VANESSA (1977)
Director: Hubert Frank
Severin Films

Blame it on EMMANUELLE. Just Jaeckin’s 1974 erotic classic took the world by storm, and once international exploiteers smelled an opportunity to cash-in, a swarm of “classy sex films” were unleashed on the world. The most famous of these would have to be Joe D’Amato’s BLACK EMANUELLE series, but the Italians weren’t the only ones to mix exotic locales with beautiful sexually adventurous women. German erotic filmmaker Hubert Frank took a stab at this new genre with VANESSA, starring Jess Franco starlet Olivia Pascal in the biggest role of her career. Like many of Severin’s Eurosex releases, VANESSA became one of the regular staples of late-night cable, branding its brazen nudity onto the brains of countless horny teenagers who no doubt, as adults, will be ecstatic that this DVD has appeared on the market.

Introduced while perusing through a book of ancient erotica, Vanessa is informed that she must leave her convent home and venture to Hong Kong when her uncle dies and includes her in his will. Upon her arrival, she discovers that she has inherited a string of successful bordellos and a rice plantation, currently overseen by oversexed Adrian. But all this isn’t of great importance, as the film spends most of its time following Vanessa’s adventures in a strange foreign land: she enters a lesbian relationship with her cousin Jackie, is nearly raped in a women’s brothel and later by Adrian, becomes embroiled in voodoo revenge by Adrian’s lover, remembers being whipped and fondled by nuns in the convent, is bathed in the nude by servants and lounges nude on the beach in a wicker chair, has lush psychic sex with a mysterious swami, and is introduced to bondage by her rich Uncle Kenneth. And if that isn’t enough, Adrian has a lengthy slow-motion love scene showered by rice spilling from bags in a storage room and Vanessa’s sexually voracious Aunt Kay bangs her secret lover, also has psychic sex with the swami, and is doggie-styled by Adrian.

Thanks to glossy, soft-focus photography, VANESSA actually looks better than it really is. But don’t be fooled, this is a bad movie. The ludicrous dubbing is just the tip of the iceberg. Hubert Frank develops no sense of pacing, piecing scenes together randomly with no rhyme or reason, and most of the film feels improvised, as if the cast and crew arrived in Hong Kong intent on a vacation and with only a vague idea of the movie, wrote pages of the script seconds before shooting them. Thankfully the erotic elements don’t disappoint, thanks to the casting of Olivia Pascal. Pascal, while not much of an actress is a striking beauty, with the most beautiful, full breasts, accented with Kandi Barbour-sized areolas, of any Eurocult starlet of the 1970s! Her unshaved armpits are a distraction, though… The cast also includes a number of other familiar faces from the genre, such as Anton Diffring (SEVEN DEATHS IN THE CAT’S EYE), Gunter Clemens (MARK OF THE DEVIL), Eva Garden (VIRGIN REPORT), and Astrid Bohner (countless German REPORT films). In addition to beautiful photography by Franz X. Lederle, capturing picturesque Hong Kong locations as well as adding a professional sheen to the erotic scenes, Gerhard Heinz’ musical score is simply superb, proving just how underrated a composer he was in the world of European exploitation films. The maudlin vocal theme song is available in a much preferable instrumental version on the essential soundtrack CD “Melodies in Love: The Erotic World of Gerhard Heinz”. His music certainly creates marvelous atmosphere in scenes such as Vanessa’s introduction to her uncle’s home, the rice sex scene, and an eye-catching Hong Kong dance performance. Other than Lederle and Heinz’ contributions, there isn’t much else to crow about the film except for the nudity, and that’s naturally the only reason it’s remembered today. It’s no surprise this became a cable favorite to youngsters unable to experience hardcore or more popular sexually permissive Hollywood films, but other than offering that novelty, there isn’t much else here. As long as the viewer expects nothing more than extravagant and frequent nude scenes, VANESSA won’t disappoint, but fans expecting a little more will likely be bored silly.

The 1.78:1 anamorphically enhanced transfer of VANESSA looks marvelous! While the image usually looks perpetually fuzzy, this is due to Lederle’s soft-focus photography. Reds, blues, greens, yellows burst like pockets of paint all over the screen; say what you will about the film, it is a visual stunner! And of course this is the complete uncut version; in one scene certain to have been cut from most versions, brief hardcore scenes appear in silhouette when Vanessa visits a women’s brothel! The English mono audio is very strong, with no hiss or abnormality present. It’s a pity the film’s German language track couldn’t be included, as that was the language the film was shot in.

A 28-minute featurette, “High Life in Hong Kong” contains interviews director Hubert Frank and cinematographer Franz X. Lederle (sitting together) and looks to have been produced for German TV like the similar interviews on Blue Underground’s MARK OF THE DEVIL disc. Frank discusses the origins of the film, working and shooting in Hong Kong, Olivia Pascal (who was originally Frank’s secretary), Anton Diffring, and the improvised nature of the film (it shows). Lederle talks about the style of the film, which he based on Playboy layouts, and a bizarre story detailing why the film was almost never released in Hong Kong! The featurette contains many rare scenes from behind-the-scenes home movies, which are also featured in an additional featurette, “Vanessa Revealed”. These interesting scenes demonstrating how the film was shot and showing the cast and crew in-between shots are fascinating and easily the best thing about the disc. The original trailer is also included.
(Casey Scott)