Countess Perverse (La comtesse perverse) is Jess Franco’s adaptation of Richard Connell’s classic 1924 short story The Most Dangerous Game. This story has been filmed countless times but in the hands of Jess Franco you’d expect that the decadence which is latent in the story would assume full-blown form. And you’d be right.
The story concerns a Russian aristocrat with a passion for hunting who finds that hunting big game no longer excites him. He wants a bigger thrill. He wants to hunt the most dangerous game of all - man. And he does.
In Jess Franco’s version the Russian aristocrat becomes an aristocratic couple. And they’ve added a few variations to the game, just to ratchet up the decadence a few notches - they first have sex with their victim, then they hunt them, and then they eat them.
And rather than hunt their prey with guns the countess hunts them naked with a bow and arrow.
The Count and Countess Zaroff are played by Howard Vernon and Alice Arno. As in the story they live on an island which provides them with their private hunting grounds. On a nearby island lives another couple who act as procurers for them but they are growing increasingly concerned by the Zaroffs’ excesses and are starting to develop a conscience. They want out. But first they must provide the Zaroffs with one last exotic dish for their menu, in the person of Silvia Aguado (Lina Romay).
While the release date is given in the IMDb as 1974 the film was made early in 1973 and was one of Lina Romay’s first really meaty parts (if you’ll excuse the pun) for Jess Franco.
The movie lacks some of the stylistic excess you expect from Jess Franco. With a plot as extreme as this any stylistic excesses would have been overkill. Franco simply lets the story take its course and relies on the content to provide the outrageousness, which it does admirably.
One of Jess Franco’s great talents was finding bizarre and exotic locations which would give his low-budget productions an expensive and exotic look for a minimal outlay. He really excels himself this time with a magnificent modernist house. It provides the exteriors while a nearby building by the same architect provides some stunning interiors include a fantastic surreal staircase which looks like something from an opium dream.
And as so often with Franco when he finds the right location he makes the mood of the movie fit the location. In this case modernist decadence meets aristocrat decadence in a delightful stew (yes I know, I can’t help dropping culinary terms into a review of a movie about cannibalism).
It’s easy to see why Lina Romay was soon to become Franco’s muse. She is delightfully uninhibited and her performance is perfect for this sort of movie. Howard Vernon is in his element here while Alice Arno is both terrifying and beautiful.
The content was so excessive that it scared off potential distributors and it’s easy to see why. Watching Howard Vernon and Alice Arno discussing the fine points of cooking human flesh would scare off most people.
There is of course a great deal of sex and nudity, just as you’d expect from Jess Franco in 1973. There are one or two gruesome scenes (human heads mounted on the wall as trophies) but mostly the gruesomeness is implied rather than shown, as in the dinner party scene which would seem harmless enough if you didn’t know what they were eating.
Cinematographer Gérard Brisseau does a fine job with the wonderful locations.
Mondo Macabro have found a great print and the DVD transfer looks great. The 1.33:1 aspect ratio is in this case the film’s original aspect ratio. There are some worthwhile extras including an appreciation of the movie by Jess Franco fanatic Stephen Thrower and an interview with one of the stars, Robert Woods, who shares some affectionate memories of working with Uncle Jess.
A disturbing movie that is made more disturbing by Franco’s fairly straightforward treatment of outrageous subject matter. Not quite in the absolute front rank of Franco films but still a very fine movie from one of the director’s most prolific and productive periods. It has obvious affinities with the director’s de Sade movies. Highly recommended.