Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Frightened Woman (Piero Schivazappa, 1969)

Isn't it funny how some people in 1960s seemed to be living in the future, while most people today seem to be living in the past? Well, at least I thought it was funny. Of course, not in a ha-ha sort of way, but in a way that causes a shitload of self-induced neck-dependent nodding to occur. Desperate to be apart of a future they will never see, certain individuals living during the era of free love wanted to live like it was 2050. A world full of newfangled gizmos that helped make life not only more enjoyable, but easier as well, the future couldn't come soon enough for those who could afford to pretend it was already here. Only problem is, and The Frightened Woman (a.k.a Femina Ridens) shines a hip and happening light on this problem better than any film I've seen in quite some time, the majority of the people who had the money to make their vision of the future a reality, nine times out of ten, would abuse their power in order to satisfy another need all together. I know, you're thinking to yourself, what could be more important than living in the future during the 1960s?!? Like most folks who watched scorpions have sex as kids, I thought the fact that the female scorpion ate the male scorpion after they had finished exchanging fluids was pretty cool. However, there are those who view the scorpions violent mating ritual as a direct threat to their masculinity. You see, in their mind, it's only a matter of time before human females start killing human males after coitus. And instead of using his swinging pad of the future, complete with his and her walk-in body dryers and a room dedicated solely to sadomasochism, for good (orgies, acid parties, and face painting), the man at the centre of this trippy ride into the jaws of femininity wants to use it for purposes of a psychosexual nature. 
And you know what that means? Exactly. Poison-tipped daggers, unasked for Jean Seberg makeovers, BDSM, forced foot massages, and whimsical photo shoots. No, not whimsical photo shoots. Anything but that. Actually, things start to lighten up a bit when the photo shoot that may or may not be whimsical comes along.
We're a long way from seeing anything occurring that could be construed as "whimsical" when The Frightened Woman (a.k.a. The Laughing Woman) gets underway. It may not be whimsical, but the film's opening is too chic for words. Groovy music, groovy colours, groovy sets, and groovy...well, you get the idea, the films starts off by taking us on a tour of a large sculpture that features two giant, rainbow-coloured legs spread wide to reveal a toothy vagina.
Sticking with the legs theme, the film then shows a prostitute (Mirella Pamphili) applying ointment to her bruised thighs while riding in the car of an affluent trick. Which begs the question: Why don't more movies have scenes that feature prostitutes applying ointment to their bruise-laden thighs. Um, I don't think that question was being begged. Hmm, that's interesting. 'Cause I could have sworn I heard it being begged. Either way, the film is off to a cracking good start: Vagina dentata and thigh-based ointment application. Yeah, baby!
The prostitute, for those interested, has curly blonde hair, is wearing red knee-high boots and is carrying a purse that goes with her curly blonde hair. Oh, and after her affluent trick pays her (with a cheque), she gets into a white Rolls-Royce, which takes her to a house where she talks on the phone in pink pearls and tries on fur coats. I'm not sure what all this has to do with the movie, but I'm enjoying her self-absorbed antics, nonetheless.
Speaking of being not sure and junk, look at that creepy guy with the strapless eye-patch. What about him? He's creepy, man.
A redheaded woman wearing a smart grey suit walks past the creepy strapless eye-patch guy and enters the office of one Dr. Sayer (Philippe Leroy), a blonde man with brown eyes. Introducing herself as Maria Edström (Dagmar Lassander), a journalist working on an article about male sterilization in India. Asking what she thinks about male sterilization, Maria says that she's for it. This causes Dr. Sayer to go into a bit of tirade, calling male sterilization "barbarous." Anyway, she's there because she wants to look at some of Dr. Sayer's research. Unfortunately, he doesn't have it with him, so they head over to his other office, where Maria spends most of her time admiring his "charmingly decorative" wall of diseases; artwork made via microscopic images of viruses such as typhus, carbuncle, bubonic plague, leprosy, cholera, diphtheria, and, of course, rabies.
Stopping for a moment (he was flipping through an issue of Life Magazine), Dr. Sayer decides to show Maria his dagger collection. At first, I thought it was a knife collection. But since Dr. Sayer seems to go out of way to call it his "dagger collection," I'll respect his wishes. Of course, one of the daggers has been dipped in a mild sedative. Why did you say, "of course"? Haven't you heard? Everything in this movie, drinks, cutlery, wash clothes, fingernails, cigarette lighters you name it, has been drugged.
Waking up barefoot and shackled against a wall covered in metal bars, it looks like Maria is being held captive by Dr. Sayer, who has decided to bathe the room in red light; most captors want to make a good first impression, and the decision to go with the red light motif  is an all-time classic within the captor community.
As he watches her struggle, Dr. Sayer tells Maria that, "from aesthetical point of view," that her position is perfect. I don't want to sound like I agree with Dr. Saya, but he is right, Dagmar Lassander looks perfect bathed in red light. Fearing that the women of the future will simply extract sperm from men, freeze it, and then discard the man like a piece of trash. To put it another way, he fears parthenogenesis. A world where women can peruse aisle after aisle of neatly labeled vials of sperm like they were picking out a new pair of gloves.
After Maria's first escape attempt goes nowhere (she makes a run for it after blondie leaves the room), we're properly introduced to Dr. Sayer's swanky pad. An astonishing example of outre interior design, his home comes equipped with everything a single pervert/serial killer/neat freak/misogynist/sadist could possibly need. Wow, that Dr. Sayer sure likes to wear a lot of hats. Yeah, he's got issues. Speaking of which, he's got a lifesize dummy that looks exactly him. In fact, at one point he makes Maria, who's basically his slave, kiss it; "Kiss him...on the mouth," he tells her. "With more lust! More desire!"   
If you thought that was great dialogue, you should hear the stuff that comes out Dr. Sayer's mouth after he finishes hosing her down (she tried to stab him while he ate an apple). While showing her a slideshow presentation that featured photos of his previous victims posed in morbidly erotic positions, Dr. Sayer goes on this wordy tirade about how much he gets off on the sight of a "woman in the grip of fear." When Dr. Sayer tells Maria that he can only achieve orgasm by killing his partner at the moment of climax, she starts to realize that he's probably going to kill her. Since she doesn't want to die, Maria tries her best to convince him not to murder her.
When reason doesn't work, Maria tries something a little different. Wrapping certain parts of her body with gauze, Maria dances around his house to hip-sounding music. While watching Dagmar Lassander dance, in a segment that goes on for a pretty long time, I couldn't help but feel sorry for all the other filmmakers who have ever tried to be chic. I mean, I don't think anything has come close to being this chic before, as the sight of Dagmar Lassander dancing to the music of  Stelvio Cipriani in an outfit made entirely from gauze was too much for me to take. Add the stunning production design of Francesco Cuppini to the equation, and we're talking about a chicness overdose.
Kudos to Enrico Sabbatini for his equally chic costumes. His decision to put Dagmar Lassander in a white pleated skirt and a pair of white lacy knee-high socks was much appreciated, especially during the foot-job scene and the drive through the countryside; while taking a nap in Dr. Sayer's aqua-car (amphicar) the camera focuses on Dagmar's legs (the area between her lacy socks and pleated skirt) slapping together as a result of the bumping road. 
Wait, did you say, "drive through the countryside"? Yeah, the action doesn't take place exclusively inside Dr. Sayer's house of the future. Which should be relief to those who don't want to stay cooped up inside all day.
Now, I don't want to say exactly how Dr. Sayer and Maria ended up outside. But let's just say The Frightened Woman takes many unexpected turns as it reaches its chic conclusion. And, yes, the ending is chic, too. Actually, forget about Dagmar's gauze dance, the film's last five minutes are definitely more chic. If you can point me in the direction of something that more chic than the final five minutes of this particular film, please let me know, as I'm dying to see how someone could top this film's overall chic appeal. Bring it. A must-see for fans of sadomasicism, feminist cinema, late 1960s interior design, leggy Euro babes, and, of course, fans of things that are excessively chic.


  1. oh my.....

    Not sure where to begin with this one. The plot reminds me of an Edogawa Rampo story in a lot of ways. Plays around with a lot of his themes. I need to see this one. Although it might be a little hard to find.

  2. According to Wikipedia: Edogawa Rampo was a Japanese mystery writer.

    The DVD I watched was put out by Shameless Screen Entertainment.

  3. You can also check the comments section of your "Black Lizard" review for more Edogawa info!

    I think I need to see more films with Dagmar Lassander in them.

    Oh, and Radioactive Lingerie had no screenshots of her gauzy dance from this film. I was saddened.

  4. Damn, it looks like Black Lizard was based on one of his novels.

    Say yes to Dagmar Lassander.

    In my defense, the gauzy dance is a hard scene to capture - you know, with her moving around so much. ;)