Spanish punk band the Killer Barbies are on their way to another gig when their minivan breaks down in the woods near a creepy castle. Foxy front-woman Flavia (Silvia Superstar), her boyfriend Rafa (Carlos Subterfuge) and band manager Mario (Charles S. Chaplin) accept an invitation from the sinister Mr. Arkan (Aldo Sambrell) to spend the night with his mistress at her ancestral home, while drummer Billy (Billy King) elects to stay behind so he and dancer Sharon (Angie Barea) can continue their carnal marathon. Their non-stop rumpy-pumpy is literally cut short by a scythe-wielding loon (Santiago Segura) and his midget minions who drag Billy back to the castle’s blood-spattered torture dungeon. Meanwhile, Mr. Arkan introduces the remaining Barbies to their host: the Countess Fledermaus (Mariangela Giordano), who only moments ago was a hideous hag, now rejuvenated by blood. Beguiled when the countess (none too subtly) bares her breasts at the dinner table, randy Rafa unwisely opts for a one-night stand, while Flavia explores the dark recesses of the castle and uncovers some nasty secrets.
Something of a comeback for oddball porno-horror auteur Jess Franco, though also his last film shot on 35mm to date, Killer Barbys is part of that cinematic tradition of genre-fan rock bands playing at being horror stars: from The Ghost Goes Gear (1966) to KISS meets the Phantom of the Park (1978) and latterly, Wild Zero (2000). The Killer Barbies themselves (whose band name the title deliberately misspells to avoid being sued by toy giants Mattel) are avowed fans of B movies, gothic horror and comic books, though strictly speaking only two members of the proper line-up appear here: singer/guitarist Silvia Superstar and drummer Billy King. Lead guitarist Doctor Muerte and bass player Jeyper Man sat this movie out, their places taken by the marvellously named Carlos Subterfuge, who later played Dr. Frankenstein in Franco’sLust for Frankenstein (1998), and Charles S. Chaplin, supposedly the great-grandson of silent screen legend Charlie Chaplin.
The band’s enthusiastic romp through the kitsch clichés of gothic horror is undermined by Franco’s usual slack pacing. Cinematographer Javier Zofio conjures moonlit gloom that ranks among the more evocative visuals from the director’s latter day career, while the editing by former sex film starlet and Franco muse, Lina Romay, injects some much needed zest, but repetitious time-fillers (Franco keeps cutting back to Billy and Sharon frantically screwing in the back of the van) and slapdash continuity errors (e.g. the naked woman suddenly wearing a nightdress after she is slung out the window) rob the film of what momentum it has. Franco brings his trademark voyeuristic flair and kaleidoscopic gels whenever leather bikini-clad Silvia Superstar cavorts onstage. With her crimped hair and cute nose ring, Superstar is a charismatic presence and makes a fetching, feistier muse than the dead-eyed silicone dolls that populate Franco’s later efforts. Euro horror veterans Aldo Sambrell and Mariangela Giordano (best known for enduring an infamous mammary mutilation in Burial Ground (1981) a.k.a. The Nights of Terror) deliver admirably committed performances, although the gurning Santiago Segura (a Latin genre icon thanks to The Day of the Beast (1996) and his Torrente (1998) films), however irritating, is more befitting the tone of a movie where a severed head grouses: “son of a bitch” and an oddly endearing coda assures us “nobody really died” and the Killer Barbies are alive and well. Indeed, Franco re-teamed with the Barbies for the sequel: Killer Barbys vs. Dracula (2002). Anyone interested in seeing this film should opt for Shriek Show’s region one DVD, which includes music videos for the Killer Barbies’ hit single “They Come from Mars” and Silvia Superstar’s cover version of “Downtown” (the old Petula Clark favourite), alongside a partial audio commentary and charming interview with Superstar and Billy King.
Legendary director of predominantly sex-and-horror-based material, Spanish-born Jesus Franco had as many as 200 directing credits to his name. Trained initially as a musician before studying film at the Sorbonne in Paris, Franco began directing in the late 50s. By using the same actors, sets and locations on many films, Franco has maintained an astonishing workrate, and while the quality of his work has sometimes suffered because of this, films such as Virgin Amongst the Living dead, Eugenie, Succubus and She Killed in Ecstasy remain distinctive slices of 60s/70s art-trash.
Most of his films have been released in multiple versions with wildly differing titles, while Franco himself has directed under a bewildering number of pseudonyms. Actors who have regularly appeared in his films include Klaus Kinski, Christopher Lee and wife Lina Romay; fans should also look out for his name on the credits of Orson Welles' Chimes of Midnight, on which he worked as assistant director.