Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Summer of Slash: Bloody Moon

I knew as far back as last summer that I wanted to kick this year’s Summer of Slash series off with Jess Franco’s Bloody Moon. One reason is that I have yet to review a Franco film on the blog; the second reason: it was just too fun to pass up. Bloody Moon is the perfect example of a European horror film from this era — a German production of an American slasher that has elements of the Italian giallo all while directed by the Spanish Franco; it reminded me a lot of Pieces. And if you’re the kind of horror fan that is familiar with that film, then perhaps that is enough to pique your interest in Bloody Moon.

Be warned, though, if you think you’re going to get a true Jess Franco film with Bloody Moon, you're in for something totally different. But perhaps that's a good thing for you. If you’ve only ever associated Franco with zooms, boobs, zooms, lesbianism, zooms, highly eroticized violence, and more zooms — then Bloody Moon will look as classic and restrained as Halloween compared to some of his other stuff. Okay, so it’s not really fair to only classify Franco’s films as those things (he really does have some interestingly made, must-see films for horror fans — the two best probably being A Virgin Among the Living Dead and She Killed in Ecstasy), but one thing anyone that has seen a Franco can agree on is that Bloody Moon is probably his most ordinary film (Oasis of the Zombies and Devil Hunter are the only films that I’ve seen where it’s so obvious that what I’m watching isn’t wholly a Jess Franco film).

So just what is Bloody Moon? Well, if you’ve ever wondered what a stalk-and-slash, teenage body count movie would be with some hilariously awful dubbing, then this is the movie for you. The film opens with a ripoff of Halloween, only here the stalker/killer dons a Mickey Mouse (the film’s producers obviously disinterested in copyright issues) mask before pouncing on a poor girl who thinks the dude is someone else (the film also contains the Halloween moment where the Final Girl stumbles across all of the perfectly staged dead bodies of her friends). After she realizes that this guy in the mask isn’t who she thought it was, the man freaks the hell out and stabs her to death. The killer is sent off to the insane asylum, and...well there’s your setup. The killer, we come to find out, is named Miguel, and he’s released into the care of his oddball sister, Manuela, and their invalid aunt who run a boarding school for young women called — and now here I had to check Wikipedia just to get this straight — Europe's International Youth-Club Boarding School of Languages. Whew. That’s quite the school name.

Naturally, a group of attractive, sex-crazed women convene at the school just in time for the recently-released Miguel to meander around, watch them saunter around the pool topless, and creep out the gorgeous Angela (our Final Girl, played by German actress Olivia Pascal) who fears that the deformed Miguel (it’s hard to say what his face looks like — I’m going with someone pasting oatmeal to his face) is stalking her – ah, but it’s not that simple. Miguel’s stalking is just a red herring. Because Miguel is in love with his sister, you see. Yes. Bloody Moon has an incest storyline. But alas, Manuela — who spends a lot of the opening to the film howling at moon bare-breasted — doesn’t feel like she can act on this budding romance, but she doesn’t have a problem teasing poor Miguel with the hope that one day they can be together. As the girls at the school—and the Latin gardener, the principal of the school, a handyman, and the aunt—begin disappearing, Miguel becomes the obvious suspect (read: he’s probably a red herring).

I apologize if that brief plot synopsis seems like I'm making short shrift of the narrative, but, come on, what we have here is the premise of every stalk-and-slash storyline that’s ever been in existence since Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace (and later Five Dolls of the August Moon and Bay of Blood). Beautiful women gather in one location, and a psychotic killer begins offing them one by one in gruesome fashion. And the gore-pieces in Bloody Moon are memorable. A woman is stabbed through the breast (the primary reason, along with a real snake being decapitated — which bums me the hell out to think that a living creature lost its life for this — that the film ended up alongside other Jess Franco films Devil Hunter and Women Behind Bars on the Video Nasties list), another woman has her neck clamped in a pretty vicious and effective scene, and in the film’s most memorable setpiece, a woman has her head cut off by a giant buzz saw.

The violence is quick and to the point, and it is actually pretty well done for the kind of cheap slasher I was expecting when I sat down to watch Bloody Moon. Franco mentions that filming violence in horror films is like filming sex in a porno: five minutes of gore (or sex) can be more effective than 40 because the longer you allow the scene to go, the more you’re at risk of losing the audience since they’ll grow bored by a sense of “I’ve seen this all before.” And certainly one of the truly surprising things about Bloody Moon was the restraint shown in the gore scenes. Franco’s camera doesn’t linger on the gory bits, and it’s all the more effective because of this.

Despite the film’s lasting setpieces, Bloody Moon was a bit of a pain in the ass for Franco to make. Produced by West Germany’s Wolf C. Hartwig (a producer that primarily worked in Erotica and most famous for his German series The Schoolgirl Report), Bloody Moon was nothing more than a quick cash-in job for Jess Franco. In the DVD extra Franco Moon, Franco reveals that the producers “just wanted a horror film[...]that was enough for them.” Evidently, the film was already prepared for Franco to make as the producers essentially told him to make a movie that checked off all of the major tropes. In Bloody Moon you get your: Stalker POV shots, promiscuous women getting killed, a memorable Grand Guignol moment, and false scares galore (and there are some seriously bad false scares with cats behind doors and shadows that look like the figure of a grown man but once the door is opened reveals itself to be a little kid). By 1981, just one year after Friday the 13th, all of these things were already established (and recognized by opportunistic producers) as the things young audiences wanted out of their horror films.

The producers not only had the film they wanted in mind by the time they hired Franco, they also (apparently, according to Franco) told him that there would be some stipulations to making Bloody Moon. The first being that actress Olivia Pascal, a German actress and star of some X-rated films, having just been recently married, no longer wanted to do sex scenes; she wanted to be a legitimate actress. So it makes sense that she chooses Bloody Moon as her next project to “legitimize” her career. Anyway, apparently the producers also told Franco that they were going to get Pink Floyd (!) to do the music. Now, Franco should take some of the blame here for being so naïve, but what a stupid lie for the producers to tell. To no one’s surprise, Pink Floyd never arrived on set to supervise the music, and instead Franco was given a Dutch composer (Gerhard Heinz) whose idea of a great music is that sweet wail of the guitar you hear in the trailer (found here) and a weird warble noise that can be heard every time something bad is going to happen. Finally, Franco doesn’t go into detail about the last promise, which revolved around his cinematographer, who, according to Franco, was supposed to be a “really good” choice. It doesn’t much matter, though, because the DP he got (Juan Soler) is more than serviceable (and actually creates some great visuals) for this type of horror film.

So, it’s pretty apparent that what we have with Bloody Moon is a director-for-hire project, not a true Franco film as there really isn’t too much that’s recognizable on screen as having Franco’s stamp on it(zooms are cut down considerably, the film is briskly paced, nothing is really eroticized, and non of his troupe appear in the film) — it is indeed just another slasher film. But a fun one, nonetheless, and one of the more narratively coherent Franco films I’ve ever seen and has some style to boot. I was shocked that some of the moments of tension (okay, so there is one false scare with a record player that actually works pretty well) were executed so well and came off so coherently, especially when once considers that Franco’s heart wasn’t truly in this one.

It’s just a fun, goofy movie (snake death notwithstanding) — what I always refer to as a “pizza and beer” movie — that represents a time in the genre where “horror” was synonymous with “let’s cash in on the success of Friday the 13th.” If you’re someone that thinks you’re going to be totally averse to all things Franco, Bloody Moon would be a good entry point since it’s probably the least Franco-y Jess Franco film. It’s got that endearing cheese factor that so many slashers have in spades (seriously, that dialogue and that musical score), some impressive and gory setpieces (it’s probably the goriest film Franco ever made), and it moves at a nice clip (something that can’t always be said about a Franco film). It’s a must see for fans of the slasher.


  1. This one has been on my list for a long time, so I'm glad to hear that it's worth the time. But I will not pretend that I'm not disappointed to hear that it's not "real" Franco; the thought of that director making a slasher film is too good to be true. Literally, it would appear.

    1. Yeah, aesthetically it just isn't 100% Jess, but the awful dialogue is undeniably Franco. My favorite line of the film is something that Stephen Thrower mentions in his talking head for Jake West's documentary Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape, and it's the very thing that made me want review the film first thing this summer. The line? It's when one of the girls says: "I bet he hasn't even made it with a girl before, the phony Spanish lover." Honorable mention is a line from the trailer ("your kiss is cold and icy as death; your embrace deep as the night."

      I would love to hear your thoughts on this as it falls into two categories (Video Nasties and Slashers from 1981) that I know are of interest to you (the latter being even more relevant now considering your wonderful essay on My Bloody Valentine, and it's place in 1981 slasherdom).

      Curious, Tim, what is your favorite Franco film?

      Anyway, thanks for checking this out, Tim!

    2. Wow, now that's a big question. There's so much I have left to see (as is true for all of us who aren't lifelong Franco specialists), but I think I'd have to go with A Virgin Among the Living Dead. For sheer bad-movie fun, The Bare-Breasted Countess.

    3. Yeah, there's still so much I've yet to see, too. The only stuff I'm really familiar with is the obvious stuff (like the titles I mentioned in this piece) as well as some of him vampire stuff. There's so much of it, though, that I don't know if I would ever get through it all. Besides, the chances of getting something so awful that it ruins your entire evening is so high that it kind of makes me hesitant to dive in full force and mine his entire filmography.

  2. Wow, needless to say I haven't commented recently (though I've read every last one of your Carpenter pieces shortly after they appeared) and am so jacked to find the 'Summer of Slash' in full bloom.

    I've never seen this film but will. I'm no Franco fan, but the few I do like this seems to fit in line with (I like his violent films over his more erotic ones). I'll see it ASAP.

    Oh, and you didn't ask me but I'll weigh in. My absolute favorite Franco is 1988's FACELESS. It's like a shitty retelling of EYES WITHOUT A FACE, but totally wild. Both of you can watch the uncut version here ( I think you'll adore it Kevin.

    Oh, and this goes without saying, great review here.

    1. Jamie, you would LOVE this movie. I will watch Faceless tomorrow night. Thanks for that link and for checking this out!