Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Review: Countess Perverse

Portions of this review originally appeared at filmarcade.net

Richard Connell’s story The Most Dangerous Game, originally published in 1924, has been adapted for the silver screen many, many times. In almost every version, at least one character spends some time hiding in the bushes. I dare say, however, that there has never been an adaptation that can match the sheer amount of bush in Jess Franco’s Countess Perverse. When I got a copy of a Jess (Jesus) Franco flick that I had never seen before to review, I knew that there was just one proper place to watch it, at Jimmy’s Backyard Drive-in. There’s nothing like getting together in the great outdoors with a bunch of fully soused movie geeks and scumbags (aka some of the Dear God No! cast and crew) over copious booze and smoked meat and watching the exploitation master do his thing, and Jesus certainly did his thing here. Countess Perverse definitely does not disappoint.

Synopsis: Really? You want a story synopsis in a Jess Franco movie? Well, ok, here it goes. Bob and Moira find a naked woman on the beach, who tells them a wild story about how she was shipwrecked on an island where she ended up at the house of Countess Ivana and Count Zabor. They took her in, fed her mysterious meat, seduced her, and then tried to kill and cook her. Some hospitality, huh? Well, it just so happens that Bob and Moira are employed by said Countess to bring her new victims/fresh meat, so they send our castaway back. Then innocent little Sylvia, played by Franco’s favorite muse Lina Romay, arrives on the scene. Three-way fun ensues, along with a little tension in the form of a love triangle. The couple takes their new plaything/guest to meet the Countess. At dinner Lina gets to sample the “wild game,” and later the Countess “samples” Lina’s wild game so to speak. I know wild game might be an awkward euphemism, but it’s fitting since she did have to trek through a jungle to find it. Anyway, later Lina stumbles across the Count and Countess about to butcher the body of the poor gal from the opening scene, and she discovers why she was brought to the island. You see, The Countess likes to hunt human prey, and it’s Lina season. They throw her out into the countryside in her birthday suit and the Countess, not quite as naked (she wears a necklace, belly chain, and quiver of arrows), sets out to kill her. Will this deadly game end with Sylvia evading Ivana’s arrows and gaining her freedom, or will she be eaten my the countess…um… again?

Truth be told, this isn’t so much a version of The Most Dangerous Game as it is a cross between that story and some of Marquis de Sade’s work, which Franco would return to throughout his career. Bob and Moira play the part of the libertines who take in and corrupt Stlvia a-la Justine or Philosophie dans le Boudoir. Despite being a mashup of two classic sources, the story is fairly thin as expected; but it’s plenty to drive 78 minutes of sleazy fun. You weren’t really expecting some deep exploration of the human condition, were you? Besides, they have to leave room for all of the sex. If you’ve ever seen a Jess Franco movie before, or even if you’re just marginally familiar with the sleaze auteur, then you know what you’re going to be getting with this one. While he would make sleazier flicks (Bare Breasted Countess, Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun, various actual porn movies), the sex and nudity is front and center here. An interesting debate could be made out of whether the sex scenes are there to fill the holes in the plot or if the plot is just there for the purpose of stringing together the sex scenes.

Some other Franco trademarks show up in this flick. The “Franco zooms” are employed, as well as his tendency to do a lot of static blocking in dialog heavy scenes. Jess made a habit of using a lot of the same actors, and most of this cast will be familiar faces to those familiar with his oeuvre. He always did have a hell of an eye for casting gorgeous women, and it shows here. Of course the late Lina Romay is breathtaking as always. Alice Arno, who plays the countess, has an exotic look that’s quite alluring, and the other ladies are certainly easy on the eyes. On the male side, we’re treated to a creepy performance from Franco regular Howard Vernon. Semi-regular Robert Woods puts in a good turn as Bob, even though we were all screaming obscenities at Bob throughout the flick. Watch it, you’ll understand. That medallion is pretty pimp though.

Another thing Jesus Franco is known for is his ability to choose great locations. The house (known as Xanadu and located on a French island according to the special features) that serves as the exterior of the Countesses abode is absolutely amazing. Architecturally, I have never seen anything like it. I want a house just like that one. Actually, it’s the same building Jess used as Soledad Miranda’s character’s house in She Killed in Ecstasy. The interiors were shot at a neighboring building, including the “red staircase” room that makes quite a few appearances throughout. The combination of these two houses makes it seem as if the interior is much larger than the exterior, lending a bizarre, slightly off kilter quality to the house. The stone staircase leading up to the house from the beach is just straight up awesome. In addition to the house itself, the area around it is stunning to look at. The crystal blue water, the sheer rock cliffs, and the serene beaches look like paradise. This has the added quality of creating a dramatic discrepancy when the killing starts. I cannot say enough about the beauty of the location and the badassery of the buildings on display in Countess Perverse, so I’ll stop trying and just show you some pictures…

See? Told you. Beautiful. I want to spend my next vacation there, crazy cannibal bow-wielding bitch or not.

The only thing I didn’t dig about the movie was the fact that there really wasn’t any gore to speak of. There’s a trickle here and there, but it’s surprisingly restrained. I expected at least a decent smattering of the red stuff considering the cannibalism and human hunting elements of the story. While Franco isn’t necessarily known for his gore, he usually didn’t exactly shy away from it either. I never thought I’d say this, but I wish Jess Franco hadn’t lapsed into good taste in this department.

Mondo Macabro has given us a great package in this DVD. When I first got into Franco’s work, it was on who-the-hell-knows-how-many generation bootleg VHS, and they looked like crap. At that time, though, that was the only way to see this stuff. Now, whenever I see a good quality print of a Franco flick, I’m blown away, and this one looks absolutely fantastic. Sometimes when new transfers are done, they go too far trying to clean it up and destroy the look of the film. Not so here. This is a perfect example of how to do a transfer. It retains that film grain and texture, it’s crystal clear, and the lush colors pop. Well done. As far as extras we’ve got some text notes about the film, filmmakers, and cast, a 15 minute interview with Robert Woods, and a 15 minute segment with critic/historian Stephen Thrower which is quite informative. In fact, I think MM should have had this guy do a commentary track. Bravo Mondo Macabro, this is the kind of love us exploitation fans love to see these flicks receive.

While I was writing this review, I did a little experiment. I had the movie playing in the background, and I made a point to look at the screen every five minutes or so. Out of a total of 13 times, I was greeted by full frontal nudity on 9 occasions. I’d say that’s a pretty good ratio, and I would expect nothing less from Jess Franco. If you don’t dig Franco, Countess Perverse isn’t going to change your mind. If you love Jess like I do, then Countess Perverse is a must own. I know I said the plot was thin, but honestly, I’ve seen much thinner in the euro-sleaze genre. Between the incredible locations and the nubile (I love that word) flesh, it’s a sumptuous feast for the eyes. Above all, it’s a blast to watch, and Mondo Macabro has given a fine flick the release it deserves. Oh, by the way; you may ask why I sometimes refer to him as Jesus and sometimes Jess. Well, it’s because it’s so much fun to make the statement “Thank you Jesus for all of the tits and ass!” Two severed thumbs up. Nathan says check it out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Need to see that one again. I came in at the end :(

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