DVD Review: Jess Franco’s Countess Perverse (Mondo Macabre)
Review by Marc
I’ve seen a lot of Jess Franco films. Some are great (Vampyros Lesbos, Venus in Furs, She Killed in Ecstasy) and some are not so great. Say, take Snake Woman or Vampire Junction. These are the risks the cult cinema fanatic takes with a director who has made nearly two hundred films (maybe more) in his career. Yeah, you read the number right – two hundred. But, of course, being the avid cult cinema geek you are, you knew that.
Being that I’m generally a big fan of Franco’s early work I reacted with excitement over the prospect of seeing Countess Perverse, a film that previously has never seen the digital format, and in fact has never seen this version in any format. Plus, being that Mondo Macabre was the distro company handling the release I felt confident we had a winner on our hands. After all, Mondo has a pretty strong track record for releasing quality cult titles. So, with high hopes I injected Countess Perverse into my DVD player, and folks – I’m happy to report that as I suspected, this was no lemon.
Countess Perverse is Franco’s take on the classic story The Most Dangerous Game. Here Franco features an eccentric couple, Countess and Count Zaroff (portrayed by Franco regulars Alice Arno and Howard Vernon respectfully), who live alone in a castle – that seems partially inspired by MC Escher – on an exotic Mediterranean island. Surrounded by their amassed riches they indulge themselves with their lust for the flesh of young women. With the assistance of another couple, who lives on the mainland, they lure these young women one-by-one to the island where they ritualistically sit down for a feast of finely prepared meat – which just happens to be the human flesh of their last victim. Later after their guest has been well-fed and put to bed the Countess sneaks in for some sensual girl-on-girl action. The next morning isn’t as pleasant as the evening before and both the Count and Countess inform their not-so-virginal, soon-to-be victim, that not only have they eaten the flesh of another human, but that they too will soon be dinner. Let the game begin!
In his inimitable style Jess Franco injects a familiar tale with his brand of exotic sleaze to create a decadent story that only his most die-hard fans will love. Surprisingly, while I thought I’d get a far-out display of abstract eroticism this was a rather straightforward tale, well-told, and brilliantly shot. It truly surprised me in a good way. Plus, it features a rather hot scene of a young Lina Romay making love with Alice Arno! You can’t go wrong there if you tried! But let me take a step back for a moment. As I went into the film I honestly didn’t know what I should expect. Here was a film shot in roughly a week’s time – maybe a few days longer – that never really found a market in its day. It wasn’t hardcore enough for the porn theaters of the time and was too sexual to appeal to the mainstream theater crowd. The film floundered about with various revisions and versions created to appeal to whomever was willing to buy it. None of which seemed to satisfy Franco.
It’s finally now, after nearly forty-years that Franco is getting the cut he originally wanted seen, put into the hands of rabid fans who want to see it. What’s great here is that this film has aged very well with time. While I’m not so sure the more critical of us would have accepted this film had it been made today, the fact that this is essentially a lost film allows for immediate dismissal of trivial flaws such as superficial plots and clunky dialogue. The eroticism in the film is taken to near hilarious extremes and truly this is like a carnival for the more perverted amongst us. This is total kitsch, but it’s not a trick that wears thin or overstays its welcome. Rather, it’s completely welcome and the reason for staying around. To that end, this film works wonderfully well. Adding to the sensuality of the film is an amazing setting on the Mediterranean sea. I already mentioned it above, but will reiterate it now. As much as Franco is known for working with stunningly gorgeous women, he makes them that much more elegant by draping them in the most picturesque seaside villas, mansions, and exotic beaches known to man. These are locations one could only dream of working in!
Undoubtedly, there will be some horror fans that, who not knowing anything else about this film, might approach it thinking it’s going to be “murder and cannibalism with sex” In fact, this is more like sex and sex, and more sex with a sprinkle of rape, murder, and cannibalism on the side. There’s nary a drop of blood spilled on screen and the most “shocking” scene includes the body of a decapitated woman getting her breasts fondled by the countess. Okay? So yeah, true horror heads have seen far worse… in Disney films likely. But that’s not the point and if you’re going to grab this thinking you’re getting Cannibal Holocaust, well you buying the wrong damn film. Like I said before, this is a film redone and re-issued for fans of Jess Franco. Hell, have those Jean Rollin kids join in too.
In terms of packaging and extras Mondo does a terrific job. They start with a restored cut taken from “a rare camera negative”. The film has been given a new anamorphic transfer, presented in 1:33:1 aspect ratio. The guys at Mondo Macabre have even taken great lengths to ensure you watch it in the correct aspect ratio by including a brief tutorial at the start of the film letting you know just how you should be seeing the film. Believe me, it matters. They’ve loaded up the DVD with features that includes an interview with lead actor Robert Woods, a brief profile of Jess Franco’s career, that also lends insights into the making of this film, an introduction by film critic Stephen Thrower, and finally a slew of trailers for other Mondo films.
I said it before and I’ll say it again. If you’re a fan of Jess Franco (or Jean Rollin and other Euro-sleaze) there’s no way you’ll want to miss this one. If you’re more a neophyte to this brand of outlandish cinema then this makes a great entry point. Check it out. You won’t be sorry.