Oh, how people love their B movies, and their C’s and D’s too. Spaghetti Westerns, MST3K-grade sci-fi, classic John Waters – all have their passionate fans and defenders. Reissuing genre movies is quite a thriving little industry.
The Spanish director Jess (or Jesus) Franco‘s 1981 sexploitation film Macumba Sexual, like some of his earlier and better known works (Necronomicon and Vampyros Lesbos among others), combines eroticism with horror in a way that’s predictable given its genre, and it features the luscious Lina Romay and the majestic transsexual Ajita Wilson in lead roles. In a new interview with Franco and Romay, the director – who plays an amusingly creepy idiot in the film – describes the exotic Wilson with some justification as a female Christopher Lee.
But the real star of this picture is its Canary Islands setting. Franco and cinematographer Juan Soler make love objects out of grand old ships, camel caravans, stark and seemingly endless rolling dunes, surrealistic architecture, and fantastical Senegalese statuary. The camera alternately pans, zooms, lingers over and leers at the sheer physicality of the place, sometimes for longer than one expects.
The plot, such as it is, moves as slowly as the direction. On holiday with her husband, buxom, wide-eyed Alice (Romay) follows the clues in her erotic dreams (using some unexplained supernatural radar, I guess) to the island of the tall, statuesque Princess Obongo (Wilson) and her slaves, who await the not totally unsuspecting businesswoman with a variety of sexual delights, as well as more sinister intentions. The sex scenes are graphic as far as they go, although tame by twenty-first century standards. The low-key horror elements are perhaps the stronger for being realized not through special effects but by artful cutting, deliberate pacing, and enthusiastic use of real tribal objects. Spooky music by “Pablo Villa” (who is actually Franco) adds to the supernatural weirdness.
Slaves, fetishes, and striking, symbolically sexual set-pieces earn the film the “exploitation” in “sexploitation.” On the whole, though, its eeriness is more visually arresting than shocking.
This new release, restored from the original negative, looks gorgeous in its original 2.35:1 format. It should establish Macumba Sexual in its rightful place as the Barry Lyndon of European sexploitation movies. The only extra feature is the aforementioned interview, which Franco gives in his own eccentric version of English (subtitles are helpfully provided) – it’s charming, but only because he’s an old man now.
Macumba Sexual is not great filmmaking, of course, and I wouldn’t call it even a great B movie, but neither is it quite the standard B fare. Fans of Franco (or the genre in general) will certainly appreciate having this beautiful-looking reissue.
In Spanish, with subtitles.