Exploitation Retrospect | The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media
Venus in Furs (1969)
Blue Underground | Review by Dan Taylor

I finally sat down and watched Franco's trippy VENUS IN FURS the other night. I'd heard a lot about this flick over the years but never bothered to tracked down an 8th generation VHS, due more to Kinski's role being described as "brief" than anything else. Thankfully, Blue Underground recently put out a nice DVD of this jazz-noir complete with widescreen transfer, interview with Franco, and audio interview with Maria Rohm.

James Darren stars as Jimmy, a trumpet player who awakens one day and digs up the horn he'd buried on the beach ("It's like burying my life" he says in the film's noir-ish voiceover). As he fiddles with the instrument – which was exactly where he remembered burying it – he notices something floating in the surf and discovers the slashed, beaten body of a beautiful blonde.

At first he doesn't recognize her but eventually remembers that this is the same girl he encountered while performing at a jet setter party a few weeks earlier. There he stumbled upon a perverse trio – a sweaty art dealer (Dennis Price), a carpet-munching photog (Margaret Lee), and a sadistic playboy (Klaus Kinski) – whipping, assaulting and stabbing the girl.

Instead of stopping the shenanigans Jimmy walks away thinking that maybe it's "their bag" and avoids getting involved in their reindeer games. Escaping to Rio he encounters Wanda (Maria Rohm), a dead ringer for the girl he found on the beach.

Can this be the same girl? Is Jimmy's mind playing tricks on him? Or, is something more bizarre at work? Regardless, he strikes up a relationship with her, to the chagrin of his casual galpal Rita (Barbara McNair), a soulful club singer employed – like Jimmy – to entertain at swinging jet-setter shindigs.

In a series of hypnotic episodes, the three pervs who tortured the poor girl find themselves encountering their victim as well, though without the same results as the last time. With the body count piling up and the cops on their trail (the film wildly shifts from hypnotic erotic thriller to chase flick in an unexpected sequence), Jimmy and Wanda escape together while Franco circles back to the beginning of the film.

I could probably show VENUS to a dozen different people and get as many differing opinions about the flick's meaning. One friend described it as a painting that Franco put out there and each viewer can interpret the proceedings however they wish.

I have my own theories but won't share them here for the sake of spoilage. (Though if you want to discuss the flick join us in the ER Forums.) Kinski fans will be both delighted and disappointed by his miniscule, almost silent role. His limited dialogue is dubbed by another actor, but he's rarely looked so striking on screen. At one point Franco frames his face – chiseled features, ice blue eyes, blondish hair – against a red background (a dominant theme and color scheme throughout the flick) and it's simply one of the best uses of The German Olivier's features I've ever encountered. (It's up there with the "prayer grenade" sequence in A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL.)

After my initial viewing I would not have said I really dug VENUS, but in the days that followed I found something very interesting happening. The film, its subtext and possible meanings kept nagging away at me, nibbling at my brain like an earwig. If you're an open-minded viewer, I think this trippy, hypnotic flick will have a similar effect.

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