X312 Flight to Hell – Review

X312 Flight to Hell
X312 Flight to Hell

Director: Jesus Franco
Producers: Artur Brauner, Karl Heinz Mannchen
Story & screenplay: Artur Brauner, Jesus Franco
Additional dialogue: Arne Elsholtz, Mickey Knox
Music: Wolf Hartmayer
Cinematography: Manuel Merino
Stars: Cast: Thomas Hunter (Tom Nilson), Gila von Weitershausen (Miss Steffi), Hans Hass Jr. (Carlos Rivas),

(Bill, a steward), Esperanza Roy (Annamaria Vidal), Ewa Strömberg (Mrs Wilson), Siegfried Schürenberg (Alberto Rupprecht, a bank manager), Howard Vernon (Pedro), Paul Muller (John Somers)
Uncredited: Antonio de Cabo (Mr Villa Rosa), Beni Cardoso (Lolita), Jesus Franco (Alfredo)

A kind of unofficial partner piece to The Devil Came from Akasava, X312 Flight to Hell was one of a quartet of films made by Jesus Franco for the German producer Artur Brauner’s CCC Film, with additional financial input provided by Spanish production house Fénix Cooperativa Cinematográfica.  Like Akasava, this is an exotic adventure film, partially influenced by the spy genre, but also by much older action serials which it increasingly comes to resemble as the running time progresses, not least because of its rather episodic nature and the old-fashioned narration which fleshes out the narrative.

When boozy journalist Tom Nilson (Thomas Hunter) takes a flight from Chile to Rio, he doesn’t expect much of interest to happen. There’s the usual motley assortment of passengers, most of whom are fleeing from the Chilean political crisis, but nothing to indicate that the journey is going to be anything else than routine. What he doesn’t know, though, is that among the travellers is Alberto Rupprecht (Siegfried Schürenberg), the president of Chile’s biggest bank, and in his briefcase are an assortment of valuable jewels that he’s smuggling out of the country. Unfortunately, someone else knows all too well about it, and an attempt to hijack the plane in mid air goes badly wrong, causing it to crash in the middle of the Brazilian jungle.

The survivors are left with a tricky decision: do they stay with the wreckage in the hope that the airline sends out a search party; or do they set off in an attempt to make their way to safety. Realising that they were way off course when they crashed, and that any attempt to rescue them is likely to be looking in the wrong place, they choose to leave, in the hope of finding some kind of nearby settlement. Complicating matters, though, is the fact that a whole gang of the now deceased hijacker’s mates are combing the jungle, hoping to find them and, more importantly, Mr Rupprecht’s briefcase. Furthermore, the knowledge that there’s a veritable fortune at hand is also causing an outbreak of murderous avarice among the survivors themselves.

While hardly a classic of European cinema, or even of its type, X312 Flight to Hell is at least entertaining, in a rather dumb-ass, simplistic way.  The plot, despite being seemingly written by someone with attention deficit disorder, at least has enough going on to maintain the interest, and the general technical accomplishment is pretty fair, given its low budget and even lower ambition.  Of course, it’s full of absolute incongruities: what exactly happens to the ageing aristocrat with the bad wig, who disappears ten minutes into the running time?  Who are the villains, exactly?  Why do several characters undergo complete character transformations without any good reason?  But it scores points for being uncompromisingly nihilistic – just about everyone dies – and throwing in a few unexpected (not to mention unlikely) twists and turns.

As always, it’s made in habitual slapdash form by the director.  It’s so full of out-of-focus shots, random zooms in and zooms out that it feels rather like watching the action through the eyes of a wavering drunkard.  Franco couldn’t direct an action sequence if it sat up and begged him to, so there’s a lot of ambling around; with a botanical garden, a couple of woods and some stock footage of a parrot rather obviously standing in for the jungle.  Even the arrival of a tribe of head-hunters can’t help ratchet up any real tension (although this sequence is actually quite well filmed).  Whenever the characters are faced with any kind of danger, their immediate response is to make out, which may make perfect sense in the Francoverse, but just seems ludicrous to anyone else.

Fortunately, all this nonsense is performed by a very likeable cast.  Thomas Hunter starred in a variety of European films, and has a certain tendency to overact, but he brings a good athletic vitality to the role.  Gila von Weitershausen has a rather thankless role as a young, pregnant woman who carries around a teddy bear and appears to have the mentality of a five your old.  Esperanza Roy, a long-time Spanish actress who also appeared in A Candle for the Devil at around the same time, is excellent as the feisty female lead, even more so because she seems a bit more lived in than the usual female protagonists.  The award for the most miscast performer, however, has to go to the genteel Howard Vernon, who’s here saddled with playing a Brazilian bandito with an unlikely moustache.

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