13 March, 2018

Sex, Death and Delirium under the African Sun (Macumba Sexual, 1980)

Macumba Sexual
She is introduced in long shot, clad in blinding white, sillhouetted against the desert Sun, the rays of which are blotted out by her imposing figure. The zoom lens gradually draws her closer to us, as if compelled by an occult force rather than a camera operator, in this case the great Juan Soler Cozar. She raises her hands above her head as if in communion with a elements. From the opening moments of this film She is in control....

The Canary Islands: Tara Obongo (the late, legendary Ajita Wilson), the living dead Black witch, is capable of possessing her victims through a form of sexual voodoo, hence the title. Her most recent victims are American tourists Alice Brooks (Lina Romay) and her boyfriend (Antonio Mayans). Alice is in the Canary Islands representling a US real estate firm. But that isn't important in this context. Tara seduces and sexually enslaves them both, but each time they believe they have escaped her spell another level of the nightmare begins.

Ever have a nightmare from which you couldn't awaken? You know it's only a dream but each time you try wake up another chapter of the dream starts. MACUMBA SEXUAL opens in the midst of a nightmare and ends with another one just starting. Alice dreams of Tara atop a sand dune under the blazing tropical sun. A terrifying fetish (looking like a shrivelled Donald Duck!) keeps appearing as a kind of warning. There is no escape from her psycho-sexual curse. A local hotel manager (Jess Franco) tells them that Tara has been long dead. But every time they sleep she becomes their controlling reality. Tara represents both Sex and Death, she seduces everyone who comes into contact with her and has two collared male slaves whom she walks like dogs. Her haunting voice calls to Alice while she sleeps in a similar way the vampire princess of VAMPYROS LESBOS called to another female protagonist. Tara lives to project sensual hypnotism and awaits her own death. There is no middle range of emotion or consciousness. The sexually ambiguous Ajita Wilson perfectly emodies her. But his is not a Pop Art blow out like VAMPYROS LESBOS.  The Istanbul of VAMPYROS LESBOS is replaced with the desolation of the Canary Islands locations, which seem like an endless desert. Those who know about her, like Franco's babbling innkeeper, can't fully articulate what she is about. But her presence permeates every moment of the film and overwhelms all of the characters. The audio-visual impact of the film is tremendous. It doesn't matter that Franco has told this story before. It's how he tells it this time which is important. One feels immersed in some primeval African ritual, one is which coherence and a "white" reading can't account for. 

It ends as Alice again awakens, this time in the comforting arms of her lover. then she sees the Voodoo fetish in the corner of the room. Or is it just an hallucination? The film closes on her seemingly endless, high pitched screams. Screams of pure terror. The unknowable, the negative force, the Other has once again gotten the upper hand. Jess Franco can only move on to the next film. Fin...

One of Franco's most delirious films: teeming with Jungian symbolism, almost dialogue free (words are pointless in this context), nearly hard-core (the Spanish tape appears to be cut), and driven by the moaning (by an uncredited relative of Jess Franco?), eerie voodoo rhythms of  Pablo Villa (the late , great Daniel J White improvising with the director and a vocalist). Lina wears a blonde wig, runs around in a skimpy bikini and is credited as "Candy Coster." It's too morbid to be erotic and creates a kind of disembodied horror which lingers after Tara dissolves into the omnipresent Voodoo fetish. The slow zoom shots which move in and out of the action seem controlled by Tara's presence, representations of her uncanny magnetism. The viewer is pulled into the toxic miasma, like it or not. It's like drinking an entire bottle of Rum all at once instead of just having a few tropical cocktails. One gets intoxicated and reality becomes irrelevant. Some may wish there were a HD release of this fever dream. Thanks to Francesco Cesari. 

Essential Franco. Robert Monell

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