Thursday, November 12, 2009

Seven Women for Satan (1974)

AKA Les week-ends malefiques du Comte Zaroff
Directed by Michel Lemoine
Starring Michel Lemoine, Joelle Coeur, Nathalie Zeiger, Howard Vernon
Rated R

"For a moment, I thought you were a woman, and it hurt me, so very much."

Before we even begin with an analysis of this bizarre little curiosity, I must point out that the title is bad ass. I mean, "Seven Women for Satan"? Bring it on, Jack. Of course, you gotta keep in mind that this film was concocted and shot in France, a country that is not known for it's horror flicks (well, besides the dreamy sex-vamp snore-a-thons of Jean Rollin, maybe), but hey, they actually banned it in their own backyard, so it's gotta have a few sleazy merits, right? Right.

In a rather blazing opening segment, one Mr Boris Zaroff (Lemoine),a libertine trapped in a businessman's life, daydreams of hunting down a naked hippy chick on horseback (with a trusty Great Dane at his heels), and knocking her over a cliff. Then he snaps into reality, eyeing his hippy chick-looking secretary hungrily. Creep city. It's obvious that ol' Boris is gonna head right off the tracks any moment now, and damned if he doesn't find a stray waifish hitch-hiker that very day. He lures the pretty young thing home for the night, imagining a champagne drenched whipping session with her, but manages to keep it (whatever 'it' is) in his pants for the evening.

The next day the two venture out to the south of France, but they stop for a walk in the woods. "You have a beautiful face", Mr. DeSade wannabe tells hitchhiker girl, "made for moments of tenderness, passion...and suffering, also." She looks up at him with dreamy eyes. "That's what I want", she says, breathlessly. So he chokes her. Did we just take a weird turn into Max Hardcore-ville, or what? Boris rips her shirt open, and attempts to rape her. She makes a run for it, and he chases her in his car until she collapses in a heap. Then he dumps her in the lagoon.

Turns out, Zaroff is part of a long-line of pseudo-supernatural sadists. He lives only to satisfy his strange and terrible urges for cruelty and weird sex, and has so far gotten away with his indiscretions because he's super-rich, and because his butler, Karl (Vernon) is the devil. Maybe.

Eventually, in fabled horror flick tradition, a wayward couple (inquisitive young hottie and her dopey, naïve hubby), break down near Zaroff's estate. He lets 'em stay the night and reveals that the mansion has a hidden torture chamber. Wifey, beyond all normal reasoning, decides to go looking for it, and the fun- and mayhem- begins.

My description is actually a lot more straightforward then Seven Women really is - a large portion of the film is dedicated to a series of flashbacks/dream sequences featuring a ghostly woman (Coeur) from Zaroff's past that is either his salvation or his ultimate undoing - but part of the fun of this one is trying to decipher what is real and what is merely cruel imagination. It's hardly gutbucket horror, and the nudity is mostly gauzy and non-sexual (even in the sex scenes), yet the film has a decidedly perverse flair to it, nonetheless. A haunting and compelling slice of Euro-centric weirdfilm, this one. I can't imagine a better movie for 3 AM viewing.

In the bonus section, there's a great featurette called "Formidable" that serves as a handy primer on the life and work of Lemoine, who says fantastic things like "I truly am in love with this Cyclops". He also talks about his 15 years as an actor in Italy, and working with Jean Cocteau, Jess Franco, and Mario Bava. Wild. There's also informative cast bios and trailers. All in all, a pretty swank package. It's not gonna put France on the horror movie map or nothin', but it just might get those fussy characters invited to a few splatterhead parties, at least. Seven Women for Satan is a slow-boiler, for sure, but stick with it, and you'll reap some rich, trippy rewards.

Clip: Seven Women for Satan: Topless French chick dancing!

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