Friday 17 August 2012

Macumba Sexual (1981)

Amazingly, this appears to be a Jess Franco film only ever issued under one name.

Of the numerous films Franco made in the early ‘80s for Spain’s ‘Golden Films Internacional’, many seem to be pretty lightweight softcore flicks, leading me to speculate that they must have been somewhat taken aback when they threw on the reels for this one and discovered that their man had been inspired to deliver something wholly other on this excursion.

In narrative terms a straight rehash of the familiar ‘Vampyros Lesbos’ plot-line, ‘Macumba Sexual’ finds Canary Island-dwelling real estate agent Lina Romay (sporting a blonde wig in her “Candy Coster” alter-ego) being summoned to remote spot that’s either on the North African coast or a fairly large, sparsely inhabited desert island (it’s kind of unclear..?), where she finds herself falling under the psychic and sexual control of a possibly-undead African witch named, I’m afraid, Princess Obongo, played by infamous French sex/sleaze star Ajita Wilson.

Although packed from start to finish with writhing naked bodies and orgasmic sex rites, including a few moments that are bordering on hardcore (I think the BBFC must have been sleeping on the job when they gave this an uncut ‘18’), ‘Macumba Sexual’ is not really the kind of thing that’s liable to get any well-adjusted individual ‘in the mood’, exactly.

Instead, it is one of a select handful of Franco films (his best ones, usually) in which sex is treated not just as fun and games, but as something far more dangerous and unsettling – as a means of attaining psychic domination over others, as a kind of hysterical compulsion, or a gateway by which dark forces might enter. Touching on all of these troubling notions to some extent, ‘Macumba Sexual’ is a pretty heavy trip through the darkest corners of Franco’s erotic imagination - not just a horror film with sex, or a sex film with horror, but a film in which the sex IS the horror.

Also, you get to see Antonio Mayans’ wang, and Lina walking around in some denim and lace-based outfits that present a significant challenge to the notion of ‘acceptable public apparel’. 4/5

Presented by Franco as stifling, claustrophobic fever-dream where unchecked sexual dementia blurs into the menacing, repetitive trance of a folk-magick hex, the whole film has the feel of a series of hallucinations brought on by extreme heat and dehydration. The use of ‘sinister’ African imagery and fertility charms only occasionally borders on the goofy, and you can practically feel the deadening tropical heat oozing from the screen.

Often described as an “alleged transsexual”, whatever that’s supposed to imply, Ajita Wilson simply looks fucking terrifying here, and the blurry, sun-damaged footage of her striding through the sand of Lina’s dreams with her two drooling, dog-walking human slaves is truly the stuff of nightmares.

For any viewers still trying to hang on to the idea that they’re watching a conventional sex film even after all that business, the fearful mood is further enhanced by a soundtrack of droning electronic feedback and echoed faux-hoodoo vocal chants that is altogether more menacing than the kitschy fare that usually predominates in these kinda things, and Franco ups the ante further by busting out some impulsive moments of startlingly disorientating, near avant-garde filmmaking technique. 4/5

Pulp Thrills:
Nada. With the stylistic excesses of the ‘60s and ‘70s behind him, Jess is jamming econo here, and the film’s dark tone leaves little room for any genre-bending frivolity. Whether Princess Obongo’s assorted black magick fetishes and rites have any legitimacy beyond Franco’s warped imaginings and the handful of ropey props he picked up down the local tourist market is doubtful, but nonetheless the film’s magical/supernatural elements are played out in a surprisingly naturalistic and believable manner. 1/5

Altered States:
What…? Where am I? Did that just… happen? I don’t feel too good… there are sexy pictures in my mind, but they’re all kind of frightening. I think I’m going to go curl up in the corner, until it goes away. Can you open the windows, please? 5/5

Of all the jarring modernist edifices and brutalist hotel blocks that Franco’s keen eye discovered knocking about in the Mediterranean during the ‘70s, the location used for Princess Obongo’s residence is definitely one of the most memorable – a complex of visionary Afro-futurist buildings overlooking a shimmering desert coastline, it lends an even more sinister and otherworldly quality to the events that transpire within. Elsewhere, long camel rides across the windswept desert, scruffy North African(?) harbour towns and footage of Lina travelling between islands on what appears to be an old fashioned sailing ship all combine to make ‘Macumba..’ feel somewhat like a holiday brochure put together by the Marquis DeSade. 5/5

When Jess and the gang cruised out to some exotic locale to make a cheap porno in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, most of the time they just came back with a cheap porno. But the fact that occasionally, when the stars were right, he could still knock out something as haunting and unhinged as ‘Macumba Sexual’ stands as a testament to the man’s unique talent, and as a welcome reminder of the reasons why some of us are driven to spend so much time to watching, reading and writing about his films, despite their often-pretty-questionable nature.


dfordoom said...

One of his best films I think. It was a welcome return to form for Franco.

Soukesian said...

Great review - I have to see this one! (I wonder if anyone has managed to track down the location?)

Having finally been bitten by the Franco bug, I'm starting to actively seek out his film. I can see the Franco Files will be an invaluable guide through the vast psycho-sexadelic quagmire of his work.

Ben said...

Thanks folks!

Yes, I think you're right dfordoom - so far this stands head & shoulders above anything else I've seen from his '80s work.

Hope you enjoy your descent into the Franco realm Soukesian -although please don't blame me if I accidentally persuade you to buy an expensive DVD of some inexplicable movie where nothing happens and people just wonder around in a daze for 80 minutes... once you're hooked, that's all part of the fun.