It’s noticeable when reviewing the available literature that much more attention has been afforded to the films of the sixties and seventies than those of the eighties, which might lead one to believe there is little of value in the latter. That’s really not the case though, and says more about the availability of these films over the years than their actual quality. This is particularly true of the Golden Films productions, which date from 1981 to 1983 and includes the likes of Gemidos de Placer (1982) and Mil Sexos Tiene la Noche (1983).
The cycle kicked off with Macumba Sexual (1981), a film which owes much to 1970’s Vampyros Lesbos, in that an estate agent travels to a sun-kissed island and meets a woman who has been haunting her dreams. This time around the mysterious figure turns out to be a witch rather than a vampire, an androgynous black witch known as Princess Obongo (Ajita Wilson).
Golden Films International represented the first foray into the film industry for husband and wife team Emilio and Stella Larraga, and its easy to see why Franco would have been attracted to them, to the opportunity to shoot whatever he wanted, albeit on shoestring budgets. This was often a trade he seemed willing to make – indeed, some of his best films came when working under such constraints – and the minimalism of Macumba Sexual presumably reflects this. The cast is small and the dialogue sparse but the director has everything he needs to entrance the viewer, to draw them into a world of sex, magic and mind control.
“May your dreams come true.”
As with many of his better films, the finished work seems more concerned with mood than narrative, and plays out in long wordless passages, evoking a dreamlike state in the viewer. Time and space seem to bend beneath the camera’s weight, fantasy and reality blur beneath the blazing sun and libidinal desires undermine rational thought. The plot itself proceeds with the inevitability of a fairy tale, as Alice and her husband (Lina Romay and Antonio Mayans, respectively) succumb to the Princess’ siren song. Franco’s cinema is not about suspense though, and it’s not about characters. It’s about images and obsessions.
Shot in Gran Canaria towards the end of 1981, Macumba Sexual was obviously a small scale production but is executed with care for the most part. The film abounds in memorable imagery, from the Princess leading her (naked) slaves around on leashes, to Alice running (naked) over sand dunes that somehow look like the surface of another planet. Juan Soler’s camera pans and scans, picking out details of the coastal landscape, architecture and artefacts. These are among the hallmarks of the auteur, conscious aesthetic choices as recognisable as the crotch shots and crash zooms.
It probably goes without saying that the film also abounds in frontal nudity, with all of the principals shedding their clothes at one time or other. Of course sex is at the heart of the film – it’s how the Princess lures her prey to her lair – and the encounters between the leads are among its major set pieces. Indeed the scene is set early on when the Princess psychically projects herself into the lovemaking of the chosen couple, beneath her, on top of him.
It’s worth mentioning in this context that Wilson – who had previously appeared in Franco’s Sadomania (1980) – was a post-operative transsexual, which goes some way to explaining her striking screen presence. There’s an other-worldly air about her here, neither masculine nor entirely feminine, and she towers over her co-stars, dominating them, forcing them to bend to her will. As for those co-stars, Mayans and Romay – the latter wearing her ‘Candy Coster’ wig – are characteristically game as the moths drawn to the flame, and director also appears in one of his many memorable cameos, this time as an eccentric hotelier, another echo of Vampyros Lesbos.
“Time passes slowly here.”
Ultimately Macumba Sexual is not going to convert the doubters and is probably not the best entry point for beginners. It’s too slow, too strange. It’s an esoteric sex film in which the boundaries between dream and reality breakdown, in which the sand constantly shifts beneath our feet. On the other hand, those familiar with the rhythms and idiosyncrasies of the director are likely to fall quickly under its spell, to lose themselves in reverie amid the sun, sand and sea.
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)