Director: Jess Franco
Mondo Macabro

Mondo Macabro is back on the market with a special edition DVD of another of Jess Franco’s once hard-to-see erotic masterworks: HOW TO SEDUCE A VIRGIN.

After a year-long stay in an asylum, wealthy Martine de Bressac (Alice Arno, THE HOT NIGHTS OF LINDA) is deemed by her psychiatrist (Joaquín Blanco, THE SINISTER EYES OF DR. ORLOFF) to be cured (so long as she promises to “be sensible”). Although it is unclear why she was institutionalized in the first place (a flashback in which she castrates an unidentified man with a straight razor could very well have come from another film), presumably her shrink is not aware that Madame de Bressac keeps in the basement of her castle a museum of petrified female lovers in various states of ecstatic torture. As a welcome home present, her husband Charles (Robert Woods, COUNTESS PERVERSE) has scoped out virginal Cecile (Tania Busselier, Lasse Braun’s SENSATIONS) – who is “at that age when the senses explode” – for ravishment. The aristocratic couple has no trouble convincing Cecile’s diplomat father that she should stay with them in the countryside while he is on assignment, and the girl is relieved to escape from her parents. Together with Martine’s simple-minded Adele (Lina Romay, THE FEMALE VAMPIRE), Martine and Charles educate Cecile in perversion; but the young girl may not realize that “at the end of her lustful journey, death awaits her.”

Originally titled PLAISIR A TROIS, the HOW TO SEDUCE A VIRGIN title stems from the film’s English-dubbed UK theatrical release which was rejected by the British Board of Film Classification but – as Franco expert Stephen Thrower explains in the disc’s interview – was exhibited with a local certificate from the Greater London Council (this was how distributor Cinecenta was also able to screen Franco’s THE DEMONS, while THE BARE BREASTED COUNTESS got a BBFC X certificate with a reduced running time of 58 minutes). It is, of course, another loose variation on de Sade’s “Philosophie dans le Boudoir” – first adapted by producer Harry Alan Towers for Franco in EUGENIE, THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION (1970) – in which a pair of libertines seek to seduce and destroy a virginal or at least innocent young female. The aforementioned Towers adaptation departed from Sade by making the victim entirely innocent and mostly unwilling, while PLAISIR A TROIS finds Cecile not quite as innocent or naïve (and there is a distinction here) with a similar twist to the 1970 film being much more satisfying.

The statuesque Arno isn’t quite as imperious here as she is as Countess Zaroff in LA COMTESSE PERVERSE – which was shot back-to-back with this film with much of the same cast and crew – but that’s because her character actually turns out to be the more impatient and less calculating one here. Woods, the remorseful procurer for LA COMTESSE PERVERSE, as Charles here has to reign in Martine’s impulsiveness for a more satisfying conquest. The moronic manservant role is split here between Romay’s maid and a gardener played by Alfred Baillou (GIRL SLAVES OF MORGANA LE FEY) who is obsessed with the death of a bishop whose head “cracked open like an egg” (a reference, according to Stephen Thrower, to a mania of filmmaker Luis Bunuel). The scenario is overly familiar – especially if you’ve already seen LA COMTESSE PERVERSE, EUGENIE 80, THE SEXUAL STORY OF O, or any of the other Franco films patterned after the Sade’s “Philosophie” – but not unsatisfying; however, a scene between Charles and Martine’s doctor late in the film seems incongruous with the resolution of the story (even if the dialogue was all written in post and may have not resembled anything said on-set, there does not seem to have been any other reason for the sequence to have been shot).

As the Bressacs’ butler Howard Vernon (THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF) has a smaller role than usual here, but – as with the other Robert de Nesle/Jess Franco productions – he also served as the film’s still photographer (credited under his birth name Mario Lippert). The music is credited to Robert Hermel (who had previously scored the Eurocine pic A VIRGIN FOR ST. TROPEZ credited to Georges Friedland but reportedly directed at least partially by Franco) and Daniel Janin (Franco’s VIBRATING GIRLS), but Franco himself may have had very little influence on the scoring since the film’s post-production was handled by Gerard Kikoine (EDGE OF SANITY) who later went on to his own directorial career starting in pornography before taking up with Franco’s former producer Harry Alan Towers. The photography is once again credited by Gérard Brissaud, a real cinematographer that Franco claims to have met only once (Franco himself likely operated the camera). The film was shot in the Canary Islands, and the Bressac villa was also used by Franco in THE SINISTER EYES OF DR. ORLOFF.

The English dub of PLAISIR A TROIS has not turned up; and for the longest time the only available version was a faded grey market French-language SECAM source. Like their exemplary release of COUNTESS PERVERSE, Mondo Macabro’s dual-layer, progressive DVD presents the film in its original 1.33:1 fullscreen framing (it could have been matted to 1.66:1 for theatrical projection, but the framing of long shots looks ideal here with no extraneous headroom). Although not quite as pristine as the COUNTESS PERVERSE transfer with two instances of jitter at shot changes, the image is crisp and colorful with red cards and gel lighting as well as the striking green of Arno’s headscarf particularly vivid. The Dolby Digital 2.0 French track is clean for the most part, only becoming a little crunchy during the closing music cue (synch is loose, but that’s the result of the post-dubbing not the audio mastering), and the optional English subtitles are as elegant as the dialogue allows.

Extras start off with one of Mondo Macabro’s typically fine – if in this case, brief – multi-screen text essays that covers some familiar bases: Franco’s prolific output during 1973, the quick shooting schedules and post-production methods, as well as the film’s literary basis and its position as a companion piece to LA COMTESSE PERVERSE with which it was shot back-to-back. In a video interview (21:26), Franco expert Stephen Thrower – author of the indispensable NIGHTMARE U.S.A. as well as a film-by-film analysis of Franco set to be published in 2014 – also discusses Franco’s 1973 output (fourteen features started, eleven completed) and the links with LA COMTESSE PERVERSE (a five day shoot following PLAISIR A TROIS’s two week schedule). In discussing the two films together, Thrower refers to the “musical chairs” of casting which finds the same cast members in alternating roles of hunter and prey between the films, their Sadean qualities and Franco’s method of getting around the difficulty of adapting the author by foregrounding the mindset of the libertine as protagonist. He also mentions that the film was intended as a collaboration between Franco and Spanish producer Jose Maria Forque (IN THE EYE OF THE HURRICANE) who passed on it because of its strong erotic content (although he would collaborate with Franco the same year on the masterful AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO), upon which Franco brought the project to Robert de Nesle. Alain Petit’s original script was reportedly more fantastical than the finished product (the suspended animation of the museum figures seems to be all that remains), which Thrower assumes is due to Nesle’s preference for straight erotica.

Petit himself appears in another interview (11:50), but he does not talk about the film at hand so much as give a detailed overview of Franco’s Sade films including the unfinished JULIETTE which was to star Soledad Miranda as well as the other hardcore JULIETTE with Lina Romay which was re-cut by Joe D’Amato, incorporating material from other Franco films and Nico Fidenco’s score for EMANUELLE IN AMERICA and retitled JUSTINE (crediting Alice Arno as the star even though she was not in it). He also mentions COCKTAIL SPECIAL, a hardcore variation on “Philsophie in the Boudoir”, EUGENIE (1980) – shot in post-Franco Spain – as well as the “sexy giallo” SINFONIA EROTICA and GEMIDOS DE PLACER (which was shot in several ten minute takes). He also mentions the shot-on-video patchwork HELTER SKELTER (2000), although not TENDER FLESH in which he appears (although he does not discuss LA COMTESSE PERVERSE of which is a remake, so he may not regard them as Sade adaptations). The disc also features cast and crew text profiles and the usual Mondo Macabro clip reel. (Eric Cotenas)