For this, a late entry in his self-invented "Horrotica" genre, and one of the earliest films made in the aftermath of his return to his native soil in the early-eighties, Jess Franco revisited the somber, surrealistic filmmaking style pervading his two '60s classics, "Succubus" and "Venus in Furs", while reusing elements of narrative borrowed from two of his best known '70s films, "Vampyros Lesbos" and "The Female Vampire". This time, the atmosphere of expressive, existential sexual dread is materialised in a blank landscape of shifting sands and relentless Iberian sunlight, where the featureless horizon leaves no place to escape from the horrors of the sexually enslaved soul. Eschewing completely the ironic slapstick comedic style that constantly threatens to sink "Mansions of the Living Dead", "Macumba Sexual" proceeds with a tone of up-most seriousness: there is hardly any but the most rudimentary dialogue for the entire eighty-minutes, and the film finally ends on one of the most disturbing screams of utter desolation and despair (from Lina Romey) ever seen in Euro-cinema.
The object of mesmeric sexual longing this time out is the statuesque transsexual porn star Ajita Wilson, who had recently appeared as a sadistic prison governess in one of Franco's most outrageous WIP flicks, "Sadomania" . She plays Princess Tara Obongo - a tall, mysterious, ebony-skinned beauty who summons estate agent, Alice Brookes (Lina Romey under her platinum-wigged pseudonym, Candy Coster) from an idyllic Spanish holiday with her writer boyfriend to her sun-kissed, voodoo-soaked Gran Canaria lair —ostensibly to thrash out the details of a property transaction.
Before she leaves though, both Alice and her mustachioed boyfriend (Antonio Mayans) are having languid dreams of sexual torment and unfathomable longing about an alluring, predatory dark-skinned woman who keeps two human-beings on a dog leash as her slave-like pets! In Alice's dreams, haunting Senegalese sculptures and carvings and grotesque fertility symbols, appear alongside the hypnotic, transparently-robed figure who calls for her across time and space and through the thin veil that separates reality from the imagination's darkest desires. When Alice and her boyfriend make love, they are both transported by the fantasy that they are with this same dark-skinned woman; and when Alice finally arrives for her meeting, she finds the woman of her languorous sexual fantasies and Princess Obongo, are one and the same person!
After being enraptured in a ritualistic, voodoo-tinged sex orgy with Tara and her two slave/pets, Alice narrowly escapes her diabolical seductress and is found wandering naked in the desert. She makes her way back to her boyfriend, but discovers that Princess Obongo still has him in her otherworldly psychic grip: in a "Shinning" moment, Alice discovers that the pages from his current novel simply repeat the same word over and over again: Tara Tara Tara Tara Tara ... She goes back to the site of Princess Obongo's desert dwelling to try and save her boyfriend from his fate, only to instantly fall back under the spell of her sultry undead lover. She falls at Princess Obongo's feet, declaring undying loyalty, and is lead away to fulfill Princess Obongo's strange, surprising erotic plan for her — and live out the recurring, dreamlike half-existence the fates have marked out.
With only a small cast (including himself as a sleazy hotel proprietor) Franco conjures an enormously affecting erotic dreamscape, alternating hazy daydreaming languor with vivid episodes of stark erotic frenzy. The sex verges on hard core in several instances: an unusual ingredient in this style of erotic surrealism which usually depends on more conventional depictions of sex that trade on stylised sexual imagery. Franco's uncanny knack for suggesting supernatural dread, fusing frank sexual imagery with classic horror motifs and creating a heady atmosphere with the simplest of film-making techniques was never better illustrated than it is here. The blueprint used in "Macumba Sexual" (and many, many times in Franco's voluminous filmography) goes back to Bram Stoker's "Dracula": the episode where Jonathan Harker encounters three alluring female vampires in Castle Dracula and is "rescued" by the Count -- saying the words "This man belongs to me!" The scene was actually a dream Bram Stoker really had, and was the genesis of the whole Dracula myth. It also initiated much speculation about Stoker's own repressed sexual inclinations. The notion of a volcanic, supernatural presence with the ability to corrupt and dominate the sexual impulses of its chosen victim has proven a powerful motif in vampire lore, but Franco's cinema took it to a new level of expressiveness — co-opting the raison d'être of pornography for an unorthodox and uncompromising cinematic poetry of sexual longing and possession. Although suffused with explicit pornographic imagery, the film also has long dreamy sequences where the camera gazes upon atmospheric sea-views or undulating desert scenes; or explores the contours of weird totems and fetish objects, imbuing them with unearthly meaning. The imagery is always both stark (befitting Franco's cheap camera and off-the-cuff shooting style) and mysterious. A score, credited to Pablo Villa, is actually by Franco himself and enhances the somnambulant air with its woozy, synth-based, freeform meandering and jazzy piano interludes. Surrealistic scenes of voodoo in the desert where Ajita Wilson summons an ivory figure from the sands (which she then uses to masturbate with) encourage an all encompassing ambience of otherworldliness and of unfathomable, illogical powers at work. The film ends by returning to its beginning, with the protagonist, Lina Romey, realising, in a sudden fit of supernatural divination, that she is doomed to relive this cycle of dream within dream within dream for eternity.
The beautiful print showcased on Severin Films' new DVD comes with the original Spanish language audio track and English subtitles. A 22-minute featurette includes interviews with Jess Franco and Lina Romey who discuss Ajita Wilson's indeterminate sexuality (Franco claims he never knew for sure whether she was a transsexual, while Romey - who spent a considerable amount of time with her face buried in Ajita's crotch during filming, so she should know! — swears she was.) and Franco's return to film-making in Spain among other topics related to the film. This is another essential offering for the Francophile's DVD library.