Edge of the Axe

Color, 1983, 80 mins. 52 secs.
Directed by Jess Franco
Starring Ajita Wilson, Candy Coster (Lina Romay), Robert Foster (Antonio Mayans)
Severin Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

One of the top "unseeable" Jess Franco titles regularly appearing on fan Macumba Sexualwish lists well through into the early '00s, Macumba Sexual was still Macumba Sexualregarded by some as a pinnacle of his return to post-Franco Spain. Of course, most of those doing the regarding before the '00s never had the chance to see it outside murky, cropped bootleg copies in Spanish without subtitles, which says a great deal about the film's sensory power beyond its threadbare plot. Indeed, this is one of his more visually bewitching efforts and arguably his last completely satisfying films, a fusion of sex and horror as only the mad Franco can conjure up.

In the middle of her most productive period with husband Franco, Lina Romay stars here (under the frequent name of "Candy Coster" with that familiar flattering blonde wig) in one of the strongest of her sexual persecution roles, already taken to wonderfully obscene lengths with her playing both sides of the coin in Doriana Gray. Here she's Alice, a vacationing wife whose husband (Foster) seems to lounge around with her in bed a lot. Unfortunately her idyll is disturbed by recurring visions of Tara (Wilson), a striking woman leading around two human slaves on leashes by the beach. When she's called in to work on a real estate deal for a mysterious princess, Alice finds the new client to be the literal woman of her dreams, Macumba Sexualwho needs a new vessel to carry on her centuries-old reign of black magic power. Reality and fantasy blur as the couple is initiated into a series of hallucinatory encounters, the most striking of which finds hubby locked up in a remote bamboo oceanside Macumba Sexualcage.

Complete with a typically amusing and sweaty co-starring appearance by Jess himself, Macumba Sexual never flinches from its intense subject matter (including some of the usual female genital probing) but never feels sleazy or slapdash. The elegant scope framing is constantly flooding with striking sunlight effects, with indoor scenes likewise punctuated with star-like light sources bursting into the corners of the frame at odd moments. Representatives of evil (including the "Bringer of Light" himself, Lucifer) are often associated with bold illumination, and Franco really seems to run with the concept here. Likewise, the segues between dreams and "reality" are beautifully accomplished, with the beguiling image of a scantily clad Wilson splayed on the sand with an ornamental sculpture between her legs offering one of the more indelible moments of '80s Franco cinema. The sparse dialogue never gets in the way here, leaving Romay to exhibit what does best: carnal abandon and wide-eyed terror, often at the same time.

The revelation of watching this film in its full, widescreen aspect ratio cannot be understated, which made Severin's DVD release from 2006 a great salvation for European erotic cinema. The transfer looks marvelous throughout, with beautiful Macumba Sexualcolors and no signs of damage. No quibbles at all. The Spanish mono Macumba Sexualtrack sounds fine (it was never dubbed into English), with optional English subtitles for those who always wondered what the heck was going on. The only extra, and it's a goodie, is "Voodoo Jess (22m9s)" a choice featurette with Franco and Romay reminiscing about the film (and the purportedly trans Wilson in particular) with much explanation about Franco's return to Spain and his outlook on filmmaking at the time. In 2022, Severin upgraded the film to Blu-ray with a transfer from the same source that tightens up in the usual areas afforded by higher resolution including better defined film grain and texture details in skin and hair, while the color timing looks very similar. The moderate edge enhancement of the DVD (including a harsh line that appears intermittently at the top throughout) is gone here, reason enough for an upgrade alone even if the soft lensing doesn't exactly scream demo material. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 Spanish track sounds as good as always, with optional English yellow subtitles. The "Voodoo Jess" featurette is ported over, but you also get a welcome new video analysis by Stephen Thrower, "The Mirror of Evil" (39m2s), which lays out Franco's progression to Golden Films in Spain by this time where he turned out a slew of films like this with strong but not hardcore content for the local "S"-certificate market. He also touches on some of the tantalizing films that never saw the light of day, Franco's somewhat complex relationship with his own films, the seaside visual motifs that turn up again here, Wilson's wild career, and the manipulation of dream spaces versus reality.

Severin Blu-ray

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Updated review on June 9, 2022