La Mansión de los Muertos Vivientes/Mansion of the Living Dead (Jess Franco, 1986)

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Easily one of the best-looking films to come out of Jess Franco’s creatively wealthy ‘Golden Films Internacional’ period, La Mansión de los Muertos Vivientes is an odd cocktail of adult comic book imagery, gorgeous seaside panoramas, mild horror and crude sex comedy, all wrapped in dense supernatural atmosphere.

Four waitresses/strippers arrive in a seaside hotel on a mission to get laid. Ignoring the tell-tale signs of being unwelcome (such as someone throwing a meat cleaver at them from a balcony) they continue on their search for orgasms, which leads them straight into the clutches of zombie monks who inhabit a nearby monastery.

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When finally given an English-friendly DVD release (courtesy of Severin), La Mansión de los Muertos Vivientes was presumably easier to market than many other Golden Films titles due to some minor parallels it has with Amando de Ossorio’s celebrated “Blind Dead” films. Yet it would be too easy to label La Mansión de los Muertos Vivientes an unofficial sequel to or a ripoff of the Blind Dead saga. While indeed outwardly somewhat akin to de Ossorio’s dead horsemen, Jess Franco’s horny, satan-worshiping living dead seem fashioned after resurrected monks rather than knights. Still, this formal similarity to the Blind Dead films has prompted a good few genre fans who normally stir clear from Franco to watch and comment on La Mansión de los Muertos Vivientes, making it one of his more-celebrated ’80s titles. There are many reviews of La Mansión de los Muertos Vivientes online, comparing the film unfavourably to the Blind Dead films.  What the critics may not realise is that by mid-1980s the Spanish Blind Dead films have long run their course, with the fourth and final installment dated 1975. It’s therefore somewhat unlikely that Jess Franco would see commercial potential exploiting De Ossorio´s zombie Templar mythos with then-trending cannibal and slasher films offering riper opportunities for cashing in.

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Antonio Mayans gives one of his very best performances for Jess Franco as Carlo(s) Savonarola, the hotel’s twisted  psychopathic manager, who happens to be a reincarnation of a 18th century inquisitor. The final scene between Lina Romay and Antonio Mayans is at once confusing and touching in the best Franco tradition. Feature-length running time is achieved thanks to some extended softcore lesbian encounters. This fixation with filming simulated sex would become all-encompassing in Franco’s later digital works.

Apt at making his locations appear secluded, Jess Franco frames the hotel and the nearby monastery in such a fashion as to suggest complete isolation. Some tourists do wander into frame now and again, though. La Mansión de los Muertos Vivientes boasts some enjoyably atmospheric sequences, which clash with the deliberately cheesy and broadly exaggerated scenes of the semi-nude waitresses exploring the eerily deserted hotel corridors longing for a shag.

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The waitresses are presented as decidedly two-dimensional over-sexed dolls who chatter on and on about how horny they are. Portrayal of men as rapists and oppressors and women as giggly sex machines seems to be the norm in Franco’s adult comic book universe. The hotel manager (Mayans) keeps his crazy wife chained up naked in one of the rooms, starving her half to death. Perversely, when discovered by Lina Romay, the wife doesn’t wish to be freed, wistfully reminiscing of being treated like a dog and occasionally as a sex doll by her psycho husband instead, citing violent sex as her only pleasure. With all characters as caricatures and a general ‘anything goes’ tone, La Mansión de los Muertos Vivientes has a lot in common with the chaotic Al Pereira VS the Alligator Ladies, down to some similar absurdist scenes at the hotel reception.

Scarce on zombie attacks but full of stunning imagery and moments of unexpected serene beauty, La Mansión de los Muertos Vivientes has a lot to offer to less bloodthirsty viewers.

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