Director: Bruno Gantillon
Mondo Macabro

After wading through some unfortunate anti-classics (LIVING DOLL, FRENCH SEX MURDERS), Mondo Macabro has upped their game once again by revisiting a wonder of French exploitation. Previously issued on a Pagan disc, using an inferior print which turned out to be missing footage, this reissue returns to the original negative for a breathtaking transfer and ensures that all the eye-popping nudity and sex is left intact for the first time anywhere!

Following a perplexing opening, with a nude woman being banished from a cult by Gurth, a harsh-faced dwarf, we meet our heroines, blonde Anna and red-haired Francoise, two lovely college students driving through rural France on their holiday. They get lost on a winding dirt road after dark and stop for a rest and some unexpected lesbian lovin’ in an abandoned barn. But the next morning, Anna is missing from their post-coital snuggle and Francoise is startled by Gurth, who entices her to follow him to find her missing friend. She is willed across a lake in a boat to an island where a castle is populated by gorgeous nude women in see-through color linens. The strange little dwarf oversees zombified lesbian scenes while Francoise is introduced to the lady of the house, the mysterious Morgana. In her strange abode, Morgana gives Francoise a milk bath, adorns her in a pastel pink evening dress and knocks her out with a blow from a hookah. Anna is, unbeknownst to her, being kept in the dungeon, and both girls are given a choice: accept the gift of eternal youth and beauty from Morgana, or remain in the dungeon to become old hags.

No, this is obviously not a tie-in to the seductive King Arthur villainess; director Bruno Gantillon merely took this intriguing name and attached it to his equally intriguing sex-horror hybrid. Opening like any number of horror films, with a pair of beautiful girls getting lost in an isolated area, Gantillon obviously had better things in mind. Following the pretty outrageous lesbian scene (where did THIS come from?!), the film descends into a whirlwind of dreamy images, with the girls seemingly floating from one scenario to the next. A xylophone musical score further aids the dreamlike quality, and Anna even mentions the whole thing is like a dream. Is it? It’s a wild ride whatever the answer! A group of old women harass Anna to scare her into accepting eternal life, Morgana and her followers psychically follow Francoise as she tries to escape through the forest (Morgana even projects herself into the woods to confront her!), Gurth stalks through the castle resembling Michael Jackson with his plentiful face makeup, an underground dwelling populated by even more beautiful lesbian girl slaves, an arty interpretive dance leading to a Sapphic interlude, a daring escape attempt involving an invisible tunic and Gurth’s ring of life, and a cosmic twist ending provide bizarre thrills as the film progresses.

All six of the primary actresses in the film are drop-dead gorgeous, with flowing colorful hair, model-beautiful faces and doff their duds with no inhibitions. The leading ladies in particular, Mireille Saunin (who resembles Jennifer Love-Hewitt), future hardcore starlet Michele Perello (THE BLOOD ROSE), and Dominique Delpierre, can actually act, in contrast to a Jean Rollin film, where the actors give generally somnambulistic performances. In fact, GIRL SLAVES at times resembles a Rollin epic; long shots of beautiful girls in the countryside, a pastel color scheme, poetic dialogue, lots of lesbianism, a restrained musical score, and a genuine affection for horror atmospherics. But Gantillon, unlike Rollin, seems to have actually taken time to write a good script, with interesting characters and dialogue, and his cinematography and lighting are head-and-shoulders above that of Rollin. While Rollin’s films are indeed unique and beautiful, the eventual comparison between the two visionaries will result in one wishing Gantillon had made as many genre films as Rollin eventually would! On a final note, the island castle in the middle of a lake is a gorgeous location. I’d love to visit it in real life!

The 1.66:1 16x9 transfer for GIRL SLAVES is expectedly gorgeous. Mondo Macabro has become known for their painstaking attention to detail and ensuring the a/v quality is the very best it can be, so their work on this film is no exception. With a few slight, barely noticeable print jumps near questionable scenes (lesbian sex, usually), the colors are bold and sharp, blacks accurately deep and the entire image is bright and beautiful to behold. The French audio, with optional English subtitles, is a little quiet during some dialogue scenes, but the mesmerizing musical score comes across beautifully and in general it’s a well-done track.

This very special edition of GIRL SLAVES is filled with extras which provide a welcome glimpse into the making of the film, beginning with an interview with director Bruno Gantillon. Speaking in English, Gantillon discusses his start as a filmmaker in the late 60s, working on the groundbreaking French TV magazine show “Dim Dam Dom,” creating GIRL SLAVES for little to no money, rewriting the original script, casting the various women, and working with dwarf actor Alfred Baillou and Dominique Delpierre (who was pregnant at the time of shooting!). He also loves to use the word “bourgeois” as much as I do! Gantillon’s short film, “An Artistic Couple,” which he talks about in his interview, is presented here in its entirety. The 13-minute work focuses on a 20-year-old girl who takes a job as a live-in servant for an elderly couple in Paris, but has a strange nightmare of them in scary lighting harassing her. Even more bizarre, the couple gasses her while she sleeps and transforms her into a wax statue of a countess! A beautiful crane shot opens the film, and the technical aspects of the production are all top-notch; Gantillon would use much of the same crew on GIRL SLAVES.

A very well-written and extensively researched essay on the history of GIRL SLAVES by Pete Tombs goes into further detail about the production chronology, the beautiful locations in the film, its connections to medieval literature, and its reception at the box office and by critics. The French trailer is included, with alternate takes of several scenes, and three very brief deleted and alternate scenes (more Gurth talking to himself in a mirror, Francoise writhing and seeing the auburn-haired servant above her, a confused girl slave with a mask) are here for completist’s sake. Two of the alternate scenes have no surviving audio track, and one is from a very inferior video taped from Italian TV. Capping off the supplements are a series of exceptional bios of cast, crew, and the beautiful castle, the Chateau de Val, sprinkled with rare photos throughout. And of course the Mondo Macabro reel entices you to check out more of this wonderful company’ssterling releases!
(Casey Scott)

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