Reviewed By- Kit Gavin Directed by Piero Schivazappa Starring Dagmar Lassander, Philippe Leroy, Lorenza Geurrieri and Mirella Pamphilli. Released through: First Run Features [USA] Region 1 NTSC
An attractive young writer, Maria Angstrom [Lassander] is researching the sterilization of men in other countries. However, in order to complete her researches, she pays a visit to a wealthy industrialist, Doctor Sayer [Leroy], at his home. However, upon her arrival at his home and the discussion between the two leads to an argument where Maria appears to support the notion and Sayer is against the idea, Maria passes out, unaware that her drink provided for her by Sayer had been drugged. Upon coming round she realises that for the weekend she shall be the plaything for Sayers perversion sexual, physical and mental games, that determined is he to prove to her that the male is superior to the female. As the weekend progresses, with Sayer inflicting all sorts of indignity upon his seemingly reluctant yet submissive victim, and the battle of wills well underway, after Sayer crops Maria of her flowing locks, rather than becoming weaker, this female Sampson takes the upper hand, and increases and grows in strength, gaining the upper hand on her oppressor, so far as to make him fall in love [and therefore into her clutches] with her.
Toplining the cast is Philippe Leroy, the present count of Leroy-Beaulieu, as Sayer the sadistic industrialist who plays mind games and fixes sadistic situations for his apparent victims. Leroy is a highly regarded theatrical actor in his homeland of France as well as in his adopted homeland of Italy, and here he turns in a splendidly reserved, icily aloof performance without ever resorting to overacting or ham in order to convey his sadistic glee. Opposite him is the young and beautiful 24-year-old Dagmar Lassander, in her first Italian film, based on the success of her leading a German erotic drama, Andrea, which had caused a minor scandal in Italy and was banned by the Vatican. Lassander originally had no plans to be an actress, and her only training theatre had been as that of a costume designer for the Opera in Berlin. However she was "discovered" by Will Tremper, a noted journalist, who cast her in a small role in his film SPEERBEZIRK, and after that Lassander was a success. Lassander has always held a special place in this reviewer’s heart and here; she looks beautiful, sensual and seductive, and turns in a performance, which compliments Leroy’s experience. Other players in the film are merely incidental to the plot, and important to the grand scheme of things. The film is focussed around the relationship between the two main characters, between Sayer and Maria (no doubt a play on S&M), between slave and master, between sadist and masochist, and between man and woman.
The original title of the film is enigmatic and non-committal. The original Italian title Femina ridens meant "Laughing Woman" whereas perhaps for sensationalism or to increase sales, Metzger and his distribution house, re-titled the film The Frightened Woman. Also the film, given that Italian films are not renowned for their sense of characterisation, plot and storyline is actually quite thought provoking, intelligently constructed and written, as well as multi-layered, and perhaps this is why it warrants more than a cursory glance and viewing, though for some it may be misinterpreted and misunderstood.
The film is a work of art, pop art to be precise, and should be a beautiful time capsule to Italian movies of the late 1960’s, owing to the wonderful cinematography and the stylish direction by Piero Schivazappa [who apparently enjoyed hurting Lassander in order to get the desired response from the young, mostly inexperienced actress]. Films were becoming more daring in the themes they approached, with violence and sexual conduct and nudity becoming less taboo and more prevalent within a more liberated society. As well as the finely tuned performances given by the leads as stated above, the gorgeously trendy 60’s set design, by Enrico Sabattini, the direction and the lighting of the piece, as well and far out unforgettable images. There are themes of vagina dentata with an enormous blow up garish model of a woman, where gnashing teeth spit out a skeleton from where the pudenda should be after Leroy has entered, and a mannequin bound and suspended whilst clad in PVC from the ceiling, with Leroy threatening Lassander with a similar fate. Other shocking images exist, with Leroy forcing Lassander to caress a lifelike model of him sexually and passionately, and the bound Lassander being forced to see a slide show of some of Sayer’s previous female victims. Although the film doesn’t explore exactly new groundbreaking themes, and somewhat sags in the middle after the events of power-play between the characters which has gone before, the imagery is still spectacular with an unusual set piece of Lorenza Guerrieri [Italy’s girlie mag Playmen’s first centerfold] playing a saxophone whilst on an open wagon of a passing train. One of the facets of the denouement in the end, perhaps owes something to another cult and pop art classic movie, Giulio Questi’s LA MORTE FA FATTO UN UOVO/ DEATH LAID AN EGG , where the true nature of the sadists actions are revealed in a similar manner to those of Sayer.
The film has a persuasive, teasing, and undeniably kinky mood, yet non-too overly explicit view of eroticism. It has a similar teasing a playful voyeurism, which was also captured in Mario Bava’s FOUR TIMES THAT NIGHT, which also contained wild and cool 60’s imagery and actually would play as an interesting companion piece to the film here. It is worth owning, even despite this sub-par format of this presentation, for anyone appreciating the pop art phenomenon of the late sixties, Italian erotic or exploitation cinema (even treading the fine line between arthouse and exploitation, dare I say it?) – and of course for fans of the luscious Dagmar Lassander, well it simply is a must have for she looks radiantly voluptuous and sexy in most every frame here, and doesn’t half turn in a decent performance either. Nudity is teasing and suggestive, and Lassander appears topless, albeit briefly, in a couple of scenes, , though she would later appear unashamed, unabashed and baring all fully frontally nude, not long after in films such as Freda’s THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE and Rino Di Silvestro’s sleazy fun filled schlock horror WEREWOLF WOMAN.
So for such a beautiful, rich in imagery and brightly saturated colors, multi-layered film, the viewer would hope for a sparkling transfer. Wrong!! Image-wise, regrettably, the print released here is muted, dirty, scratched and throughout has an unattractive sepia-brown tint and washed out feel to it throughout. Blacks are dark greys and skin tones look unnatural. The print here renders little justice to the original filmmakers vision. Together with the pop art feel of the film, a fitting avant-garde soundtrack by composer Stelvio Cipriani, who provided funky or atmospheric themes on films such as TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE, BARON BLOOD, and even sleazy trash like DEPORTED WOMEN OF THE SS. Also included are some catchy pop songs, again by Cipriani, which fit the mood of the piece perfectly. The pulsing beat where Lassander dances for Leroy, watching her behind a mirror, topless bar a thin strip of see-through gauze covering her pert breasts is tremendously moody and erotic. The dubbing of the film is actually better than usual as well, but this accounts for the fact that both actors are speaking English, and both actors still speak good English (although heavily accented) to this day. Regrettably as well as the colors not being shown to their full garish potential, the soundtrack too is shows signs of it’s age too, with hiss and pops a plenty. A real tragedy and a shame, especially when an infinitely better print (albeit with Italian credits) was and is available.
Equally sad is the lack of extras accompanying the release of the film. There are no photos nor posters, from either the Stateside or the Italian release, nor even a copy of the cover of novelisation of the film, and subsequently published by Metzger’s Audubon Books [an off-shoot of his film company which distributed the film Stateside]. Even the cover, although it shows the luscious Lassander in a seductive topless glamor pose, her wrist handcuffed, is not based upon the original US poster art. A shame really, but at least it is of the time and the original star, rather than the resort of some companies to use contemporary models to hype the release, much like the previous [unfortunately cut] release by Salvation Films in the United Kingdom.
For a film which is a pop-art masterpiece in terms of the sets and visuals, it is a tragedy that it has been given such an unexceptional release Stateside, especially by the original distributors, who surely should have had better materials at their disposal. If this were not the case, better materials ARE available, and readily so. Should First Run Features choose to re-release this provocative mini-gem once again on the shiny format, please, please, PLEASE will they use the fantastic print, which was used for the United Kingdom release? Thank you…
Story: 3.5 BITCH SLAPS Picture: 2.5 BITCH SLAPS Audio: 2.5 BITCH SLAPS Extras: 1.5 BITCH SLAPS Overall: 2.5 BITCH SLAPS
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