Venus in Furs (1969)
By: CJ on April 26, 2005  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Blue Underground (USA). All Regions, NTSC. 1:85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0 Mono. 86 minutes
The Movie
Director: Jess Franco
Starring: James Darren, Barbara McNair, Maria Rohm, Klaus Kinski, Dennis Price and Margaret Lee
Screenplay: Jess Franco and Malvin Wald
Music: Manfred Mann and Mike Hugg
Country: UK/West Germany/Italy
The mention of the name of Jess Franco will invariably divide genre fans firmly into two camps – those who consider him a true auteur, and those who think him a worthless hack. Franco has certainly been very prolific over the last few decades, endlessly churning out movies on a regular basis; some good, some not so good. There's no denying, however, that his films, for the most part, are never less than interesting. What Franco lacks in the budget department he more than makes up for with lashings of style, peppered with liberal doses of sex and sadism.

Venus in Furs is the latest of Franco's efforts to reach the shiny disc format, and not before time. This is the film more than any other that defines what Franco is all about. If any film is going to swing things in Franco's favour, then this is the one.

The story is deceptively simple and full of deliciously delirious moments alternating between eroticism and violence. James Darren plays trumpeter Jimmy Logan who is performing with his jazz band at a society party in Istanbul. Midway through his set he notices the arrival of the seductive Wanda Reed (Maria Rohm) and becomes captivated by both her beauty and her apparent lasciviousness. Towards the end of the party Wanda is led away by two men and a woman (Dennis Price, Klaus Kinski and Margaret Lee) and Jimmy is compelled to follow them to spy on whatever might transpire. What he witnesses is far from what he expects, as the sadistic trio whip, brutalise and assault her until she dies. Traumatised by seeing this event, Jimmy flees Istanbul to be with his long term girlfriend, Rita (Barbara McNair), and tries to make sense of not only this tragic incident but of his life as a whole. Just as he is finally beginning to put the whole sordid affair behind him, the mysterious Wanda reappears, throwing his life into chaos. He begins a torrid affair with her but quickly comes to realise not everything is at it seems and discovers that Wanda is bent on wreaking revenge on her tormentors, who start to die one-by-one. Jimmy continues to obsess over Wanda and is unable to focus on anything else in his life, including his ever-faithful girlfriend, until he uncovers one last shocking revelation that finally pulls his world completely apart.

Venus in Furs is undoubtedly one of the finest films that Jess Franco has ever made. The film is stylishly shot, the cast is excellent and the story is coherent from start to finish (although it's a deliberately surreal piece at times, and necessarily so). An added bonus is the superlative music score from Manfred Mann and Mike Hugg (you'll spot Manfred Mann performing several times throughout the film). Venus in Furs is exceptional in every way and shows what Franco is really capable of when he puts his mind to it. The film is full of memorable moments, like the haunting shot of Wanda walking naked down the stairs dragging along a fur coat behind her having just killed one of her aggressors. This is certainly a film that should be seen by Franco fans and detractors alike – this is vintage Franco and deserves a chance to earn for itself a reputation of being the genre classic it truly is.

NB: For the record, don't go in expecting a direct adaptation of the book, as the title was something that was insisted on by the producers after the fact.
The film is presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 and Blue Underground have done a sterling job with the transfer. Aside from a few scratches at the opening of the film it looks simply amazing and it's hard to imagine this looking any better than it does here. The image is sharp and crisp with bright, vivid colours and solid blacks. No digital smearing or digital artifacting is in evidence whatsoever and flesh tones and colouring remain consistent throughout. Top work from Lustig and co.
A DD 2.0 mono audio track is provided, but it's surprisingly full and sounds very clean and sharp. The dialogue is crystal clear throughout and the music (which is an essential element of the film) carries the necessary punch and is reproduced with the appropriate depth and clarity. Mono doesn't always have to mean inadequate, as this disc amply demonstrates.
Extra Features
As usual, Blue Underground doesn't skimp on the extras and provide buyers with a nice range of supplementary features. First up is an on-camera interview with Franco himself, who provides plenty of anecdotes and insights into the making of the film. It never ceases to amaze me how well Franco can recall each and every one of his films. Next up is an audio interview with the ever-elusive Maria Rohm (and trust me, she really is hard to track down), so this was an unexpected bonus. Also on the disc are a theatrical trailer, poster and still gallery and a Jess Franco bio. Overall a very worthy package that is bound to please all those who purchase the disc.
The Verdict
This film is still not going to convince some people that Franco is a very capable director and able to deliver something truly astonishing – but not everyone has the same tastes, do they? However, I would definitely urge people to at least see this film before passing final judgement on the man and his work. I think a lot of viewers will be pleasantly surprised at just how good Venus in Furs is. Of course it's not for everyone – but what is? I, personally, cannot recommend this highly enough though. I think it's the best film of Franco's I've seen yet, with the possible of exception of Exorcism. If you're feeling adventurous, give it a try – you never know, you may even end up liking it!
Movie Score
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