Color, 1983, 92 mins. 42 secs.
Directed by Jess Franco
Starring Lina Romay, Antonio Mayans, Carmen Carrión, Asunción Calero, Antonio Rebollo
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
The feverish, erotic chamber dramas churned out by Jess Franco upon his return to post-dictatorship Spain are the gift that keeps on giving, and the proof lies in La casa de las mujeres perdidas, or The House of Lost Girls. By this point Lina Romay had become Franco's nearly full-time leading muse in his stronger films, and she definitely takes center stage here in a tale of familial passion that often comes off like a particularly horny stage play set on the beach. Shot in a flurry along with a dozen other titles (including Black Boots, Leather Whip, Cries of Pleasure, The Inconfessable Orgies of Emmanuelle, Revenge in the House of Usher, Mansion of the Living Dead, and more), the story had been a long-gestating one for Franco that could finally blossom into the strange, perverse beast it is once Spain's censorship restrictions had collapsed in the early '80s. The market for "S"-rated strong softcore films initiated a rich period in Franco's career, especially the cycle of Golden Films titles now being released from the vaults on Blu-ray from Severin Films.
Claiming to be on the run from the law after a successful acting career in Argentina, Mario Pontecorvo (Franco regular Mayans) owns a small Spanish island where he and his family are the only inhabitants. The lack of outside social interaction has turned his daughter Desdemona (Romay) into a self-pleasuring basket case who wants to seduce her father and gives masturbation lessons to her mentally disabled sister, Paulova (Calero). Mario's sadistic new wife, Dulcinea (Carrión), is even more frustrated by her husband's lack of sexual attention and channels her nastiness onto the two girls, but things get even more precarious when a stranger (Rebollo) shows up to push their paranoia and libidos into overdrive.
Though loaded with sex scenes (Romay probably only spends about 5% of her screen time clothed), The House of Lost Women has more on its mind than just gyrating naked bodies. The story has some unsettling takes on self-delusion and effects an isolated environment can have on a confined family unit, which culminates in a very dark and poetic resolution that only Franco could pull off. All of the actors are almost frighteningly dedicated to their roles, with Mayans getting one of the meatiest parts of his entire Franco cycle (and, not having to participate in any carnal scenes, having more room to etch out a fascinating and ultimately pathetic figure). Of course, Romay is a firestorm here as always; interestingly, Franco avoids putting makeup on his actors, giving them a blemished and sometimes queasy appearance that must have caught some Spanish filmgoers off guard when they were expecting a run of the mill smut film. The piano-heavy score by regular composer Daniel J. White is a big asset as well, both beautiful and extremely sad where necessary and really sticking the landing during the last scene.
Like most of its other Golden Films brethren, this one was essentially designed for local consumption with one or two prints floating around the country before getting shelved. A letterboxed transfer popped up a few years ago on Spanish TV and did the custom subtitled gray market circuit, but otherwise this has been an obscure footnote in the director's filmography for a long time with only a few fervent champions around. In 2021, Severin gave the film its first legit English-friendly release as a Blu-ray special edition with a fresh scan from the original negative. It's hard to imagine this looking any better than the lovely presentation here, which makes the most of the bright, sun-drenched aesthetic; it's a sometimes gritty and cheap-looking film, but the beach landscapes look great and, for better or worse, the skin textures are all very detailed. The Spanish DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track sounds great and features optional yellow English subtitles. The ongoing series of location featurettes on Severin's Franco discs continues here with "In the Land of Franco Part 6" (20m41s), with Stephen Thrower and Mayans guiding you through key Spanish spots in Alicante, Benidorm and Calpe, covering films like Hot Nights of Linda, Sex Is Crazy, and Tender and Perverse Emmanuelle and looking at some great production memorabilia. In "The Island of Perversion" (16m32s), Thrower offers another perceptive breakdown of the film including its role in Franco's gallery of dysfunctional family dramas, the corrosive presentation of incest, the important of Mayans' involvement behind the scenes, and the skeleton nature of the crew. Plus you get to hear him say "My Pussy Is the Best," so it's obviously a must. Then Robert Monell provides a welcome, detailed audio essay (11m30s) about the film, starting with a history of the shooting and release stats before a thorough breakdown of the locations and recurring Franco visual tropes that define the film.
Reviewed on June 26, 2021