Monday, October 18, 2021

“You’ve Quite a Repertoire of Chilling Tales” - Bloody Moon (1981) - Film #215

While Jess Franco is an acknowledged master of the horror genre, we have not paid much attention to him on Senseless Cinema, outside of our discussion of She Killed in Ecstasy (1971). We will remedy that in part by covering Mr. Franco's stylish blend of slasher and giallo film (slallo? giasher??), 1981's Bloody Moon, also known as Die Sage des Todes or The Saw of Death. Bloody Moon is not based on a Francois Truffaut film like She Killed in Ecstasy, as far as I know, but that should not be held against it.

Some of your universe's critics apparently hold something against the film. For example, reviewer paulgeaf writes, "Not scary or thrilling(apart from the odd breast), just absolutely horrible to watch." (For the record, I must state that none of the breasts appeared odd to me.) Reviewer tomgillespie2002 writes about Franco, "While I have only seen a small handful of his films (all pretty bad), this is undoubtedly the worst I've seen." And reviewer Horst_in_Translation writes, "As a whole, this was a failure with regard to almost everything. I absolutely don't recommend the watch."

Read on for the truth about Jess Franco's Bloody Moon...

A woman named Manuela pushes a wheelchair on a patio in the dark. She looks at the moon (not yet bloody), as does the occupant in the wheelchair, whose face is disfigured. Manuela flashes back to a poolside disco party where the camera’s POV watches a couple making out. Another couple disengages from the pool party (not actually a pool party, as nobody is in the pool). The man says, “I’d like to make love with you.”

The woman says, ambiguously, “So would I.”

He takes off a Mickey Mouse mask and a scarf, and he doesn’t notice when the disfigured stalker takes these things, puts on the mask, and seduces another woman who was dancing alone. Wordlessly, and without taking off the mask, he accompanies her to her apartment (Number 13) and begins to fondle her on the bed. When she slips his mask off, however, she sees his scars and rejects him, causing him to grab a pair of scissors and hack her to death.

Five years later, Manuela takes a taxi to a psychiatric hospital run by Dr. Jess Franco, where her brother is released into her custody, having been institutionalized for five years after committing the murder in the opening. Manuela and Miguel take a train home, where Miguel looks into a private room and sees a woman who may or may not look like the woman he killed. The lights flash off and then on again. The woman is gone, with only a scarf blowing in the breeze from the half-open window. Supportive sister Manuela asks, “Miguel, you didn’t kill her, did you?”

The woman stands up, apparently having been just under the frame and invisible to Miguel and Manuela. “Why do you keep on gaping at me like that? What am I, Frankenstein’s daughter?”

In their hometown, a simple-minded bald man named Paco hangs a sign for the International Youth-Club Boarding School of Languages. (The school, built in the apartment complex with the pool where the murder occurred, also features a restaurant.)

The school is run by a man named Alvaro, whose assistant Vera complains that not enough students are enrolled to pay rent. Alvaro visits the oceanside castle of Countess Maria Gonzalez, who immediately yells at Manuela (her niece), accusing the younger woman of scheming to inherit the Countess’s estate. At night, the Countess is attacked by an unseen person who jabs a flaming torch at her face.

At the school, the new class, made up entirely of attractive young blonde women, practices Spanish phrases while wearing headphones. Afterward, the students play tennis on the school’s tennis courts, then sunbathe topless and tease the school’s tennis pro, Antonio. A new student, Angela, who also happens to be the woman with the scarf from the train, arrives and sits poolside with some friends. Miguel spies on them while the other students tell Angela that she is staying in bungalow 13, where a woman was “murdered brutally in her bed” five years ago.

Another friend says, “I’ll have nightmares if you go on telling all your horror stories. You’ve quite a repertoire of chilling tales.”

“I don’t tell chilling tales,” complains the student.

Angela, wearing what appears to be a Grace Jones sweatshirt, walks across “campus” to her bungalow, vaguely aware that Miguel is following her.

In her bungalow, unbothered by the two doors to the outside that swing in the wind, or by the appearance of handyman Paco, Angela plays a record and goes to the bathroom to take a shower. About to step into the shower, she sees the reflection of Miguel behind her and she announces, “The guy from the train!”

After Miguel disappears, Angela approaches yet another door to the outside, where she sees a massive silhouette approaching. For unknown reasons, she pushes the door open. It is neither Paco nor Miguel outside, but a small boy selling flowers in the middle of the night. Angela laughs and purchases a flower.

Under shots of the full (but not yet bloody) moon, we see Manuela push the wheelchair. Later, in Manuela’s bedroom, Miguel touches her chest and tells her, “You’re the only girl I’ve ever loved. The only one who’s never laughed at me. You’ve never been afraid of me like the others. Love me. Love me like you did before.”

“We shouldn’t,” his sister replies, “no matter how much we want.” Then she kisses him, but she reiterates they shouldn’t have sex. “It’s everybody around us, staring at us and judging us. I’m so afraid. Miguel, I’m terribly frightened. If we could just get rid of everyone around us, then things could be as they were.”

Meanwhile, the language students are having a party where the DJ and Antonio are the only male attendees, and where a song that could only be called “Shake Your Baby” plays on a record player. Angela’s friend Inga yells at Antonio as they joke about chocolate and sex, and then Antonio walks Angela back to her bungalow.

At night, in a cleverly self-reflexive sequence, Angela falls asleep reading a novel called Poe Must Die that describes a stalker stalking a woman falling asleep reading a novel. The stalker, dressed in giallo-approved black gloves, enters her bungalow, forcing Angela to wander around the place again and check doors, though she avoids checking the doors that lead to the outside. After she finds a white rose in a water glass that may or may not have been there before, she returns to bed, where she does not notice the silhouette of the knife-wielding stalker moving closer to the bed, a scene presented in fast-motion for some reason.

When she wakes up milliseconds later, the stalker is gone, but her friend Ava arrives in order to change clothes in preparation for some romantic night fishing. Unfortunately for Ava, the stalker knifes her through the back and the knife blade, which must be long indeed, emerges through her left nipple.

Angela finds the body and runs outside. She finds Antonio but when they return to the bungalow, the body is shockingly gone. Only the novel Poe Must Die is on the bed, and Antonio identifies it as the source of Angela’s delusion, though he misreads the title somehow as The Killer Came at Midnight.

Proving that the bungalow is not so far off the beaten path, Inga enters, wearing the image of a pinup girl and a leopard on her sweater.

Inga suspiciously asks, “Now who would want Ava to be murdered? Who would be jealous enough to have devised such a plan?” She adds, “I only tell murder stories. It’s the others that commit them, if you know what I mean. I’ll astonish you maybe tomorrow, or before even.”

There is no time to point out Inga’s bizarre dialogue or delivery because Alvaro enters the bungalow, chasing everyone out and telling Angela to get some sleep, then returning to his own bungalow, where he sleeps with another one of the students.

In class, Angela is startled both by the words spoken in her headphones (“I’ll cut you in two like a piece of wood…with a hacksaw!”) and by the image of Miguel standing outside the window. When she fails to convince Alvaro that anything is wrong, she investigates the possible murder in town by following Antonio, who appears to be breaking up with Manuela.

In a sequence unique even among the giallo and slasher genres, Angela hears an explosion while standing at the base of a hill and finds herself attacked by a cube-shaped boulder that is either made of rock or styrofoam.

After a brilliantly performed one-woman scene in which Manuela discovers one of her family’s two snakes (named Medusa) is gone, we watch the poor escaped snake slither near Angela, only for the snake to be brutally beheaded (in real life) by Antonio and his hedge clippers. Angela interprets Antonio’s bloody clippers as a threat on her life, so she runs around the school grounds, stopping only to scold the rest of the students, all of whom are planning to play a practical joke on Inga. (This practical joke leads to one of the most confusing sequences of Jess Franco’s body of work, a claim I do not make lightly, in which Inga in a see-through shirt pretends to have sex with a nonexistent boy while the other students search for an open door and Ava’s body, now stabbed through the sternum rather than the nipple, hangs in a dry-cleaning bag in the closet.)

A few seconds later, Inga apparently forgets the “practical” “joke” and drives with a mysterious man in a fancy vintage yellow Mercedes to an abandoned house, where they are watched by a little boy looking through a pirate’s spyglass. The gloved man ties Inga to a stone slab while she compliantly says things like, “As they say, suffering is good for pleasure.”

Inga’s predicament leads to the film’s most famous set piece, in which the gloved maniac uses an industrial buzz saw to cut Inga in half as the little boy races to switch off the saw…unsuccessfully.

At night, Angela’s remote bungalow again becomes a hub of activity as handyman Paco and disfigured Miguel watch her from outside while tennis pro Antonio tries to speak with her. Panicking, she picks up a knife to defend herself from the various men surrounding the bungalow, but she doesn’t let her panic stop her from answering the wall phone on its first ring, even as the door to her room creaks open slowly, and even though nobody is on the phone line.

Instead of phoning for help, Angela waits until the door creaks open to the point where a black cat jumps into the room (as in my universe, your universe’s cats clearly delight in pushing open doors infinitesimally slowly). 

She picks up the cat, then drops it as soon as she hears a noise from another room. “Inga?” she calls, but it is not poor beheaded Inga. Seeing only a silhouette, she stabs a man’s figure, at which point her friend Laura knocks at the door. Angela tells her, “I just stabbed a man to death.”

“What did you do?” Laura asks, puzzled.

“He’s lying over there.” They walk a few feet over to the scene of the stabbing and find that Angela has stabbed a dressmaker’s dummy that for some reason she never noticed in her bungalow. 

“You read too many murder stories,” Laura scolds. “You’re unbelievable. What you saw was not a murderer but just a dummy.”

In a flurry of conversation, Laura ridicules Angela’s idea of going to the police, decides to spend the night with Angela, then runs outside to go to the nearest disco to find some wine or beer, leaving Angela alone again. During her walk to the on-school-property disco, Laura is stalked and then killed with some kind of gardening implement.

Angela answers the phone in her bungalow. A voice says, “Prepare yourself to die. I’m going to kill you. I’ll cut you in two.”

Instead of phone the police, again, Angela calls for Laura. Getting no response, she walks to the next room and finds Inga’s head in her bed.

A masked, gloved man stalks Angela, who also finds Ava’s body hidden behind a curtain and another body hanging from the ceiling. Screaming, Angela fights off the masked man. She is suddenly aided by Miguel, who runs into the bungalow and flips the killer onto the floor in a masterful display of judo.

While the killer scuffles with Miguel, eventually knocking him out, Angela runs outside to be confronted by Paco wielding the gardening implement that killed Laura as well as Alvaro. Angela runs away to the Countess Maria’s mansion, where Manuela gives her an alcoholic drink laced with white powder. Angela drinks the drink, but she also tells Manuela she recognized the killer’s cold blue eyes.

In another room, where a fire crackling in a fireplace sounds like someone crumpling wrapping paper, Manuela and Alvaro reveal they are the real killers, and they are trying to frame Manuela’s poor disfigured brother Miguel. Alvaro realizes Angela recognized his blue eyes, which are a dull aqua color. “You managed to think of everything as usual,” Alvaro explains to his co-conspirator. “Miguel’s supposed to inherit Maria’s millions but unfortunately he gets arrested, so therefore his loving sister Manuela inherits her aunt’s fortune.”

Of course, the two start bickering about the arrangement. “I don’t need anyone,” Manuela says, adding, “Don’t tell me because you killed a few girls for me you expect to be my partner? You’ve already been paid, haven’t you? You’ve slept with me. Isn’t that payment enough for you?”

“Rotten bitch! You’ll pay for this!” He attacks her, but immediately lets her go.

Miguel, having overheard part of the killers’ conversation, breaks into Manuela’s room and attacks her, but it is Angela and not Manuela that he attacks. Angela shoves a knitting needle through Miguel’s throat, then runs downstairs, where Alvaro and Manuela are fighting again. Finally, Angela finds Countess Maria sitting by a fire, but she soon realizes the Countess is dead, having been burnt to a crisp by a torch earlier in the film.

Alvaro attacks Angela, admitting he murdered her friends, but he is killed suddenly by Manuela, who cuts him up with a hedge trimmer. Manuela spares Angela’s life, threatening that Angela must support the story that Miguel and Alvaro were murderers, and Angela runs away. In the final twist, however, Miguel proves himself still alive and he strangles his sister Manuela, then dies holding her hand.

Antonio rescues Angela and they run away together.

The moon is there, but, frustratingly, it is still not bloody. The closing credits roll over the image of Miguel and Manuela as a repetitive soft rock song plays.

The End

Of all the mysteries of Bloody Moon, one stands out: the meaning of the title. Although the moon appears throughout the film, and is always either full or nearly full, it is never actually bloody. Bloody Earth might have been a better title, or Bloody School. The German title, The Saw of Death, is perhaps more inspired, as Inga is killed by an industrial saw, though this title might work better if the film featured more killings by the titular saw. This would, of course, require all the young women studying at the Spanish language school to be lured to the stoneworking building in the middle of nowhere, which Alvaro probably could have managed through trickery and mask-wearing. However, I choose to believe that The Saw of Death is a pun referring to the voyeuristic pleasures of all slasher and giallo films. Angela "saw" murder attempts and dead bodies, and the saw of death means the witness (and by extension the audience) will be threatened with death. This theory is clearly a superior interpretation of the different titles, so I will hereby consider it established canon.