Jess Franco’s slasher saga is a leering, sloppy blast

Beloved – and sorely missed – iconoclast Jess Franco first made his major movie mark in France with a series of crisp, sleazy and stylish black and white arthouse horror pictures like 1962’s THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF (a quote on Georges Franju’s groundbreaking sex and surgery epic EYES WITHOUT A FACE), movies that valued high contrast photography, graphic violence and mild, soon to be abundant, female nudity. In the ensuing decades the tirelessly prolific Franco would make scores of increasingly graphic, often very personal, jazz influenced (Franco was also an accomplished composer and musician) sonnets to sex, violence and voyeurism, playing with color and working with budgets both high and low in any country that would fund his filmmaking fetish.

Which brings me to BLOODY MOON, an early ’80s German financed (the original title was DIE SAGE DES TODES or THE SAW OF DEATH) bloodbath made in the wake of the slasher craze sparked by John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN and juiced up by the considerably more explicit FRIDAY THE 13th and its endless stalk-and-stab ilk. But the seriously bent BLOODY MOON (whose ample but klutzy murders landed it onto the Video Nasties list in the UK) is so much more than simply a routine masked maniac shocker. Why? Because it was made by Franco of course and, as any serious scholar of Jess’s work knows, no matter how dodgy and cheap the more downmarket Franco films could be, there was almost always something there that was uniquely his. A lazy-lidded energy, a leering point of view. Something.

The attractively greasy looking BLOODY MOON opens on a spectacularly sickening murder at a Spanish girls school by a completely un-spectacularly made-up lunatic (Alexander Waechter). Five years later, pretty young student Angela (sex film starlet Olivia Pascal) has taken up residence in the same room where the said slaughter went down and to make matters eerier, the cheese-faced killer has been released from the loony bin, apparently none too reformed.

Sooner than later, a spate of increasingly sadistic killings kick into high gear with all manner of lovely lass getting revoltingly ripped to ribbons. Is it old Velveeta-puss wearing the dollar store black gloves that pop into frame before each offing? Is it his comely sister with whom he shares a rather, um, close relationship? Before Franco’s 90-minute mess winds down, all questions will be answered and many tummies will be well turned…

Now, as I mentioned, Franco made a staggering amount of films, including such acknowledged classics like VENUS IN FURS, SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY, FACELESS and VAMPYROS LESBOS, so you might be wondering why I’ve chosen to muse on BLOODY MOON. The answer is simple. Plenty of people still – despite exhaustive critical appraisal – dislike the work of Jess Franco, laughingly labeling him a hack. And while I’ll never argue that the man has made more than his share of what might be viewed as duds, when someone gives him a bit of time, money and space, Franco had few peers; a wizard at making stylish, eccentric and obsessive films. BLOODY MOON has moments of that inimitable, free-form Franconian vision and, despite its budgetary and narrative failings, it’s a slop-bucket full of lurid fun.

By his own admission (revealed in an often hilarious interview that accompanies Severin Films definitive Blu-ray release), Franco signed on to the project under the promise that his craven producers had art-rock super group Pink Floyd attached to compose the score. As this was the early ’80s and the already legendary band had recently achieved their commercial apex with the double disc, chart topping 1979 album “The Wall”, it would be obvious to anyone with any shade of cynicism, insight or common sense that they would never, ever have their name glued to a grubby European slasher movie directed by the guy who made THE BARE BREASTED COUNTESS. But again, Franco just wanted to work and so he proceeded in hopes that such boasts might be the icing on the gig.

Instead of a Floyd score, BLOODY MOON features music by someone named Gerhard Heinz, a German born tunesmith who tries his best to mimic a David Gilmour-esque guitar-based, psych-rock sound and for the most part, succeeds. Many fans and critics have cited this score as the picture’s most offensive element, but I rather like it; it’s bizarre, bombastic and dirty and it works. When an unlucky lady gets her head sawed off in the films’ most notorious (and delightfully fake) gore sequence, those wailing guitars and skanky bass-lines sound awesome.

Is it Franco’s masterpiece? Far from it. But BLOODY MOON is pure, sleazy, upbeat Jess gore-gold. It’s a document of a his kind of creative innocence, a sloppy snapshot of a guy who just loved making movies fast and frantic and managed to weave his way into pop culture legend by never giving up, never stepping off that ladder. Good on him and God rest him.

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