Color, 1974, 85 mins. 26 secs. / 90 mins. 21 secs.
Directed by Michel Lemoine
Starring Michel Lemoine, Nathalie Zeiger, Howard Vernon, Joëlle Coeur, Martine Azencot, Robert de Laroche, Patricia Mionnet
Mondo Macabro (US R0 HD), Le Chat Qui Fume (UHD & Blu-ray) (France R0 4K/HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
Though the directorial forces of Jean Rollin and Jess Franco only collided once on the stupefying Zombie Lake, their combined spirit is very much alive in the lunatic French horror bash Seven Women for Satan (Les weekends maléfiques du Comte Zaroff). Apart from the presence of Franco stalwart Howard Vernon, the film also kicks off with a delirious set piece bound to please fans of Franco's Countess Perverse as our whip-wielding hero, Boris Zaroff (actor/director Lemoine), rides on horseback after a terrified naked women before charging her over a cliff, all to the accompaniment of a pounding electronic score that sounds like Story of O reworked by Goblin.
The rest of the film manages to operate at a similar fever pitch as Zaroff, heir to the infamous villain from the classic story "The Most Dangerous Game," is encouraged by his manservant, Karl (Vernon), to debauch himself with a variety of sinful activities. Haunted by the ghost of his beautiful wife (Rollin favorite Joelle Coeur) who died in a mysterious accident, Zaroff spends his time picking up women and taking in lodgers for the night, though the poor souls usually come to a sticky end. For example, one young nymphet accompanies him back to his chateau where he wins her over with that can't-miss line, "Would you like some champagne, or shall I pour it all over your body and drink it as if you were crystal?" Of course she opts for the latter (along with some light bondage play in front of a fireplace), but the next day Zaroff is playing hot and cold, alternately smacking and kicking the poor girl around and then apologizing and offering undying love, just like a talk show guest. Then there's the dimwitted couple who come by to stay the night, only to play a game of "I saw a dead body"/"No, you didn't!" while Zaroff tries to dispose of his last conquest outside their window. Of course, it's not long before Zaroff's torture chamber in the basement comes in handy as well, leading to a delirious and oddly poetic finale.
Bound to send Eurocult fans into fits of ecstasy, Seven Women for Satan is not for the faint of heart or weak of imagination. More of a tone poem than a linear narrative, the film skips from one nightmarish scenario to another, often leaping years (and at one point even decades) and shuffling dreams and reality in a manner not unlike Rollin's Lips of Blood, which would make a dandy co-feature. It's a shame Lemoine turned his directorial skills to hard and softcore porn after this intriguing sex-horror fusion, as it promises great things to come and betrays a solid eye for surrealist detail. The classic source material barely comes into play apart from a few quick references to the previous Count and a few effective appearances by Zaroff's hunting hound; instead this is stream of consciousness filmmaking from a sensibility several steps removed from the norm.
Mondo Macabro's typically lavish DVD from 2003 introduced English-speaking viewers to the film with an anamorphic transfer that copes as best it can some tricky photography, which ranges from smooth and delicate (most of the daylight outdoor scenes) to oddly gritty and murky (pretty much every scene involving fireplaces). The only noticeable damage occurs courtesy of some debris during the opening credits, but this appears to be a flaw inherent in the original assembly of the titles. The disc contains two audio options, the original French language track with optional English subtitles or a howler of an English-dubbed track, which contains several quotable bon mots suitable for your next ring tone. The latter sounds considerably more robust, particularly during musical passages, but the French track will be preferable for those who want a more somber, Euro-friendly experience. (For the full effect, just try it both ways.) The biggest extra is "Formidable!" (15m36s), an interview with Lemoine in which he discusses his career from character actor to director and explains the film's troubled, tangled history in its native country and abroad. It's a genial, informative featurette and never wears out its welcome; this could have easily stretched to a half hour without losing any of its interest. Also included is a frenetic French trailer and extensive cast/crew bios for Lemoine, Vernon, Coeur, and Bob Wade.
In 2020, Mondo Macabro revisited the film for a greatly improved Blu-ray release sourced from a new 4K restoration with healthier color timing, far less damage, and a significant boost in detail throughout. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono options for the French and English tracks both sound excellent, with the French one being a bit lower in volume and sporting stronger bass. The Lemoine interview is ported over here, but you also get a lengthy new interview Robert de Laroche, "Movie Memoirs" (57m33s), who worked on the film as assistant director and acts under the name "Robert Icart" (for a particularly memorable torture chamber scene). It's a fascinating chronicle about his time in the heyday of French cinema rubbing shoulders with Lemoine, his wife Janine Reynaud (of Succubus fame), and others while indulging in a whirlwind of cinema fantastique that frequently merged with the erotic. He also has some funny stories about making the sex comedy Les petites saintes y touchent including the awkwardness of having to do a love scene. Of course, he has quite a few tales about the making of this film, too, including a botched attempt to get around the French censors and the mechanics of his "love bed" scene. An entire section of deleted and alternate scenes features six entire bits cut from the film ("Cafe Conversation," "Hitch-hiker Part One," "Hitch-hiker Part Two," "Hitch-hiker Part Three," "Master and Maid," and the surprisingly extreme "Seventh Victim"), plus outtakes from that extra "seventh" murder (2m43s), a reel of silent alternate takes from various scenes (7m36s) underscored with music, and a batch of fleeting cutting room floor extracts (2m26s). In a nice touch, you also have the option of watching the entire feature film with the bona fide deleted scenes reinstated for an extended version that clocks in just over 90 minutes. The French trailer is included as well, plus the usual Mondo Macabro promo reel. This release is currently available only as a limited red case edition (1,000 numbered units) featuring an insert booklet with a new essay by the mighty Pete Tombs who lays out the film's context within the state of local genre cinema at the time, its cinematic and literary influences, and the significance of its major players.
For die hards, a UHD/Blu-ray combo was also released in France from Le Chat Qui Fume (not available for comparison yet), featuring French and English language tracks as well as subtitles in English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian; though it includes the French trailer, the de Laroche interview, and four deleted scenes, it otherwise diverges in terms of extras including a different Lemoine interview, a Robert de Laroche audio commentary, two short films by de Laroche ("Chronique de voyage" and "Baphomet"), and coverage of a screening in Paris.
Mondo Macabro (Blu-ray)
Mondo Macabro (DVD)
Updated review on August 26, 2020.