Color, 1984, 98 mins. 20 secs.
Directed by Jess Franco
Starring Eva León, Lina Romay, Antonio Mayans, Trino Trives, Analia Ivars, Antonio Rebollo, José Llamas, Juan Soler
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.66:1)
The miraculous wave of Jess Franco releases now available in mint quality has truly been something to behold for the past few years, and to that roster you can add another gem: Bahia Blanca, an obscure but beautifully atmospheric thriller shot on the Spanish coast with a roster of familiar faces from that period in his career. Part crime thriller, part character study, and all Franco, it's the kind of film his fans enjoy uncovered during the daunting task of sifting through his hundreds of cinematic contributions over his career -- and until now, it has also been one of the most elusive in any kind of watchable quality.
Via flashback, a woman stands at an empty seaside jetty at sunset and recalls a fateful time in her life when it all started to fall apart. Ramiro (Soler), a physician, is called in one morning when the body of a local, Martin El Pocho, is discovered by some fishermen and bearing some inexplicable scratches. The autopsy by Raimor stirs up the locals including the cowboy hat-wearing sheriff, Carlos (Mayans), and young buck Andy (Llamas) who works for the town's most notorious criminal, Raul (Rebollo). Carlos and Ramiro decide to investigate claims by the local old coot (Franco himself) that a pair of sirens nearby are responsible for any uncanny deaths in the area, and off they go to the nearby Deer Island where they encounter bar owner Alida (Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll's León) and her mute, despondent, caftan-wearing sister, Maria (Romay). Meanwhile the virginal Silvia (Ivars) is romantically entangled with Andy, a situation that becomes ensnared with the escalating drama that soon leads to multiple murders and heartbreak.
Filled with colorful characters, melancholy nautical imagery, and plot turns worthy of a soap opera, Bahia Blanca is a compulsively watchable film that shows off Franco's uncanny knack for using landscape and even light itself as an extension of his characters' inner turmoil. The entire cast gets a lot of material to play with, especially all of the women who get to boss everyone around, wield firearms like crazy, and generally dominate the entire plot. Mayans of course is well known as a kind of Franco mascot at the time, though this also provides a decent spotlight for Llamas, a young theater student recruited by Mayans who appeared in a slew of '80s Franco titles (including performing with Romay in some of the more notorious hardcore titles).
Never given a bona fide theatrical release and only viewable via an absolutely rancid, blown-out video transfer from the '80s, Bahia Blanca has been given the red carpet treatment from Severin in 2020 with a limited Blu-ray edition that will be a major delight for any Franco fan. For such a long ignored title, it looks pretty spectacular with nice, rich colors and great detail thanks to a 4K scan of the original camera negative. The LPCM Spanish mono track (with optional English subtitles) is also in great condition and sounds nearly flawless throughout. Chalk this one up as another winner in the label's recent spate of Franco discoveries that are well worth your time. On the extras side, "In the Land of Jess Part 4" (17m36s) features Mayans and Stephen Thrower scouting various familiar locales around Spain, and it's quite poignant when Mayans recalls hearing the news of Romay's death and sharing his thoughts on Franco's final moments as well. Fans of Night of the Skull and Revenge in the House of Usher are in for a treat, too. Then "Bay of Jess" (18m53s) features Thrower offering another of his essential Franco analyses including the history of Franco's Manacoa company, the odd state of his career in 1984, the "dog's dinner" of genres Franco was hopping between at the time, the incredibly sorry condition of past video editions, and the role of that omnipresent guitar-heavy score.
Reviewed on June 25, 2020