The Movie Waffler Bluray Review - THE FRIGHTENED WOMAN | The Movie Waffler


The Frightened Woman review
A feminist journalist is held captive in the home of a maniacal misogynist.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Piero Schivazappa

Starring: Dagmar Lassander, Philippe Leroy, Lorenza Guerrieri, Varo Soleri

The Frightened Woman bluray

In the 1970s, catching whiff of the increasingly pervasive smell of burning bras, exploitation filmmakers began to inject superficially feminist themes into their work, giving us a slew of female avengers. Italian writer/director Piero Schivazappa was ahead of the curve in 1969 when he made The Frightened Woman, which gives us a vengeful heroine and a male villain so insecure when it comes to female progress he makes Jordan Peterson look like a male feminist ally.

The heroine is Mary, a journalist played by giallo regular Dagmar Lassander. Mary is working on a story about male sterilisation in India, which sets her at odds with Doctor Sayer (Philippe Leroy), a proto men's rights activist who runs a philanthropic institute and argues that the male seed must be protected at all costs. Resembling a nightmarish cross between a Scottish prison warden and a German competitor at the 1936 Olympics, Sayer is convinced that women are plotting a future where men will be unnecessary, where women can select test tubes of sperm as easily as "buying gloves."

The Frightened Woman review

Despite holding up more red flags than the crowd at a China vs Morocco football match, Sayer convinces Mary to come to his villa to pick up some papers she needs for her research. Sayer's home screams 1969 Europe, filled with chic but uncomfortable furniture and impractical accoutrements. He does have a nifty walk-in body dryer in his bathroom though. Oh, and a room devoted to S&M. Oh, and a dungeon.

It's no surprise when Mary finds herself drugged and waking up chained in said dungeon. Sayer takes the opportunity to spout his conspiracy theories, which worryingly aren't all that different from the sort of nonsense you'll find on today's incel forums. Sayer claims he kills his female victims at the moment of climax, and treats Mary to a slideshow of photos of his previous victims. Can she escape this modernist madhouse?

It turns out Sayer is easily manipulated. Having witnessed two scorpions make love as a child, Sayer has spent his life convinced that if he ever has sex with a woman he will immediately die, a reversal of the premise of Ari Aster's recent Beau is Afraid. Hoping it's a self-fulfilling prophecy, Mary uses her feminine allure to seduce and destroy the mad doctor.

The Frightened Woman review

Everything about The Frightened Woman betrays it as an early example of a male filmmaker trying to wrap their head around this new concept of feminism. Much of it is played for black comedy, but it's also so cheesily naïve that there are plenty of unintentional laughs to be had. Perhaps the comic highlight comes when Sayer breaks out a replica doll which he forces Mary to make love to in his place. Or maybe the playful montage of Sayer and Mary frolicking in the outdoors and posing for photos.

As you might expect of an Italian movie of this period, much of The Frightened Woman is downright bizarre. There's an obligatory dwarf when Sayer and Mary visit a castle for lunch, a sequence which also includes a baffling interaction between the doctor and a waiter. There's a massive sculpture of a pair of spread-eagled female legs with a gaping vagina from which emerges a skeleton. There's a creepy bloke with an eye-patch who steals some gold lettering at the start of the film and then promptly disappears. There's a girl group performing on a train cart in the middle of nowhere. You can try to decipher meaning from such images, but it's probably best to put it down to "hey, it was 1969."

The Frightened Woman review

Of course, being an Italian movie of this period means we also get some genuinely striking sequences. None more so than a dance number in which Mary, clad in bandages like Milla Jovovich in The Fifth Element, performs the most 1969 dance moves imaginable while grooving to a fantastic psychedelic score by the great Stelvio Cipriani. The climactic (pun intended) swimming pool seduction is staged like the final shootout of a spaghetti western, with Cipriani laying on the Morricone-esque trumpets as Sayer edges towards his fate.

Very much a 1969 time capsule in both its ideas and aesthetics, The Frightened Woman can be viewed as an early attempt to wrestle with changing gender norms. Or as an excuse to watch Dagmar Lassander prance around in bandages.

The Frightened Woman
 is on UK bluray from January 8th from Shameless Films.