Judge Gordon Sullivan is usually seduced by fudge ripple ice cream.
Games of decadence and debauchery lead to mayhem and murder
There are numerous reasons to love Jess Franco movies. There's the beautiful, often naked women, the exotic locales, the gauzily shot castles, and plots involving hallucinations and/or insanity. Though I love all those elements, I keep returning to Franco because he is a director who seems to have an obsession, and more importantly, he refuses to run from it. Most directors have obsessions—John Carpenter loves the idea of defending the frontier, David Cronenberg wonders what the human body is capable of, Stephen Spielberg is interested in the loss of innocence—but few directors are either as prolific as Franco (giving him lots of opportunities to chase obsession) or as singleminded in the pursuit of the same basic elements time and again. You wouldn't necessarily think that the basic materials of De Sade, a few willing actresses, and an exotic location, but How to Seduce a Virgin helps demonstrate the range that Franco could bring to this material. It's a great find for fans of his cinema, and a decent example of an important strain of '70s exploitation cinema.
Known as Plaisir à trois in its original title, How to Seduce a Virgin is a riff on De Sade's Philosophy in the Bedroom. The basic story concerns the Countess Martime de Bessac (Alice Arno, Justine De Sade), just released from an asylum into which she was placed after castrating her lover. She goes right back to her old, perverse ways, but her husband worries that if she goes too far, he'll lose his meal ticket. To compensate, he suggests they seduce the daughter of their neighbor (Lina Romay, The Perverse Countess), but she's not quite as innocent as she first appears.
This is at least the third time that Franco adapted Philosophy in the Bedroom by the Marquis de Sade. His first foray was Eugenie: The Story of Her Journey into Perversion, a relatively straight telling of the book's story of a woman's willing descent into depravity. He returned the material again in 1973 with The Perverse Countess, updating the story to the present day and adding in a bit of "The Most Dangerous Game" to spice things up. That, however, was not enough for Franco, so again in 1973 he took the same basic story and transported it to the decadent world of castled Europe, maintaining almost the exact same cast and crew.
Unlike The Perverse Countess, which has a more of the horror/Mondo Cane vibe, How to Seduce a Virgin stays much more comfortably in the realms of the typical erotic film of that era. The extras on this DVD compare it to some of the "pink" films on the market from Japan, and that's not far off the mark. We have something like a genuine plot going on, the actors (though dubbed) are actually trying to portray characters, and the material builds to a more-or-less satisfying climax. Along the way we get a lot of nudity, more than a few non-sequiturs, and lots of well-shot locales. Pretty much everything Franco fans have come to expect from the prolific master.
This DVD from Mondo Macabre do their usual excellent job bringing the film to home video. This transfer is newly minted from the film negative (which is uncut/unrated), and that shows. Though this low-budget flick from forty years ago is never going to look perfect, this 1.33:1 transfer does the film justice. Colors have that saturated early-'70s look, and detail is good with grain that's appropriate and not overly manipulated. Damage is much less of a problem than I would have expected (there's almost none), and black levels are deep enough and fairly consistent. Really this is as good as we can expect most Franco flicks to look. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo soundtrack in the original French sounds pretty good, too. Voices are clean and clear (though dubbed) and well balanced with the afro-Caribbean-sounding jazz score. Subtitles are included as well in English.
Extras start with a pair of interviews with screenwriter Alain Petit and critic Stephen Thrower that illuminate both this film and Franco more generally. Thrower is the author of an upcoming book and is especially insightful about Franco's obsessions. We also get production notes on the film, and previews for other Mondo Macabre flicks.
It's not hard to tell if How to Seduce a Virgin is the right flick for you. It's one of Franco's stronger entries, certainly in his Top Ten, but not a film for everyone.
How to Seduce a Virgin is a fine entry in Franco's canon, with plenty of the director's trademark nudity and weirdness. Though there are more essential Franco films (Vampyros Lesbos), this is a great film for fans and newcomers alike. The excellent restoration combined with some informative extras make this easy to recommend for rental or purchase.
Guilty, but not without its pleasures.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Mondo Macabro
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