In light of the supremely sad news that Euro-trash superstar Michel Lemoine has recently passed away, we thought it very timely indeed to run this piece by writer/blogger Jeremy Richey on our DVD of Lemoine's SEVEN WOMEN FOR SATAN. Many thanks to Mr. Richey for letting us publish this, and apologies to him for taking so long to put it up on the site.
The first thing you will notice about Les week-ends maléfiques du Comte Zaroff, one of the most bizarre and idiosyncratic European horror films of the seventies, is the wonderful sense of movement that director (and star) Michel Lemoine brings to every frame. From the unforgettable opening sequence (featuring a nude woman on foot being chased by a dog and Lemoine on horseback) to its mesmerizing closing shot, Les week-ends maléfiques du Comte Zaroff is a wonderfully propulsive film as delirious as it is distinctive.
Michel Lemoine was in his early fifties when he wrote, directed and starred in Les week-ends maléfiques du Comte Zaroff in the mid-seventies. Better known under its English language title, Seven Women for Satan marked the sixth film Lemoine had directed but, upon its release in 1976, he was still far better known as an actor. As fascinating as Lemoine was on the screen he was also an extremely interesting filmmaker and Seven Women for Satan stands as probably his best work, along with his earlier Marianne Bouquet from 1972.
Most of Lemoine’s directorial credits were in France’s adult industry of the seventies and eighties, so the horrors of Seven Women for Satan are a bit of an anomaly, compared to the rest of his work, but the film feels like an extremely personal odyssey rather than just a blatant commercial endeavor. Noted author and film-historian Pete Tombs would call Lemoine “one of the great faces of the commercial underground” in the essential Immoral Tales and it is a shame that his work behind the camera isn’t as well-known as his on–screen appearances.
Seven Women for Satan concerns the sure to be doomed Michael Zaroff a lonely man, descended from the notorious sadist Count Boris Zaroff, who lives in a gloomy mansion with his mysterious butler Karl haunted by nightmares he can’t fully grasp and a bloodlust he can never seem to quench. Seven Women for Satan is simultaneously baffling and engrossing and even at its most nonsensical it feels like the work of an artist with a real sense of purpose and a striking knack for cinematic frissson.
While Seven Women for Satan feels completely distinct, the film actually has a lot of common ground with several other genre films and filmmakers from the seventies. Cast-wise, Lemoine himself will immediately bring the spirit of Jess Franco to mind, due to his many appearances in the great Spaniards films throughout the sixties and seventies, and with Howard Vernon appearing as Karl it is indeed a bit hard to not to think of Franco while watching Seven Women for Satan. The astonishing Joëlle Coeur’s startling appearances in the film will of course bring to mind legendary French auteur Jean Rollin and the always welcome Nathalie Zeiger draws a connection (of quite a few) to the films of Alain Robbe-Grillet, as she had appeared in both Successive Slidings of Pleasure and Playing With Fire (which Coeur had appeared in as well). Cast connections aside, Lemoine’s daring and rule-breaking cinematic styling have an absolute connection with the maverick works of Franco, Rollin and Robbe-Grillet. I was also struck by how Seven Women for Satan would make a great double feature with Joe D’Amato’s eerie ghost-story Death Smiles on a Murderer, as both works manage to capture a rare nightmarish intensity out of pure filmmaking force and will. Pete Tombs points out other connections as well, in his excellent liner notes for Mondo Macabro’s DVD, to such literary figures as Goethe and even cinematic heavyweight Luis Bunuel.
Stylistically Seven Women for Satan is quite an achievement considering its budget. Philippe T’éaudière's photography gives Lemoine’s already dreamy production an even more narcotic haze and the exciting score (credited to Guy Bonnet although some tracks sound library sourced) is excellent throughout. Best of all is the marvelous styling of Robbe-Grillet’s preferred editor Bob Wade, whose work adds immeasurably to Lemoine’s frenzied footage. That connection between Lemoine and Robbe-Grillet (that Tombs has pointed out much to the chagrin of ‘respectable’ film connoisseurs) can really be felt in Wade’s remarkable cutting that worked so well for both artists.
The deliberately off-kilter (Tombs label of ‘subversive’ in Immoral Tales really is dead-on) Seven Women for Satan will probably prove too ‘trashy’ for art-house lovers and too ‘arty’ for horror devotees but there really is a lot to love in this strange little oddity, that had so much trouble getting released in the mid-seventies and still feels a bit ‘hidden’ to this day. To say that it is the kind of film that isn't being made anymore is an understatement, and perhaps that is reason enough to celebrate it.
Jeremy Richey created the film and music blog Moon in the Gutter in December of 2006. Since then he has also started Fascination: The Jean Rollin Experience and L'arrivée d' Sylvia Kristel. His work has also graced the pages of several books and magazines including Intellect's Directory of World Cinema series and Rue Morgue. He lives in Kentucky with his wife Kelley, their two dogs Molly and Mazie and their cat Mazzy Star.