THE LADY KILLS
Color, 1971, 81 mins. 36 secs.
Directed by Jean-Louis van Belle
Starring Carole Lebel, Claude Beauthéac, Paul Descombes
Color, 1972, 81 mins. 3 secs.
Directed by Jean-Louis van Belle
Starring Maelle Pertuzo, Albert Simono, Charles Buhr, Andre Vernier
Mondo Macabro (Blu-ray) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
Back in the height of the DVD era, Mondo Macabro startled quite a few viewers with a double feature showcasing the first two films by French provocateur Jean-Louis van Belle, Forbidden Paris and The Sadist with Red Teeth. It took a decade, but we've now been blessed with two more of his films that have gone unseen for far too long and show off very different sides of his cinematic approach. Using Belgian financing and wildly peculiar narratives, the double feature here consists of The Lady Kills, originally titled Perverse et docile, and Pervertissima, which were released within a year of another (and the second film even foreshadowed as a line of dialogue in the first). It's another deep dive into unclassifiable French cult insanity, served up with enough madcap energy to leave you wanting more. And remember, there are still eight more van Belle titles that haven't been seen by English-speaking viewers... hint, hint.
After a brief prologue in which a young girl behind a curtain sees a woman being sexually assaulted by four men on the floor of a house, our story proper begins in Düsseldorf as a wealthy man wrapping up an evening dinner with friends is shot to death in an alley in front of his horrified female companion. Then we jump on a train to Paris where a faceless woman takes a long bubble bath to pounding rock music and we're led to presume this is Françoise (Lebel), a woman of few words who likes to dress in zebra colors. She quickly ingratiates herself with a clothing businessman, Andre Ficheux (Beauthéac), who takes a particularly keen interest in our mystery lady and flies her off to London. Her murder rampage seems to center around the international world of nude modeling including a nightclub where topless women pose in sunglasses to pounding rock music and a British stand and pose agency where she takes the name Carole and gets whipped against a wall for a kinky audio recording.
If you ever wanted to see the French equivalent to a Doris Wishman film by way of Jess Franco, The Lady Kills is it. Plotted, shot, and edited with little regard for standard human thought patterns, the film shifts gears every five minutes or so with only the general murder spree idea and a running theme of female exploitation holding it together. Along the way you get a particularly crazy sequence with naked women being body painted and taking a dip at that amazing house with an underground swimming pool cave seen in dozens of '70s French exploitation movies, not to mention cinema's first death by darkroom developing and a final stretch in the world of drug-addicted Roman fashion models and Berlin bowling alleys and Formula 1 racing. This one doesn't aim for the same maniacal fever pitch of Sadist, instead going for an off-kilter vibe accentuated by a great funky music score and a melancholy atmosphere with only a few brief sleazy touches (like the appearance of Lebel's very unconvincing body double). That hardly matters though considering how much it manages to pack into a fleet 81 minutes.
A strange cinematic hybrid, the second feature Pervertissima is largely a mondo film in the vein of the director's Forbidden Paris but shot through here with more horror and sci-fi touches in the last stretch to make you wonder how on earth audiences reacted to this thing when it unspooled back in '73. A tabloid hires a young, clothing-averse, 23-year-old virginal woman named Françoise again (Pertuzo) with no previous experience to use her looks for a study on sexual practices called "Love in Paris" which sends her trotting in white go-go boots across the city studying what makes people's libidos tick. Faster than you can say "Laura Gemser," she's exploring the swinging haven called Love Club, a lesbian bath house, more nightclub performances with sunglasses, Pigalle prostitute hangouts, and other oddities before eventually crossing paths with the eccentric Altagor, a.k.a. real-life poet and avant garde fixture Vernier, who runs an underground cult involving animal masks and wild musical experimentation. Then things get even weirder thanks to a mad scientist, Dr. Villard (Sadist's Simono), who has a twisted plan for world domination through sexual mind control and robotics...
Complete with an infectious theme song by Belgian Eurovision hopeful Rosy Dany, nudity galore, and special thanks to everyone from Max Factor to Le Sexy cabaret, this one is amps up the sleaze a lot more than the first feature and makes for a truly bizarre detour in the history of mondo cinema. It's all staged, of course, but the attitude is the same as our intrepid reporter keeps her camera handy even when she's dipping her toes in the kinkiest waters the City of Lights has to offer.
Both films are featured here in fresh 2K scans that look quite solid throughout given the nature of the sources, which aren't tremendously dynamic but do offer some vivid splashes of color where necessary and go truly psychedelic on a few occasions. The LPCM French 2.0 mono tracks also sound very good, particularly when it comes to those great soundtracks, and feature optional English subtitles. Ported over from the Sadist disc is the Peter Van Lyris featurette "So Who Is Jean-Louis Van Belle?" (31m29s), upgraded a bit here with new HD graphics and footage where possible as various cinematheque figures discuss the filmmaker's work. Writer Chrisophe Bier provides two intros to the films (7m28s and 13m26s) chatting about the films and the neglected director, who was operating at a bit of a fever pitch around this time with his films (all of which seemed to open with main titles using negative footage). He also goes into the obvious influence of The Bride Wore Black, Lebel's "Bressonian diction," the state of genre cinema in France at the time during relaxing censorship, and his misgivings with the pre-credits sequence of The Lady Kills (which does indeed play better if you just skip to Chapter 2 when the film starts). Also included are "Les parapluies de France" (36s), a cute little 1983 van Belle TV commercial, and the usual Mondo Macabro promo.
Reviewed on August 20, 2020.