24 August, 2018

LA ESCLAVA BLANCA (1985) Reviewed by Robert Monell

This low budget jungle adventure doesn't so much subvert its genre as inhabit it. A commercial entertainment and a nostalgic trip back to the 1930 and 40s Hollywood jungle fare (WHITE PONGO).

Of the eight other films Franco made in 1985 (half of them hardcore porno features), this very low budget adventure stands out because of an absorbing, multi-layered script by ace Spanish screenwriter Santiago Moncada. Besides writing Bava's HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON, THE BELL FROM HELL, and THE CORRUPTION OF CHRIS MILLER, Moncada has written and produced screenplays for a variety of European genre directors (Manuel Cano's SWAMP OF THE RAVENS, TARZAN'S GREATEST CHALLENGE, and VOODOO BLACK EXORCIST were all based on Moncada scripts).

     In LA ESCLAVA BLANCA, Moncada gives us three separate stories that gradually interweave and come together in the final scene. The first story seems to based on Macbeth. A weak-willed jungle guide is manipulated by his domineering wife into committing a series of crimes. During a safari, he leads a honeymoon couple (José Llamas and Conchi Montés) into a trap laid by the Tabongas, a Stone Age tribe that worships a giant lizard god. The bride is tied to a sacrificial altar for later sacrifice.

     The second story starts out in the city, where a karate student and two of her instructors accidentally discover the secret of the Tobonga. In the third story, two expeditions make their way back to the Tabonga camp.

One of these groups includes the original guide, who has been abducted by the karate instructors (they have also killed his wife). The other consists of the husband of the abducted woman and the female karate student (Lina Romay) who has split off from the school. During the long trip back, the guide has a change of heart and decides to repent, turning against his captors and helping the people he originally betrayed.

   The climax of the film, expertly shot and edited despite the budgetary restrictions, may remind some viewers of a miniature version of the final scene in THE WILD BUNCH. The very last scene, in which the Tabonga gold is thrown away, echoes THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE. Franco's film, of course, is a lot less ambitious than those two classics, but maybe that's why it works so well. The massacre at the Tobonga camp, the abduction scene, and the opening safari are as well-staged as anything Franco has ever done. There's also an amusing dose of voodoo dancing thrown in for good measure.

Daniel White's pulsating drum and vocal score* is familiar from some of Franco's other jungle adventures, but this is by far the best of the lot. Miguel Ros (Jose Miguel Garcia Marfa) and Mabel Escaño are both very effective as the safari guides from hell.

With its karate scenes, voodoo rituals, adventure story, literary and film references, LA ESCLAVA BLANCA seems like a kind of compendium of Franco's 1980's output (minus the XXX sex material). And if one can get past his other sub-standard jungle/cannibal fare, this one is most definitely worth seeking out. 

*Score credited onscreen to: Mus : J. Franco, Pablo Villa (= D. J. White) performed by Carloto Perla & The Hassigos [Carloto Perla has since been identified as a nephew of Jess Franco who actually performed the voodoo chanting vocals, previously heard in DEVIL HUNTER and other Jess Franco "jungle adventures."]

Robert Monell

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