Love Me Strangely (aka "Un Beau Monstre") [1971]

“Love Me Strangely” is a film that’s growing on me the more I reflect on the series of complexities and inversions that it offers. Sure, it’s a tasty morsel of groovy Continental sexiness from the sweet spot of late 60s/early 70s cinema, but it’s also a sinister and ultimately tragic thriller-cum-love-story whose unsettling message has more resonance than it should.

Helmut Berger plays Alain Revent, a sleekly beautiful young man whose wife perishes after a drug-induced topple from their swank apartment balcony. His neighbor Nathalie, played by Virna Lisi, witnesses the tragic event and, fascinated by Alain’s brooding sensuality (who wouldn’t be, even with the Errol Flynn moustache?), begins to fall in love with him. After a whirlwind courtship and marriage, Nathalie begins to suspect that there is a perverse cruelty to Alain’s personality and is torn between her love for him and her sense of self-preservation.
The film’s structure is an unusual one–there’s very little in the way of dialogue for almost the first half of the movie, relying instead on a montage of Alain and Nathalie’s courtship overlaid with a sweeping love theme. “Stay,” performed by Wallace Collection and written by veteran film composer Georges Garvarentz, was apparently a radio hit in France after the release of this film. You’d better get used to this song, because you’re going to hear it A LOT:
Upon first listen, “Stay” is tender pean to unending love, but it takes on a sinister cast as the movie progresses and twists into a tale of obsession. Allow me to be very direct here–I sighed a little bit when I first heard the main theme. It’s soupy, it’s corny, it’s downright schmaltzy, but it also possesses that earworm quality shared by the most memorable pop ballads. By the film’s closing image, this song is another character in the story–a violin-sweet Greek chorus of sorts.
"Love Me Strangely"
The decision to remove most of the dialogue from the build-up of Alain and Nathalie’s romance means that Berger and Lisi need to convey their tenderness and desire entirely through facial expressions and body language. Make no mistake–if you want somebody who can give a significant look over the dinner table, you simply CANNOT GO WRONG in casting Helmut Berger. In the same way that the female sex symbols of the 60s and 70s have a unique “X Factor” in addition to their beauty, Berger has a sexiness of screen presence that few male leads can offer.
"Love Me Strangely"
This kind of sexiness is significant here, because one of the interesting things that happens in “Love Me Strangely” is that it’s most assuredly NOT the Bluebeard story of a brutish, foul, yet wealthy man terrorizing a series of unfortunate wives–Alain’s character fills the role generally reserved for the femme fatale. While it begins to seem that Alain is a similar scoundrel to the character of Gregory Anton in “Gaslight,” mercilessly driving his wife to madness for his own financial gain, Alain’s motives are not nearly so clean-cut. His mysterious history, fluid sexuality, and Byzantine mind games make him a dangerous combination of “Wuthering Heights'” Heathcliff and Glenn Close’s bunny boiler Alex from “Fatal Attraction.”

"Love Me Strangely"
The sophisticated Parisian world that Alain and Nathalie inhabit is brought to life with some SERIOUSLY funky set design and costume choices. Much of the story takes place inside Alain’s flat, which is a study in psychedelic excellence from the glassed-in reptile habitat that separates the living room from the rest of the apartment to the foot-pedal-operated entertainment center. There’s a sequence that walks a tightrope between intimate and ridiculous in which Alain puts on a shadow-show for Nathalie, mimicking caressing her body with the shadows cast by his hands–all accomplished thanks to the swanky foot pedals that dim and raise the lights in his living room. Technology, man–is there nothing it can’t do?
"Love Me Strangely"
There are colorful characters throughout the film who come in and out of the lead couple’s lives. Between Nathalie’s sexually predatory friend, Alain’s male lover Dino, and Charles Aznavour’s turn as the concerned police inspector, there’s enough additional texture to keep the plot percolating along. There’s even a “blink and you’ll miss him” appearance by genre vet and Jess Franco regular Howard Vernon, who appears early on in the story. He’s a little like a storm crow presaging the bad junk to come…! And it would hardly be fair of me to not mention the big psychedelic shindig that Alain hosts–while it doesn’t contain a person in a turban as all the BEST big psychedelic shindigs do, it still passes muster in the “zany fashion” category.
"Love Me Strangely"
Fans of Eurotrash potboilers will find enough in “Love Me Strangely” to occupy their attention. It’s not a flashy murder mystery, nor is it the product of an obsessed auteur, but there’s enough dark romance here to make it a nice change of pace from some of the more out-there offerings in that particular cinematic universe.

Jack the Ripper [1976]

Let’s just establish right here, right now, the fact that Jess Franco’s 1976 version of “Jack the Ripper” has exactly nothing to do with historical veracity. The still-unidentified serial murderer who cut short the lives of at least five prostitutes between 1888 and 1891 in the seedy Whitechapel district of London serves as a jumping-off point for Franco to create a moody character study that imposes his own themes on a skeleton of fact. With that official Ripperologist Warning out of the way, let me just say that I’ll take the substitution of “Klaus Kinski” for “Historical Crime Procedural” any frikkin’ day of the week. Watching Mr. Kinski emote provides one of the great pleasures of genre cinema–the man had an overwhelming cinematic presence, and y’all know how I feel about those brooding Germans. The pairing of Kinski and Franco in a Victorian murder mystery movie promises quite a bit of joy, but does it deliver on these promises…?

"Jack the Ripper"

“Jack the Ripper” is a revisiting of Franco’s signature Dr. Orloff character, the emotionally tortured, morally kinked doctor whose obsessions lead him to murder and destruction. Usually this involves a heavy dose of “face-stealing” with a soupcon of “incest”–what this movie lacks in the former, it more than makes up for in the latter. Kinski plays Dr. Dennis Orloff, a London physician whose troubled childhood has inspired him to donate his services to the poorest of the city’s denizens, but has also made him into a terrifying misogynist that stalks, rapes, murders and mutilates prostitutes. His assistant, the character who would be named Morpho in one of the other Orloff films, is a facially-scarred woman named Frieda who is utterly devoted to assisting the doctor for reasons never really explored in the movie.
"Jack the Ripper"

Produced by the same West German company that funded Franco’s notorious and gorgeous Satan-in-the-convent shocker “Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun,” “Jack the Ripper” shares some of the look and feel of that film, though it’s sadly less resonant than the later movie. The cinematography is sharp and the lighting skillful, but where “Love Letters” used its locations to its advantage, “Jack the Ripper” feels artificial. For those people who are still rooting for the truffle of historical authenticity, just give it up–the London of this film is totally un-London-ey, no matter how much faux fog the art director fills the set with. There’s a certain creaky charm to the sets, with touches like the OLIVER TWIST pub not going unnoticed by me. The costumes (particularly the costumes used to dress the female characters) are an actually-kinda-endearing hodgepodge of community-theatre-grade “My Fair Lady” gowns and hats in an array of shiny, psychedelic fabrics. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there was a smoking ban on set to reduce the chance of Eurobabes bursting into flame because her petroleum-based gown went alight.
"Jack the Ripper"

The supporting cast does a creditable job in the daunting task of backing up Kinski’s performance. Herbert Fux* appears in a typically Fux-ian role as a greedy fisherman who is a patient of Orloff’s who catches wise to the doctor’s nocturnal activities. Perhaps the most often-remarked-upon appearance is that of Lina Romay in the role of the exotic cabaret performer Marika who flaunts her charms in an assless teddy**. Her doll-like mouth and wide-eyed expressiveness are used to great effect in her all-too-brief appearance in this film. The scene in which Marika is raped and murdered by Orloff is the film’s most disturbing, due in no small part to the fact that Romay’s murmurs evoke ecstasy as much as–if not maybe more than–the last breaths of a dying woman.
*I’m still allowed to giggle, even though I know it’s pronounced “Fewks.”
**If people can say “assless chaps,” even though chaps are de facto assless, then *I* can say “assless teddy.”
"Jack the Ripper"
"Jack the Ripper"

Speaking of that murder scene, there’s some really squicky gore in this flick–all the more so because it feels abrupt and aggressive, and is overtly sexualized. There’s a direct link between the sex act and the trauma to the female body that’s underscored by Kinski’s emotive performance. His face conveys a bone-deep lust and perversion, and his movements are animalistic. It’s effective and wrenching enough that the scenes of Orloff’s violence make one forget about the rather silly trappings of the rest of the film.
"Jack the Ripper"

The story of Police Inspector Selby and his romance with prima ballerina Cynthia (shades of “Awful Dr. Orloff” once again!) isn’t terribly engaging, and never musters up a fraction of the emotion of the Ripper portions of the movie. Some good choices are made during the “detection” sequences, though, such as the inclusion of the blind man whose keen senses lead to Orloff’s eventual unmasking. This character’s use of smell, hearing and almost-preternatural perception underscore the sensual elements of the film. Much to my delight, the identikit/police sketch sequence was included, resulting in a rather excellent Kinski caricature.
"Jack the Ripper"

Alas, the promising build-up of this movie leads to a sputtering-out conclusion that tarnishes the impact of the preceding ninety minutes. It felt as if the script-writer needed to put a bow on the story and was averse to the kind of fiery conflagrations that mark the end of, say, a Corman Poe flick. We’re left with a strangely unemotional sorta-ending to mark what’s otherwise been a pretty darned effective, and sometimes downright alarming, character study.
Franco fans, Kinski fans, and fans of Lina Romay’s ass could do a LOT worse than this movie (no, really–A LOT WORSE; take my word on this). Feel free to imagine your own coda, though, as the one provided leaves plenty to be desired.

Fashion Advice from John Willie’s BIZARRE

One of the interesting things–to me, anyhow–is how John Willie’s drawings from his fetish publication BIZARRE (the ball-gagged face that launched a thousand glossy ‘zine ships) were created during the late 1940s and through the 1950s and yet evoke the strict glamour of the 1920s and 1930s. At that point, fashion wasn’t the self-referential echo-chamber of retro-inspired street styles that it is now, and I wonder if this favoring of earlier styles would be seen as hopelessly out-of-date and mayb
e even a bit naive.
There’s also a smirky sense of humor that goes along with Willie’s deeply eccentric aesthetic. Where there’s a sense of grime and meanness to the bondage mags of the 70s and onwards, Willie’s tongue is planted firmly in his cheek in his photos and illustrations. Sure, the content is way–WAY–over-the-top, from the depictions of different types of gags to the various ways in which a model’s hands can be wound behind her back, but one of the things that keeps BIZARRE from being despicable is that its look and feel are that of a madcap fantasy. BIZARRE is about as realistic as “Barbarella” or H. Rider Haggard’s “She.” Oh–and there’s the not-small-at-all matter of John Willie being a superb draftsman, even if his figures bear more resemblance to an engineer’s sketch of a particularly complicated machine than to any human being currently walking the earth.
BIZARRE certainly implies a variety of arcane sexual acts, but the drawings within its pages focus on the eroticized trappings of this sex. A favorite motif of Willie’s is the elaborately fetishized “Fancy Dress” or “Motley” outfit. In these drawings to
the right and below, his devious creativity is on full display. While Diana the Huntress and the French Maid might be obvious choices for a kink enthusiast, it takes a special brand of brain to blend a straitjacket with a festive Christmas cracker:

Miss Bizarre, shown below, combines pretty much ALL of the various and sundry Special Needs from the pages of BIZARRE into a single outfit of incredible absurdity. While there’s certainly the intent to titillate, the accompanying text, directed at a lady who might discover a copy of the magazine (in her partner’s sock drawer or under the bed or hidden in the bathroom or wherever people kept porn in 1953), is satirical in tone:

If a fair maiden finds the light of her life reading “Bizarre,” she will realise that something is in the wind. The question is what? What must she do? What must she wear to please him? One false step and a beautiful romance may be loused up–but don’t worry! We’re right with you in your hour of crisis! Just leave it to Willie.

It is assumed that you are already an expert in wrestling, judo and boxing. Therefore if you are required to take the dominant role you will be able to cope with the situation, but it may be the other way so you must appear very helpless and feminine.

He may like boots, so you wear one boot; long sheer stockings, so you display one on the other leg–held up tightly by at least six suspenders. Similarly you have a bloomer and fancy garter on the other leg, and over it a pair of brief frilly scanties.

The extremely wasp-waisted corset of black kid has convenient rings to which shafts can be attached should you be required to serve as a girl pony; and the ring in the nose in this case is an excellent substitute for a bit to which the reins are attached.

Your makeup must be extreme, including a tattoo on your left shoulder, and you are drenched in perfume. You are covered in jewels but the bracelet on your right wrist is a pair of handcuffs. Your long hair, scarcely visible from the front (he may like it short) cascades down your back unbraided under your black gleaming rubber cape whose hood can be brought forward to cover the face (a la Blind Girl Fluff).

Having rigged yourself up in this ensemble you strap one arm tightly back at the waist. Then your head held high by the stiffly boned collar, your earrings brushing your shoulders, you pick up a riding quirt, and with the shackles on your ankles jingling, go and interrupt his reading.

Now we don’t guarantee that this is going to be absolutely perfect. We may have overlooked something but at least it will show an enthusiastic desire to cooperate; and we present the idea with our best wishes for a prosperous and happy New Year.
But gentlemen, you are in NO WAY off the hook. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander (as my very earthy, very Scottish great-grandmother used to say, though probably not under these circumstances). Heels and corsets appear to be recommended for events from “Informal Evenings” all the way to the Board Room.
Consider yourselves on notice!

Miscellany: Tenebrous LIVE!, T-Shirts, Prurient Documentary Filmmaking

Happy Friday, interpals! In the spirit of knowledge sharing, I’m going to hit you up with a few bits of datum that I feel will enhance your collective lives.
On Friday, January 22, I’ll be appearing as part of the Kevin Geeks Out series of weird and wonderful film appreciation presentations at 92YTribeca. If you’re in the New York City area, you should come on down and enjoy an evening of nerdy glee surrounding Visions of the Future. My own vision of the future is Italian, post-nuclear, and guaranteed to have about 1,000% more codpieces than any other film on the docket for the evening. For those who need to be bribed, THERE WILL BE FREE DIPPIN DOTS. For those who, like me, want to enjoy everything through a shiny veneer of alcohol, THERE IS A BAR ON SITE. Click here to buy advance tickets.
I don’t shill for companies I don’t patronize. I don’t accept advertising. Once I start getting paid for something, it starts being work, and we all know that work stinks and that’s why you get paid to be there. Related: the expansion of my t-shirt collection is something towards which I devote a portion of the money I earn from work-actual. In the spirit of all this, I’m going to offer up some recommendations of t-shirt vendors and designers who make my black little heart go pitter-pat:
  • Fright Rags – Original designs, limited editions, and rad poster reproductions.
  • Giallo T-Shirts – Pop art designs inspired by Italian thrillers. My life wasn’t complete until I owned an Ivan Rassimov shirt.
  • Rotten Cotton – One of the original sources for gruesome, badass shirt designs. Lots of poster-inspired stuff as well as official licensed shirts and limited editions.
  • November Fire – Staggering collection of designs, including cult film posters, occult symbols, and military themes, available on a number of shirt styles for men and women.
  • Threadless – Limited edition designs ranging from the twee to the snarky, with plenty of horror stuff in the mix. My glow-in-the-dark villain stick figures shirt is one of my most treasured tees.
August 21, 2009
For extra bonus awesome, go to town with scissors for a customized look. Here’s a video tutorial to re-create the style in my photo above:

I watch a lot of documentaries, and they vary in quality from profound to thought-provoking to humorous to unintentionally silly. The problem with Robinson Devor’s “Zoo,” a documentary film about a man who died while being fucked by a horse at a sex farm, is that Devor never really owns the fact that he’s making a documentary film about a man who died while being fucked by a horse at a sex farm. Devor is aiming square at “profound,” applying moody cinematography and affecting a tone of ethical ambiguity. The documentary is so deliberately quiet in its tone and so cautiously philosophical about the nature of this paraphilia that the overall effect is pretty goddamn comedic. By the time the actor hired to play Cop #1 in a re-enactment for the film is interviewed about the nature of life and death, the piece has dissolved into postmodern comedy. Is this meta or merely a bad decision–or is it something akin to genius? The actor’s observation that his friend had a broken leg treated at the same hospital where the horse-fucked man bled to death was so self-centric it could have been included for no reason other than cynical humor. Funnier still is the elegantly-lensed, slow-motion sequence of a central casting “redneck” fleeing from the scene of the victim’s accidental death with a bucket full of bestiality pornography.

I guess I just really object to making prurient subjects seem “tasteful” so people can feel less bad about their morbid curiosity. Seriously–even if there’s a veneer “lyrical style,” you’re still watching a documentary film about a man who died while being fucked by a horse at a sex farm. There’s just not enough content or insight in the interviews to justify the lofty goals of the filmmaker, but there hella-sure is a re-enactment scene of cops having a “2 Girls, 1 Cup” moment while watching the bestiality footage at the precinct house.
Related to this: if I was an actor, I would never ever EVER agree to appear in any type of re-enactment. Audiences that have a limited grasp on stuff like “metaphor” have an equally limited grasp on the notion of “re-enactment.” I know *I* wouldn’t want to forever be known as “the Happy Horseman” for the rest of my on-screen career.

Adult Eurocomix Torture Dungeon Jamboree!

Sure, America has its DC Comics Legion of Doom, and those villains seemed pretty darned nasty while menacing kids over their sugar cereal and “Super Friends” on Saturday mornings. Let me just tell you that the Legion of Doom has nothing–BUT nothing–on the villains of Italian fumetti neri, adult comics that fused sex and violence into a fantastical art trashgasm.

In his two-page tribute to these comics, artist Lucio Filippucci* captures the hyperbolic zeal of these comics by placing some of the best-known of these masked supervillains in a montage of flogtastic proportions. This is a little like Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s “Monster Mash,” if it had more BDSM and came from Decadent Continental Europe:
"Sogni Prohibiti" - Tribute to Fumetti Neri
"Sogni Prohibiti" - Tribute to Fumetti Neri
Maybe the word supervillain isn’t the right one to describe these dramatis personae-they’re often the FOCUS of the stories, not merely antagonists. In the montage above, Killing/Kilink (lower left, page 1), Kriminal (center left, page 2) and Satanik (center right, page 2) are the titular characters in their stories. Madame Brutal (lower right, page 1) is a nemesis of the James-Bond-like Goldrake (who is clearly doing none-too-well in that particular scenario), and the awesomely-named Baron von Nütter (upper right, page 2) is out to do no goddamn good to Isabella, a displaced noblewoman out for revenge… and by the looks of things, not succeeding.
*Filipucci is one of the illustrators of the “Martin Mystère” series published by Bonelli Comics, a house best known to US audiences for the “Dylan Dog” comics. Further down the Trivia Maze, “Dylan Dog” author Tiziano Sclavi should be familiar to an even wider group of genre fans as the author of the justifiably highly-praised horror film “Dellamorte Dellamore,” aka “Cemetery Man.” And yes, my goal IS to be the James Burke of exploitation entertainment.

Blonde Jungle Goddesses

Can we talk about Blonde Jungle Goddesses for a minute? That’s a trope you just don’t see enough of anymore–although some would argue that this is like saying “they just don’t make Yellow Peril stories the way they used to.” In general, the Blonde Jungle Goddess undergoes her apotheosis as a result of dark-skinned natives being so AWE-STRUCK by her “perfect” white skin and hair that they presume her to possess supernatural powers. Little is done to dissuade them from this notion once the Great White Hunter character (or Tarzan, or both) comes into the picture and falls hopelessly under her sexy, sexy spell. Unsurprisingly, people tend to Take Issue with this kind of story arc, working unsubtly as it does with issues of race and imperialism.
Blonde Jungle Goddesses are part of a bygone era in genre entertainment–these characters play to the (generally male, generally white) viewers’ xenophobic anxieties*, to make no mention of the not-so-under-current of gender wars and the rise of feminism.
*Yeah, I DID bust out TWO words with X’s in them in a row. I want a cookie now, fuckers.
Frankly, all this just makes Blonde Jungle Goddesses sexier by virtue of being more taboo. There’s something that feels really naughty about looking at images of these Amazon creatures with their shameless displays of flesh and implied power-play–a feeling that’s redoubled in the context of the socio-political milieu in which they exist.
Frollo - Jungle Girl
This Leone Frollo** illustration captures the delicious wrongness of the Blonde Jungle Goddess. Bonus points for the fact that the native captors of the Safari Girl kept her shiny, shiny leather boots on while prepping her for the cookpot.
"Khina, Queen of the Jungle" - Saudelli
And as the cherry on top of this oh-so-wrong sundae, here’s a page from “Khina: Queen of the Jungle” as illustrated by Franco Saudelli. Yep–I think that might just be an Asian doctor working with the native queen. Two, two, TWO times the stereotypes in but a single page! And I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that Saudelli contrives more ways to tie up his heroines than John Willie. Shine on, you crazy diamond.

Hostel: Part II [2007]

Promises–I generally avoid them, and yet I am beginning this review with TWO:

  1. I will not make any “Hostel”/hostile puns.
  2. I will not profess my panty-moistening desire to hump the balls off of director Eli Roth and bear his scores of love-children, even though I have received the memo that he’s the new Bruce Campbell. Eli-Lovers, he is all yours (you’re welcome).
I saw the first “Hostel” shortly-ish after its release in 2005 and disliked it enormously. While it was sleekly-lensed with above-par special effects work, I found that it drowned itself in the bucket of profoundly unlikeable characters and something akin to hardcore-BDSM-flavored homophobia (you know how THOSE PEOPLE are just lurking around every corner to pop out and GETCHA) in its Boy-Versus-Men-Becomes-Final-Girl construction. To boot–I didn’t find its guignol to be grand enough to justify its reputation and therefore categorized it as a dud.
Why, then, do I have such a hard time explaining why “Hostel: Part II,” which is kinda-sorta-really the same movie, left me feeling not-unpleasantly off-kilter and invigorated? It’s a perfect example of why the success or failure of a horror film–or any piece of genre entertainment–lies in its details.
My disappointment with the first “Hostel” wasn’t enough to dissuade me from investing ninety minutes of my Sunday morning in watching its sequel–the promise of Edwige Fenech and Heather Matarazzo (who I’ve admired as an actress since her heartbreakingly awkward turn in “Welcome to the Dollhouse”) in one gore-soaked film was more than my cawfee-addled brain could resist. Even if the movie turned out to be an unpleasant exercise in physical excess (not that there’s anything WRONG with that), I’d have cool stunt-casting to enjoy. In addition to the aforementioned actresses, this flick boasts Ruggero Deodato and Bijou Phillips–WORLDS ARE COLLIDING!!!.
Similarly to its predecessor, “Hostel 2” tracks three white, upper-middle class students on vacation in Europe who get waylaid by fascinating strangers with an alluring offer of cheap lodging and exotic adventure in Eastern Europe. This time ’round, our protagonists are three women: Matarazzo’s predictably-sweet Lorna, Phillips’ predictably-slutty Whitney, and Lauren German’s kinda-hard-to-pin-down-but-definitely-wealthy Beth. Statuesque Vera Jordanova plays Axelle, the omnivorous artists’ model who lures the ladies into the clutches of the Hostel owners. Yes, for those of us who have been without media exposure for the past five years, the “Hostel” films deal with the kidnapping, torture, and murder of young tourists at the hands of wealthy club members with an appetite for the cruelest of kinks.
I wasn’t sure if casting women in the central victim roles in this movie would leave me feeling like the material was even more objectionable than on my first outing with the franchise, dealing as it would with the intense objectification of the female body as meat to be abused, but I found this film to be far more engaging than I’d anticipated. A few tweaks were put in place that made it all click.
The number-one BEST alteration to the structure of “Hostel 2” was to give a bit of backstory to the clientele and management of the hostel. Generally speaking, it’s a bad idea to over-explain horror stories–the harsh light of reason really has no place in the World of the Weird. This movie is an example that tests the rule, though! By giving a face and a motivation to the people who shell out big bucks to work out their vicious, sexual fantasies on strangers, the truly ghastly nature of the hostel is underscored. Sure, the story arc of the two man-pals who travel together to the isolated thrill-kill bordello is telegraphed and obvious, but in a universe as lurid as this, that potentially-hokey plotline actually manages to work.
There are several places in which texture is injected that help keep the movie from being a sterile exercise in meanness. I needn’t even explain how much delight it brought me to see Ms. Fenech’s appearance as an art class instructor in the opening scene–she’s lovely and spirited as ever, over 30 years after the height of her Eurotrash Cinema career. The film then moves the three lead characters onto a train which is filled with ominous figures from soccer hooligans to drug dealers to pickpockets. It’s no secret that I dig suspense sequences set on trains, and this was a very well-executed one. I nearly squee-ed aloud with nerdy, in-joke delight when the girls got waylaid by a threatening group of men in a scene that evoked Aldo Lado’s “The Night Train Murders.” By the time they’re being dispatched in the hostel, the film feels like a steroidal version of every “final girl” flick made since the 1970s.
Then there’s that Elizabeth Bathory scene where Lorna is strung up by her ankles while a curvaceous female hedonist slashes her to death with a scythe. In a word–YIKES. I’ve seen my fair share of eroticized violence on film, but the sense of panic and dread expressed by the victim combined with the mounting arousal of the murderer are graphically conveyed. Add in hideously evocative sound engineering (echoing screams, the sound of metal on skin–EEK!) and here is a setpiece that literally made me squirm in my seat.
There are moments of pitch-black humor to the film as well that keep it from being an endurance test. Deodato’s appearance will evoke smirks from fans of extreme horror, and the timing of some events during the murder sequences play out as if they were part of the most fucked-up cartoon you’re likely to see. This probably makes me a pretty lousy person, but I had to stifle a giggle at the image of a kitty-cat sipping delicately from one character’s neck stump.
Am I ACTUALLY recommending a film from the so-called “Torture Porn” subgenre that I had initially dismissed? Yes–you bet I am. Just be forewarned that you’ll probably be wanting a hot shower after watching this nasty little flick. I know I did.

VIVA Week Part 3: VIVA Loves Animals–REALLY Loves Animals

Xaviera's Game from VIVA Magazine

It’s not particularly revelatory to say that the 1970s were a time of sexual experimentation taken to the point of faddishness. Porn films came into vogue, the Swinger lifestyle was the subject of much conversation, and the Free Love of the late 60s had morphed into a hedonistic zeitgeist that lots of folks talked about, even if relatively few were living it. Just check out this awesome ad for Xaviera’s Game, a board game marketed in conjunction with that Happiest of Hookers–what better way to get all the glamor of prostitution without actually having to–you know–have sex OR get paid for it? The goal of the game is to complete 6 of the 8 Phases of Lovemaking, according to the instructions I found. Partial completion of lovemaking might indicate the game was designed by a man, but the game’s emphasis on lengthy explanations tells us that women had some hand in creating this mind-boggling parlor game. In the spirit of this safe form of taboo busting, adult magazines pushed the envelope ever further with their content–sometimes to downright bizarre degrees.

The VIVA Woman, who we’ve already learned is a svelte, fashionable chick with a passing interest in soft occultism who knows that shutting the fuck up is the way to a man’s heart, is a person who seeks adventure. Primarily, adventure that ends with sexy results. At some point in their market research, the editors of VIVA agreed that Women Love Animals–which is really pretty true.
I think they were off on the degree to which most women love animals, however.
Letter from VIVA Magazine
When I stumbled across the above letter to the editor, I assumed that this was some kind of one-off bit of looniness. Surely VIVA was not eroticizing bestiality! Then I saw the centerfold:
VIVA Magazine Centerfold
That, lieblings and liebchens, is NOT Photoshopped–it just had to be scanned in two pieces because it is a centerfold and my scanner wasn’t large enough. A CENTERFOLD OF TWO LIONS HUMPING.
VIVA Magazine
Mule sex and lion sex aside (which–really–is A LOT to put aside, in my estimation), why did they choose the picture of the sexy kitty to highlight the review on an erotic art coffee table book? I have plenty of erotic art coffee table books, and there are far, FAR more suitable illustrations to highlight than a portrait of an anthropomorphic cat prostitute. Holy Special Needs, kids…!
Tomorrow: VIVA on Fashion

Eugenie de Sade [1970]

Look–we’ve all got them. Call them “chick flicks” or the male equivalent thereof, there are films of a nature that make them utterly unappetizing to our domestic partners but which sing their siren song to us, beckoning us to view their forbidden excellence when disapproving eyes are out of range. My own brand of “chick flick” is the kind of hazy, languorous, nudity-packed kink-tragedy produced Continentally during the 1970s. I know that for many, the long shots of Significant Glances and the injection of La Philosophie dans le boudoir adds up to boredom of the most excruciating sort, but for me, it’s pure bliss. A master of the form, director Jess Franco delivers the titillating goods once again in 1970’s “Eugenie de Sade.”

Based loosely on a tale by that venerable smut peddler the Marquis de Sade, “Eugenie de Franval” (available to read here, if’n you’re curious), “Eugenie de Sade” details an affair between a young woman and her stepfather (a character intended to be her biological father, but changed during script revisions in foresight of censorship rules) that descends into murder, madness and revenge (as these things do). Albert Radeck (played with oily sinisterness by Paul Muller, who LOOKS like a de Sade heavy) is an author and critic whose body of work is dedicated to such taboo topics as black magic and explicit erotic literature, and when he discovers that his stepdaughter Eugenie (whose mother died days after her birth under mysterious circumstances) has been surreptitiously reading forbidden volumes from his collection, he encourages her pursuits. Eugenie is whipped up into quite a froth by her newfound reading material, and her awakened sensuality doesn’t go unnoticed by Dear Old Stepdad. There’s a mutuality of desire in their eventual coupling–while Eugenie may be naive, she is not a victim. Together, the couple sets out on a series of eroticized murders, targeting beautiful young women until Albert decides it’s time to take on yet more challenging game in the person of jazz trumpeter Paul. Eugenie’s seduction of Paul has unforseen consequences, and when she begins to fall in love with him, Albert’s jealousy flames out of control, leading to the inevitable tragic ending.
"Eugenie de Sade" Film Still
All this would have been enough to keep me glued to my seat (hush, you dirty-minded thing, you!) and any movie that opens with close-up girlkissing is already a winner in MY book, but there’s an abundance of texture here that makes the film special. The dazzle of “Eugenie de Sade” doesn’t stem from flashy cinematography or surrealist setpieces, but directly from the magnetic screen presence of actress Soledad Miranda (credited as Susan Korday) in the title role. A dancer from a very young age, her screen presence evolved into a captivating, erotic naturalism, and there’s no doubt in my mind that–had she not been killed at age 27 shortly after completing this film–she would have gone on to an even more remarkable career. Miranda takes what could have been a scanty role as an S&M Lolita and invests the character with an unconscious sexiness that’s gorgeous to watch. Her signature pose throughout the film–her legs tucked up under her chin, silently watching and listening–evolves from schoolgirl shyness to sensual lounging to a predatory perching over the course of the film. It doesn’t hurt that Franco attires his star in an array of drool-worthy thigh high boots, or that Eugenie exhibits a noteworthy aversion to pants.
"Eugenie de Sade" Film Still
The sex scenes are filmed with an unblushing literalism, eschewing soft-focus in favor of sometimes-awkward but authentic-looking fleshiness. Sure, I could’ve done without shots of Paul Muller’s bum during his major sex scene with Soledad Miranda, but this choice to show sex in a realistic manner is an honest one, and the ultra-close-ups on Miranda’s parted lips and half-lidded eyes go a long way towards erasing the memories of man-bum.
Franco himself appears in a clever role as author Attila Tanner (dubbed with a giggle-worthy basso voice), who sates his fascination with Albert and Eugenie by following them and eventually revealing that he is aware of their murderous activities. This third-wall-busting turn as actor is a marvelous addition to the storyline–is Tanner complicit in the activities of the main characters? Is he omniscient in some way? It’s a mysterious and–yes–humorous addition to the film.
"Eugenie de Sade" Film Still
There’s symbolism peppered throughout the film, ranging from subtle to blatant. In the library where Eugenie first encounters the erotic literature, she is surrounded by paintings of flowers, evocative of a blooming into womanhood or perhaps of the marriage ceremony. There’s a bittersweet moment towards the end of the film, where Eugenie confesses her father’s plot to Paul, and the actors are framed by images of idealized womanhood and manhood–she by a larger-than-life pinup and he by a photo of his political idol, Che Guevara.
"Eugenie de Sade" Film Still
The visual world of this film is consistent, as it is in other examples of Franco’s best work. The color palate here is black, white, and a searing red that is used as contrast during dramatic sequences. It’s winter and the bleak backdrop of postwar Berlin enhances the melancholy of the tale. Eugenie and Albert are almost always clad in black, except for when they commit their first murder and don absolutely outrageous-and-therefore-AWESOME red disguises. A red light is employed during the signature Jess Franco Nightclub Scenes, which bookend the first murder and also serve as the first introduction of Eugenie to Paul. Significant Things go down in Franco’s nightclubs!
"Eugenie de Sade" Film Still
“Eugenie de Sade” has the kind of dreamy narrative and symbolism that Franco incorporates into his best work, and stands as a remarkable document to the talent and beauty of Soledad Miranda. Those seeking explicit BDSM or a fast-cracking plot should look elsewhere, but fans of the prolific and challenging director that is Jess Franco will be delighted.

The Erotic Bondage Art of Georges Pichard

Pichard - "Ulysse"
In the annals (hee) of kinky comix, there are a few artists who stand head and shoulders above the crowd. Milo Manara needs no introduction, and we’ve discussed my love of Guido Crepax and John Willie in posts past. An artist who I feel doesn’t get nearly the adoration and (in)famy he deserves is French artist Georges Pichard.

Pichard began his career in 1946 with illustrations in mainstream publications, eventually moving into comic strips and then producing his first erotic work, “Blanche Epiphanie,” in 1967, beginning what would be a 40-year career in naughty books. Late in his life, he taught at l’Ecole des Arts Appliques in Paris (where he had been a student). Pichard died in 2003, leaving the world with a tremendous legacy of erotic art.

Pichard - "Marie Gabrielle"
Pichard’s work is characterized by impossibly voluptuous, dark-eyed women who frequently find themselves in bondage ranging from the flirtatious to the gruesome. In my opinion, the artist is at his best when he’s at his most grotesque, eschewing the boundaries of what most would consider to be arousing.
Pichard - "Marie Gabrielle"
His technique is precise and beautiful, employing fluid line-work and pointillist shadows. His pages are often separated by clever forms of architecture, like the gothic arches and Valentine hearts found throughout “Marie-Gabrielle,” a story of bondage and discipline set largely within a convent of sadistic nuns.
Pichard - "The Countess in Red"
Pichard - "The Countess in Red"
Panels like the above, from his “Countess in Red” which details a sexually-charged retelling of the Countess Bathory legend, show his talent for juxtaposing extreme S&M imagery with more traditional sensuality.
A Series of Tubes That Leads to More Pichard:
If anybody was looking for a very fine birthday present for me (you have till October 5th), one of these original Pichard pages would make a suitable tribute. Just sayin’.