate (as well as being quite nasty in tone and content) to de Ossorio's films.
Severin have done it again – the picture quality is absolutely tip-top, a crystal clear anamorphic cinemascope image remastered from the original Spanish print. Considering the nature of the film and its obscurity, this attention to detail is really quite impressive.
This is also quite good for a film of this vintage and "popularity"; a clear two-track mono in the original language. De Ossorio's monks have a better soundtrack, though.
Extra Features
The only Extra you get is a nineteen minute interview with Franco and Romay, "The Mansion That Jess Built". I've stated before that Franco is always an interesting interview subject, candid and forthright, and he's no different here. From the outset he states that he doesn't like living dead films (summing the living dead up as "idiots falling down"), and is particularly disparaging about George Romero (considering him "primitive", which was not winning him any brownie points with me), but waxes lyrical about Tombs of the Blind Dead, and states how he tried to make a uniquely Spanish film, as stated above, and tried to give his living dead something special – his attack on the Catholic church via the wrong-doings of the Templars was probably a little heavy-handed, when all's said and done. Talk about gilding the lily… He also addresses briefly the reasoning behind his variety of pseudonyms (there is one amusing moment where he talks about the reaction people had to his Christian and surnames, and on the screen, just to really point out the bleeding obvious, we get images of "Jesus Christ – son of God" and "Francisco Franco – Spanish dictator"; a little redundant, methinks), and the relationship he has with sex in films, specifically his own. It's an interesting interview, but then again, most interviews with Franco are.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Look, it probably seems like I've been unduly harsh to Mansion of the Living Dead, but honestly, it is very much a sub-par film. Franco has produced far, far better films, and even without considering this as part of a larger body of work, its technical shortcomings as a film are evident right from the word go. Is it the worst film I've ever seen? Of course not, don't be ridiculous. But even looking at this as a trash film curio, it's difficult to like. If you're new to Franco's work and want to check out some of his stuff, don't start here – have a look at some of the other films I mentioned above first. Time has not been kind to Mansion of the Living Dead, but I honestly don't think that it would even have been that much chop back in the 80s.

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