I can now proudly say that with the completion of this, my second Franco review, I've officially covered almost 1% of Jess Franco's career output. To call Jess Franco prolific would be an insult. Very few directors in history can touch his 200+ films. That being said, not all of them were very good. Case in point, my previous Franco review was for The Sinister Eyes of Dr. Orloff, a dreadfully boring exploitation horror film that had almost no redeeming qualities. However, thankfully, Countess Perverse (La comtesse perverse) is among the upper echelon of Franco's films, in spite of being very difficult to find for a very long time. Mondo Macabro's DVD presentation of this gem is absolutely remarkable, and boasts one of the finest transfers I've ever seen on DVD.
When a woman washes up on a sea shore, bedraggled and raving, it is learned that a nearby island plays host to a couple of hedonistic cannibals. When a lovely young girl gets caught in a sinister web of sex and romance, she is transported to the cruel island and left to be hunted by the titular countess. In this, probably the most depraved of the many adaptations of The Most Dangerous Game, Franco uses the free love era budding in the late '60s and early '70s as a backdrop to the cruelty and debauchery that was his trademark. Let no one ever say that Countess Perverse is a boring film, because that it certainly is not.
Countess Perverse has so much going for it, it's crazy! The locations in the film, specifically the Ricardo Bofill post-modern Xanadu House and its neighbor Red Wall, are mind-bogglingly cool. They intimidate the audience with their audaciousness, and the characters in the are similarly put off by their power. The locations reminded be very much of the kind of places that American filmmaker Radley Metzger would choose for his own films in the late '60s. Apparently it was inexpensive to hire out crazy locations in Europe in that period.
The other, more obvious and more typically Franco, characteristic of Countess Perverse is the fact that the film oozes sex from every shot. It certainly helps that shortly before shooting this film Franco found his one true muse in the lovely and voluptuous Lina Romay, playing Sylvia, the hunted. Not only did Franco's camera love her, so did he, and this was very near the beginning of a life long relationship that only ended very recently with Romay's sad passing. Hers isn't the only luscious young body on display, though, as Alice Arno's Countess Zaroff gave us just as much on which to feast our eyes as did the lovely Ms. Romay. There is more full frontal nudity in this film, both male and female, than I've seen in any non-porn film in a long time. But hey, it was the seventies, and tits and bush put asses in seats, even if this particular film never made its way over to the states like most of Franco's work.
Mondo Macabro's recovery of this film in its original director's cut version is a thing of beauty. Countess Perverse was one of eleven films that Jess Franco completed in 1973, and one might think that this would lead to some terrible quality stuff, but quite the opposite is true. It was a period of great inspiration, which was often foiled by producers and exhibitors who insisted on even more sex and violence, and Countess Perverse was re-edited with hardcore sex scenes before it ever made it to the US. By all accounts, this perverted version was terribly inferior and lacked any real logic, however, this reconstructed version is fantastic and a wonderful way to blow ninety minutes.
Here's where I begin to gush. Mondo Macabro's DVD of Countess Perverse is among the finest SD transfers I've ever seen. I'd put this up against any Criterion Collection or Masters of Cinema disc any day of the week. Rarely to we get the opportunity to recognize the individuals who take part in this effort, but I noticed the name David MacKenzie in the end credits as one of the people responsible for this new transfer. MacKenzie is one of the best in the business, he works as a freelancer, but among his works are the stellar Andrzej Zulawski restorations for Mondo Vision over the last few years. He did a bang up job with this one, the image is extremely stable and sharp as a tack. My only minor complaint is that from time to time the image drifts toward pink just the tiniest little bit, but only because I was digging for something to complain about did I even notice. This is a standout presentation of a film that has needed a decent release for a long time, and I commend Mondo Macabro and MacKenzie for this stunning work!
The goodness doesn't end there, though, as the disc also manages to pack in a couple of great interviews and a text-based history of the film as extras. The first interview subject is star Robert Woods, a long time actor in European westerns who was recruited in early 1973 by Jess Franco and stayed with him through 6 or 7 features that year. Woods is open and candid about his experience and his fondness for Franco and his films. It was great to hear him talk about his time on set and his experiences. The second interview is with horror scholar Stephen Thrower, author of Nightmare USA and biographer of Lucio Fulci with a Franco biography on the way. Thrower's discussion is much less anecdotal, as you would imagine, and much more scholarly. It was in his interview that I got the information about the locations, and there is a lot more to be learned from it. Thrower is a clever and engaging speaker and his interview is also well worth checking out for Franco fans.
I've now had the opportunity to review three Mondo Macabro titles, and this is by far the best all around. This is why they are my current Video Home Invasion subject, this is the good stuff, buy it!
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