Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, so when hotelier Shelia (Raquel Evans) finds her partner Ron (Antonio Mayans) in bed with a member of staff, her mind quickly turns to revenge. Her rival – Betsy (Ursula Buchfellner) – is initially accused of theft, and when that fails to stick she’s kidnapped, drugged and put to work in Shelia’s other establishment, the brothel ‘Rio Amore’.
“Men don’t want anything else. All they want is nice tits.”
Shot in Portugal at the beginning of 1981, Die Nackten Superhexen vom Rio Amore is fairly typical of Franco’s work during this period, in that it’s awash with frontal nudity, inhabited by criminals and punctuated by coastal cutaways. The obsessive, dreamlike quality of his best work is largely absent though, and the performance pieces – the brothel stands in for a nightclub here, as a performance space – evoke memories of past triumphs without ever living up to them. Even the sexual violence feels more like a trope than a transgression this time around, and the contrivance of the final scenes – a recurrent weakness, possibly indicating that the director has simply had enough – really is risible.
For all that, it’s functional exploitation fare taken on its own terms, engaging fluff, devoid of some of the ticks the director’s detractors frequently point to. The pacing is quite even, for example, and I don’t think there are any issues with focus here. There are even a number of tracking shots around the brothel, indicating technical care which probably owes more to the budget and / or stipulations of German (co)producer Lisa Films than the concerns of the director himself.
The influence of the principal producer can be discerned beyond the somewhat conventional cinematography of Juan Soler, who was a Franco regular by this point. For instance, the screenplay is credited to Erich Tomek and the score – forgettable euro-pop, rather than the jazz we normally associate with Franco – to Gerhard Heinz, both of whom worked on Bloody Moon (1981) just prior to this.
As for those in front of the camera, they’re playing cartoon characters and were dubbed in post-production, so we need to calibrate accordingly. Raquel Evans and Antonio Mayans are perfectly serviceable as the Madame and her man, which is more than can be said for Ursula Buchfellner, a long-limbed former playmate who had appeared in two of the three German coproductions which preceded this (Devil Hunter and Sadomania, both 1981). In truth, none of them have the screen presence of Katja Bienert though, which is ironic given her nude scenes are probably the reason the film is not more widely available today.
It’s actually rather curious that the film’s English title is a reference to Bienert’s character, who is secondary in terms of screen time and largely superfluous to the central thrust of the narrative. Linda is Betsy’s sister, who travels to Funchal and finds love in the arms of a local boy, while her elder sister is imprisoned, beaten and, in some of the film’s most memorable images, exhibited in a glass tank.
“Some people just don’t have no culture.”
It’s often said that Franco made some films for art and others for commerce, and while I don’t entirely buy that, I think it is a useful distinction in this case. Linda is unmistakably a Franco film from the first frame to the last, it’s just not a particularly inspired one. It feels like a job of work rather than a passion project, and that’s almost certainly what it was. There are some nice shots here and there and it certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome. There’s a sense that we’ve seen it all before though, and what we have here is Franco-lite.
Obsession – the Films of Jess Franco, Balbo, Blumenstock and Kessler (Haufen & Trebbin, 1993)
Bizarre Sinema!, by Carlos Aguilar (Glittering Images, 1999)
The Films of Jess Franco, by Lazaro-Reboll, Olney et al. (Wayne State University Press, 2018)
Flowers of Perversion, Stephen Thrower (Strange Attractor Press, 2018)