Latarnia presents CASTILIAN CRIMSON
The Spanish Horror Film




Director: Jesus Franco
Screenplay: Jesus Franco
Music: Daniel J. White
Cast: Lina Romay, Eva Leon, Antonio Mayans, Mabel Escano, Mamie Kaplan, Jasmina Bell, Albino Graziani
Running time: 86 minutes


Filmed entirely in the Canary Islands, using a resort hotel and a nearby 18th Century monastery as locations, this is not connected to the BLIND DEAD series of zombie films from the 1970s, although it is often compared to de Ossorio's films. The killer monks in Franco's film seem to be spirits who take possession of some of the hotel staff to perform sadistic rites. It is one of many 1980s titles produced by Emilio Larraga for his Golden Film Company, a producer who apparently gave Franco complete artistic freedom if he brought the production in on time and budget.

If Franco was influenced by the BLIND DEAD series it was in having sexually active and attractive young people pursued by the Templars (although it's unclear here if the original monks were of that sect) for some kind of historical revenge. As I wrote in my ETC #13 review of this some years ago, the film is difficult for non-Spanish speakers to make sense out of since it is constructed of extended dialogue passages alternating with long, non-dialogue atmospheric sequences.

My feelings have evolved somewhat since first reviewing this film. I now see it in a more positive light as a kind of crazy Franco experiment, mixing lesbian sex interludes, extreme sadism, a critique of the BLIND DEAD series, with effective horror scenes. Lina Romay is featured in her Candy Coster persona, which means a blonde wig and some extra pounds. This can either be very distracting or very amusing, depending on the viewer's mood.
Candy and her friends arrive at the Tropicana hotel singing the Ode to Joy from Beethoven's 9th, underlining, I guess, the very unjoyous events they are to experience there. Examining the credit sequence reveals Franco at his best: the camera zooms back from a close-up of a crucifix to the monks filing out the wind-blown monastery at night, a bell tolls, their chants seem to carry on the hot midnight breeze. Unfortunately, overlong lesbian encounters seem to interest Franco in this film as much as the atmospherics. I wrote in my ETC review: "Why, for instance, begin this supposed horror film with twenty or so minutes of the four heroines (lesbian barmaids on a sun and sex excursion to the Canary Islands) indulging in increasingly ridiculous and tedious bouts of ass-slapping and tit-jiggling?"
Seeing the film again recently I was surprised at the explicitness of the lesbian sex scenes, Lina going down on her partner and later picking a hair out of her teeth! I guess it's meant to be erotic-comedic, but it still didn't strike me as either, only way out of synch with the rest of the film.

The most successful attempt at black comedy is in the scenes between Eva Leon (a marvelous actress) and Antonio Mayans. Leon plays her role nude and chained to the wall by her neck while Mayans sadistically taunts her, starves the poor woman and finally feeds her a last supper laced with insecticide and rat poison. I wrote in my original review, "Leon brings real pathos and humor to these hard to watch scenes" and I still feel that way. Mayans is absolutely demonic as "Carlos Savanorola," the Norman Bates type hotel clerk who is also one of the murdering monks.

The treatment the women lured into the monastery get includes gang rape and genital mutilation with a dagger. I find these scenes very disturbing, even more than the blood drenched ministrations of the "Blind Dead." For comparisons sake it's not even clear if Franco's monks are dead and they certainly don't seem blind. The make-up ranks with the worst I have ever encountered in a zombie film, or a would-be zombie film. I guess the very worst would be the green painted Nazi faces in ZOMBIE LAKE . The worm infested masks in Franco's own LA TUMBA DE LOS MUERTOS VIVIENTES are also a contender.

-- Reviewed by Robert Monell

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