Macumba Sexual (1981)

Strange, disturbingly surreal, and twistingly sexual cinema from Jess Franco. Severin Films USA R0 DVD.

The Film

For Jess Franco fans, the Golden Films era represents a real enigma. Having worked in relatively big budget cinema for 10 years across Europe, the director (and his wife Lina Romay) returned to Spain and began shooting literally dozens of films per year, often on tiny budgets and with small casts - films that for the most part were rarely seen outside Spain. Free of commercial influences, Franco was free to shoot some very personal films, and he was similarly able to experiment with the free-form/erotic cinema that he had first dabbled in during his co-production years with Harry Alan Towers in the late 1960s.

Alice (Lina Romay) and her husband (Antonio Mayans) are on holiday - she is suffering from vivid, sexual dreams about a mysterious black woman known as Tara (Ajita Wilson). A call from work comes through and she is asked to visit a near-by island to sell a house to a Princess Obongo, whom she soon discovers is Tara herself. Entering the kingdom of the mysterious woman, she soon finds herself at the mercy of her vicious slaves and forbidden lusts...

From the film's opening scenes, it is clear that this is not a typical, narrative story - instead a vivid mix of dreams, sex, fantasy and reality combine to give the film a unique fever-dream atmosphere that only Franco can create. The script works effectively to keep the film moving throughout, and avoids becoming merely an episodic collection of set-pieces, while the film's climax and conclusion are suitably fitting. Unlike many similar productions, the sex scenes here are all a part of the plot and never come off as gratuitous. Interestingly, there seems to be a very twisted Dracula theme running throught many parts of the story - Alice as an estate agent, being called to sell a house to Princess Obongo and falling under her spell, with Tara/Obongo then seducing her husband, plays out like a reversal of the Harker, Dracula and Mina characters of the novel, while the character of the insane hotel manager (played by Jess Franco himself) would be this story's Renfield.

Franco's direction is strong here, with some very nice camera-work that helps to give the film its strange atmosphere - in particular, some wonderfully desolate long shots and interesting use of authentic African ritual imagery. The sex scenes are nicely directed, and although very explicit (bordering on hardcore in a few places), never seem gratuitous or unnecessary - in particular, the shots of Ajita Wilson's black hands on Romay's white flesh during their sex scenes, do look very good. Franco's soundtrack (credited, as usual, to Pablo Villa) is effective, and the location work is spectacular, with Obongo's island truly feeling like another world.
Lina Romay and Antonio Mayans (who looks rather like a young Jack Palance here) starred in most of Franco's work during the 1980s, and give typically strong performances with some real chemistry between them. Franco himself gives an interesting turn as the very strage Meme, but it is the transsexual Ajita Wilson who steals the show as Princess Obongo - she has an incredible presence (that Franco himself compares to that of Christopher Lee!) and a slightly unsettling appearance that give her a suitably unreal persona.

Macumba Sexual is one of Franco's best works - free of any commercial pressures, he creates a wonderfully free-form and vivid sexual nightmare, boosted by strong direction, production and acting. Highly recommended to Franco fans, and of interest to fans of the more obscure end of euro-cult and surreal cinema.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? Lina Romay - Jess Franco's wife, and star of many of his productions from the 1970s onwards.
Antonio Mayans - star of over 40 of Jess Franco's later productions.
Directed by anyone interesting? Jess Franco - the biggest name in euro-cult cinema with over 180 films to his credit, everything from black and white horror Diabolical Dr. Z (1966) to modern surgical horror Faceless (1988)
Any gore? A little blood.
Any sex? Various male and female nude scenes, with some vivid sex. Verging on hardcore in places but suiting the film well, and never overly explicit.
Who is it for?
Highly recommended to Jess Franco fans and of interest to fans of obscure euro-cult and surreal films.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 2.35:1 widescreen. Anamorphically enhanced. Colour.
The print is very strong, with almost no print damage, and very good colours. Only a mild layer of grain.
Audio Original Spanish audio, sounds fine, some minor hiss.
Subtitles English subtitles for the Spanish audio. No problems.
Extras The disc includes:
  • Voodoo Jess - Well edited and very interesting interviews with Jess Franco and Lina Romay, talking about this film, and their careers in general, including how they met. Nicely illustrated with clips and stills. Franco speaks accented English, Romay in Spanish. Optional subtitles are provided throughout. (22m)
Region Region 0 (ALL) - NTSC
Other regions? None known.
Cuts? The film is believed to be completely uncut. Spanish language print.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 29th October 2006.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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