Maria Cumani Quasimodo
86 mins with Shameless Films
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The Frightened Woman (1969)
13th Jul 08
Dagmar Lassander looks hot, Philippe Leroy looks like Daniel Craig on crack and David Jason’s “Mini Me” looks on…
A product of its time if ever there was one, this utterly bizarre but riveting exercise in 60’s pop-art style is a compellingly bizarre marriage of intimidating set design, a very groovy, Morricone-esque Stelvio Cipriani score and a fascinating, largely two-handed central conceit that never conforms to expectation. It also features a scene in which the luscious Dagmar Lassander is hosed down at length while the hoser responsible takes an impromptu piss. All of these factors constitute a hearty recommendation if ever there was one.
Lassander is a young journalist drugged and held captive by blonde, Aryan, dagger-collecting philanthropist Philippe Leroy, who looks like he could be Daniel Craig’s more sadistic older brother. Lamenting the growing self-sufficiency of women (“It’s not me who’s mad - it’s you and all other women! You want to rule the world!”), he hunts Lassander down whenever she escapes and, when the fancy takes him, forces her to simulate sex with a naked love-doll fashioned in his own likeness. Lassander is subjected to a catalogue of humiliation for his pleasure and, it seems, that of the voyeuristic viewer but she refuses to be just a victim and a jaunty montage in which the two of them become unlikely lovers is just the start of a table-turning second half.
For around an hour or so, this movie is a simultaneously disturbing yet uncomfortably erotic depiction of Leroy’s objectification of the latest, but cleverest, in a long line of female victims - his ultimate intention being to kill his slave during intercourse at the point of orgasm. Beguiling incidental details abound, including shock revelations about sexual kinks related to star signs - Cancerians prefer necrophilia, it seems! There’s a long, strange, hypnotic sequence in which Lassander erotically gets her groove on while clad only in see-through bandages (as the appreciative Leroy looks on) that is as peculiarly hypnotic as the film itself. Leroy, forever haunted by the experience of seeing the violent lovemaking habits of scorpions as a kid (!), is an unforgettably strange, multi-layered “villain” and Lassander, who at one point is groped by her captor while dressed as a little girl, is extraordinarily alluring as the would-be victim.
This one-of-a-kind picture gets more surreal as it goes on : the final stages involve a winking midget lookalike of David Jason, the heroine’s graphic description of sex with a cat and Leroy’s stroll into a giant artificial vagina, complete with jagged teeth. It also brings a movie-defining twist revealing Schivazappa’s true agenda : a story of female degradation and victimisation becomes a timely story of female empowerment, as Lassander is revealed to be a prolific serial killer herself, her main mission being to destroy dominant, abusive men at their own game. Full of striking (if unsubtle) symbolism and imagery, this is an unclassifiable movie well worth revisiting.
Versions The Shameless Films edition is the most complete version created with the director, Pierre Zchivazappa's approval and according to his own script.