Piero Schivazappa's barmy hallucinogenic erotic fantasy, "The Frightened Woman", plays almost like a parody of many of the euro cult films that were soon to follow in its wake. Massimo Dallamano's "Venus In Furs" and Jess Franco's "Succubus" are obvious examples of the sub genre that owe it no small debt; both are clearly influenced by its trailblazing mixture of outlandish '60s fashions, Felliniesque surrealism and uber-modern interior design (which, to a modern audience, now only add to the colourful, camp aesthetic these cult curios tend to exhibit) — a gaudy bright wrapping for its weird psycho-sexual obsessions. It is probably slightly misleading to think of this film as an "erotic" work as such: glamour (and kitsch glamour, at that) seems to be its main concern: lead female star Dagmar Lassander is here often little more than a red-haired, porcelain skinned fashion model for a parade of immaculate 60s designer trouser suits, only incidentally succumbing to the misogynistic ministrations of her muscle-bound captor, Philippe Leroy. Even when he hacks off her cascade of gorgeous red locks in a fugue of woman hatred, the resulting short-haired look quickly resolves itself into a perfectly ultra fashionable Mary Quant/Vidal Sassoon look! What really makes the film stand out — beside its striking comic book mis-en-scene — is the rich streak of absurdist humour prevalent throughout; a surrealist element that now, in retrospect, lends the film a patina of knowingness often absent from many of its successors. There are few works quite like it.
As with many films of this ilk, "The Frightened Woman" takes a pretty relaxed attitude to plot and coherence, with a pace that often sags rather heavily. Like the film's lead character, Dr Sayer (played by Philippe Leroy, who will most recently have been seen as a wheelchair-bound alchemist in Argento's "Mother of Tears"), the film is wonderful to look at on the surface: mixing extravagant opulence with an outlandish streak that means even the most apparently benign setting, like an office reception room, becomes a baroque cathedral-like place of heavy, carved oaken desks and painted religious friezes! Under the surface though, the common themes of the genre, of male ambivalence to female sexual liberty, are being examined; all within a deceptively flimsy plot about a powerful businessman who drugs and kidnaps his secretary, and takes her back to his bizarre "modernist" pad for weird sex games involving a life-sized rubber model of himself!
It turns out that Sayer is (or might be) a serial killer who's inability to cope with the modern emancipated woman leads him to subject them to S & M scenarios that culminate in him murdering them after having had sex with them. The plan goes slightly awry though when he falls in love with Maria (Dagmar Lassander). Ironically, the more he hoses her in cold water, handcuffs her, and threatens to hang her from the ceiling in a rubber gimp suit, the more dazzled she seems to be by his virile good looks! For all his anti woman bluster, pretty soon Sayer can't help reciprocating the feeling and, leaving Sayer's ultra-stylish bachelor pad, the two end up running hand-in-hand through buttercup fields while Stelvio Cipriani's orchestral jazz-pop pastiche of Bert Bacharach burbles pleasingly in the background. Needless to say though, there is a nasty twist in the tail, to all this! Along the way there is some amusingly transparent symbolism (that is surely meant as a parody of surrealist imagery) in the form of a doorway situated between two giant model female thighs, which "devours" those who enter and spews out a plastic skeleton! And lets not forget that winking dwarf!
This film is crazy, funny, sexy and outlandish with some wonderfully OTT set design and an attractive comic book aesthetic. The Shameless DVD aims to be the most complete version in existence and looks pretty good apart from a few brief sequences which have clearly come from a VHS source and have poor colour separation as a result. These are very brief though, and are included only to give the most complete version of the film possible.