From the dual warped sensibilities of hallucinatory smut genius Jesus Franco and powerhouse trash distributor Mondo Macabro, vintage surrealist sex meltdown Countess Perverse is currently available on DVD. Ripped from a freshly restored transfer and presented for the first time uncut in its original aspect ratio, Countess Perverse features Franco regulars Alice Arno, Howard Vernon, and the luminously ever-present Lina Romay as a wide-eyed naïf trapped in the sexual clutches of voracious, decadent cannibals.
Set in a towering geometric mansion on an exotic, nameless beach, Countess Perverse details the sordid criminal activities of two sets of devious criminal couples. Howard Vernon and Alice Arno are aristocrats obsessed with sexual predation and taboo-breaking whose tastes run toward murder, dismemberment, and cannibalism. Robert Woods and Tania Busselier are co-residents of the same craggy resort island, accepting payoffs from their twisted and wealthy neighbors in exchange for a consistent supply of freshly culled, supple tourists. Romay plays a young, inexperienced vacationer lured to the island by Woods and Busselier and subsequently entranced by Vernon, who hypnotically lulls her into bed before subjecting her to foul and unspeakable tortures. Romay’s degradation culminates in a Most Dangerous Game-style nude bow-and-arrow hunt through the sandy dunes and underbrush of the beach and its surrounding foliage.
All of Franco’s films take place in interconnected corners of the same hallucinatory sexual netherworld, with loosely floating, freeform storylines that were often improvised. Countess Perverse remixes a lot of recurring imagery from the director’s previous filmography – naked dead or half-dead women washing up on beaches, young innocent virgins getting caught in collusive webs of sexual exploitation, and half-clad murderesses stalking helpless human pray. As in the earlier Franco film A Virgin Among the Living Dead, Countess Perverse revolves around a young girl’s indoctrination into a ghoulish cult of diabolical and aristocratic sexual aesthetes, and the image of Alice Arno’s silent, belt and quiver clad cannibal huntress presages Romay’s sullenly exhibitionistic role the following year in Female Vampire (which, incidentally, has been confusingly issued in cut versions under the title The Perverse Countess).
As is their wont, Mondo Macabro has tricked out their DVD admirably with a sixteen-minute analysis of Countess Perverse by film historian Stephen Thrower and a fifteen-minute interview with actor Robert Woods detailing his professional relationship with Franco. Countess Perverse is presented for the first time uncut in its original 1:33 aspect ratio, without any cropping or stretching to obscure the gloriously undulating naked flesh of its performers. Somewhat arbitrarily, the only audio option available is French with English subtitles, but I’m going to give Mondo Macabro a pass and assume they were unable to recover any alternate audio.
Like most of Franco’s output, Countess Perverse is best understood as a single piece in the vast, sprawling psychosexual puzzle that constitutes the director’s total body of work. As a standalone piece, it exudes erotic pathos and basks leeringly in its own lurid subconscious projections diligently enough to captivate even novice viewers, making it both a strong introductory excursion into Franco’s singular universe, and a welcome installment in his ongoing stream of consciousness for eager, existing indoctrinates.