Blu-ray Release: December 8, 2020
Audio: French and English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio
Run Time: 85:26 (original version)/90:21 (extended version)
Director: Michel Lemoine
By day, a mild-mannered businessman, in his dreams, Boris Zaroff hunts naked females on his country estates, just like his notorious father. One weekend, two visitors arrive at Boris’ castle. The young girl is fascinated by tales of the wicked Zaroffs and asks if she can see their famous torture chamber. Maybe now the Zaroffs’ dreams can become reality once more. (From Mondo Macabro’s official synopsis)
Michel Lemoine’s Seven Women for Satan (French: Les week-ends maléfiques du Comte Zaroff, 1976) is most famous for being the film that was banned in its native France. In retrospect, neither the sex nor the violence seems all that shocking, especially given the emergence of graphic depictions of violence and unsimulated sex in world cinema by 1976. France had led the charge when it came to nudity and erotic content in film and had seen considerable international success from uncharacteristically gory horror films, namely Georges Franju’s Eyes without a Face (French: Les yeux sans visage) more than a decade earlier in 1960.
Lemoine was best known as an actor. He started acting in France when he was still a child, but eventually became known for appearances in an eclectic collection of internationally-made cult films, including Mario Bava’s early spaghetti western, The Road to Fort Alamo (Italian: La strada per Forte Alamo, 1964), Antonio Margheriti’s The War of the Planets (Italian: I diafanoidi vengono da Marte, 1966), Adrian Hoven’s Castle of Creeping Flesh (German: Im Schloß der blutigen Begierde, 1968), Robert Hossein’s baguette western Cemetery without Crosses (Italian: Une Corde, un Colt; aka: The Rope and the Colt, 1969), and a number of Jesús Franco movies (Succubus [German: Necronomicon, 1968], Sadist Erotica [German: Rote Lippen, Sadisterotica, 1969], Kiss Me Monster [German: Küss mich, Monster, 1969]). Likely because it was banned in France, Seven Women for Satan remains his most popular movie as director, but he maintained a consistent reputation in erotic cinema circles for making dozens of respectfully trashy X-rated motion pictures. All of this time working under efficient, largely visually focused blue-collar directors (Hoven aside…) at their creative heights seems to have paid off, because what Seven Women for Satan lacks in polish and unique plotting, it tends to make up for with impressive, dream-like visual motifs. Franco is the major influence, given the foggy landscapes, lovingly photographed palatial estates, low and high angles, and scenes of fancily-clad women running in slow motion.
Lemoine doesn’t shy away from the boundaries of softcore, either, and bares his own ass alongside a cavalcade of ‘70s cult erotica queens, including Nathalie Zeiger, Joëlle Coeur, and Maria Mancini. Sex may have been the cause for banning (the raciest stuff here was reinstated), but plenty of filmmakers had gotten away with “worse” by 1976. The violence isn’t particularly shocking, either given what the Italians were doing in cannibal movies by that time, so my best guess is that the absurdly comedic slant mixed with brutality upset the French censors. Count Zaroff, played by Lemoine himself, is a sort of a dopey idiot whose psychotic side is nurtured by his butler, Karl, played by Franco favorite Howard Vernon, who is himself the son of the General’s servant. By design or not, Zaroff’s murderous streak seems to be out of his control or at least beyond his understanding, leading him to stumble so awkwardly through his homicidal neurosis that he ends up killing women by accident. The comedic effect is intended, given the quality of Vernon’s deadpan performance, a Scooby Doo-like sequence where a woman sees Zaroff disposing of a body, and clear sentiment on the predatory nature of aristocracy and wealth, though I also assume that Zaroff’s childishness, his pining for his dead love, and his lack of agency is also meant to evoke other tragic psychos, like Norman Bates.
Not quite a French giallo or even really a French proto-slasher, Seven Women for Satan does have similar qualities to the Italian and German murder mysteries that set the stage for both giallo and slashers. The storyline is a thinly veiled excuse for outrageous scenes and imagery, but resembles similar torture-hungry, aristocratic psychopath melodramas from Italy, namely Massimo Pupillo’s Bloody Pit of Horror (Italian: Il Boia Scarlatto, 1965) and Bava’s Baron Blood (Italian: Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga, 1972). What’s interesting, however, is that, instead of simply ripping off a more famous fictional aristocratic psychopath and giving him another name, Seven Women for Satan trowels the realm of public domain fanfiction, since Boris Zaroff is a descendant of General Zaroff, the main antagonist of Richard Connell’s seminal human-hunting short story The Most Dangerous Game (Collier’s, 1924).
Mondo Macabro first released Seven Women for Satan on anamorphic DVD in 2003 and seem to have kept it in print ever since. It is one of only two official DVD versions of the film, the other being a R2 PAL Greek disc from New Star. Considering that it is one of the company’s stalwart titles, it is no surprise that Mondo Macabro has put considerable effort into the film’s North American Blu-ray debut. This disc sports a new 4K remaster of the original camera negative, which is presented in 1080p, 1.66:1 HD video. Mondo Macabro has also included two versions of the film: the original theatrical release cut, as seen on the DVD (85:25), and a newly reconstructed extended cut, that includes all of the footage mistakenly sent to French censors, probably resulting in its ban.
I had zero expectations for this release, outside of the knowledge that Le Chat Qui Fume released a 4K UHD version of this (or a similar) transfer in France. I hadn’t seen the film before and I have basically zero concept of the old Mondo DVD’s image quality. All that said, I’m still a bit shocked by how wonderful this nearly 50-year-old, relatively obscure cult movie looks. The thing that really impresses me is the clarity of the soft focus and fog-laden sequences. Lesser remasters tend to either smooth out fogginess with DNR or leave it caked in discolored grain. Here, the color quality, which tends to be plush, is maintained, while the blooms and mists remain light and airy. In addition, fine grain structure is naturally film-like. The clarity wanes a bit during the darkest sequences, which on occasion appear muddy. I assume this is a mostly unavoidable issue, stemming from cinematographer Philippe Théaudière’s sometimes futile attempts at squeezing detail out of locations without enough light. The muddiness is probably preferable to bumping up gamma levels to make blacks appear richer, since that would likely crush the already weak details. A handful of shots are dulled by a smeary sheen that disappears between splices. Sure enough, these are almost exclusively previously deleted scenes.
Seven Women for Satan includes the original French audio and the English language dub. Both are presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Unlike many Eurohorror and Europloitation films, the audio for Seven Women for Satan was reportedly recorded on set, not dubbed in post. This means that the French track is truly the “original” language track and features the actors’ original vocal performances. Unfortunately, while the French dub is the preferred way to view the film, the English dub fares a bit better in terms of dynamic range and the volume of incidental sound effects, which are pretty muffled in French. Back on the other hand, the English dub is less consistent, so I suppose both tracks have their advantages and disadvantages. Guy Bonnet’s original soundtrack is a veritable barn-burner, sort of an Emerson, Lake & Palmer meets Bossa Nova meets piano waltz orchestra. The unique combination of music and imagery is what really sets Seven Women for Satan apart from the typical Jess Franco movie, even the ones with impressive soundtracks.
Formidable!: The Michel Lemoine Story (15:37, SD) – A very lively 2003 interview with actor/director Michel Lemoine, who chats about Seven Women for Satan alongside memories of his career as an actor and director.
Movie Memoirs (57:33, HD) – A 2020 interview/video essay with actor/assistant director Robert de Laroche, who speaks at length about the filming and releases of Seven Women for Satan and Lemoine’s Les petites saintes y touchent (1974). He’s positively brimming with amusing anecdotes.
Deleted scenes, outtakes, and alternative takes (29:18, HD) – These include some scenes which were placed back into the extended edition, some of which were not, and some that were originally shot for Les petites saintes y touchent. Some have no audio and others are accompanied by music or (in one case) descriptive commentary.
Mondo Macabro promo reel
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.