BAHIA BLANCA (1984, Jess Franco)
Blu-ray from Severin Films
“Our boat looks like a corpse now, rusty and mutilated. Rusty and mutilated, like my heart.”
We can all agree that 2020 has been a shitty year all round. Against all odds, however, it’s been an absolute banner year for cult movie releases on Blu-ray, and despite all the incredible titles that have come out, Severin’s disc of Bahia Blanca was one of my most anticipated. I’m happy to say that they have not let me down.
Bahia Blanca is a Jess Franco film from 1984 that has previously only been available on a truly ghastly VHS release that rendered several scenes incomprehensible with its smeary, ugly transfer. Despite this, the quality of the film shone through, partly due to Bahia Blanca being a rather different type of Franco picture. When I think of Franco, I tend to think twisted surrealism, erotic nightclub acts, bizarre scenes of torture and violence, and —of course —sex. There is little place for any of the above in the melancholic world of Bahia Blanca. The violence is fleeting, the surrealism replaced with an almost recognisable grounded reality, while the sex is brief and —wait for it —essential to the story.
Franco feels more interested in his characters than ever before. If anything, Bahia Blanca is a slow-burn melodrama about lost souls unable to forge a connection to anything other than the isolated island where much of the action takes place. Missed chances, regrets, wasted lives…Franco is at his most wistful and elegiac here, and he’s aided by a typically fine cast. Eva León is excellent as the prostitute at the heart of the story, using her profession and array of wigs and flamenco guitar playing to mask the loneliness within her.
Of course, Franco’s muse (and future wife) Lina Romay has a starring role, here playing León’s mute sister. As usual, she’s frequently nude, but it’s very matter-of-fact and not played for eroticism. She gives a typically committed performance, acting with those wonderfully expressive eyes of hers.
For the men, we have the rest of the regular Jess Franco Company Players, good old Antonio Mayans and José Llamas. Mayans rises to the challenge of playing a fairly complicated character, a sheriff unable to decide what (or who) he wants in life. He’s always a welcome presence and remains likeable despite making a series of increasingly poor decisions. José Llamas, meanwhile, does what he does best —he wanders around looking handsome, while continually trying to assault Lina. Hey, it may be a more laidback effort, but it’s still a Franco flick at heart.
It’s worth pointing out the cinematography by long-time cameraman Juan Soler is some of the finest of Franco’s career. The film is bathed in deep reds and browns, the characters often silhouetted against the sun, and there’s little of the frantic zooming one tends to associate with Franco on his more rushed efforts. It feels like his heart was really in this one.
Things inevitably sour for our characters, leading to some of Franco’s most iconic imagery —the wronged bride, armed with a rifle, sailing towards her destiny. It’s a stunning last ten minutes, soundtracked by the mournful guitar theme that has played throughout the movie. (I’m not exaggerating here —there literally is only one piece of music in the film, and it plays over and over and over again in slight variations, so be warned!) Watching Bahia Blanca on the new Severin Blu-ray felt like seeing it for the first time. The crystal clear transfer is a revelation, finally allowing the viewer to see just what the hell is going on, and to appreciate the beauty of the photography and compositions.
It’s a sad and haunting film that feels very personal to Franco, who at this stage had made around one-hundred films (so just over halfway through his career, then!) It’s truly heartening to see the reappraisal of his extensive filmography thanks to the hard work of boutique labels like Severin and Blue Underground. Franco has long been my favourite filmmaker, but I was resigned to never seeing some of his best movies in anything other than blurry bootlegs. Hopefully there are many more to come (someone has to put out Mansion of the Living Dead…surely!)
Look, if you don’t like Franco, then this film probably isn’t going to change your mind. It’s laid-back to the point of lethargy, which is not a problem for me, but if you’re expecting action and adventure you’ll be sorely out of luck. If, however, you’ve been put off by the pornographic and slapdash nature of some of his films, then there’s a chance you may enjoy this one. Severin sweeten the deal with a couple of excellent bonus features too.
There’s an eighteen-minute interview with Franco scholar Stephen Thrower, who puts the film in historical context and offers up a typically thorough analysis of the themes, but the best feature is In The Land of Franco, the fourth part of the Severin and Thrower’s documentary of the filming locations of Franco’s films. In this one, Thrower is joined by Antonio Mayans himself, and the pair revisit locations from Revenge in the House of Usher, Sadisterotica, Kiss Me Monster, and Night of the Skulls.
I only wish Severin had made this title more available. There were only a few hundred for sale for the duration of their mid-year sale, which seems especially cruel for a film that could go some way to rehabilitating Franco’s tarnished reputation amongst critics and film fans who’ve only ever seen Bloody Moon or fuckin’ Devil Hunter.
David Sodergren lives in Scotland with his wife Heather and his best friend, Boris the Pug.
Growing up, he was the kind of kid who collected rubber skeletons and lived for horror movies.
Not much has changed since then.
His first novel, The Forgotten Island, was published on October 1st 2018. This was followed by Night Shoot, a brutal throwback to the early 80s slasher movie cycle, in May 2019.
2020 will be Sodergren’s biggest year yet, with two new horror novels being published. Dead Girl Blues is a slasher-noir mystery, and it will be followed by a return to full-blown supernatural horror before the end of the year.
You can follow David on Twitter @paperbacksnpugs
To find out more about David please visit his official website www.paperbacksandpugs.wordpress.com
Find David on Instagram here
Dead Girl Blues
When a young woman dies in Willow Zulawski’s arms, it sets in motion a chain of events that will push her to the brink of madness.
A mysterious video is the only clue, but as Willow digs deeper into the murky world of snuff movies, those closest to her start turning up dead. Someone out there will stop at nothing to silence her.
After all, when killing is business, what’s one more dead body?
Part noir mystery, part violent slasher, Dead Girl Blues is the latest twisted shocker from David Sodergren, author of The Forgotten Island and Night Shoot.
The Forgotten Island
When Ana Logan agrees to go on holiday to Thailand with her estranged sister Rachel, she hopes it will be a way for them to reconnect after years of drifting apart.
But now, stranded on a seemingly deserted island paradise with no radio and no food, reconciliation becomes a desperate fight for survival.
For when night falls on The Forgotten Island, the dark secrets of the jungle reveal themselves.
Something is watching them from the trees.
You can read the Kendall Review for The Forgotten Island HERE
A group of desperate student filmmakers break into Crawford Manor for an unauthorised night shoot. They have no choice. Their lead actress has quit. They’re out of time. They’re out of money.
They’re out of luck.
For Crawford Manor has a past that won’t stay dead, and the crew are about to come face-to-face with the hideous secret that stalks the halls.
Will anyone survive…the NIGHT SHOOT?
A delirious homage to the slasher movies of the 1980s, Night Shoot delivers page after page of white-knuckle terror.
You can read the Kendall Review for Night Shoot HERE