Mondo Macabro // 1973 // 78 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // June 15th, 2012
Hunting Humans Was Her Favorite Game
While watching Countess Perverse, one of my friends cynically commented that it was obviously being released to cash in on all the hype surrounding The Hunger Games. Though that's a bit of a stretch, the fact that a 1973 Jess Franco erotic-horror film and a 2012 blockbuster franchise based on a young adult novel share remarkably similar plot points shows how enduring some modern myths are. In this case, the myth is that of the decadent aristocrat who only finds pleasure in hunting human prey. It probably started as The Most Dangerous Game (the 1924 short story adapted into a famous 1932 film), but the idea of humans hunting humans and decadent aristocrats has made it a potent story for the 20th century. Though Jess Franco's uniquely sleazy take on the material won't have the traction of The Hunger Games, it's rescued by some truly interesting cinematography and a heaping helping of nudity.
A woman washes ashore on a beach while a couple watches on. The couple takes the woman in, and she tells a horrifying tale of being held captive on a nearby island by an aristocratic couple who abused her. Though the couple seems sympathetic to this poor woman's plight, the next day they take her back to the aristocrat's island, where we learn that they're cannibals as well. When a tourist arrives the first couple seduce her with the intentions of turning her over to the aristocrats, but things start to unravel before we learn what the aristocrats like to do with their victims.
This is a Jess Franco film, so though there is a plot, it's far from the most important thing. In fact, anyone looking for what might be considered a "good" movie by most standards will be disappointed. The characters here are paper-thin (I think the guys are named Rador and Bob, but the ladies never even get names that I noticed). The "plot" is filled with absurdity after absurdity. When the couple does the kidnapping, they wear the most ridiculous Seventies garb, like high-waisted pants and platform heels are effective kidnapping gear. The tone is also all over the map. We get light scenes of nude bathing, awkward dinners where raw meat is consumed (and, of course, we learn the flesh is human), kinky sex, and even a rape that becomes a ravishment. None of it hangs together; the nudity is hard to enjoy in between scenes of meat-eating, and the horror of the situation is constantly undercut by gorgeous coastal landscapes and nude bodies.
Of course, nobody picks up Countess Perverse looking for a traditional good movie. This flick promises (and delivers) sexploitation pleasures galore. We're talking lots of lesbian encounters in various states of dress and undress, full frontal male and female nudity, and a little bit of kink with a few scenes of bondage. There's also the aforementioned rape that turns into a ravishment as the young female begins to enjoy the affections of another woman. No, none of the sex is really credible, but by 1973 exploitation standards, this is good stuff.
Just as significantly, at least now in an era where it's remarkably easy to see all kinds of sex on the Internet, Countess Perverse is a gorgeously shot film. Franco may have been a hack in his use of story, but when it came to shooting beautiful landscapes and interesting interiors, his prodigious output served him well. Countess Perverse was one of twelve films that Franco made in 1973. If nothing else, he learned how to maximize his budget with gorgeous locations. There are numerous fantastic shots of beaches, coastlines, and the wicked interior of the aristocrats' mansion. Camera movements and wide-angle lens choices create some arresting compositions. Even when I was growing uninterested in the lack of story, there was always an interesting camera movement or beautiful landscape to admire.
The film's gorgeous look is only enhanced with this spectacular DVD from Mondo Macabro. The standard definition 1.33:1 full frame transfer is simply amazing. I had no idea that a low-budget exploitation film from 1973 could look this good. Print damage is negligible (an original camera negative was apparently found), grain is appropriate but not intrusive, and colors are especially bold. I was also impressed by the level of detail for an SD release. You'd never know this was a minor entry in Franco's catalogue from the love lavished on this transfer. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo mix is similarly good, though not as strong as the visuals. Dialogue (which was obviously post-dubbed) is clear and well-balanced with the surprisingly interesting score.
Extras start with some digital liner notes on the film that put it in historical perspective and describe the difficulties the film had in getting distributed. There are also some profiles of the cast and crew. The meat of the extras, though, are a pair of interviews. One is with actor Robert Woods (who plays Bob), who discusses his career and especially his participation in the film for 15 minutes. Another 15 minutes are spent with writer Stephen Thrower (who has a book forthcoming on Franco as of this review). He discusses the trials and tribulations of the film, its themes, and its relationship to other Franco films.
Countess Perverse is a film aimed squarely at the Franco faithful, and they will eat up this gorgeous transfer of a previously lost flick by the exploitation maestro. The film would certainly be worth a rental for those with an active interest in exploitation films, especially those of the early Seventies before the popularity of films like Deep Throat made more hardcore footage possible. For those new to exploitation flicks, there are probably better entry points, though the surreal mix of nudity and cannibalism does capture the flavor of that era of Eurosleaze exploitation flicks.
Not for everyone, but Not Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Mondo Macabro
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 78 Minutes
Release Year: 1973
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Director Profile