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June 07, 2012

Countess Perverse

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La Comtesse Perverse
Jess Franco - 1974
Mondo Macabro Region 1 DVD

There's a scene in Countess Perverse which is basically of actress Kali Hansa on a sailboat, heading to the dreaded island belonging to Count and Countess Zaroff. In a voiceover, she describes the fear of looking at the high, forbidding cliffs, and the trepidation of viewing the Zaroff's geometric marvel of a mansion, an actual building called Xanadu, It's a leisurely paced scene, and one that unexpectedly made me think during the voyage of Kenneth Anger's Lucifer Rising, and later, when Hansa feverishly runs up the stone staircase to the mansion, of the earlier films by the Kuchar brothers. And it struck me that maybe why some of the critical assessment I've encountered regarding Jess Franco in the past is so wrong is because the critics are condemning Franco for not being a conventional filmmaker making conventional films. There are extended moments, such as this opening scene, where Franco is much closer in spirit to the so-called underground filmmakers who wrangled their friends and any available equipment, and made movies virtually on the fly inspired by the mythic elements of movies, and sometimes classical myths as well.

I wasn't sure what to expect as reviews based on previously available versions of this film would have you believe this was the worst film in Franco's prolific career. As far as I'm concerned, Franco should be given his due simply for offering the world the iconic image of Alice Arno wearing almost nothing but a bow and arrow.

There is also the sight of Franco's late longtime muse, Lina Romay, a baby faced nineteen year old, in one of her first big roles. As film historian Stephen Thrower mentions in the DVD supplement, Romay and Franco were meant for each other, with the screen's least inhibited exhibitionist performing for cinema's most devoted voyeur.

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Frequent Franco collaborator Howard Vernon as the Count. Some might consider a nude, posterior view of Vernon as the most horrifying sight in Countess Perverse. Be that as it may, Vernon shows again why he made such a great screen villain with his soft, malicious laugh. Vernon makes a threatening presence simply by standing around, his aloofness barely disguising any evil plans in the making.

The story is a variation on The Most Dangerous Game, the names of the villains is a giveaway. Franco ups the ante with lesbian couplings, threesomes, lots of nudity, and cannibalism. For those who need to know the plot, essentially Lina Romay is invited to dinner and discovers too late that she's the main course. This is the kind of film that would be best appreciated by those who've been familiar with Senor Jess and his idiosyncratic cinema.

Franco's films have been notes for their sometimes unique musical scores. Here the music more or less alternates between fuzz box rock guitar, and the kind of creepy crawly organ music that was perfected when Lon Chaney's version of Phantom of the Opera was first released. There's also some flute driven jazz for good measure.

The DVD also includes an interview with actor Robert Woods, mostly discussing working with Franco, but also touching on his career in Hollywood and Europe. The actress I'd want to know more about is Tania Busselier, best known for her work with Franco, who also worked on two of the last films by Marcel Carne. The DVD of this film, which was recut into several versions, primarily for soft core as well as hard core markets, was taken from Franco's original negative. The film was also signed by Clifford Brown, one of Franco's many pseudonyms, although Franco's name appears on the screenplay credits.

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Posted by peter at June 7, 2012 08:05 AM