Directed by: Jess Franco
Written by: Rayo Casablanca
Starring: Olivia Pascal, Nadja Gerganoff, and Alexander Waechter
Reviewed by: Wes R.
“Miguel, I’m your sister. Don’t look at me that way!”
When one thinks of Spanish schlock master Jess Franco, what often comes to mind? Lesbians? Vampires? Pornography? Zombies too, perhaps? However, in the peak slasher boom year of 1981, Franco surprised all of his fans and critics alike by delivering what many consider is one of his stronger and more successful efforts. Further proof that in ’81, pretty much everybody with a budget was making slasher movies, Bloody Moon went on to become one of the most notorious of all the films on Britain’s infamous “Video Nasties” list of the 1980s. Does the film itself live up to all the promise and hype? Or should Franco have stuck to the skin flicks that he is most known for?
A horribly scarred man (Miguel) is cruelly rejected by a girl he made advances on, and thus, in a fit of rage, he stabs her to death with a pair of scissors. Five years later, he is released from the mental hospital into the care of his sister and ailing relative. Soon, at a nearby Spanish language school, beautiful female students (all of whom are friends of Olivia Pascal's Angela character) are being brutally murdered in various macabre ways. Nobody seems to believe Angela, when she thinks she witnesses the murder of one of her friends, because she's such a fan of murder mystery novels. Soon others die, and someone begins stalking Angela herself. Has Miguel returned to finish his vengeance against the female sex that he began five years before, or is the killer someone closer to Angela?
I have to admit, before watching Bloody Moon, I have had very little exposure to Jess Franco. Based on his reputation, a horror fan will either become interested and seek out Franco's work or stay away. For whatever reason, I have stayed away thus far, but I'm happy to say that I do want to see more based on Bloody Moon. This was a pretty decent little slasher. I think it's slightly overpraised as an unsung classic, but it definitely packs a punch when it wants to. You can tell that the European influence is still slightly stuck in the giallo mode of years before, while struggling to be more like the American and Canadian slashers that the film was likely made to cash in on. Clocking in at a lean 81 minutes, the film wastes no time and has a pretty swift pace. Of course, this also sacrifices character development.
The film's strongest point, I feel, is its atmosphere. While a mixed bag in the non-horror scenes, the film's main theme is a creepy mix of piano with synth and strings. While Franco himself claims that the score is the worst part of the film, I feel that the main theme is a powerfully eerie tune, lending almost a haunted house feeling to the proceedings. It sets up a great, nightmarish ambiance that would work for any horror movie, but its a particularly potent formula for a slasher film. It's a shame the rest of the score doesn't live up to how great the main theme is. I can see where Franco would say what he said about the rest of the score. It's fairly disappointing, but the main theme is, in my opinion, ranks right up there with some of Goblin's best work. As the menu screen started up on the DVD player, the main theme began and instantly I could tell "Ooooh, this is going to be good!" The film stars veteran German actress Olivia Pascal, who is both very lovely as well as very sympathetic. Even if the acting performance isn't the best, I still didn't want to see any harm come to her. As with most foreign films, it's hard to judge the acting, due to the English dubbing (which is pretty awful). The women in the film were all very pretty, but most looked the exact same and it was sometimes hard to tell which one had been killed and who was still alive.
Being a Jess Franco film, the quotient of skin is fairly high, but doesn't quite reach gratuitous. If there's one thing Franco is known for in addition to skin...it is gore. Not one to disappoint, his death scenes in the film are quite brutal and creative. The viewer is treated to mean-spirited impalings, burnings, stabbings, stranglings, and the signature showstopper... a truly awesome beheading via industrial power saw. This is one often talked about death scene that I felt met and slightly exceeded expectations. I paused the film, rewound the disc and watched it again and I expect most of you will do the same. I said that the deaths were mean-spirited and they definitely are. A child is even run down by a moving car, and shows the crumpled body afterward. Another scene implements another power tool, but since the scene caught me off guard, I think I'll let it be a surprise to you as well. Needless to say, it too was an impressive addition to the list of great slasher movie death scenes.
What doesn't completely work for the film is the killer. We never get to see the killer all that much on-screen so they never really become a true force or presence of menace in the film. The brutal nature of the killings do provide a "I would never want to run into this killer" feeling but other than that, it never reaches the scare level that it could've been capable of. Again, the stars of the film are the great locations, spooky night photography, and the scattershot but bizarre musical score. With these three key ingredients, one could've made a good ghost movie, zombie movie, or pretty much anything. Had Franco spent a little more time developing a scary appearance and personality for the killer, he might've had a bonafide classic on his hands. As it stands, the film is still surprisingly solid. For such an alleged master of sleaze, Franco delivers a number of beautiful and even stylistic shots, making the daytime scenes more appealing and the nights all the more sinister.
After being highly-requested by fans, Bloody Moon was finally released on DVD thanks to the great folks at Severin. The disc features a fantastic uncut anamorphic widescreen transfer, which is nearly blemish-free and very crisp during most scenes. The only scenes that are less than stellar are the, what I'm assuming, is the gore footage that had been cut out at one point and has now been reinserted thanks to Severin. The footage is a bit rough at times, but considering the scenes in question only last a matter of seconds, it's not a major complaint. Most of the film looks very good. The audio sounds very good as well, with no muffling or disruptions that I can recall. One of the best overall slasher audio and video transfers in a good long while, for sure. Also included with the Severin disc is an interview featurette with director Jess Franco. Due to his age, his voice isn't the greatest, and though he speaks English, subtitles were used. Despite his age, he gives a good amount of info regarding the origins of the film and a few interesting anecdotes (allegedly, he was tricked by producers into believing that rock legends Pink Floyd had signed on to score the film but figured it was a lie when they never showed up to the set). The film's original trailer has also been included for fans to view. Intrigued by the sensational VHS artwork, I'd been dying to see Bloody Moon for some time. While it doesn't completely live up to my expectations based on its "video nasty" status and high fan praise, it is still a fairly strong slasher, with the slight hint of a giallo thanks to a both gorgeous and spooky foreign locale. The killer could've been more intimidating, but overall I really enjoyed the film. Slasher fans must check it out for some of the most inspired and truly grisly murder scenes ever committed to slasher celluloid. Bloody Moon has made me want to seek out a few more of Franco's films, and I'm sure it may just do the same for you. Buy it!
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