Friday, December 13, 2013

Franco Friday #52 - Countess Perverse

When I encounter a title like this, I am filled with self doubt. All the interviewees in the extras on this DVD are telling me what a genius Jess Franco is and how important a film like Countess Perverse is and yada yada yada. All this film makes me want to do is crawl under my couch and die. Why? Read on.

Countess Perverse
Directed by Jess Franco
Starring Alice Arno, Howard Vernon, Kali Hansa, Lina Romay, Tania Busselier, Robert Woods
78 minutes
DVD Studio: Mondo Macabro

Count Rabor Zaroff (played by Howard Vernon) and Countess Ivanna Zaroff (Alice Arno) are two eccentric psychos who live on an island in the middle of nowhere. Ivanna likes to hunt but her prey is people. Rabor enjoys cooking but his main ingredient is people. The two employ a couple, Bob (Robert Woods) and Moira (Tania Busselier), to help keep them well stocked with sexy lady victims. Things go awry when Bob falls for Sylvia (Lina Romay), their most lovely and innocent prey so far.

This film is beautiful thanks in no small part to cinematographer GĂ©rard Brisseau who knows how to take minimal sets and grandiose architecture and make them flow together seamlessly. He also knows how to capture the simplicity of nature and bring out its inherit dread. The whole wide world never felt so claustrophobic. It really surprised me to find out that Brisseau and Jean Rollin never worked together.

I am digging on this cast like there's no tomorrow. Alice Arno and Howard Vernon just nail it as the two most evil freaks in the universe. They are a dark joy to watch on screen while they toy with their prey. Arno is so damn sexy in this movie that I can barely even stand it. I hope that she hunts me in my dreams. Lina Romay is really good as Sylvia, the innocent. When she walks in on the Count and the Countess preparing a meal, the terror on her face is believable. Her painfully drama school dropout fainting spell is 100 times less believable and it makes me love her performance even more.

I wasn't too hot on Kali Hansa in the first few films I saw her in. But now I'm really digging her. She is striking, Amazon-like, and thanks to Jess Franco, I've seen her vagina. I know I've seen Tania Busselier before but she didn't really stand out until this movie. The real star of the movie is Robert Woods' penis. Or maybe it's Howard Vernon's sack. I don't really want to go back and compare. Please, I beg you, don't make me go back.

Hold on, let me get up on my soapbox here for a couple of paragraphs.

If you've been following along with my little Jess Franco journey here, you probably noticed that I don't make excuses for the guy. When something pisses me off, you'll be the first to know. What really grinds my gears and makes me really turn on a film is a gratuitous rape scene. If it is a prolonged rape scene, one that doesn't serve the plot in any way, or -and this really is the worst of them all- the victim of the violation ends up enjoying the experience then I end up despising said film. Countess Perverse contains the latter kind and it just makes me friggin' disgusted. It is a thoughtless, throwaway moment but it really turned me against this film. Why did Kali Hansa's character submit to her attackers? What fucking purpose did it serve to the film? I am all about irresponsible entertainment but any film that demonstrates to a would be rapist that his/her victim secretly "wants it" makes my blood boil.

Another problem I have with this film (and this is just nitpicking, really) is the misuse of Alice Arno and Lina Romay. Now don't get me wrong, I have seen A LOT of these two actresses along the way and they are both great. What doesn't work in this film is Arno and Romay's sex scene together. It was one of the most awkward in Franco's films that I've seen so far. Chalk it up to the lack of cinematic sexual chemistry between the two actresses, poor direction, or whatever, it's just bad. There's more sexual tension and inherent eroticism when Arno's character is flirting with Romay's before their ruinous lovemaking even starts so I don't blame the actresses. Their sex scene together should have been cut.

These complaints I have make my viewing experience of Countess Perverse even more frustrating and make my review even less trustworthy than my usual schtick. I want you to know that I want to love this film. There are scenes in this film that are some of Franco's best. He takes The Most Dangerous Game and makes it his own. This film is tense, gorgeous, and horrifying with victims that you actually care about and delightfully evil villains that are fascinating to behold. But there's some stupid crap packed in here too. Shackled by his own artistic needs or his producer's insistence or both, Jess Franco mixes bad softcore porn into yet another film that didn't deserve it.

"That's it, I'm off. I want no part in your vile orgies."

DVD Stuff

Mondo Macabro shines once again. Their presentation of Countess Perverse is nothing short of stunning. The colors are bright and the blacks are deep. I saw very minimal print damage in the opening credits and that was about it. The disc is loaded with info about Franco and Countess Perverse. There is a great interview with actor Robert Woods as well as one with film critic and author Stephen Thrower. There's also the Mondo Macabro trailer reel. Dig on that!

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