Color, 1974, 84m. / Directed by Michel Lemoine / Starring Michel Lemoine, Joëlle Coeur / Mondo Macabro (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)


Though the directorial forces of Jean Rollin and Jess Franco only collided once on the ill-conceived Zombie Lake, it wouldn't be hard to believe they were also somehow affiliated in spirit with Seven Women for Satan (Les weekends maléfiques du Comte Zaroff), which nicely evokes many of the quirks of Continental scare films from the period. Apart from the presence of Franco stalwart Howard Vernon, the film also kicks off with a delirious set piece bound to please fans of Franco's The Perverse Countess as our whip-wielding hero, Boris Zaroff (actor/director Lemoine), rides on horseback after a terrified naked women before charging her over a cliff, all to the accompaniment of a pounding electronic score that sounds like Story of O reworked by Goblin.

The rest of the film manages to operate at a similar fever pitch as Zaroff, heir to the infamous villain from the classic story "The Most Dangerous Game," is encouraged by his manservant, Karl (Vernon), to debauch himself with a variety of sinful activities. Haunted by the ghost of his beautiful wife (Rollin favorite Joelle Coeur) who died in a mysterious accident, Zaroff spends his time picking up women and taking in lodgers for the night, though the poor souls usually come to a sticky end. For example, one young nymphet accompanies him back to his chateau where he wins her over with that can't-miss line, "Would you like some champagne, or shall I pour it all over your body and drink it as if you were crystal?" Of course she opts for the latter (along with some light bondage play in front of a fireplace), but the next day Zaroff is playing hot and cold, alternately smacking and kicking the poor girl around and then apologizing and offering undying love, just like a talk show guest. Then there's the dimwitted couple who come by to stay the night, only to play a game of "I saw a dead body"/"No, you didn't!" while Zaroff tries to dispose of his last conquest outside their window. Of course, it's not long before Zaroff's torture chamber in the basement comes in handy as well, leading to a delirious and oddly poetic finale.

Bound to send Eurocult newcomers into fits, Seven Women for Satan is not for the faint of heart or weak of imagination. More of a tone poem than a linear narrative, the film skips from one nightmarish scenario to another, often leaping years (and at one point even decades) and shuffling dreams and reality in a manner not unlike Rollin's Lips of Blood, which would make a dandy co-feature. It's a shame Lemoine turned his directorial skills to hard and softcore porn after this intriguing sex-horror fusion, as it promises great things to come and betrays a solid eye for surrealist detail. The classic source material barely comes into play apart from a few quick references to the previous Count and a few effective appearances by Zaroff's hunting hound; instead this is stream of consciousness filmmaking from a sensibility several steps removed from the norm.

Mondo Macabro's typically lavish DVD features an anamorphic transfer which copes as best it can with the very soft focus photography, which ranges from smooth and delicate (most of the daylight outdoor scenes) to oddly gritty and murky (pretty much every scene involving fireplaces). The only noticeable damage occurs courtesy of some debris during the opening credits, but this appears to be a flaw inherent in the original assembly of the titles. The disc contains two audio options, the original French language track with optional English subtitles or a howler of an English-dubbed track, which contains several quotable bon mots suitable for your answering machine. The latter sounds considerably more robust, particularly during musical passages, but the French track will be preferable for those who want a more somber, Euro-friendly experience. (For the full effect, just try it both ways.) The biggest extra is "Formidable!," a 15-minute interview with Lemoine in which he discusses his career from character actor to director and explains the film's troubled, tangled history in its native country and abroad. It's a genial, informative featurette and never wears out its welcome; this could have easily stretched to a half hour without losing any of its interest. Also included is a frenetic French trailer and extensive cast/crew bios.


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