Here’s another installment featuring Joe Dante’s reviews from his stint as a critic for Film Bulletin circa 1969-1974. Our thanks to Video Watchdog and Tim Lucas for his editorial embellishments!
Imprisoned girl inspires sadist to go straight in Italian sex bondage import. Offers enough titillation and melodrama to satisfy the less demanding sexploitation audiences. Rating: X.
THE LAUGHING WOMAN opens with a prostitute rubbing salve on her whip‑marked legs, but things never get much more sadistic than that in this chronicle of female submission and degradation from Radley Metzger’s Audubon Films. However, the mildly perverse proceedings are probably just exotic and erotic enough to satisfy the general voyeur audience, though some will find the Italian‑made import more promise than fulfillment. On the basis of its self‑applied X allure, THE LAUGHING WOMAN should prove a fairly good attraction for urban sex houses and drive‑ins; however, with Audubon currently on an arty‑to‑explicit title‑changing binge (BLACK ON WHITE to THE ARTFUL PENETRATION, HIDE AND SEEK to THE LICKERISH QUARTET), this one could certainly use a more enticing tag than it has.
Writer‑director Piero Schivazappa contributes a few amusing touches, such as a radio astrology program called “Sex Aberrations and the Stars”—”Cancer highlights necrophilia today,” etc.—and the film is mounted in the usual pseudo‑classy decor and photographic style the public has come to expect of Metzger presentations. Philippe Leroy, who has seen better days and vehicles, is cast as a wealthy philanthropist who is secretly a sadist, and kidnaps shapely, bookish employee Dagmar Lassander.
He chains her in his gimmicked‑up electronic torture chamber because this makes her look “feminine”. She does look a lot less bookish as she cries, bereft of most of her clothes, “You’re mad!” “No, my dear,” he deadpans, “it’s not me that’s mad—it’s you! And all other women!” He is upset because women are plotting to procreate scientifically without men. Plenty of dubbed‑in moans, whimpers and groans issue forth from Miss Lassander as Leroy forces her to make love to a lifelike rubber dummy of himself, tapes her mouth shut and eats in front of her, squirts her with a fire hose, chains her to a stone block and cuts her hair.
If there were any headier diversions in the original version (20m longer), they are notably absent from this one. “You fiend!” she periodically gasps. “You’re sick!” But to no avail. She tries suicide, but he saves her and, mellowing, falls in love with her, running across hillsides dotted with out‑of‑focus yellow flowers. He confides he’s been abnormal ever since he found out at age 13 that female scorpions eat the male at the moment of sexual climax.
They go places together and do things; at one point, out for dinner, she masturbates him from under the table with her foot. Finally she seduces him in a swimming pool to the accompaniment of blaring Italian Western music, and just at the moment of truth, he has a coronary. It turns out she knew he had a weak heart and strung him along as part of her own fanatical hatred of the opposite sex. She pastes his picture in her scrapbook along with other victims. She doesn’t laugh, though, not once.
Femina Ridens. 1969. Audubon Film (A Dear Cinematogrofica Production). Movielab Color. 90 minutes. Philippe Leroy, Dagmar Lassander, Lorenza Guerrieri. Produced by Giuseppe Zaccariello. Directed by Piero Schivazappa.
Video Watchdog reviewed this film under its alternate title THE FRIGHTENED WOMAN in VW 49:17, where we compared the domestic First Run Features VHS release to the Jezebel Video VHS release from the UK. The latter is longer (by 2m 6s, still not the 20m mentioned by Joe) and also much better-looking but slightly cut by the BBFC. Since our review appeared, First Run Features has released THE FRIGHTENED WOMAN on DVD, utilizing a new 1.85:1 transfer. We have not seen this version but it likely represents an improvement over the tape but we have not screened it. The movie features one of the great Euro lounge scores of the ’60s, composed by Stelvio Cipriani.