Edge of the Axe

Color, 1982, 92 mins. 52 secs.
Directed by Jess Franco
Starring Candy Coster (Lina Romay), Robert Foster (Antonio Mayans), Elisa Vela, Eva León, Mabel Escaño
Severin Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

Often named Mansion of the Living Deadas an unofficial fifth entry in the Spanish "Blind Dead" Mansion of the Living Deadseries (but with a softcore twist), Jess Franco's Mansion of the Living Dead seems to be based on some of the same Templar history and plays with similar imagery. However, anyone looking for eyeless zombies should stick with that famous series while Franco fans lap this one up.

At a seaside hotel (the titular "mansion," presumably) next to a desolate church, four sex-happy German girls arrive and decide to play around with each other in the absence of any male guests. Meanwhile the manager (Foster) spends his off-time tending to his lunatic, naked wife (León) who's chained to a wall in one of the rooms and displays some especially unpleasant eating habits. When not being menaced on the beach by flying kitchen implements, the four girls wander around the hotel, disrobe, and eventually fall one by one into the clutches of a brutal sect at the church whose pasty-faced members subject them to a strange kind of detached gang bang. Luckily for lead girl Candy (Romay), the sect also has a dark secret in which she is deeply involved, leading to an oddly poetic climax.

Alternating between erotic reveries, boneheaded stupidity, and breathtaking Gothic lyricism, Mansion of the Living Dead is a good litmus test for checking Mansion of the Living Deadone's Franco boundaries. There's nothing terribly extreme on display here (apart from the naked groping which won't startle anyone used to softcore cable), but the stream-of-consciousness storytelling and eerie locales give the film a distinct flavor not quite like anything else in the Franco canon. Still bearing her wig from Macumba Sexual, Romay makes a fine ditsy Mansion of the Living Deadheroine forced to plumb new emotional depths within herself, and her "possession" in the third act will delight her fans. Most of the other actors basically sleepwalk through their roles, which is appropriate given the tone. This is also essential viewing as part of Franco's once elusive period with Golden Films in the early '80s that yielded a number of titles that didn't really get their due until much later like Night of Open Sex, The Sexual Story of O, Night Has a Thousand Desires, Cries of Pleasure, and Black Boots, Leather Whip.

Another title rarely seen previously in scope (and never in English), Mansion of the Living Dead got a very respectful treatment from Severin on DVD in 2006. The dark interior scenes which were completely incoherent and muddy on those old tape editions are now clear and surprisingly beautiful for the most part; the eerie shots of the actors wandering down the dark corridors with bright lights at the end manage wring some tension out of even the slowest scenes. The optional English subtitles do what they can with the over-the-top Spanish dialogue, which presents its four interloping heroines as slang-talking dingbats eager to shed their tops. Mansion of the Living DeadSome context (but not much) is offered in another solid new featurette, "The Mansion Jess Built" (19m10s) which dovetails nicely with the similar Franco/Romay interviews on Macumba Sexual. Discussing their multiple cinematic identities and Mansion of the Living Deadthe origins of the story (which extend way further back than the de Ossorio films), this irrepressible couple makes for good company and should increase enthusiasm for these previously neglected, personal labors of love and exploitation. It also opens with Franco's thoughts on George Romero and zombie films in general that will have a lot of horror fans reaching for their smelling salts.

In 2022, Severin Films upgraded the film to Blu-ray with a presentation that looks very similar to the DVD's soft but colorful aesthetic; some minor framing and proportion variations occur (including a tad more image info at the top) and the film grain is finer and more natural. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 Spanish mono track is comparable and sounds fine, with optional yellow English subtitles provided. The previous featurette is here as well, but you also get a great new interview with Stephen Thrower, "Jess Franco: Heretic" (36m24s), who talks about being turned on to this film by Frank Henenlotter, the state of zombie films when it was made, the creative ties to Bloody Moon, the two hotels used as locations (including their status now), and the dreamlike atmosphere generated with limited means.

Severin Blu-ray

Mansion of the Living Dead Mansion of the Living Dead Mansion of the Living Dead Mansion of the Living Dead Mansion of the Living DeadSeverin DVD

Mansion of the Living Dead Mansion of the Living Dead Mansion of the Living Dead Mansion of the Living Dead Mansion of the Living Dead

Updated review on June 9, 2022