Jess Franco has managed to knock out cheap movies made in all sorts of genres in his time. These days the artful, surrealistic, erotic ones seem clearly to constitute the most personal works in his impressively large catalogue; they've been the ones to garner most of the attention and praise among the small but determined group of fans who worship the offbeat in their Euro-cult curios.
But aside from those strange lyrical works, there were also the generic monster movies, the spy movies, the sci-fi flicks, the historical dramas and the crime capers (and innumerable combinations of all these genres, usually with a heady dose of sex thrown in as well!) — invariably delivered in Franco's ramshackle, endearingly (or infuriating, depending on your stance to this most idiosyncratic of filmmakers) slipshod style.
"X312 Flight to Hell" belongs with this second category: a cheap and cheerful adventure movie that was, despite its obvious shortcomings, shot with a professional crew during a time when Franco was working for the West German producer, Artur Brauner. During the Sixities, Brauner had made a successful series of films that revived the popular German criminal mastermind, Dr. Mabuse - first brought to the screen by Fritz Lang in 1922 (Lang's final film kick-started Brauner's revival series in 1960). Franco had been employed to direct what turned-out to be the last film in this series; by which time the franchise had run its course, while the ever-decreasing budgets had finally hit rock bottom. The Spanish filmmaker continued to knock-out several more very cheaply-made flicks for Brauner in the early-70s though, all largely forgoing Franco's usual lurid subject-matter in favour of vaguely Krimi orientated crime/spy dramas like "... Flight to Hell".
Some familiar faces can be spotted among its largely anonymous cast of German, Spanish and American actors: Paul Muller and Howard Vernon have appeared in countless Franco productions; and Ewa Strongberg appeared alongside Soledad Miranda in the seminal "Vampyros Lesbos" and "She Killed in Ecstasy". But this rather pedestrian, unimaginative outing by the director and his small cadre of repertory actors, only really comes to life with the introduction of Franco's signature "sleaze" elements — rather too late in the day to make much of a difference to the outcome.
The plot centres on a small group of people struggling for survival after their light-aircraft crash-lands in the Amazonian jungle. Each of the passengers turns out to have their own agenda and the struggle for survival turns out to be a struggle against each-other as much as against hostile elements in the environment. Political and capitalist greed are what 'do in' each of the survivors in the end, not the spear-throwing native tribes or the poisonous snakes, etc., that they encounter along the way.
The survivors are made up of the athletic, handsome 'hero' of the film, Tom Nelson (Thomas Hunter) — it is his own tape-recorded account of the events that form the narrative of the film — the voluptuous Spanish passenger, Anna-maria Vidal (Esperanza Roy), the childlike Miss Steffi (Gila von Weitershausen), the flirty Mrs Wislon (Ewa Stromberg) and the hunky Paco (Fernando Sancho). Also tagging along is the corpulent air-steward on the flight. The plane crashes after an attempt to hijack some valuable diamonds, being carried in the luggage of the president of a prominent German banking house, goes awry and the small craft makes a forced landing in the jungle, miles from the nearest airstrip. The mercenaries behind the plot, led by a blacked-up Howard Vernon playing a theatrical Mexican bandit villain called Pedro, set out into the jungle in order to intercept the plane and its passengers who, unknowing of their imminent danger, set out on a dangerous trek across the wilds of the Amazon.
Franco soon-enough takes this adventure yarn in a more cynical direction, for it is revealed that the crafty, moustachioed air-steward (he looks like a particularly oily, sweaty version of '70s detective Frank Cannon!) knows about the diamonds hidden in the German bank manager's briefcase, and it doesn't take long before he murders the man in his sleep and steals the diamonds for himself. Unfortunately, there is a witness to his crime, so the avaricious steward does away with the lovely Ewa Stromberg as well -- tossing her strangled body into an alligator infested lake.
The film continues with each of the passengers getting killed-off one-by-one through various means, including a lost tribe who don't take kindly to strangers, and manage to shoot Paco full of arrows as he tries to make peace with them. Eventually, after surviving both each-other and the murderous air-steward, the group are picked up by Pedro and his men who rape and kill Miss Stefi in front of the others and steal the diamonds from the air-steward!
Instead of killing the remaining three passengers, Pedro takes the steward, Tom and Anna-maria back to his gang's hide-out where he forces the luscious Anna-maria to take part in some sexually-charged lesbian clinches with his evil female sidekick, while the other two are chained up in the out house. Anna-maria manages to use the distraction of her heaving breasts and gyrating bottom to disable both Pedro and his lesbian accomplice and rescue her two friends. They escape in a speeding truck, stolen from the compound, but, while Anna-maria drives, her two greedy male escapees battle it out for sole possession of the diamonds.
Tom manages to prevail, but not without having brutally murdering the air-steward in the process — leaving his own humanity severely compromised. Anna-maria and Tom have apparently fallen in love during the adventure — but there is one final twist in the tale: Anna-maria has been quietly plotting all-along to steal the diamonds for herself and her partner (played by Paul Muller). But Tom suspects as much, despite his infatuation with the scheming woman, and has taken the precaution of alerting the police at the airport in case he doesn't return. Sure enough, Tom is murdered by Anna-maria's partner, but the diamonds are apprehended at the airport before she can make her escape.
The film moves along at a fair gallop, but the non-existent budget cannot fail to be a factor in a genre picture such as this. Franco soon resorts to his familiar sleaze tactics in order to pep things up a little, but only determined Franco fans are likely to stick around for the cynical denouement. The DVD from Oracle offers a fairly washed-out non-anamorphic print in a roughly 1:66.1 aspect ratio: a very mediocre presentation for a fairly mediocre film. There are no extras included.