A company dedicated to the fine arts as pleasure, Severin Films continues to unearth rare, delightfully smutty examples of shock cinema for the appreciation of aficionados. After bringing us such diverse underground classics as an Emmanuelle Box Set and a handful of delightfully demented Jess Franco sleaze operas, the 'Criterion of Smut' presents the underground movie community with Olivia Pascal in VANESSA. Not as sensational as the sadistic Eros of either Franco or D'Amato (both of whom Severin has well represented), nor as celebrated as the Emmanuelle films, Vanessa has plenty of skin and attitude to recommend it to fans of sleaze and sin. A bizarre sup theme of black magic and inner family intrigue lends the sexual theatrics more thematic substance than these erotic potboilers usually boast, lending authenticity and empathy to the characters when they're not opening their legs or thrusting their backs.
Beginning with a circle of classmates at a girl's convent drooling over a sexual manual, Vanessa announces its escapist erotic tendencies immediately. Olivia Pascal stars as Vanessa, a 'good' girl told that she has inherited a legacy and estate from a recently deceased uncle. Travelling to Hong Kong, she discovers that she is now the owner of an infamous bordello. Lovely female asses, breasts, and legs surround the titular vixen as she discovers her own sexuality and dabbles in the mystic arts. Experiencing geographies of pain and pleasure that she never before dreamed of, Vanessa endures an almost mystic quest into the dark domains of lust.
While comparisons with several Emmanuelle films can't be helped, Vanessa establishes its own identity and vibe. True, both this film and the former series share similarly lush surroundings, plentiful soft-core coupling, and a heated, erotically enticing atmosphere, yet director Hubert Frank manages to weave a more thoughtful, sensual experience with this curious hybrid of mystery and sexual excess. Sex itself is approached as both a liberating mystery and potential threat. The plot evokes and maintains a constant sense of paradoxical threat and pleasure that surrounds the luscious ensemble of fleshly young play things like sweat. A prime example of the cinematic liberation of the 1970's, which itself mirrored the era's social sexual explosion, Vanessa, like The Story of O, exhibit's a penchant for true storytelling and subdued eroticism. The sexual situations manage to be both elegant and erection-inducing without resorting to the outright pornography that many lesser films resort to for titillation. More impressively, the dimension of the characters lends further erotic charge to all the delectable sex. Venessa herself is akin to a modern heroine of myth, embarking upon a personal quest for sexual identity and freedom. Nor will those looking for only thrills be disappointed, as these whippings, strippings, and strange sex rites are amongst the most erotic (in the true sense of the word) ever committed to celluloid.
Severin scores like a victorious football player in a carload of horny cheerleaders with Venessa. Part of the reason behind this is their attention to the look and sound of the feature. The anamorphic widescreen 1.78:1 print is sterling, free from any significant damage or grain. Images are clear, sharp, and vivid, and the colors strong. Audio is featured Dolby Digital mono, and is free from hissing or background interference.
Most enjoyable in this carefully constructed package of salacious adult fun are the wealth of extras surrounding the film. These interviews and features lend historical and cinematic context to the story and the principle players both in front of and behind the camera. Most significant are the interviews with "Hubert Frank" and Frank Lederle, both of whom lend some insightful detail to the making of the picture, and their personal experiences. This is followed by the engaging eye candy of "Vanessa Revealed," an informative behind the scenes feature, and the enticing Theatrical Trailer. Another horny home-run for the new sultans of sleaze!
Review by William Simmons
|Released by Severin Films|
|Region 1 - NTSC|
|see main review|