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Venus in Furs

Review by: 
Devil in the Flesh
Release Date: 
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Massimo Dallamano
Laura Antonelli
Regis Vallee
Loren Ewing
Bottom Line: 

 First of all, this is not the Jess Franco film of the same name. It will almost certainly be of similar interest to Euro Horror fans though, coming as it does from the same year as Franco's film and being directed by Massimo Dallamano -- a name which will be more than familiar to gialli fans as the director of "What Have They Done To Solange", among other titles from the same period. Dallamano's version of the Leopold von Sacher-Masoch novel that brought us the term 'Masochist' looks nothing like his bleak and rather gritty interpretation of the Italian mystery form, though. In fact, it  feels very much similar in tone to the free form, lounge room jazz psychedelia of the Franco version -- the two make a perfect home viewing double bill! -- although, surprisingly, it is Dallamano's film which follows the novel the more closely, despite the subject matter being quite firmly the stuff of Franco's oeuvre. It's likely that Franco's producer at the time, Harry Allen Towers, was attempting to cash in the obvious potential for sexploitation via a literary title, despite being beaten to the punch by the Italian film going into production first. Both films have that sunny, continental, free-love feel to them, Franco attempting a rather commercialised (for him) version of his own dream-fever surrealist style which had been already essayed more effectively in "Succubus". Although he's stuck with  more of a narrative form than Franco, Dallamano still manages to produce a rather offbeat atmosphere with a look that reminds one of the more cheesy Italian gialli of the early '70s in terms of its garish fashion atrocities!
The film proceeds via the alternating voice-over narration of the two protagonists, Severin (Regis Vallee) and Wanda (Laura Antonelli). Severin is a typical late-sixties Italian hunk: square-jawed and permanently ensconced in beige slacks and brightly coloured pullover. He meets Wanda while on holiday and gets himself housed in an adjoining holiday hut, where he gets to spy on her Norman Bates-style through a crack in a wall behind a strategically placed painting. It turns out that Wanda has a voracious appetite for the opposite sex and is steadily working her way through the male populace at the holiday camp, while Severin's voyeurism brings back memories of pre-pubescent sexual experiences at the hands of his nanny, whom he once was caught spying on and was subsequently punished by. With this bit of sub-Freudian analysis out of the way, Severin lays down one of his best chat-up lines on the sultry blonde vamp ("I would like to go to bed with you!") and in no time at all they settle into an affair that soon progresses into a master-servant fetish deal when Wanda accidently lashes Severin with her whip while the two are fooling around in the bedroom. Severin discovers that he rather likes it, and persuades Wanda to let him take a submissive sexual role where she gets to beat and thrash him to her heart's content (for she discovers that she rather likes the sadistic role too!) 
The two then get married and move into their new home where, this being a late-sixties European sexploitation opus, they employ two maids who turn out to be rampantly glamorous lesbian lovers who also get their kicks from spying on their employers' whip-cracking sex games. Severin's physical submission soon extends to the emotional domain though: he makes Wanda sign a statement, drawn up by himself, that makes clear that she should not be held responsible for his death in the event of their relationship getting out of hand. He takes on the role of her chauffeur, keeping their marriage secret from the succession of lovers whom Wanda takes in order to make Severin suffer all the more. However, when Wanda takes her extramarital sexual exploits out of view of her partner, begining a torrid affair with a brash, moustachioed brute called Bruno (Loren Ewing), Severin finds he has lost control of the situation; and emotional and physical jealousy take both he and Wanda to the brink of madness. 
This is no classic of the genre, but it does sum up the feel of it's period rather well and makes for a fairly satisfying cult viewing experience. It is probably slightly more satisfying than the Franco film in fact, being slightly more sexually explicit than Franco in what was then his 'commercial' period (while Maria Rohm keeps her knickers on in Franco's film, there are brief flashes of full frontal nudity from Antonelli, here), and slightly more subtle in its surrealism. The English language voice-over dub provides occasional howlers that add some degree of hilarity for the modern viewer, especially in the portrayal of Bruno, the hairy lover of Wanda. The jazzy soundtrack now comes over as quite quirky and odd, although at the time it was probably considered sophisticated. Shameless provide an excellent anamorphic transfer of this 2:35.1 film -- very colourful and free from print damage. The mono soundtrack is also in good shape. Extras consist of a selection of trailers for other Shameless titles.

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