19 May, 2007

Jess Franco Cannibal Collection: LA COMTESSE PERVERSE

One title I always include on my ever-changing JF 10 Best list is his LA COMTESEE PERVERSE/THE PERVERSE COUNTESS. Actually, I have never seen the film under that title in its original 1973 incarnation. Alain Petit recently wrote to me that he fears Franco's original version may be lost since it altered was rereleased in 1974 under the alternate title: LES CROQUEUSES (THE MUNCHERS[!]).

Produced the prolific French exploitation magnate Robert de Nesle, LA COMTESSE PERVERSE is Jess Franco's predictably iconoclastic take on Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game" which has been the basis for a number of Hollywood versions since it was first filmed in 1932. Franco performer Michel Lemoine (SUCCUBUS/NECRONOMICON) also adapted anddirected his own elegant version in 1974, LES WEEKEND MALEFIQUES DU COMTE ZAROFF (SEVEN WOMEN FOR SATAN), with himself in the role Howard Vernon plays in the Franco version (Vernon also appears in SEVEN WOMEN...).

Producer de Nesle was distressed when Franco turned in the first French cannibal/gore/exploitation film and ordered it to be lightened up by adding "comedy" scenes featuring Lina Romay and Caroline Riviere (only Romay was a participant in the original shoot). These turned out to be mood shattering inserts wherein the actresses joke about going out to the island of the Zaroff's. This version even has a "happy ending" of sorts. The original had an "optical" allusion to the first shot after restaging the grim climax of Val Lewton's I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE. Sometime later more inserts were added of the hardcore sex variety featuring Lina Romay performing oral sex on Pierre Taylou. According to Alain Petit, this scene was filmed in Paris, whereas the original footage was lensed mostly in Spain. This much altered version was then released in 1975 on the French "X" circuit. LES CROQUEUSES has since surfaced on French video and subsequently on bootlegs (sometimes subtitled in English) distributed by several North American companies. It's an outrageous curiosity and something of a blunted sword.

The original began with Robert Woods (featured in numerous Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s) scanning the beach for a victim to deliver to the cannibalistic Zaroff's. What follows is a deadpan, jet black comedy of manners. Kali Hansa and then Lina Romay are subjected to an extended "woman hunt" after which they are dissected, cooked and consumed at dinners presided over by Rader Zaroff's world weary charm.

The unhinged, delirious cinematography of the perilous landscapes, presided over by the Bofill structure XANADU, the frenetic prog-rock/avant garde guitar, organ and percussion improvisations of Jean-Bernard Raiteux and Olivier Bernard (some of these outre cues can be heard on the soundtracks of the 1972 JF titles THE DEMONS and THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and really need to be released on a newly remastered CD), excellent peformances by Woods (who recently told me all he remembers about the film is that Jess was constantly trying to get him to do hardcore), Romay, Vernon and especially Alice Arno whose extraordinary appearance, nude with bow and arrow, during the climactic woman hunt, is unforgettable, all merge into a heady synthesis which looks, plays and feels unlike any other JF film or any other film version of this story. There's also a hardcore Italian version SEXY NATURE, which includes other extremely ugly hardcore inserts not filmed by Jess Franco, and should be avoided at all costs!

Will Franco's original version ever be discovered? Will there ever be a decent R1 DVD in OAR with proper English language subtitles? Actually, if one could just remove the "comedy" and hardcore inserts one could reconstruct Jess' original version. But rights and access to the materials would have to be secured as a first step.

With a promised Blue Underground DVD of Franco's very inferior MONDO CANNIBALE/CANNIBALS (1980) and the wretched Video Asia "Terror Tales" disc of the equally bad THE DEVIL HUNTER one wishes that at least one version of Jess Franco's one really great cannibal film could finally surface in a high definition format(the 1998 remake TENDER FLESH is already out on a nice "Collector's Edition" DVD).


(C) Robert Monell, 2007

1 comment:

vaccastracca said...

I totally agree!!! LA COMTESSE PERVERSE is one of the best Jess Franco movies ever!!!
Besides a release in dvd (which would be a crime not to do), i would KILL for a soundtrack cd! The score is simply AWESOME!!!!!!
By the way, Raiteux also contributed to the score of JOURNAL INTIME D'UNE NIMPHOMANE, which again features some of the most amazing psychedelic-jazz-rock scores ever!!!
Too bad this musician didn't get the attention he deserved!!!