Color, 1969, 92m. / Directed by Claude Mulot / Starring Philippe Lemaire, Anny Duperey, Howard Vernon, Olivia Robin, Elizabeth Tessier / Mondo Macabro (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)

Billed in France as "the first sex-horror film" (a dubious claim for anyone familiar with the works of Jess Franco), The Blood Rose is a film more often written about than seen outside Europe; as such, it now possesses something of a cult mystique among the numerous "rich guy goes nuts and kills to restored a disfigured woman's face" tales released in the wake of Eyes without a Face. This time the perpetrator is Frédéric Lansac (Lemaire, fresh off Roger Vadim's episode of Spirits of the Dead), a well-to-do painter living in a castle who loses his sanity after his new wife plunges face-first into a bonfire during a late night party. Faster than you can say Circus of Horrors, he blackmails a discredited plastic surgeon into helping him abduct and kill young maidens for their flesh to restore his beloved's beauty, with the expected disastrous results.

Though heavily indebted in both plot and execution to such past films as The Awful Dr. Orlof and Blood and Roses, this often striking bit of erotic gothic horror features more than its share of surprising touches, such as a pair of cackling dwarf assistants, borderline necrophilic love scenes, and a truly oddball finale best experienced without prior warning. The "sex-horror" tag mostly means that lots of women get their shirts torn open; the lack of much genuinely erotic interplay is surprising considering director Mulot later appropriated the lead character's name for his nom de porn for a series of groundbreaking French hardcore films, such as the mediocre-but-influential Pussy Talk and the great-but-unknown La Femme Object. Mulot displays a sure sense of color here, with plenty of vivid blues and reds highlighting the deliberately ornate and antiquated costumes with occasional, startling bits of mod architecture. Franco regular Howard Vernon (the original Dr. Orlof) has another juicy villainous role here, most memorably teaming up with Lemaire for a brutal attack scene in a lake.

Though it's barely been circulated on video both under its original title and the English export title of Ravaged, The Blood Rose finally gets the real red carpet treatment courtesy of Mondo Macabro's DVD release. The transfer from the original negative looks excellent; though the film stock shows its limitations in a few of the night scenes, the colors and detail are excellent. The mono audio can be played in French or dubbed English, with optional English subtitles provided. (The French version is much better, but the typically awkward dub has its pulpy charms, too.)

As usual, the extras provide some much-needed context for this film, with Pete Tombs providing a succinct but informative survey of erotic French horror, plus well-written bios for Mulot, Lemaire, and actresses Anny Duperey and Elizabeth Teissier. Other extras include a stills gallery, an updated Mondo Macabro promo reel, and the most substantial goodie, an interview with Didier Philippe-Gerard, his friend and brother-in-law who co-wrote the film and also went on to a porn career as "Michel Barny." The genial, mustachioed fellow speaks fondly of his comrade and offers a satisfying sketch of independent art/exploitation films in France during the 1970s and 1980s, a golden period whose like we shall not see again. All in all, a terrific and fascinating slice of a previously neglected gem of sexy European blood and thunder.

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