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Year: 1976
Director: Michel Lemoine
Stars: Michel Lemoine, Nathalie Zeiger, Howard Vernon, Joëlle Coeur, Martine Azencot, Stéphane Lorry, Robert de Laroche, Sophie Grynholc, Patricia Mionnet, Manu Pluton, Maria Mancini
Genre: Horror, Sex, Trash, Weirdo
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: A naked woman runs across the countryside with a man on horseback in hot pursuit as he chases her down, for that is what excites him: this is the reverie of Count Boris Zaroff (Michel Lemoine), the descendent of the Count Zaroff who had become notorious for staging murderous hunts of actual human beings across his island. Boris has recently ended up at a chateau in France with his manipulative manservant Kurt (Howard Vernon) who wants to corrupt the Count, but his obsession with his ancestor's pastime has him distracted at work where he daydreams about victimising young women in much the same manner. However, when he actually picks up a hitchhiker on his drive home from the office, he treats her courteously at first - at first.

The concept of a villain treating people like sport for his or her own bloodlust really kicked off with the nineteen-thirties cult horror The Most Dangerous Game and would be periodically returned to in many media for decades to come. Not many of these had the cheek to present their characters as so blatantly using that original material, but presumably by the mid-seventies they were in the public domain and writer and director Michel Lemoine thought he could get away with featuring a different member of the Zaroff family anyway. Fine, you may say, but that leaves us with another problem: what the hell was Lemoine trying to say with this riff on the source's themes and narrative that were attached to a bunch of softcore elements?

Maybe it was best not to ask, but though none of the women here were depicted as in any way hateful, you had to wonder about the director being so intent on seeing them killed off after stripping off. Not that every one was hunted down by Zaroff, indeed Lemoine ditched that part early on so we just got to see one brave actress rushing starkers through the trees until the bad guy brandishes a whip in her direction and she topples off a cliff to her doom. Thereafter, it was that chateau which attracted attractive women like a magnet, whether they accept Boris's invitation to visit or they arrive at his door when their car breaks down, though the lady in that case shows up with her boyfriend, not that this saves her, or him for that matter.

The cold-eyed Lemoine was a leading man who took an interest behind the camera too, and began to helm his own features, often with a sexual angle until he opted to forget about making proper movies and resorted to making hardcore pornography instead. This represented a halfway point between those two poles, as he would have his ruminations on the mental capacity of a sadist then present a scene of one of the potential victims, say, masturbating naked with a feather boa until Kurt suggested Boris set their Great Dane on her, so you had the pretension, the sex and the horror, all bases covered, job done. Though the dog attack did appear suspiciously like the actress in question was manhandling it rather than the other way around, it had to be said, and it was hard to credit the breakdown couple would be stupid enough to cheerily agree to being tied up on a torture device.

As you can imagine, this was more silly than shocking, but it did not prevent the film scandalising polite French society with the result it was banned for years as a corrupting work; on watching it now you can only surmise the censors were very easily shocked because other than the objectionable view of women the main character has, which may or may not have been shared by the director, there wasn't a whole lot to get bothered about here. You could just about get away with watching it for cheap laughs, as when the rampant Boris starts getting rough with the hitchhiker, she runs off and he chases her around, not on horseback but in his car (!), through a field and everything. Alternatively you could appreciate how downright odd it was, not apparently intentionally either as Lemoine seemed to be making some grand statement in his own mind about the inner workings of the psyche, only he did so by having us wonder how much of what we were seeing was actually happening; a ghost was involved. Strange, then, but also daft and undeniably trashy, with the sense of a reach outwith its grasp. Groovy music by Guy Bonnet.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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