Director: Jess Franco
Blue Underground

Jazz trumpeter Jimmy Logan (James Darren) witnesses a girl named Wanda Reed (Maria Rohm) being tangled in the deadly and sadistic sex games of a trio of unlikely socialites: art dealer Kapp (Dennis Price), rich playboy Admed (Klaus Kinski), and lesbian photographer Olga (Margaret Lee). As the beautiful Wanda is whipped, raped and has blood sucked from her neck, Jimmy shamefully watches while privately thinking, “Man it was a wild scene, but if they wanted to go that route, it was their bag.” Wanda’s welted, nude body later appears on the beach in Rio before Jimmy’s startled eyes, and he then comes to find her very much alive, or at least someone who looks exactly like her. Jimmy becomes obsesses with Wanda as he forms an impossible relationship with her mysterious likeness, much to the dismay of nightclub singer (Barbara McNair), desperately trying to win his heart. While Jimmy wallows in a romance trapped between reality and fantasy, the specter of Wanda kills her perverted assailants wearing a fur coat over her mostly bare body, with the musical accompaniment of “Venus in furs will be smiling” heard after each deed is done.

One of three 1960s films with the same title (the other two directed by Joseph Marzano and Massimo Dallamano), Franco’s VENUS IN FURS is considered by many of his fans as his masterwork. Similar but actually less pretentious than his earlier SUCCUBUS, the film is a psychedelically stylish, supernatural tale with some horror elements, the expected bit of kink and fetish fluff, and a solid jazz/pop fusion score provided by Mike Hugg and British rockers Manfred Mann (whose members can be seen here performing, along with Franco himself!). Not only is the music good, but it’s also an intricate part of the plot, as the main character is a passionate and tortured musician, and the score seems to play in tune with the artsy editing style.

James Darren is believable enough in the role, but it’s more intriguing just to see him in such a bizarre film after recalling his previous mainstream Hollywood credits. Darren narrates the story in character, giving it an almost noir-esque feel by way of Tony Bennett. Maria Rohm’s beautiful and erotic presence is amplified by her ample onscreen nudity, and Barbara McNair is good in a supporting role -- singing her heart out while squirming on the nightclub stage. The other Franco regulars are basically there for their familiar and unforgettable faces, as Dennis Price sleepwalks through his part (with no dialog) but has a great death scene where the mirrored images of Wanda apparently cause his demise. Kinski is rather stiff and dubbed by another actor, but beautiful Margaret Lee (who has a mild lesbian encounter with Rohm) is great as the only one of Wanda’s attackers who feels remorse for what she did. Another Franco regular, Paul Mueller, can be seen briefly in an insignificant role. Franco’s infamous zoom lens is downplayed here as juxtaposed images, color tints, out-of-focus shots and slow motion are frequently employed, and not the least bit annoying. VENUS AND FURS is not only prime Franco, but an exemplary piece of European cult cinema.

VENUS IN FURS was originally rated X when released in the U.S. by AIP, mainly due to Rohm’s frequent nudity and some violence that would be considered tame by today’s standards. Blue Underground presents it uncut on DVD in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. The trippy film’s colors look very bright, with natural fleshtones and solid black levels. There is some noticeable print debris and grain, mostly when an optical effect or stock footage is on display. Overall, it’s a very pleasing transfer with a solid English language track presented in a Dolby Digital mono.

Extras include “Jesus in Furs,” a 20-minute interview with the film’s director. Franco (speaking in French with optional English subtitles) discusses how he originally wanted the story to be about a black musician in love with a white woman, but he had to change it to appeal to an American audience. Franco also discusses how the lead character is somewhat inspired by Jazz great Chet Baker, and how the film (originally to be titled “Black Angel”) was given the “Venus in Furs” moniker on AIP’s insistence. Also included is an 11-minute audio interview with Maria Rohm which is accompanied visually with various photos. Rohm (who happens to be the wife of the movie’s producer, Harry Alan Towers) discusses her films with Franco, working with Franco, as well as co-stars such as George Sanders, Christopher Lee and Rosalba Neri. Rounding out the extras are the film’s original U.S. trailer, a poster and still gallery, and a Franco Bio written by Tim Lucas, readable as a DVD Rom option. (George R. Reis)