When Appellate Judge Tom Becker's blood rose, he went low-sodium.
The first sex-horror film ever made!
It's always tough when a movie tries to claim "first." Sometimes it's fairly clear cut: The Jazz Singer was the first feature-length film with sound (though it was not completely a sound picture); The Pawnbroker was the first American film featuring a woman baring her breasts to receive approval from the production code.
The Blood Rose (La Rose Écorchée) purports to be the first sex-horror movie. Now, I'm no expert here, but just off the top of my head I can think of a few sex-horror movies that preceded this one: Bloody Pit of Horror, Circus of Horrors, Spirits of the Dead, The Virgin of Nuremberg, pretty much anything by Jess Franco, and some early giallo. Also, this Rose is kind of an uncomfortable hybrid. Is it a sex movie with horror or a horror movie with sex?
Facts of the Case
Frédéric Lansac (Philippe Lemaire, Strange Deception), an artist and botanist, has a wild affair with party girl Moira (Elizabeth Teissier, Castle Keep), but throws her over when he meets the lovely Anne (Anny Duperey, Two or Three Things I Know About Her). Frédéric and Anne marry, but tragedy strikes when Moira shows up at the wedding party and makes a scene, causing Anne to fall into a bonfire.
Frédéric and Anne lock themselves up in his mansion with his servants, a pair of mute dwarves who dress like Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble. Anne, needless to say, becomes bitter and demanding. Frédéric tells everyone Anne has died, then on the sly, hires a nurse to look after her. The nurse is a busty, blonde beauty, and when Anne spies her husband in flagrante with the healthcare hottie, she offs blondie with a poison plant.
When a rogue plastic surgeon (Howard Vernon, Faceless) starts working at the botany clinic Frédéric enlists him to help put poor Anne together again. But she is far too damaged for skin grafts. What they need is a full-on, brand new face…which means some young lovely is going to be making a real big sacrifice.
The Blood Rose follows the tradition of take-my-face-please films such as The Awful Dr. Orloff, Corruption, and most significantly, Georges Franju's masterpiece Les Yeux Sans Visage (Eyes Without a Face).
The problem here is that while the film tries to mix the sex and horror genres, it never fully realizes either.
On the sex front, we get a few topless women, but most of the methods for getting them topless seem a bit contrived. Frédéric's dalliance with the nurse comes out of nowhere; one captive gets into a series of silly struggles that leave her clothes progressively ripped, like a strip wrestling match; there's a brief and meaningless lesbian fantasy/dream; and a sequence where they are "shopping" for the right face entails Anne spying on a group of women who are gratuitously swimming nude, getting massages nude, chatting nude, and taking bubble baths.
As far as horror, well, this never really gets too horrifying. The whole face-transplant business doesn't even come up until the half-way point, and we only get two potential victims: the rip-strip woman, who has no dialogue or characterization to speak of, and another woman who has more significance to the story but is not introduced until the 50-minute mark.
A big problem is the handling of Anne and her disfigurement. She is shown only from behind, and we often see things from her point of view, which is blurred (the fire damaged her eyesight). We only get a quick glance at her scarred face. The set up for this scene is an homage to/rip-off of Psycho, and she looks less like a burn survivor than the victim of pranksters who slathered chunky peanut butter on her head. Much worse is the change in her character. Before the accident, she was kind, loving, and down-to-earth. While it's understandable that the accident would affect more than just her appearance, she actually becomes vicious and evil.
A good part of what made Les Yeux Sans Visage a powerful and haunting film was Franju's depiction of Christiane, the scarred girl. Her large, sad eyes visible behind a white mask, she is a fully formed character who elicits our sympathy even as we despise the damage done to others on her behalf. We don't feel that compassion for Anne, who just develops into a nasty, demanding monster. The film would have been more interesting had the accident happened to the amoral Moira, whose selfishness was already fixed in our mind. (Moira doesn't turn up again after the bonfire accident, which is unfortunate, since a take-your-face-for-revenge scenario would have added a nice aspect to the proceedings)
The main extra is a documentary on director Claude Mulot featuring an interview with Didier Philippe-Gerard, a friend and collaborator. Philippe-Gerard provides a lot of background and insight on Mulot, whose forté was sexploitation films, including the hardcore classic, Le Sexe Qui Parle. There's a lengthy and intermittently interesting onscreen text piece about the film and Mulot, and some general information about horror/sex films. A gallery of promotional stills and poster art, cast and crew bios, and trailers for other Mondo Macabro releases fills out the disc.
While there is some print damage visible in some of the darker scenes, the transfer is very good for this almost-40-year-old film. We get a somewhat muffled, though generally clear Dolby mono track in both the original French and dubbed English. I started watching the French, then switched to the English, leaving on the subtitles. The dubbing is actually quite well done. The English words do not always match the translation, but I often found information lacking in the subtitles that was provided in the dub track, so I would recommend watching Blood Rose in English.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Mulot gets good work from his actors, particularly Lemaire and Vernon. While the film is not wholly successful as either horror or sex, it is moody and very striking visually. Frédéric and Anne's estate has foreboding woods and dark passages, and even though the film is contemporary, women in flowing nightgowns still use candelabras for illumination. The "botany clinic" is a marvel of '60s-style set design. Atmospheric and elegant, Blood Rose is a cut above the usual Euro-horror offering.
Fans of the genre will want to give The Blood Rose a look. It's a shame that Mulot's script was not on par with his direction.
Guilty of misdemeanor crimes against two genres.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Mondo Macabro
• Onscreen text: "About the Film"
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