A quartet of buxom and randy German ladies (one of whom is Lina Romay under the alias of Candy Coster) head to the coast where they shack up â€“ two per room â€“ in a fairly swanky hotel (there's no actual mansion in this movie) for a vacation that they hope will be full of rest, relaxation and some quality 'gettin' it on' time! They arrive and the strange man who works the desk (Robert Foster) tells them that the hotel is full so that he can't give them adjoining rooms, though no one else seems to be around. The girls figure everyone else must be at the beach and so the couple off and get their rooms together, breaking for some carnal encounters now and again.
What the girls don't realize is that there is at least one other person in the hotel, and that is the desk clerk's wife (Eva Leon) who just so happens to be insane and is therefore chained up in one of the rooms where she eats what she can with a completely voracious appetite. Once the girls have settled in they take in some topless sunbathing only to have someone toss a clever at them from a nearby abandoned church where a gang of undead Templar Knights are hiding out. As the girls set about exploring the area, they're individually abducted and subsequently raped by the undead knights save for Romay's character who knows more about what's going on here than anyone else could possibly suspect.
Mansion Of The Living Dead was obviously inspired by Amando de Ossorio's Blind Dead series which began with 1971's Tombs Of The Blind Dead and which followed the sadistic exploits of the undead Templar Knights who were executed back during their days for witchcraft. The Templar's we see in Franco's film use similar costumes though they're much brighter and cleaner than the tattered rags seen in de Ossorio's movies, in fact they look brand new. Adding to the strangeness surrounding Franco's Templars is the make up â€“ most of these guys have some of the worst latex prosthetics attached to their faces you've ever seen, making the effects in Zombie Lake look amazing by comparison.
Horrible make up and costumes aside, Mansion Of The Living Dead definitely has something going for it, though what exactly that something is can be tough to pinpoint. It certainly isn't the story which really only exists to link the lesbian scenes together with a few 'horror movie' moments thrown in for cross-genre appeal. A lot of the credit has to go to the atmosphere that Franco manages to create here as to be honest, a lot of what's happening in the film is rather dumb. The fact that it takes place primarily in an empty hotel and the surrounding beach and church gives it some character, it's a great location for a horror movie and Franco's camera captures as much of it as it can. There's a lot of slow camera moves here that allow us to focus not only on the naked ladies in the frame but also on the contents of the rooms and the strange lighting (much of which looks to be natural) that accentuates things.
The entire production is all very dreamlike in that it doesn't always make sense and you can't really understand why any of it is happening but for whatever reason it remains compelling and interesting in spite of itself. Ignore the fact that the story is toasted, ignore the fact that sexy little Lina has a ridiculous blonde wig on (she's actually pretty good in this otherwise) and ignore the fact that the Templars look like they have porridge on their faces and just allow yourself to soak up the genuinely weird ambience that pulsates from the movie. It's as much an accidental art film as it is anything else, with blatant eroticism and minimalist effects tossed in to give it some commercial appeal. The film was shot at the same time as Macumba Sexual (released by Severin on the same day as this DVD) in the Canary Islands and attentive viewers will notice a lot of cross over in the films as cast members are recycled (as is Romay's wig!).
Severin's 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer for Mansion Of The Living Dead is truly a thing of beauty. Color reproduction is fantastic with the black levels staying strong but not killing the background detail even during the night scenes. Flesh tones, of which there are plenty, are lifelike and natural and there's a surprising level of detail present on the image. Print damage is never a problem and while there's a very fine coat of grain noticeable in a few scenes it looks natural and is never too heavy. Don't worry about edge enhancement or mpeg compression artifacts as they're a non-issue here, and while some mild line shimmering does creep into the picture in a few spots it's never so harsh as to prove distracting. To make a long story short, this movie looks great.
The Spanish language Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack sounds about as good as one can rightfully expect from an older low budget production such as this. The English subtitles are clean, clear and easy to read and while there are more than a few scenes where our four lovely ladies talk over one another, for the most part they do a fine job of translating things as best they can. The score sounds quite nice here and the dialogue is distinct. Hiss and distortion aren't problematic and there's nothing to complain about here in terms of quality.
Aside from menus and chapter selection for the feature itself, the only extra on the DVD is an interview entitled The Mansion That Jess Built but thankfully it runs for almost nineteen minutes and it features not only director Jess Franco (who speaks English but is subtitled to compensate for his thick accent) but Lina Romay (who speaks in Spanish and who is also subtitled) as well. It's interesting to hear Franco talk about what he likes and doesn't like about various zombie films including the Blind Dead movies that were his obvious inspiration for this movie but also the work of George Romero which kick started the whole sub-genre. He speaks about shooting the film on location with a low budget and he gives us his opinion on how and why he shoots rather explicit sex scenes the way that he does. Romay covers her involvement in the film and talks about her co-stars as well as why she acted under a fake name in the movie. Both participants are in very good spirits here and they open up about things quite a bit which makes this essential viewing for any Franco or Romay fan regardless of their take on the film itself.
More of an artsy softcore romp than a horror film, Mansion Of The Living Dead should still appeal to those who appreciate the low budget charm of Franco's erotic films and who dig the odd touches that can be found in so much of his work. Severin's disc looks and sounds really nice and the interview is a very welcome extra feature making this one recommended for Franco fans (it's not a great starting place for those new to his work but for established fans it is definitely a winner).
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.