Color, 1976, 84 mins. 52 secs.
Directed by Patrice Rhomm
Starring Olivier Mathot, Claudine Beccarie, Sylvia Bourdon, Monica Swinn, Gilbert Servien, Britt Larsen, Martine Fléty
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Le Chat Qui Fume (Blu-ray) (France R0 HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)

Color, 1978, 85 mins. 31 secs.
Directed by Patrice Rhomm
Starring Jacques Manteil, Carmelo Petix, Joëlle Le Quément, Danielle Troger, Brigitte Lahaie, Pamela Stanford, Muriel Vatel
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), LCJ (DVD) (France R2 PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)

Best known as the Dragusescreenwriter of the Belgian horror classic The Devil's Nightmare, Patrice DraguseRhomm had a short but wild career on the French erotic film circuit directing and/or writing a string of bizarre exploitation films more or less geared to the hardcore crowd. These haven't been the easiest to see for English-speaking viewers, but Vinegar Syndrome's Peekarama line is addressing that oversight with a welcome double feature offering a heady brew of horror and sex unlike anything you'd see on a movie screen today.

First up is Draguse, which barely qualifies as hardcore and instead offers a wonderfully off-kilter blend of supernatural perversity and vintage looks at the Parisian erotic scene (plus a cast of familiar Jess Franco faces). Plagued by a "satanic dream," historian and skeptic David Léger (French sleaze vet Mathot) is repeatedly visited in his subconscious by a candle-wielding mystery woman (Swinn) who mixes smoky potions, scrawls occult symbols in the dead of night, and pleasures herself with a gigantic skeleton bone. With his relationship with girlfriend Julie (Fléty) already fraying, he accepts an offer from publisher Jerome (Rhomm himself) to veer away from his usual history books by taking on a "very erotic" book project. For inspiration, David is sent to a string of sex shops ("If you love life, Draguseyou should watch erotic movies") and then heads to a villa in the countryside for inspiration. Along the way he picks up a Draguseprostitute (Bourdon) for research purposes, which summons his erotic muse to guide him on an odyssey of sexy stories where fantasy and reality become indistinguishable.

Complete with a twisted Nazisploitation vignette and an interesting plot that has Mathot unraveling the past of his uncanny "draguse" who seems to be a kind of sexual witch, this is prime French genre-tweaking strangeness all the way and a total delight if you're in the right frame of mind. Extensive coverage of the era's billboards and posters are a treat for cinephiles (ranging from Tommy to tons of XXX fare), and the psychedelic rock score is the tasty icing on the cake. As mentioned above, the hardcore content here is very limited and partially consists of body doubles anyway, so as raincoat crowd fare you're better off approaching this as an erotic film with some inserts thrown in. As a horror tale it works, too, all the way to a creepy twist ending that ties everything up on a really eerie note.

Also included on the disc is the much comedic Le bijou d'amour (The Love Jewel), which delivers more Le bijou d'amourFranco regulars (plus composer Daniel J. White partially Le bijou d'amourrecycling his score for Female Vampire) and is actually 100% softcore. Things start off with a bang thanks to the iconic Brigitte Lahaie doing her thing in a sound studio where she forces her current playmate, Adrien (Manteil), to take over as the lead station reporter after a sudden resignation. Annoyed by this disruption of his vacation plans with a Swedish nudie model, he gets really spooked when a random stranger is horrified by an attempt to read his palm and gets struck by a car. Later while cruising in the countryside to follow up on his predecessor's enigmatic story about someone named Hugo de Baal, who claims to have discovered the truth about the mythical succubus. Of course along the way he runs into a strange woman (Vatel) who offers him a trade: 500 francs to buy a ruby ring belonging to Casanova, and she'll have a quickie with him in the great outdoors. As it turns out, the ring is cursed and turns anyone he touches into an insatiable sex fiend and projects him into a mystical orgy cave. Attempts to uncover the secrets of the ring just lead to further carnal complications as he tries to find a way out of his ordeal when even gambits like wearing a glove prove fruitless.

Slightly less episodic than Draguse but similar in its worldview (especially the ending), Bijou is also quite enjoyable and throws in some unexpected flourishes like an appearance by Pamela Stanford, still very much in her Lorna the Exorcist mode, galvanizing the entire film in the final act as an S&M bleach-blonde succubus from hell. Again the supernatural angle is placed front and center with a Faustian angle here that benefits from the novel idea of a team of succubi preying on the ring's unlucky owners down through the ages, giving it a horror feel even when the film doesn't quite go there.

For both films' Blu-ray debuts, the Peekarama release looks great with each coming from a fresh 4K restoration from the negatives. Bijou features an Le bijou d'amouropening Le bijou d'amourdisclaimer about limitations in the original scan provided by the licensor, but it looks nice by just about any reasonable standard here. It's worth nothing that a French Blu-ray of Draguse is also slated from Le Chat Qui Fume, but it isn't English-friendly and features the same three interview featurettes seen here with English subtitles. Both films' French DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono tracks are also in good shape and come with translated English subtitles, which are generally good but sport a few weird goofs. For example, a reference to "Ursula Andress" near the beginning of Draguse somehow turns into "Perre Sylandres!" In the extras department, we start with an interview with Swinn (39m21s) about her bemused attitude to her sexy filmography, her memories of working with Jess Franco ("a guy who always had a camera in his hand"), her time in Belgian theater, and her life outside of acting. It's a fun, good-natured chat and worth checking out, especially if you're a Franco fan. Next up is actress Erika Cool (11m58s) who talks about her background as a model, the method by which she ended up being "inserted" into Draguse after missing out on a Jean Rollin project, her surprise at the hardcore inserts that were added, and her memories of her fellow actors including the one who was "very, very promiscuous." Finally comes an interview with production manager Eric de Winter (14m10s) about his work on Draguse, Archisexe, and the methods of making erotic films in the era given commercial expectations of how to mix fantasy and sex. Also included are the French trailer for Le bijou d'amour and a bonus scene from the film (2m2s) presenting a more explicit and extended version of the first cave encounter, indicating this was intended at some point to be shot hardcore before they switched gears.

Reviewed on March 21, 2022