1981 was really peak business for slasher films; The Burning, Friday the 13th Part 2, Happy Birthday to Me, Halloween II, My Bloody Valentine and many more jockeyed for a piece of box office pie, with most turning a profit and then some. It only made sense for Euro-horror to want in on the action; after all, the giallo was a big influence on the aesthetic and body count of the slasher, so why shouldn’t they try something more attuned to mainstream audiences at the time? If you put it in the hands of Jess Franco however, you end up with Bloody Moon (1981), a delirious and grand stab fest that still ends up being closer to a giallo than intended. You can take the boy out of Spain, but you can’t take Spain out of the boy.
Well that’s not completely true as Bloody Moon was filmed in Spain, and was a co-production with West Germany, granting them first dibs on releasing in March, with Spain a month later. It wouldn’t see North American release until late ’83, and gained notoriety as a “Video Nasty” in the U.K., cementing its status as a hard to find cult item. After all the blood has settled decades later, it’s hard to see what the fuss was about; what we’re left with is (of those I’ve seen) the slickest Franco but with enough trademark decadence to still know it’s a Franco.
We open on a nighttime Halloween costume party, and a shadowy figure steals a mask and heads back to a woman’s under the guise of her boyfriend. As they start to make out, she takes off his mask to discover a disfigured man, Miguel (Alexander Waechter – Rex: A Cop’s Best Friend), who proceeds to stab her repeatedly. Flash forward five years, and Miguel is being released into the custody of his sister Manuela (Nadja Gerganoff), who is off to help their aunt, the Countess Maria (Maria Rubio – Monstroid), run the *checks notes* Europe’s International Youth-Club Boarding School of Languages. (Which it should be noted is on a resort, as all finer learning institutions are.) This was the scene of Miguel’s horrible crime, but rest assured there is nothing at the female only club that could possibly trigger any previous emotions or behaviours.
Naturally, the young nubile women start disappearing, and as Angela (Olivia Pascal – Coconuts) is the only student to actually witness the killer in action, she begins a quest to find out his or her identity. Could it be the language teacher, Alvaro (Christoph Moosbrugger – Touch and Die)? Or perhaps it’s the horny groundskeeper Antonio (Peter Exacoutos)? In addition to Miguel creeping on Angela, there’s also a wild eyed bald guy doing the same – maybe it’s him, or just maybe Miguel is up to his old tricks again…
If Bloody Moon had just been about Miguel picking up where he left off, this would have fit very snug as a Xeroxed Halloween (right down to the masked POV at the start); but the Europeans don’t like to do things the easy way, so in Franco’s hands this becomes a tale of inheritance and incest and redemption oh and also some slasher stuff, such as: mammo-rific murder, mill saw decapitation, gas powered hedge clipper disembowelment, immolation, eyewitness road rash, and a none too subtle nod to Psycho.
If there is a problem with the film, it’s the inherent sagginess that occurs from time to time like in all of the Francos I’ve seen, which a slasher should never do; one need only look to fellow Spaniard J.P. Simon’s Pieces (’82) to see a much tighter version of a European made hack ‘em up. Franco himself was not happy with the end result; he wanted Pink Floyd (!) for the soundtrack, but had to settle for Gerhard Heinz (My Father, the Ape and I), and he wasn’t happy with the effects by Juan Ramon Molina (Witching and Bitching). While it is kind of funny to hear a man who made nearly 200 features complain about quality control, I personally dig the catchy, guitar based soundtrack, and the effects are no better or worse than what was around at the time. If anything, he should have been pissed at the dialogue provided by writer Erich Tomek (Contamination), which makes the poor voice over actors sound like English is their fourth language. This is to say, it ups the enjoyment level quite a bit; most North American slashers offer only the most mundane words, and these are anything but.
The mostly German and Austrian actors are completely unknown to me, and it’s hard to judge performances when the dubbing thespians have to work overtime in a sweaty booth to sell it. I will say Pascal has a nice presence, and Waechter looks to me like The Kids in the Hall’s Kevin McDonald fell into a Panini press, so yeah, I’m in all the way.
Bloody Moon was Franco’s bid for mass appeal; it’s certainly shot well compared to others he’s made, and he tones down some of his grimy tendencies, but not all of them; it’s quite kinky and voyeuristic, but in a way more palatable with the times, I guess. The thing is, a tempered Franco is still pretty damn weird while being eminently pleasurable and heady proof that, like him or not, he always steered his own boat. Sail on, Spanish boy.
Bloody Moon is available on Blu-ray from Severin Films.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: EYE OF THE CAT (1969)