Mondo Macabro // 1971 // 86 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // August 30th, 2005
Trapped by the Queen of Evil, with only her body to save her.
Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay is the best title ever. Cover's not bad, either. Can this obscure erotic horror film possibly live up to its window dressing? Strangely enough, yes. Yes, it does.
Françoise (Mireille Saunin) and Anna (Michéle Perello) make a comely, carefree pair driving about the remote back roads of France. They become lost, and stop in a tavern that hails from medieval times: dark, dank, and unfriendly. The two are spied by the wretched dwarf Gurth (Alfred Baillou), clad in purple velvet, pantaloons, and green mascara. He smiles cruelly to himself.
Françoise and Anna get lost again, but this time in the dead of night. They run out of gas in the middle of a creepy forest. They take refuge in an inviting stone barn, lie down in the hay, and do what two lonely, attractive women do in erotic horror movies. The next morning, Françoise awakens to find Anna gone and Gurth motioning her to follow him through the forest. She soon comes upon a castle, one with a deadly secret. Inside is Morgana Le Fay (Dominique Delpierre, Tropic of Cancer), pupil of Merlin, and her three talisman keepers: Sylviane (Ursule Pauly), Sarah (Nathalie Chaine), and the headstrong Yael (Régine Motte). Once ensnared, Françoise will find it difficult to leave the castle walls.
But will she really want to, with hordes of nubile, Sapphic slaves willing to address her every need?
In the exclusive interview, director Bruno Gantillon says that he prefers not to show everything, to avoid vulgarity while increasing erotic energy. "Less is more...always," he says with a knowing smirk. The point is a vital pillar in achieving true eroticism. That, and balancing it with scads of unclothed people. In his first feature, Gantillon has mastered the yin and yang of erotica.
Perhaps I'm dating myself, proving myself out of touch with modern erotic sensibilities, but the oil, latex, and silicone that signify current erotica seem sterile and unappealing. Be it the glossy, airbrushed, nipple-free centerfolds in "men's" magazines or the vapid cheesecake posturing of trashy television, supergloss and hard bodies do nothing for me. I want to see real women with real bodies -- and men that I can overlook easily. Situations should be free of degrading domination, violence, and coercion. It should be as though the camera just happened upon a heated, illicit tryst. And until the pendulum swings back again and real bodies are in vogue, the seventies are the last bastion of natural eroticism.
Fortunately, the miracle of DVD is making these ill-reputed works available to modern audiences. Even in the seventies, people looked askance at movies like Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay. But with the perspective of history, they seem more chaste, and yet more daring, than their modern counterparts.
The first naughty scene (if you leave out the opening Inquisition scene in the dungeon that was tacked on in postproduction) is between Anna and Françoise in the barn. It is potently erotic, and it sets the tone for the dreamlike stupor of lesbianism that permeates the rest of the film. And yet there is precious little skin involved. The eroticism is built solely through glances, body language, and the motions of hands under clothes. It is staged through careful camera work and composition. The scene requires the viewer's own curiosity and imagination to function.
In fact, the antagonist and protagonist in this film show little skin at all until their climactic scene together. They spar with words and glances, building heat with every scene, lusting for each other so much that we can't help but fall in line. When the moment comes, it is delicious not because of the nudity, but because of this built-up tension.
In the meantime, practically every one else sheds clothes right and left, which is amusing and provocative in a different way. Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay spares no excuse to have nubile women clad in gauze, or even clad in nothing. In this, Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay is classic soft-core exploitation, but it is done with such fun and gusto that nary a hint of coercion or negativity intrudes.
If you take away the lesbianism and nudity, Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay is less a horror film than an exploration of prison politics. Gurth is both master and toy. The three chosen slaves are subject to Morgana, but also seem to push her around. Everyone asserts independence and finds it stripped from them in the course of the film. The horror is psychological, a deterioration of free will and the evil inherent in vanity. Blood, torture, and gore have little place in Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay, but you'll find plenty of hasty alliances, ruffled feathers, and infighting.
Dominique Delpierre is well cast as Morgana. She is tall, with a quirky, aristocratic face and hooded eyes. Mireille Saunin, Alfred Baillou, and Régine Motte give capable performances that benefit from Gantillon's deft direction. The rest of the cast doesn't act so much as posture according to the whims of the scene. This is not a slight; it is merely an observation that acting is subservient to ambiance in Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay.
The ambiance comes from a spectacular set (an honest-to-goodness castle on a lake in southern France) coupled with a fashion photography ethic. Cinematographer Étienne Szabo has a soft, glamorous hand that lingers over the curves under the robes and feels the texture of the rough stones, soft furs, and polished wood in the castle. The trappings of gothic horror are here, but they aren't all that spooky. The score is appropriately subtle, taking precedence at the right times while crafting a narcotic dreamland.
Mondo Macabro's treatment of the DVD shows respect for the source material. The transfer is free of edge enhancement or digital artifacts while being clean and detailed. Some scenes are soft, but it is probably the original camerawork. Contrast is low, with blocking in the darker areas. Color balance shifts occur in some scenes, which may be the result of recovered footage. The soundtrack isn't dynamic, but it is crystal clear and sets the mood perfectly. The cover claims that the mix is stereo, but it has that mono vibe to me. For such an obscure title, Mondo Macabro has done a fine job bringing it to DVD.
Through the extras menu is slightly bloated, the extras are appropriate and entertaining. The biggest culprit is the deleted scenes, which are three brief, grainy clips that amount to little of interest for casual cult fans (though Mondo Macabro went the extra mile to dig up a clip from Italian TV, so it isn't their fault that the deleted scenes suck). The galleries are light, and the trailer is cheesy. But the bios are rich with information -- actual bios, not mere filmographies with a little blurb attached. The same goes for the film notes, which give a fantastic, spoiler-free introduction to the film, its history and impact. Extras like these seem so simple, but they are rarely included on DVDs and really set the tone. Gantillon gives a great interview, straightforward and blunt, with insight into the fun atmosphere on set. Finally, there is a short film that makes a nice bookend to Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay: It shares the same director, cinematographer, and theme, and was in fact a trial run for this movie. The image quality is not as good, with a shaky transfer and rainy scratches, but otherwise it is enjoyable and far more horrific than Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay.
Those with anything negative to say probably never got past the words "Girl Slaves."
It is so refreshing to find a film that claims to be an erotic romp, then backs it up. It is equally refreshing when a studio delivers a fine package of a misplaced, forgotten, or otherwise marginalized film. Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay is Eurotrash DVD at its best.
It's so not guilty that I might step away from the judge's seat and let this DVD sit here for a spell.
Review content copyright © 2005 Rob Lineberger; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Mondo Macabro
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Deleted Scenes
* Interview with Director Bruno Gantillon
* Short film: An Artistic Couple
* Film Notes
* Cast Bios and Castle Gallery
* Poster Gallery