Our continuing Jess Franco Film countdown to Halloween briefly considers the 1982 LA MANSION DE LOS MUERTOS VIVENTES, a Golden Films Internacional Production shot totally in the Canary Islands at the Tropical Hotel, which becomes a sort of late 20th Century equivalent of a zombie haunted castle. In fact, a group of 17th Century "monks' live in a nearby monastery, which does indeed appear to be 300 years old and on nights when the wind blow through the local palm trees, causing the monastery bell to toll eerily the monks appear to do their sinister work.
First there was the Spanish Inquisition, then there was the regime of Francisco Franco, then some time after his death in 1975, there was "Democracy" or a period of adjustment leading to something else. That something else is the subject of this film, which the director terms one of his most "Spanish" of films, about the Spanish Church, the ruins of Spanish Catholicism which refuse to disappear but hide angry men and frightened women, libertines and avengers, all feeling entitled.
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But there is much more than meets the eye, as usual in the best, most personal films of Jess Franco and this is certainly one of his most idiosyncratic efforts, often mislabeled as a failed attempt at a "Blind Dead" zombie film a la his Spanish horror colleague, Amando de Ossorio. These may seem like brothers of the cloth to the Templars of de Ossorio but they are actually a sect of modern local men, frustrated enough or bored enough, or perhaps insane with the "religious" passion of the Spanish Inquisition to punish "sinners" in this case loose women who come to the hotel for fun in the sun.
Carlos Savanorola (Antonio Mayans) is, as his name suggests, a holdover from the Inquisition who tortures his real life wife by chaining her to her bed while withholding food for days on end, humiliating and starving the poor woman, who by this time has been driven insane. He even sprays her food with rat poison at the end as the ultimate sanction for being a "bad" woman. Some critics have seen this as a misogynistic tract featuring sexual violence against sexually exploited (by the film) women. Actually, it's an attack on misogyny disguised as "religion" or conventional morality or political expediency. The "zombies" aren't undead, they are very much alive men in monk's robes and plastic zombie masks who abduct female tourist and torture, sexually mutilate, murder them to fulfill a twisted agenda. History is cyclical rather than linear in Jess Franco's equation, as often is in Spanish art, whether it be Picasso's GUERNICA, the plays of Arrabal or the epic of Cervantes. Men are locked into social and psychological roles which target women for victimization. The "erotic" scenes in the film aren't really very erotic, merely featuring a lot of naked flesh and playing to the Clasificada S market. That's the through-line in Franco's deliberately stuttered superstructure. It's not unlike one of the mad episodes in Bunuel's THE MILKY WAY (1969), although not at all in the charming Arthouse vein which the much more respectable Spanish maestro fit so comfortably into.
This is much more of a personal project for Jess Franco than the cheap zombie thrills of LA TUMBA DE LOS MUERTOS VIVIENTES (1981), where the undead are Nazi zombies guarding treasure, and the supernatural is interrupted by WWII war movie stock footage from a hack Italian vehicle (Alfredo Rizzo's I GIARDINIE DEL DIAVOLO). The gore effects are no better in MANSION OF THE LIVING DEAD, but they don't have to be because it's not literal but figurative violence which is being examined. A history of sexual violence displayed as exploitation but developed as genre satire where cultural signifiers abound in an oneiric atmosphere where nothing and everything is real.
*Above painting is (C) Amando de Ossorio
(C) Robert Monell, 2015