Bloody Moon/The Bloody Moon Murders/Die Säge des Todes (1981) **
Jesus Franco making an American-style slasher movie for the German market? Eh— why the hell not? He’s made every other kind of exploitation movie under the fucking sun, and rip-offs of Friday the 13th and Halloween were making big money in 1981. The way Franco himself tells it in the interview appended to the Severin DVD edition of Bloody Moon (an interview that probably would still be more entertaining than the film itself, even if the movie were much better than it is), it all started when producers Otto Retzer and Wolf C. Hartwig (the same Wolf C. Hartwig who gave us Schoolgirl Report and Horrors of Spider Island) contacted him with a plan to make a horror movie with 50 scare set-pieces. They promised him Olivia Pascal, a popular sexploitation starlet who was then looking to restart her career on a footing that didn’t require taking her clothes off all the time. They promised him an A-list Hollywood gore-effects specialist, whom Franco demurely neglected to name in the interview (although I have a sneaking suspicion we’re talking about Tom Savini here). They even promised him a soundtrack by Pink Floyd. I shouldn’t even need to tell you that Pascal was the only promise they delivered on, should I? What Retzer and Hartwig gave him instead was a prop guy who had recently started moonlighting as a gore-effects artisan, an obscure Austrian composer whose style had much more in common with the usual shitty European fright-flick scoring than with any bunch of acid-dropping prog-rockers, and a thoroughly nonsensical script written by production manager Erich Tomek under the bizarre pseudonym “Rayo Casablanca.” On the other hand, they also gave him a halfway decent amount of money to spend on the picture— something Franco certainly wouldn’t have had at his disposal after Pink Floyd had taken their share of the budget!
Anyway, we start off with something very much like a composite clone of the openings to Halloween and Friday the 13th. A bunch of young people in a secluded place (we’ll worry about the exact locale later on) are having a big old time disco-dancing late at night in the courtyard of some large building. Meanwhile, a woman whom we will later come to know as Manuela (Nadja Gerganoff) tells a horribly scarred man whom we will later come to know as Miguel (Alexander Waechter) to stop looking at her like that, because she is his sister. Miguel stalks off in the direction of the disco party, where he sneaks up on a couple who have detached themselves from the crowd to make out at the edge of the woods. No, he doesn’t kill them. Instead, Miguel helps himself to the boy’s Mickey Mouse mask, which the teen lothario had removed in order to facilitate his snogging (look— don’t even bother asking me why he’s wearing a Mickey Mouse mask, okay?), and then joins in the revel himself. A girl who had been interested in Mickey Mask Guy earlier mistakes Miguel for the object of her affections, and invites him back to Bungalow 13, where she has been staying. Miguel gets the girl out of most of her clothes before she becomes really insistent about him taking off the mask, and you can imagine the sort of mood the girl is in once she snatches it away herself, getting her first good look at his pocked and corrugated face. Her hysterics inspire Miguel to his own, with the result that he stabs the girl to death with a convenient pair of scissors.
Five years go by, during which Miguel is confined to a psychiatric hospital under the care of a doctor played by none other than Jesus Franco. When Manuela comes to pick him up upon his release, the doctor tells her that the most important thing is for Miguel never to be reminded of the night when he killed that girl; the doctor is confident that there will be no relapses (otherwise he wouldn’t be releasing Miguel at all), but one can never be too careful about such things. Nevertheless, Manuela has a scare on the train back home, when Miguel fixates himself in a most alarming manner on a pretty girl (Olivia Pascal, from The Joy of Flying and Vanessa) in one of their car’s compartments. In one of the more contrived moments in the film, Manuela briefly convinces herself that her brother has pushed the girl out the window, but the reason for the other passenger’s squeal of panic turns out to be merely that the wind had caught hold of her scarf and nearly carried it away.
Home, in case you were wondering, is the estate of Manuela and Miguel’s aunt, the Countess Maria Gonzales (Maria Rubio, later of Diabolical Vengeance). She lives in an enormous chateau at the center of a commensurately immense plot of territory, and her main source of income is the International Club Boarding School for Languages, which leases a good bit of that land from her. The school’s recreational center was the scene of that big disco party in the prologue, and the students are all lodged in bungalows like the one where Miguel committed his crime. The school is run by a man named Alvaro (Christoph Moosbrugger), who would do so in partnership with Manuela if the old lady gave him any choice in the matter. The countess loathes her niece, however, believing her to be scheming perpetually to get her hands on the family fortune— indeed, Maria has even gone so far as to disinherit Manuela, willing everything she owns to Miguel instead. Alvaro can’t so much as discuss the ordering of school supplies with Manuela without provoking an outburst of paranoid rancor from his landlady, and facing accusations of conspiring with the younger woman to rob the countess blind. That said, it’s obvious that, in a perverse way, Maria enjoys having her niece around the house; she’s the sort of person who wouldn’t know what to do with herself if she didn’t have somebody to treat like shit for no sensible reason any time the mood struck her.
Anyway, it’s the start of a new term, and the school is soon overrun with young people who are ostensibly there to learn Spanish, but who really seem much more interested in getting into each other’s pants. For our purposes, the only ones worth paying attention to are Eva (Beate Engelke), Laura (Corinna Drews), Inga (Jasmin Losensky, of Pert Teens and Weirdos), and Angela, the latter of whom is— you guessed it— that cute girl Miguel saw on the train earlier. Their personalities can be summed up more or less as follows: Eva is the slutty blonde with big tits, Laura is the slutty blonde with medium-sized tits, and Inga is the blonde with moderately big tits who wants to be slutty, but doesn’t really know how. Angela, slightly less blonde than the others, is obviously destined to be Final Girl, and is way too busy freaking herself out over the fact that she’s staying in Bungalow 13— the murder cottage, remember— and being followed about none too discreetly by seemingly every male in the film even to aspire to sluttishness. Also worth looking out for are a young man named Antonio (Peter Exacoutos), the school’s tennis instructor, and Paco (uncredited, but supposedly producer Otto Retzer) the halfwit handyman. We all know about tennis instructors in European exploitation movies, and we know about halfwit handymen in two-bit slasher flicks, too.
The slashing begins when somebody sneaks into Countess Maria’s room one night, and sets her bed on fire. Miguel, Antonio, Paco, and Alvaro all begin lurking compulsively, as if not a one of them had a single responsibility to uphold or a single other demand on their time. Manuela adopts a ritual of standing at one of the chateau’s open windows each night, waving her tits at the full moon, and her aunt’s incineration apparently doesn’t strike her as sufficient reason to interrupt her old routine of wheeling the old lady around the chateau’s veranda each evening. She and Miguel also share many an angstful conversation about how “they” won’t let the two siblings love each other as they wish. Angela’s burgeoning paranoia cranks into fully justified overdrive when somebody stabs Eva to death in the other girl’s bedroom, but then makes off with the body before she can summon any help. Inevitably, nobody believes her about the murder, which is by no means the last one to be committed at the International Club Boarding School for Languages. Paco invariably seems to crop up somewhere nearby after each killing, wielding gardening tools of suspicious similarity to the murder weapons. Eventually, Angela even decides that Antonio is out to kill her— which seems an odd way to interpret seeing a man chop the head off of a poisonous snake that’s about to bite her. (Animals unmistakably were harmed during the making of this film.) What she apparently never thinks to wonder about is why anyone would want her dead. Wondering wouldn’t have helped her much, though, for the real answer is not one she’d ever suspect. Despite Bloody Moon’s overall aping of American slasher conventions, the killer’s true motives are straight out of a 70’s giallo.
To the extent that Bloody Moon is remembered for anything, it’s for the set-piece in which one of the victims allows herself to be tied to a block of marble in an old stone mill (she thinks kinky sex is in the offing), only to be decapitated by a gigantic circular saw. That scene (and the bit just after it, when the killer runs down the little boy who witnessed the crime with his huge antique Mercedes) is indeed a pretty astonishing piece of shock cinema, and I sorely wish I could say that the rest of the film was worthy of it. Alas, Bloody Moon is otherwise a pretty pedestrian example of its subgenre, neither good enough to rise above its nakedly mercenary aims nor bad enough to engage very strongly the interest of Jesus Franco’s more masochistic fans. On the one hand, Franco did just a little bit better here than one expects of him in this phase of his career, and on the other, in a field where the median quality level is low enough for My Bloody Valentine to be considered a minor classic, even Franco’s worst would not be completely off the scale. Why raise a fuss over a murder plot lifted more or less whole and intact from Twitch of the Death Nerve when the most important of all the 80’s slasher flicks steals just as much from Mario Bava’s last true masterpiece? Why make an issue of Franco shooting part of the prologue sequence through the eyeholes of a cheap plastic mask when ripping off Halloween is practically the entire point of the exercise to begin with? Even the truly wretched background music is only marginally below contemporary genre standards. (Franco’s own nominee for the worst part of the film, it veers crazily from soporific instrumental soft rock to wordless female vocals imitating 50’s theramin warbling to an irritating electronic blooping that verges on musique concrete.) If Bloody Moon has anything apart from that stone saw killing to give it a personality of its own, it’s a sense of humor so off-kilter and deadpan that I wouldn’t be certain it was really there had Franco not subsequently owned up to it. I’m really not sure how much drawing power the most calculatedly absurd spring-loaded cat sequence in history is going to have, though.