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The Blood Rose

The Blood Rose(1970)

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For most of us, determining "the first sex-horror film ever made" doesn't carry quite the same imperative for accuracy as does determining the first color film or the first sound feature, so we'll just take Mondo Macabro's word about this most recent release. While we're on the subject of novelty, it should be noted that Claude Mulot's The Blood Rose (La rose écorchée, 1969) isn't the first or even the second unauthorized remake of Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face (Les yeux sans visage, 1960) – that distinction goes to Jesus Franco's The Awful Dr. Orloff (Gritos en la noche, 1962) and Robert Hartford-Davis' Corruption (aka Laser Killer, 1968), respectively. (Franco returned to this theme in 1989 with the more graphic and literal-minded Faceless.) The Blood Rose tells the familiar terror tale of Frédéric Lansac (Philippe Lemaire), a brilliant but tortured man (an artist this time rather than a surgeon) whose beautiful wife (Les Compères' Anne Duperey) is disfigured at the hands of his disgruntled ex-lover (Elizabeth Teissier). Secreting Anne at his country estate, Frédéric turns to desperate and increasingly deranged measures to restore her beauty. Enter botanist Römer (Howard Vernon, The Awful Dr. Orloff himself), a former underworld plastic surgeon who still takes the occasional franc to transform the mug of a wanted man. Blackmailed by Frédéric, Römer has no choice but to assist in the kidnapping of dozens of beautiful women, upon whom he lavishes spa treatments while keeping an eye out for the loveliest of the bunch – whose face he intends to use to restore Anne's ravaged beauty.

The Blood Rose is a meandering little oddment with more Gothic curlicues and supporting characters than it knows what to do with. Case in point, the eponymous perennial. A beautiful flower studded with poison thorns that bring instant death, the Blood Rose comes into play in a subplot about Anne's mounting jealousy over buxom nurse Agnès (Michele Perello of The Slave Girls of Morgan Le Fay), whom she suspects of leading Frédéric astray. Turns out, Anne's suspicions are well founded and she dispatches the home health aid by asking her to move the Blood Rose, causing the girl to prick herself and terminate her employment with extreme prejudice. As Anne's paranoia escalates (and she suffers bi-curious dreams of a necro-erotic tryst with Agnès), Chateau Lansac is disrupted by the near escape of a beautiful prisoner (later raped and killed by a pair of domestic dwarves named Igor and Olaf), Römer being tailed by a suspicious Paris cop (Jacques Seiler appeared a couple years earlier in Conrad Rooks' Chappaqua, alongside the eclectic likes of William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, the Fugs and Hervé Villechaize), and the arrival of Agnès' suspicious sister Barbara (Olivia Robin), who proceeds to pepper Frédéric with nettlesome questions about the whereabouts of her missing sibling. It all makes for a viscous bouillabaisse of Grand Guignol elements that consistently refuses to reward the expectations it entices; while one might reasonably expect Anne to suffer the karmic turnaround of falling victim to the Blood Rose, director Mulot throws the audience a climactic curveball that is novel but less than satisfying.

Although its aspirations may have aimed higher, The Blood Rose makes for a perfect midnight movie, being more of an experience than a film. To this end, it is helped immeasurably by Jean-Pierre Dorsay's trippy score and the cinematography of Roger Fellous, which is rich in deeply saturated reds, blues, and greens. Mondo Macabro's anamorphic, letterboxed (1.66:1) transfer preserves these original compositions and values, resulting in a picture of staggering beauty – freeze any moment and you've got an image suitable for framing. While the elitist among us would prefer on principle the original two-channel French soundtrack to the alternative English dub, the English language track is often more evocative than the French (at least as translated into optional English subtitles); as this kind of thing can be highly personal, give both a test run. Mondo Macabro offers a nice complement of extras: a comprehensive essay on The Blood Rose by Pete Tombs, a 23-minute video interview with the Claude Mulot's brother-in-law Didier Philippe-Gerard (who recalls that Mulot came to Paris and worked days as a window dresser while spending his nights at the cinema), a gallery of stills and promotional materials and talent bios, which inform us that Claude Mulot was lost at sea in October of 1986, that former Chanel model Elizabeth Teissier is most famous in France for being the mistress of Prime Minister François Mitterrand and that leading man Philippe Lemaire committed suicide in 2004 one day after his 77th birthday.

For more information about The Blood Rose, visit Mondo Macabro. To order The Blood Rose, go to TCM Shopping.

by Richard Harland Smith