Bloody Moon (1981)
Studio: Severin Films
Release date: July 8th, 2014
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
How ubiquitous were slashers in 1981? I bet if they all fell from a shelf in a video store, it would have been classified as an avalanche. To borrow a phrase from Wayne Campbell, they came in the mail with samples of Tide. And there was no way Jess Franco was about to sit this one out, not after having already spent more than a decade wallowing in violence and sleaze. If anyone were destined to rip off the American splatter film, it was Franco, the unhinged Spanish auteur at the forefront of his own continent’s transition from gothic horror to Eurotrash. For Franco, his work on Bloody Moon must have just felt like another week on the calendar.
But for all its obviousness and despite the overwhelming temptation to write it off as Franco just dutifully submitting his slasher, Bloody Moon is quite an interesting take. Maybe it’s a result of the culture clashing (and maybe Franco’s films tend to be so fucking nuts anyway), but it almost comes off as a parody of a genre that probably already felt like a huge cliché.
Consider the outrageous set up: the film opens with one of the most awkward cold opens ever, as an unseen girl resists her brother’s sexual advances and tells him to return to a party. Via a typically jarring edit, the unseen man has donned a Mickey Mouse mask and rejoined the revelry. Insistent on nailing someone, he turns his attention to another girl, who rejects him after getting a look at his scarred face. Deadly stabbing ensues, and he’s locked up…for five years, at which point his doctors agree he’s reformed and release him back into society. At least Michael Myers had to bust out of Smith’s Grove—these assholes basically hold the door open for this guy.
Upon his release, he joins his sister in the most cliché setting imaginable: an old spooky mansion, where their nigh-invalid aunt is on the verge of death. It’s the setting of practically every Euro-slasher, and yet that’s not where the bulk of this film’s slashing takes place. Instead, Franco attempts to take a cue from his American counterparts—sort of. Whereas many Stateside slashers terrorized camp or college campuses, this one stalks the ridiculously specific Europe’s International Youth-Club Boarding School of Languages, where a parade of interchangeable bimbos are just waiting to serve as mincemeat.
Expectedly, Franco adheres ruthlessly to expectations, and Bloody Moon is such a bald-faced exercise in sheer violence and lunacy that it feels ever-so-slightly self-aware. Most of the characters are remarkably dumb and preoccupied with sex, and of course no one believes Angela (Olivia Pascal) when she swears one of her friends has been murdered. The whole thing all but invites you to throw your hands up and resign yourself to another round of this bullshit.
Under the auspices of Franco’s distinct vision, it’s exquisite bullshit, though. Many slashers can be accused of only delivering where it counts (read: by delivering torrents of bloodshed), but Bloody Moon really fucking delivers. Obviously, the one-two punch of this genre and Franco’s presence prepares you for the usual pitfalls, like spacey acting (made all the more extraterrestrial by the overdone dub jobs) and a somewhat languid pace, both of which are evident here. But when it’s time to get down to brass tacks (er, buzz saws), Franco dreams up some demented dispatches, as victims are stabbed, set aflame, and strangled with fireplace tongs.
The most notorious highlight is the infamous saw sequence, which climaxes in one of the most garish, blood-spattered beheadings ever. As usual, Franco finds a certain beauty and grace in the violence, even during this most grisly episode—it’s almost as if he was aware of the appeal of these films and decided to indulge the artistry of splatter. Few directors (Argento and Fulci come to mind) could elevate bloodletting into such an art form.
In fact, Bloody Moon is surprisingly one of Franco’s more graceful and appealing exercise in aesthetics—despite its preoccupation with gore, the film is sometimes bathed in a layer of gothic atmosphere, and Franco’s photography is less coarse than his usual efforts. So many of his films feel as though they’ve been scuffed up with sandpaper and soaked in grime and grit, but Bloody Moon is comparatively slick by his standards. The film is especially evocative whenever Franco is hanging out in his most natural habitat: the aunt’s big, shadowy mansion, where you can most feel the pull of Eurohorror. You can vaguely sense a constant struggle between that mode and Franco’s dabbling in straight-up slasher stuff, and it comes to a head with the downright ludicrous climax involving inheritances and obvious red herrings (the scar-faced, incestuous brother is just too obvious a suspect, of course).
Ultimately, Franco’s instincts win out, especially since batshit insanity flits about and peppers the film like bewildering grace notes. If the centerpiece buzz saw sequence weren’t already wild enough, the presence of a small child as a witness takes it into overdrive (quite literally, now that I think about it). Other bizarre occurrences, like the actual beheading of a snake, pop up here and there, but I don’t know if any of them top a girl’s encounter with a falling rock. It’s a random little bit out of the same mold as the kung-fu professor’s brief intrusion into Pieces, though I’m not sure it’s quite that legendary. Pretty close, though.
Plenty of other flourishes await those who bask in the glow of Bloody Moon. I wouldn’t quite say it’s an accessible work from Franco because there’s still so much weirdness to contend with, but it’s probably the closest of his works to qualify (at least among those that I’ve seen—considering he directed over 200 films, there’s bound to be one that’s a better gateway). I also kind of love that I’m still not quite sure if it’s an earnest take on slashers or if it’s taking the piss out of the whole thing; more than anything else, instilling complete befuddlement in viewers may have been Franco’s signature as an auteur.
Six years after releasing Bloody Moon on DVD for the first time in North America, Severin is providing a high-definition upgrade on Blu-ray. Once again, the film is presented in its uncut form, and the transfer is magnificent in spite of a few obvious patches where the studio had to resort to using a different print. Franco in HD is like the Eurotrash version of the uncanny valley—it’s almost disorienting to see his films presented in such pristine quality and approach the look of normal films. This presentation of Bloody Moon offers proof that his films weren’t destined to be ugly, artless affairs, as the vibrant colors leap off of the screen (the crimson especially pops). For the disc’s supplements, Severin imported the trailer and the interview with Franco that graced the previous DVD, so this a full-bore update that renders the standard-def offering moot.
The fabled class of 1981 matriculated dozens of slashers to the screen, and Bloody Moon has emerged as one of the most memorably entertaining efforts, if only because Franco insists on providing a healthy dose of insanity along with the splatter. It's the rare slasher where the severed body parts are the arguably the least deranged element to pile up. Those you expect, but dangerous falling rocks and their melodramatic aftershocks? Not so much. comments powered by Disqus Ratings:
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