Phantasmes (1975)

Also known as: The Seduction of Amy
Phantasme Pornographique
Once upon a Virgin

French cult auteur Jean Rollin's career seemed to diverge into two streams after the making of this porn film. From this point he still made more "acceptable" fare such as the sublime Levres de Sang (Lips of Blood) but also under pseudonyms such as Michael Gentil, made more outright pornography such as Bacchanales Sexuelles - I assume to help pay the bills! With Phantasmes, Rollin actually assigned his name to the film, and there's definitely some touches in there of the Rollin who made the atmospheric Requiem for a Vampire and other gems. I've heard this film described as Horror-Porn, and seen it written up in horror reference books and the like, but I'm not really sure why. Other than the gothic castle the central male character lives in, there's barely any real horror elements. Still, is the film watchable or even enjoyable, for that matter?

It took me ages to track down this one, and I finally managed to get my hands on a dvd transfer from a VHS bootleg. It would be nice to see this film in pristine DVD, but who knows if that's going to happen any time soon. The version I watched was called The Seduction of Amy, and was dubbed in english with a mighty groovy soundtrack, of which I'll comment on later. I have no idea if the dialogue that the characters use matches Rollin's original vision. I'm also going to struggle with the names of characters and actors in this review, because this film is pretty poorly documented out there, and my memory is short once I've seen a film! At least I can say that the main heroine of the film is called Amy. Our first scene is the young Amy on the run in a forest from a would-be rapist played by Mister Rollin himself! It's a pretty funny cameo, and after Amy defends herself with a small log, he knocks her senseless into a pond. The rapist flees, but Amy wakes up in a castle under the care of Gideon (Jean-Pierre Bouyxou), who look extremely seventies-porn with the appropriately huge moustache. Gideon seems to live alone in the giant, rambling castle and appears caring at first, dressing the confused Amy in a flimsy purple dress which he claims belonged to his recently deceased wife. Satisfied Amy is resting, Gideon meets another brunette woman in his gardens and takes her on a tour of his dungeons. Explaining his obsession with the previous tenants who indulged in orgies of sado-machism, Gideon and the women have wild sex, ending up doing it in a coffin.

Later, an attractive college student shows up on Gideon's doorstep, wanting to look around the atmospheric place. She's willing to strip for it too, which makes Gideon's resolve crumble and watch her nude dance. Amy explores the castle and it's dungeon, finding a nude woman hanging in chains, who tells her that Gideon loved her once but keeps her there to torture - and that Amy should run away. She runs from the room into Gideon's arms, who convinces her it was all a bad dream. Sometime later, the brunette, the college student and Amy all meet up, the brunette telling Amy the truth about the man she's beginning to fall in love with. Amy begins to feel uneasy about being in the mansion at all, then sees the group of sleazy people Gideon had invited around for a weekend stay. The group of swingers begin to indulge in a mass orgy and Amy runs away, feeling hurt, disgusted and betrayed.

Meanwhile, as the orgy progresses, with all the usual positions and orifices being explored by the participants, two young, blonde schoolgirls who are identical twins (Catherine and Marie-Pierre Castel, who make many appearances in Rollin films) run away from their father and skip their way hand-in-hand into Gideon's lair. This scene is accompanied by the amazing song, "Double the pleasure, double the fun", which I guarantee you'll never forget if you get the chance to hear it. The naughtier of the twins pushes them both to join the orgy, once they get over their shock in discovering it, and the whole group becomes a writhing mass of orgiastic flesh as the song plays on! Amy, having collapsed outside in the forest, is surrounded by a mysterious mist that frightens her into returning to the castle. Once inside, the doors lock and she can't escape. She rouses the sleeping, naked hedonists and tries to get them to escape with her, but suddenly bars come down out of nowhere and surround the castle. No-one can escape.

Gideon turns up in dramatic fashion with some burly helpers, and apologises for the monster he's become, but he cannot fight his impulses anymore. They bring his wife from the stone coffin, hang her from chains and whip her as Gideon looks on. He sobs at her feet and begs forgivenesss for hurting the women who love him. He says goodbye to her forever, and notices that Amy feels pity for him even in his depravity. They confess love for each other, and Amy declares that Gideon can do anything he likes to her, she will endure it. They join each other at the beach for some wild lovemaking. Will Amy be the first lover of Gideon's to survive?

If pornographic elements turn you off I wouldn't recommend this one, as any horror or fantasy is pretty incidental to the feast of flesh and grapplings on display. There's a smattering of sadomachism as well, but most of the 'action' is pretty standard. I will say that the climactic orgy is quite amazing in its way. I must admit I enjoyed this one just for the music, sense of humour that played some part of the action - or maybe I just find orgies funny - and great settings and locations. You can't tell me the Castel Twins' theme song isn't in your mind for weeks once you've heard it, Phantasmes is worth tracking down for this alone. Any Rollin fan will need to view it if possible, as many of the cast are recognizable in his non-porn films, which was an eye-opener for me. If you're a pure porn fan, I'd give this one a miss as most of the sex scenes aren't that memorable, although the final beach scene found Gideon and Amy ravishing each other pretty enthusiastically.

All in all, probably just for Rollin completists in the end. Anyone with an interest in the more obscure veins of European seventies cinema should also give it a look, if it passes by their gaze.

© Boris "Growing the Moustache" Lugosi 2005.


Review written: 11/20/2005 20:32:34