Wealthy socialite Jean Reynaud (Jean-Louis Trintignant) leads a jet-setting lifestyle. Stuck in a dull marriage to his beautiful but frigid wife Danielle (Erika Blanc), he alleviates his boredom by sleeping with friends like the sexy but married Helene (Helga Liné). One day Jean hears a woman being assaulted in the apartment above where he encounters Nicole (Carroll Baker). Intrigued by the beautiful American woman, Jean discovers she is trapped in a sadomasochistic relationship with a brute named Klaus (Horst Frank). Inevitably Jean and Nicole have an affair whereupon he tries to help her escape her abusive boyfriend so they can start a new life together. But then various secrets come to light and the couple find themselves being stalked.
Mario Bava pioneered the Italian horror-thriller sub-genre known as the giallo. Dario Argento remains its quintessential auteur. Yet for a while in the mid-to-late Sixties the director who arguably set the standard was Umberto Lenzi with his string of glossy, kinky vehicles for glamorous Hollywood ex-pat Carroll Baker. Paranoia, duplicity and labyrinthine murder conspiracies were the ingredients in films like, er, Paranoia (1968) (originally titled: Orgasmo!), A Quiet Place to Kill (1970) (originally titled: Paranoia!), Knife of Ice (1972) and So Sweet... So Perverse (Cosi Dolce... Cosi Perversa is the cooler-sounding Italian title). Their stories typically involve plotters scheming to drive Baker insane with sundry sexual shenanigans sandwiched in-between. Later directors like Lucio Fulci with Perversion Story (1969) a.k.a. One on Top of the Other and A Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1971) and particularly Sergio Martino with his run of thriller vehicles for Edwige Fenech took this formula and ran with it. The Martino connection is no surprise given So Sweet... So Perverse is based on a story by his brother Luciano Martino, who also produced, and scripted by the prolific Ernesto Gastaldi who penned many of the Fenech gialli.
With its seriously glossy cinematography, lush production values and chic fashions modelled by the impeccably stylish cast, So Sweet... So Perverse stands as a sharp reminder of how polished an Umberto Lenzi production could be before his career devolved into squalid trash like Cannibal Ferox (1981). Here he indulges in coloured gels and other psychedelic flourishes to tart up another derivative if nonetheless sinfully entertaining variation on Les Diaboliques (1955). As often with Gastaldi the mind-bending puzzle box of a plot does not stand up to cold hard logic but packs plenty of compelling surprises that still manage to thrill and indeed titillate. On the latter front the film presents Carroll Baker looking lovelier than ever as do her co-stars. Lenzi unsubtly introduces Erika Blanc's Danielle admiring her own breasts in the bedroom mirror and don't get me started on the sublime Helga Liné.
Images of jet-setting hedonism and sun-drenched Mediterranean hang-outs add another seductive layer to the film, shrewdly undercut by Gastaldi's arch anti-bourgeois observations. Even so certain aspects do stray into camp such as the scene at a swinger's party where a 'with it' black stripper (Beryl Cunningham) goads the staid socialites into shaking loose. The film cleverly shows characters done in by their own self-serving philosophies ("A man who knows what he wants is better of without a conscience", believes Jean while Nicole expounds: "You've got to grab ahold of life because it won't last") though Gastaldi's clear lack of empathy for his thrill-seeking protagonists often renders his social satire strictly one-sided. Both Baker and especially Trintignant tread a fine line between embodying their jaded characters or simply coasting along. The best performance comes from the underrated Blanc as the repressed socialite who goes from neglected to manipulated then ultimately cracks under the weight of remorse. The skill in the construction of So Sweet... So Perverse evident from the way the film begins by focusing on one trapped protagonist and ends with another. Music by Riz Ortolani including a memorable lounge ballad called 'Why?' that later resurfaced in Lenzi's Seven Bloodstained Orchids (1972).
Prolific, workmanlike Italian director and writer who dabbled in most genres throughout his 40 year career. Started work as a film critic before making his directing debut in 1961 with the sea-faring adventure flick Queen of the Seas. The two decades years saw Lenzi churn out westerns, historical dramas, Bond-esquespy yarns and giallo thrillers among others.
It was his 1972 proto-cannibal film Deep River Savages that led to the best known phase of his career, with notorious gore-epics Cannibal Ferox and Eaten Alive and zombie shlocker Nightmare City quickly becoming favourites amongst fans of spaghetti splatter. Continued to plug away in the horror genre before retiring in 1996.