Credited to a nonexistent novel by “D. Khunne,” THE MANSION OF THE LIVING DEAD (LA MANSION DE LOS MUERTOS VIVIENTES) is a fairly typical Jess Franco product of the eighties (it was one of six Franco films made in 1982), complete with his frequent co-star (and common law wife) Lina Romay in a lead role. It was conceived as an “homage” to the BLIND DEAD films of Franco’s fellow countryman Armando de Ossorio, which featured zombified Knights Templars terrorizing modern day horndogs. (MANSION also appears to have been inspired by Harry Kumel’s DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, with its oddly deserted beachfront hotel setting.)
Franco fans tend to rate MANSION OF THE LIVING DEAD highly, but for everyone else it’s a film to avoid.
Four scantily-clad waitresses arrive at a beachfront hotel. A creepy manager named Carlo informs the ladies the hotel is “full,” even though it seems completely deserted. In their room the gals passionately make out with each other and then retire to the beach, where they sunbathe topless until they’re interrupted by a meat cleaver hurled from one of the hotel’s upper floors.
The following day one of the waitresses, Lea, heads to a deserted monastery—and doesn’t return. That night one of Lea’s companions enters the monastery, where she’s confronted by a band of hooded skeletons that walk and talk. These freaks, we learn, are zombified monks who were tortured and executed 300 years earlier. They hold a mock trial in which the gal is condemned to die, resulting in a vicious gang rape and gory stabbing.
Back at the hotel we meet Carlo’s wife Olivia, chained up in a room by her husband, who’s been slowly torturing her through sex and starvation. More weirdness occurs when one of the waitresses, Candy, spies a dead body in the swimming pool. Candy is then lured by Carlo to the monastery, where she’s gang raped by the monks.
Now possessed by the monks’ evil spirits, Candy heads back to the hotel and strangles one of her companions. Shortly thereafter Carlo elects to kill Olivia by feedings her rat poison.
All of Jess Franco’s directorial trademarks are all on display in this film: a confused and scattershot narrative, a plethora of gratuitous ass and crotch shots, a uniformly bland visual style (there are numerous shots of people walking toward and away from the camera) and much zoom lens abuse. Yes, there are some striking images here and there that would appear to befit a director whose filmmaking talent impressed Orson Welles (Franco is said to have personally directed much of Welles’ CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT), and there are concerted attempts at “atmosphere” in scenes like the one in which a woman is frightened by the hotel’s proprietor at the end of the long hallway—but the scene in question, like so much else in this film, is torpedoed by the ridiculous sexual encounter that follows.
As was his practice, Franco lavishes a lot of excess screen time on leering soft-core sex scenes, which helps pad the proceedings to feature length. With a more competent cinematic treatment all of this could have made for an enjoyable exercise in excess, but as it is the film is a confused and confusing bore.
MANSION OF THE LIVING DEAD (LA MANSION DE LOS MUERTOS VIVIENTES)
Golden Films Internacional, S.A.
Director/Producer/Screenwriter/Cinematographer/Editor: Jess Franco
Cast: Lina Romay, Antonio Mayans, Albino Graziani, Mari Carmen Nieto, Mabel Escano, Elisa Vela, Eva Leon