Mansion of the Living Dead

Mansion of the Living Dead ★★★½

cw: sex, r*pe

most importantly see M Kitchell's Sun-Drenched Fever Dreams: Franco’s Golden International Pictures Films and his essay for Severin: Franco's Golden Productions, from which i am borrowing many ideas:

Mansion is an unfolding series of spatial-temporal mappings of isolated locations, a process of imbuing locations with psychic overlays in form of movements thru or in space. Franco paints with movement, from the finer linework of bodies enmeshed or clashing together in tight spaces, the subtle movements of eyes in tight closeup, or the moving of a thrashing head in and out of frame -- to the broader strokes and colors of wide angles of the sea, the vaster movements of trees in the sun drunk grey air, or the ominous, monolithic figures of hallways connected at nodes of doorway light.

Franco is making visual paintings or a kind of jazz. he seems to let fragments of narrative drift thru the filmic space-time as color, shape, texture.

this film is a sun obsessed & heliotropic wandering thru a fractionally mapped space, resting incomplete so as to maintain the suggestion of greater vastnesses. it is wandering thru space as the act of psychic diffusement of mind thru space/time. the mind thinking about space and mapping the mind's movement onto film.

i get the mysterious joy from this movie that i get from staring at the blue tiled maps of TSR modules. as your eye roves over the map, it is a constant stream of may-be's, what may occur: from the thousandfold variation of how light may flicker on stone, to how the waning light of day may shape or disfigure the sculpted lights formed in portals. i am also obsessed by its remoteness and stillness, that it allows me to wander thru in dreams, a framework for endless potential realities in space.

i have a recurring dream/vision of a vast and desolate hotel (terraced, on an orange sand sea). where i might go wandering thru. and i think a lot of the appeal is that this played directly into my vision and the two bled together.

what's more, is that much of this film is wandering in the wind, amongst the trees, down dark corridors, amongst shapes of light, to the beckoning of distant voices. spaces that are haunted and which you haunt. the dome of the sky, the apocalyptic endlessness of the sea. these things, more than anything, obsess me in Franco:

wandering in dreams thru the wind at dawn or dusk.

the film advances in sequences of overlapping and frequently recurring temporary fixations like these. they coexist and stack in the mind whilethe film does its best to break apart its own linearity.

a M says, franco's later work is constrained by limited budgets, which offered barren locations to be filled with small casts of prinicipals only. material limitations render location the central focus in Mansion. emphasizing almost to the total exclusion of narrative how bodies exist thru and in the body of the spaces.


i'm most interested in the affectual-somatic dream maps that Franco creates, but i feel compelled to untangle the bits of narrative string binding it together, as best i can:

what narrative there is is closely tied to the inhabiting of space, explaining why are these bodies here in this place and most importantly: how and why are these people interacting.

i think you can almost trace three kinds of movement in this film:

(1) wandering thru space together or alone (down hallways, around the hotel, thru the countryside) (primarily discussed above)

(2) women engaged in consensual sex with each other (a kind of movement in joy)

*(3) omen being r*ped or tortured by men (the opposite of the former item)

moments of conversation are almost a kind of static or negative space. or are the formal frames upon which to explore these variants on the movement and connection between bodies.

the central theme of the movie seems to me to be the conflict between 2 & 3--

where 1 is primarily used to induce (i don't know exactly what to call it -- mood, affect, trance, drone) a kind of hypnosis

-- but the contention between 2 & 3 are familiar variants on Franco's Sadean obsessions. and it seemed clear to me that Franco, like Fulci, is at odds with appearances. he seems very much to be on the side of witches (who have cursed the titular Living Dead) and of women.

it continued to strike me that the sex scenes involving the women engaged with each other are defined by mutual pleasure, laughter, and jokes (many of the scenes end with a laugh between them: "This vacation is going to be unbelieavable!" or "I got a hair in my mouth!" "Make a wish!")

the men in this film are literally cursed, undead, satanic rapists (with the exception of the gardener, who is merely a voyeur). moreover, they have cloaked their own repugnant violence in the garb of holiness, apparently divorcing themselves from their own actions.

Carlo, the only male principal, is an enigmatic sadist, with dual identities. he is both a monk of the satanic order AND proprietor of the hotel, in which his primary duty seems to be torturing his wife. in both, he hides his violence behind doors, behind symbols. the women by contrast are completely open with their sexuality and with their nakedness (they are frequently wandering the hallways completely nude).

as an asexual person, i am not particularly interested in sex on screen for the sake of titillation. but i am interested, deeply, in how and why queer romance is portrayed. and that Franco portrays wlw here as mutual, warm, loving -- as a source of pleasure and joy -- fascinates me. it fits in line with the sense of body positivity i find in Franco. (which, i know, is probably a strange place to find it.)

i have a tough time explaining this, but i got the sense here (and in Female Vampire) that my body was "okay." i was accepted as i was. i was made, somehow, to feel beautiful in how i was. (Female Vampire was one of the touchstones for me, early transition, helping me grow into this comfort.) i think seeing wlw (not only in a sexual sense) is healing. part of where it grows is from the narrative frame/string of women's friendships. laughing, talking, joking. i think a lot of this comes from Lina Romay herself -- her strength, openness, and beauty, whose presence as much defines this film as does Jess's direction. (i especially love that as Lina ages she has not been discarded, but she can exist in her own size, shape, and age without condemnation -- as it should be, but rarely is.)

god bless Lina Romay. she's one of my heroes.

but --
the film's conclusion is ambiguous. Candy's love for Carlo destroys his corpse & the monks exit the monastery, circling back to the film's opening scene. she kills her best friend and lover. it's a bizarre inversion. she has been corrupted by the satanic monks, but seems to destroy Carlo, their leader, simultaneously freeing them and/or starting everything over again, having taken Carlo's place.

maybe this is a transmission of corruption. violence/evil as contagion.

it's hard to read. at the end, i somehow imagine Franco still hanging onto Utopian visions of pornography and sex. he locates a redemptive potential in (lesbian) love, even as it is threatened by men's bestiality. Franco's films frequently depict a kind of Free Love (the revolutionary kind of Stranger in a Strange Land, White Panther's "fuckin in the streets," and what likely inspired the likes of Patrick Cowley's porn scores too) which we have largely seen burn & crumble since Altamont and across the Sabbath dirged landscape of the 70s.

but somehow he and Lina have kept some semblance of it alive. it's strange to think of any aspect of Franco's work as wholesome, but there's a kind of innocence in his work that surfaces no matter how carefully i try to scrutinize his Gaze. i haven't seen half enough of Franco's films to say whether this is an accurate assessment of his broader body of work, especially as cruelty is the omnipresent foil to this vision in every film of his i've seen.

he seems to trace that foil over & over onto spaces: love / cruelty. maybe at the end of this, the curse was too strong, and women are consumed. but if that's the case, i don't feel Franco condoning it, so much as mourning it. and i think maybe there's a chance, he's implicating himself in the process.

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