Deviant sex games get out of control when aristocratic pleasure-seeker Severin meets his match in young model Wanda. A seriously off-kilter love story based on the writings of Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch
What the Marquis De Sade was to sadism, Austrian writer Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch was to masochism. Of all Sacher-Masoch’s works, ‘Venus In Furs’ – a very personal account of, you guessed it, his fetish for naked women draped in fur – is the most famous and daring. 100 hundred years after its debut publication in 1869, Italian genre director Massimo Dallamano, best known for his giallo couplet What Have You Done To Solange? and What Have They Done To Your Daughters?, brought it to the big screen for the swinging 1960s generation.
Author Severin (Vallée) is a moneyed cad who claims “even fishing is work for me”. His dull summer holiday by the sea is suddenly enlivened by the arrival of leggy stripper-turned-model Wanda (Antonelli). Severin is soon revealed to be a pervert as he peeps through a hole at Wanda soaping herself in the shower before she fondles her breasts mindlessly in the mirror. The next day, Wanda has barely finished her morning coffee before she lures the resort’s gardener back to her cabin for sex. Needless to say, Severin is on the other side of the wall to spy on them. As he watches, he remembers the defining moment of his formative years when he was caught peeping on the family maid and chauffeur making love and the maid beat him for it before letting him sob into her ample chest. It had a profound effect on the young lad: “That slap, those tears… how sweet. They seem to have conditioned my whole life.” From that seminal moment on Severin came to associate pleasure with pain.
Smitten with Wanda, Severin uses his not too subtle but foolproof chat-up line on her: “I would like to go to bed with you.” They promptly do and during Wanda’s post-coital rendition of her stripper whip routine she accidentally strikes Severin’s face. He enjoys it: “I want you to make me suffer!” Wanda then reveals that she knew Severin watched her with the gardener and admits to enjoying it. The two filthy soul mates marry and begin a life of sexual conquests in which Wanda seduces men as Severin, disguised as her chauffeur in a nod to his childhood fantasy, watches excitedly from the wings. But with the introduction of a lesbian maid (Kasche) and Herculean hippy lover Bruno (Loren), marital bliss is soon on the rocks.
“Ludicrous, dated and smutty but in a good way”
Director Dallamano, who first worked in the Italian film industry as a cameraman (A Fistful Of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More), knows a good shot when he sees it. And with seasoned cinematographer D’Offizi – who worked regularly with Italian directors Fulci, Margheriti and Deodato – behind the lens, he brings some striking visuals to the screen. In particular, the use of red tinting to accentuate Severin’s anguish is brilliantly intense, if a little literal. Dallamano’s assured direction comes into play during a complexly orchestrated and still shocking dream sequence, in which a muzzled and chained Severin watches as Bruno brutalises the maid.
The film drags in places, perhaps unsurprisingly for a B-movie literary adaptation. But any slow patches are helped along by full pelt performances from both leads and, in no small part, by Reverberi’s blistering score of psychedelic lounge cues. The following year Dallamano went on to update another classic book, this time Oscar Wilde’s age-defying The Picture Of Dorian Gray, starring Helmut Berger and Herbert Lom.