Review Date: March 12, 2005
Released by: Blue Underground
Release date: 2/22/2005
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
With a body of work that extends to 181 films and counting, Jess Franco (or the 30 other names he is credited as) is perhaps one of cinemas most prolific directors. That is not to say all 181 films are masterpieces, in actuality it is more the contrary, but still the man has his share of followers. One such follower is Blue Underground founder, Bill Lustig, who has released nine of his films on DVD in their short lifespan. The most recent Franco release from the Blue is his early, and much celebrated sex shocker, Venus in Furs
. The press for the film promises an experience that is “trippy as hell”, and given that it was made during the heyday of the counterculture in 1969, all signs would point to yes. Put on your coat and dancing shoes, and lets decend into the jazzy world of Venus in Furs
Jimmy Logan (James Darren
) is an introverted trumpet player, often sitting in silence and allowing his thoughts to take over. During once such beachside meditation, he spots what appears to be the remains of the beautiful Wanda Reed (Maria Rohm
) washed ashore. Initially he is unaware of who it is, but quickly remembers it is a woman he saw sadistically tortured at an upper class party. The culprits during said evening was Kapp (Dennis Price
) the art dealer, Olga (Barbara McNair
) the photographer, and Ahmed the aristocrat (Klaus Kinski
). Jimmy too was indirectly guilty as well, since he watched but refused to stop the culprits from killing Wanda in their perverse sexual game.
The washed up body comes as a shock to Jimmy, but he continues on with his life, playing at various jazz clubs. He casually sees a feisty black singer, although the two agree (in swingin’ sixties fashion) to never get emotional or attached. Things change however, when Wanda mysteriously arrives at a jazz outing, beautiful and very much alive. She first seduces Jimmy, but then starts moving on to the other people who partook in her murder those years ago. One by one she seduces each person, and one by one each person is killed. If she is killing the rest of the onlookers, what is in store for Jimmy? Is it all merely a hallucination, or does Wanda even exist at all? Everything is fair game in the twisted mind of Jess Franco.
Venus in Furs
is an interesting little oddity. It works as a fusion between horror, film noir and erotica, with bits of other genres interspersed in between. The film is narrated throughout by Jimmy, which plants the viewer squarely in the mind of the protagonist like a traditional noir, but the lighting is anything but dark. It is horror in the fact that a woman dies and returns from the grave to seek vengeance, yet none of the murders are ever physical. Each character’s death has more of a surreal quality, having them dying at their own hand in a state between dreams and reality. It isn’t really erotica either, since the camera generally shies away from any overt nudity, and when there is lovemaking, the editor is quick to cut. So really, the film exists in a hazy universe between genres, something so tough to classify that people easily just pass it off as “trippy” or “surreal”, which is generally false.
While the film does have a few hastily edited sequences, and a latter scene which features some color gels, it is for the most part straightforward. It is “trippy” only in the sense that it embodies the sensibilities of the time, namely the swingin’ sixties lifestyle of promiscuity and nonchalant experimentation. That is not to say the film is bad, but those who led to expect by the marketing a psychedelic experience along the lines of other AIP pictures of the time like The Trip
will be disappointed. Venus in Furs
does offer some unique flourishes all its own though, apart from those pictures.
What is most interesting about Venus
is how casual and uneventful the story is. Although it already runs a short 86 minutes, surprisingly little happens in the way of plot. The film spends more time documenting the sixties party lifestyle, be it in parades on the street or dancing in jazz clubs, than it does actual plot development. Some major characters, like Dennis Price’s Kapp, do not muster a single word in the film, which further emphasizes Franco’s minimalist narrative structure. The plot details are also extremely vague, lending to the film’s overall pursuit for a dream-like ambiguity. As Jimmy quotes in the film, it was “like today was tomorrow and yesterday never existed.” The story and pacing is careless, but joyfully so, content to simply present a collection of snap shots inside the minds of the main characters.
While the weightless, free flowing story structure may be Venus
’ most appealing asset, it is also somewhat of a detriment. The movie is so vague and casual that it ends up feeling like little more than fluff after the credits roll around. Jess Franco may have had some deep motives behind the making of the film (and the supplements reveal that indeed he did!), but those motives for the most part remain his and his alone. But regardless of whether or not Franco’s messages on dreams and reality come clear in the picture, the film remains a fun little piece of Franco chic. Midway through the film Jimmy states “we were having a ball, and we didn’t care who knew it,” and although he was speaking for himself, he may as well have been talking about Jess Franco. Franco’s enthusiasm for the subject matter seeps through, even if his themes do not.
Blue Underground presents the film in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the transfer is a bit of a mixed bag. The saturation is solid and flesh tones look perfect, with James Darren’s olive skin contrasting nicely with Maria Rohm’s more angelic whiteness. The pastel colors of the sixties look well represented. There are several scenes that look incredibly clear, with a sharpness that reveals every vein in Kinski’s wild eyes. But the big problem is the inconsistency in picture quality. For every clear and sharp picture, there is one that looks like it has been run through a hundred too many projectors, as scratches, lines, specs and visual faults can be seen everywhere on the images. This is particularly bad during the optical shots, which unfortunately occur often due to the numerous sequences artificially slowed down in post. But while the print quality may vary from good to bad throughout, the main thing is that Venus in Furs
is presented uncut and in widescreen. The same cannot be said for the majority of Franco’s films, so fans should consider that alone a blessing.
The film is presented in an uneventful mono track, which sounds like your typical dubbed European feature. Sounds sound hollow since they recorded in studios rather than on location, and syncing does not often match up. Still, Manfred Mann’s classy soundtrack still comes through nicely, and dialogue remains clear to hear throughout.
Given that Jess Franco is not fluent in English, recording a commentary is a virtual impossibility, but Blue Underground has done the next best thing by including a lengthy interview. The cleverly titled “Jesus in Furs” runs 20 minutes long, and is a must-listen to all those who watch the film. Franco clears up many of the ambiguities presented in Venus’ plot, and makes it easier to appreciate his intents even if they didn’t really show through the material. He speaks about how he had envisioned the film as an exploration into the mind of an ostracized black musician, but was forced to rethink his idea when producers would not back his racy idea of a black man wooing a white woman. He also talks about many of the actors, the most interesting of course being Klaus Kinski, as well as dabbling in a deconstruction of surrealism. It is a great interview, and one of the better companion pieces to a film I’ve seen in awhile.
An equally interesting audio interview with Maria Rohm is also included, which runs half the length of Franco’s interview. Set to a gallery of photos, Rohm isn’t afraid to badmouth anyone or anything, dishing dirt on Kinski, Franco and even Christopher Lee. She talks of how Kinski spread malicious sexual rumors about them in his autobiography, and how Franco is quick to sulk if an idea does not go his way. She is also candidly honest about her films, stating frankly the ones she doesn’t like (“We won’t mention [b]The Girl From Rio, it’s not a good film.”) to the ones she does like, like 99 Women
. She has a bizarre diction that makes her captivating to listen to, and the fact that she is so carefree in talking about her films also makes it a worthwhile listen into the career of one of Franco’s leading ladies.
The DVD is rounded off with photo galleries, a theatrical trailer and a Franco biography. The trailer is humorous in the way it makes the film sound like a lost segment from Unsolved Mysteries
. Puzzlingly, the biography is only accessible via DVD-Rom, despite the fact that it is predominately text. It is no different than other well-written Blue Underground bios, so it seems as if BU just rushed this bio out without proper formatting. Still, for those with a DVD-Rom, it is a good breakdown of Franco’s career, nicely organized into phases.
Venus in Furs
is a weird little Franco oddity, incredibly ambiguous both in terms of plot and in terms of genre. The film is a surreal combination of horror, film noir and erotica into an enjoyably loose narrative. The source material for the video transfer is sketchy and inconsistent, and the audio only mono, but it is still the best the film has ever been presented. The two interviews on the disc, as well as a thorough Franco biography, give the disc enough weight to please any Franco fan. Horror fans may want to proceed with caution, but fans of the Franco will no doubt want to try on Franco’s Furs
Movie – B-
Image Quality – C+
Sound – B-
Supplements – B+
- Running Time - 1 hour 26 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- "Jesus in Furs" - Interview with Jess Franco
- Audio interview with Maria Rohm
- Theatrical trailer
- Poster & still gallery
- Jess Franco bio (DVD-Rom only)