Monday, July 1, 2013

Macumba Sexual (1981)

The early 1980’s were an interesting and important time for Jess Franco as they marked the maverick director’s return to his home country of Spain. Despite being a native Spaniard, Franco had mostly been working abroad in counties such as England, France, Germany, Italy amongst many others during the 60’s and 70’s producing many of his best films. Very few of Franco’s films during that time period aside from a few well known obvious exceptions were Spanish productions. Under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco (no relation) censorship in Spain was rather harsh, and Franco’s films were a causality as a result, something Jess couldn’t stand so for the sake of directorial freedom he left the country. As he humorously recounted the story of him leaving Spain for the second time “I went to see the head censor and I told him “You know I am leaving this country because you are here. You are an asshole. You piss me off. I’m leaving”. Then I left and took my plane.” After the death of General Franco, Jess received an offer to return to Spain under the promise that he would be able to make films his own way, full artistic freedom, and with the change in the counties political climate he jumped at the chance, and one such film to come out of that decision was Macumba Sexual, one of his most dizzying experiences.

Alice Brooks (Lina Romay, billed here under her pseudonym “Candy Coaster”) is constantly being plagued by the same reoccurring nightmare involving a mysterious woman named Tara (Ajita Wilson). While vacationing with her husband, Alice, a real estate agent gets a call from her boss saying that one Princes Obongo is interested in purchasing a property from the agency Alice works for. After making the trek to the Princesses nearby island retreat Alice discovers, much to her shock that Princes Obongo is in fact Tara, the woman from her dreams in the flesh and it soon becomes apparent that her reasoning’s for summoning Alice have nothing to do with real estate as Alice’s existence  becomes increasingly hallucinatory as Princess Obongo beings to initiate Alice into her delirious world of sexual voodoo.  

Macumba Sexual sees Franco take themes initially developed in films such as Vampyros Lesbos (1971) and to a certain extent Female Vampire (1973) and Lorna the Exorcist (1974) and take them to the next level, the idea of an otherworldly female who’s allure is all consuming with the ability to completely possess whomever they intend to, overtaking both mind and body. Much like Soledad Miranda’s Countess Carody in Vampyros Lesbos, Wilson’s Tara/Princess Obongo first appears in the protagonist’s dreams as a figment of their subconscious, but here Franco plays around with the dream concept a bit more, constantly jerking us in and out of reality and fantasy until eventually everything becomes a blur and we’re fully transported into Princess Obongo’s tropical, sexual nightmare realm, which is really the way the film was meant to play out. Narrative does take a bit of a backseat the more the film moves forward but for good measure Franco adds a bit of voodoo-esque mythology to Obongo’s character which provides some nice insight into her intentions while allowing her mysterious aura to remain in tact. As for Wilson herself in the role of Obongo, the part was tailor made for her. Franco described her best when he said “She wasn’t an actress. She was a presence. As they say in France, a force of nature.” A force of nature, that essentially is what Wilson is in this film. That presence Franco speaks of is equally psychical and imposing as it is enticing. Truly her finest hour.

Being back in Spain Franco certainly had a plethora of gorgeous locations to chose from, something he took full advantage of by choosing to shoot the film on the Canary Islands, Grand Canaria to be more specific. Aside from Grand Canaria’s obvious photographic attributes, Franco picked the island due to its unique atmosphere, with its local legends and superstitions playing a big part in the films more supernatural elements. From a directorial standpoint Macumba Sexual is one of Franco’s most accomplished loaded from start to finish with expertly framed shots, and Franco really outdid himself here when it comes to the way he staged many of the shots. The film opens with a striking image of a mostly silhouetted Wilson bathed in sunlight raising her arms to sky which follows with an equally lasting image of Wilson leading 2 human slaves on leashes. Alice’s journey to Princes Obongo’s home is an odyssey in itself, purposely prolonged, taking place on camelback of all things while somewhat Arabic sounding music and chanting plays overtop everything, its really a spellbinding sight and a perfect example of Franco’s ability to take something as simple as people riding camels and make it trance inducing. For added visual flair which also ties in with the voodoo aspect of the story Franco focuses the camera on the many ominous looking wood statues that surround Obongo’s abode, and there’s one reoccurring visual motif featuring a symbolic object of particular importance strategically placed on Wilson’s person that’s pure Franco.

During the “Voodoo Jess” interview segment featuring both Jess and Lina on Severin’s excellent DVD release of the film Jess states that the original title of the film was simply “Macumba” but was later changed to Macumba Sexual when the film was released. Jess and Lina also humorously opine on star Ajita Wilson’s (alleged) transexuality with Jess saying “I don’t know if she was an operated man but if she was an operated man she was a very well operated man. Bravo for the doctors because it didn’t show at all like a man.” Lina on the other hand saw it a bit differently stating “Take my word for it. She was completely transsexual.” If anybody would know it would have to be Lina having gotten very up close and personal with Wilson several times throughout the film. Of course none of that mattered to Jess as he put it because she helped the film. That same segment also features Jess and Lina discussing how they first met and how their relationship developed into what it eventually became. Its really a touching segment although watching it now is a bit bittersweet seeing as how both are gone. Macumba Sexual is an important film, not only marking Franco’s return to Spain but it sees him bringing fresh ideas to the table while tackling familiar subject matter making it an essential addition to any Franco collection.    


  1. A masterpiece. A hallucinatory fever dream. A nightmare during the day. Certain aspects remind me of another amazing Franco film, Lilian The perverted Virgin. Great stuff. After following your blog for years, I have finally gotten around to officially 'following' your blog recently. Thanks for the review. I really enjoy your taken on Franco's cinema.

  2. Thanks. Though I'm no so fond of these older pieces haha. I really need to go back and do some serious edits.