08 March, 2023


LA CASA DE LA MUJERES PERDIDA (1982) Most of Jess Franco's films are built around protagonists who are either trapped within or escaping from a dysfunctional real or extended family. The family is often a real or symbolic prison with a punishing mother/father figure, brothers and sisters in suffering communion and the psycholgical and existential weight of that specific situation. In the director's final film AL PERIERA VS THE ALLIGATOR LADIES the father figure is Jess Franco himself, the aged, demanding director, confined to a wheelchair but free to play with the apparatus of cinema and the representations of those within his mirror-enclosed mise-en-scene.
THE HOUSE OF LOST WOMEN went into production during a typically busy year for Jess Franco. He was involved in shooting, editing, preparing and doing post-production on at least 9 films in 1982. It was shot in late Summer/early Fall of 1982, probably toward the end of September, and completed post-production on October 18th, 1982. It was viewed by the Spanish ministerial commission which rated the film with a Clasificada "S" (sensitive material not suitable for viewers under 18 years old and even adults who might be offended). Theater workers checked that customers had ID that they were over 18. A film could be rated S for violence also, as was DAWN OF THE DEAD in Spain at that time. Filmed in coastal areas in the provinces of Murcia and Malaga, most of the action takes place in the seaside house of actor Mario Pontecorvo, played by Jess Franco regular Antonio Mayans. It opens with Desdemona, played by LIna Romay, walking along the beach and thinking in voiceover about her loneliness. There are no other residents on the island beside the dysfunctional Pontecorvo family. There is a tone of macabre, dark humor in the way the family is represented. We’ll be aware of this tone all through the film.
Fetishism, family style.... The film opens with shots of waves crashing on the island’s shore. We then listen to Desdemona’s thoughts as she walks along the beach. She’s lonely and frustrated as she watches the passenger jets fly overhead toward international destinations. She senses she will never leave the island and feels trapped. Her physical nudity represents her emotional nudity and vulnerability. She spends most of the film pleasuring herself, her only escape from the grim reality of her family life. These scenes of the island and the seashore were filmed along the coastal regions of Murcia and Malaga, mostly Malaga, two provinces in the southeast and south of Spain. The coast line of Murcia is seen in the first shots in Franco’s 1973, A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD. Some shots were filmed on the coastal area near the city of Benidorm, which is near Alicante, to the north of these other areas. Once again, Jess Franco is using various fragments taken in different regions of the Spanish landscape to create his own unique alternate reality. Lina Romay’s character is named Desdemona while Mario’s second wife is Dulcinea, both names of characters in famous Shakespeare tragedies. It should be emphasized that The House of Lost Women is a tragedy. The behavior of the head of the family, Mario, who could best be described by as a legend in his own mind, is that of a pathological liar. He claims to be from Argentina, where he was a leading stage presence for years until he had to leave the country due to a sex scandal. He constantly reminds the other family members that he in is permanent hiding and lives in fear of being found and arrested by Interpol agents and returned to stand trial. Desdemona also lives in a fantasy world while her sister Paulova is developmentally disabled and confined to a wheelchair. Both sisters are verbally, physically and emotionally abused by Mario’s second wife, played by the late actress Carmen Carrion. Mario’s wife also verbally humiliates him for being impotent in their sexual relations. Mario ignores all this and sits all day reading aloud from various magazines about such famous celebrities such as Margaret Thatcher and actors in classic movies. This is one of Antonio Mayan’s best roles and performances. He has to play a character who is never all in reality, but slides in and out of it. He’s self-absorbed to the point where he can no longer function normally, he lives in a plane somewhere between neurosis and psychosis. The late actress Carmen Carrion is also well cast as Mario’s dissatisfied wife. Some may remember the actress from Jose Larraz’s BLACK CANDLES. She’s very skilled at playing brooding, manipulative characters. Besides acting she worked in the garment industry and was a nightclub entertainer as well. Paulova is played by the actress Ausunscion Calero, who acts under the name Susana Kerr, and the character of the hunter/journalist is played by actor Tony Skios (Antonio Rebollo). Both actors appeared in other Jess Franco films around this time, including THE SINISTER DR ORLOFF.
One element to listen for on the soundtrack are the constant chatter of radio and television commercials for skin creams, food products, coffee, automobiles and an advert for the Spanish version for the 1980s American television hit DALLAS, which features a character named JR. Even the isolated, depraved world of this island bound family is invaded by the commercial entertainment world. Perhaps this is Jess Franco’s comment on his own position as a commercial Spanish director in the 1980s. He told me when I interviewed him in 2005 that “I was not free” when discussing his Spanish films in the 1960s and 70s, that the Spanish censorship only allowed him to make certain films which would be later censored of material the commission found offensive. He later gained a degree of creative freedom when in the 1980s the Spanish censors of the Francisco Franco regime had disappeared and there was a healthy soft-core sex film industry in Spain. He could deal with explicit themes and show things which were once forbidden in Spain.
1974 Eurocine composite, despite the presence of Franco veterans Jack Taylor and Olivier Mathot, not to be confused with THE HOUSE OF LOST WOMEN --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- THE HOUSE OF LOST WOMEN, was made in total freedom which he was give by Spanish producer Emilio Larraga, who owned Spain’s GOLDEN FILMS INTERNACIONAL, for which Franco made films from the late 1970s to the mid 1980s. The only limitation he had was money. “They were very poorly resourced” he told me. He had micro-budgets and unlimited creative freedom. This film has only 5 or 6 characters and most of it takes place in a small house. There were no big expenses incurred by a large cast, sets or travel. What he delivered with this film, as with his similar Bahia Blanca, was a very serious, personal project without an artificial plot, clichéd characters, generic demands. This wasn’t a spy film, a horror film, a neo-noir, a comedy, an action film, it was a film about real people trapped in a painful existence. The alternate Spanish title Perversion en la Isla Perdida highlights its existential placement in the “S” film marketplace of the era. It's set on island where we visit a hermetically sealed, closed world outside of the boundaries of reality. In that sense it's similar to such films as FEMALE VAMPIRE, COUNTESS PERVERSE, A VIRGIN AMOND THE LIVING DEAD,99 WOMEN, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MIRROR, MACUMBA SEXUAL and many of his WIP films, an off shore off-world built from the ground up by Jess Franco. What’s important to consider about LA CASA… is that if fulfills the commercial requirements of an “S” film, crafted for that market, while at the same time taking a deep dive into collective insanity. He remade this film almost 20 years later with BROKEN DOLLS (2000), which is also very much worth seeing. It’s done in a different style, using a different technology, a more experimental film, as most of his 21st Century digital films were. Both films are 100 percent Jess Franco. Thanks to Ismael Fernandez, Alex Mendibil and Francesco Cesari for additional information. © Robert Monell, 2023

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