A burnt-out, morally compromised Al Pereira (Howard Vernon) considers the man, or woman, in the mirror….
A bloody woman-on-woman S&M performance at La Maison Du Vice becomes reality in the final scene (cf NECRONOMICON-1967)..
Kali Hansa is the Alpha Woman who dances a ferocious dance and administers hardcore torture when needed….
There are only red and whites in La Maison Du Vice…. And don’t hold your breath waiting for a HD edition of this obscurity.
LA MAISON DU VICE, a micro-budgeted affair even by Robert De Nesle standards, looks like it was shot in a few days while everyone was holed up at the HOTEL CATALINA. Grim and grimy, it’s a sleaze-fest even by Jess Franco standards. This is a hopeless nightclub world populated by desperate men, strippers, career criminals, transsexuals, lesbians, sadists, masochists, transvestites and a universe of LGBT personages all competing for the attention of the pathetic Al Pereira. Played by Howard Vernon, who follows Eddie Constantine (CARTES SUR TABLE) in the role, this PI is neither entertaining to watch nor is it possible to care about him. He’s just there. But there’s no there there. Vernon exudes a vibe of palpable disgust, perhaps the actor’s comment on having to play this role.
CARTES SUR TABLE was lighthearted, fast fun. Disposable Eurospy business which breezes by. The lack of resources really didn’t sink that ship, which exulted in no-budget sci-fi settings where men and women were turned into “robots” who would roam the world at the will of another Jess Franco mad scientist (Fernando Rey).
Some critics have slammed this title but I give it high marks for an overwhelming ambiance of desperate lust converted into despair. The most sympathetic character, the elegant exotic dancer Valentina (Montserrat Prous) meets the most horrendous fate when she’s slowly tortured to death by Kali Hansa and co. Franco spares us no detail of the pain of this character. Her elegant striptease features very little stripping but a lot of showstopping posing and striking gestures which approach a kind of erotic sculpture. The setting which houses all this depravity seems a series of impersonal cubicles where elaborate perversions are performed for paying customers. One of them is occupied by Jess Franco, who seems to be getting stoned while bathed in crimson light.
This is a rather delirious enterprise but one also feels the need to shower after viewing. The density of the malignant atmosphere is ultimately overwhelming. Al Pereira is on a steep downward spiral here and his pent up rage and disgusts explodes as he stabs to death the performer (Glenda Allen aka Dany Sam) who he has used to help him retrieve some evidence. She seems a seductive woman but is actually a devious sex change who has just knifed Anne Libert in the midst of more sleazy sex. The implication being that Al hates himself and when he finds out he has been having relations with someone born as another man, he kills what he hates most, the feminine lurking within the masculine.
Franco’s deploys his performers in imaginative, stylized set ups in very close quarters here. A world of tattered dreams, penny ante glitz and endless erotic shows for the edification of an unappreciative audience.
Al Pereira looks in the mirror and hates what he sees in this entry. Jess Franco would play Pereira next in DOWNTOWN. Ultimately Antonio Mayans, the definite interpreter of this role, would play the PI in such 1980s masterpieces as BOTAS NEGRA, LATIGO DE CUERO (1982) and CAMINO SOLITARIO (1983). Mayans would also return in the role for the last completed Jess Franco film, AL PEREIRA VS THE ALLIGATOR LADIES (2012), an 81/2 style final farewell from the dying auteur. In those later films the character was both threatened and sometimes saved by females. If he let his guard down, he was dead meat. In LA MASON DU VICE, Al is the walking dead, waiting for the bullet which never comes. The bilious intensity of Kali Hansa lingers long after the film is over, like a superb performance of a very nasty number.
BOTAS NEGRAS, LATIGO DE CUERO seems to be a kind of remake of this, but it’s a much more personal and resonant work, even though it has an even more downbeat conclusion. By the 1980s Jess Franco had achieved a long delayed personal and artistic freedom working on his Golden Films Internacional and Manacoa productions in which he didn’t have any thematic/stylistic constraints or post-production meddling with his output. He did have severe budgetary limitations which he managed to overcome and turned out some of his most personal and interesting work.
One wonders what the men in search of wet thrills found to have a happy ending over when seeing this in some of the downmarket urban settings, promoted in the advert below.
(C) Robert Monell 2016