Film, DVD, Blu-Ray & Streaming Reviews - By Fans For Fans



Directed by Piero Schivazappa.
Starring Philippe Leroy, Dagmar Lassander, Lorenza Guerrieri, Maria Cumani Quasimodo.
Thriller, Italy, 90 mins, cert 18.


Released in the UK on Blu-ray via Shameless Screen Entertainment on 8th January 2024.


It has been a while since Shameless Screen Entertainment graced us with a new Blu-ray release of an old Italian classic, but the familiar yellow clamshell case has returned containing 1969s trashy pop-art thriller THE FRIGHTENED WOMAN, a.k.a. THE LAUGHING WOMAN, a.k.a. FEMINA RIDENS, and a very welcome addition it is to the collection.


Tapping into the sexual revolution of the 1960s, and the gender power plays that came with it, the woman of the title is Maria (Dagmar Lassander), a press officer who wishes to research material about male sterilisation belonging to her employer Dr. Sayer (Philippe Leroy), a man who doesn’t come across like he wants to discuss progressive attitudes about contraceptives with a woman.


Accepting an invitation to his home, Maria turns up and immediately falls foul to Dr. Sayer’s dark side after he drugs her drink and keeps her prisoner, subjecting her to various humiliations as he indulges in his pastime of psychosexual torture. However, as he opens up about his nefarious hobbies, the power dynamics begin to shift, and the game Dr. Sayer was playing might not go according to plan.


THE FRIGHTENED WOMAN may not feel quite as edgy or daring as it did back in 1969, but as a stylish snapshot of European cinema it still manages to create a world that we would probably not like to admit exists anymore (although it more than likely does). The key theme running through the movie is misogyny, and how the confident alpha male Dr. Sayer is able to keep the subservient Maria under his control is infuriating and fascinating at the same time, and both lead actors seem to be giving all they have to make the occasionally clumsy script work.


Anyone with any familiarity with European cinema – especially movies from Italy – will likely know how the story is going to play out early on, mainly thanks to genre familiarity rather than dodgy writing, but that doesn’t stop THE FRIGHTENED WOMAN having a few set pieces that still manage to get the blood pumping, most notably a seductive dance scene involving Dagmar Lassander, some J&B whiskey and an outfit made of see-through gauze that is quite possibly one of the most erotic movie scenes to come out of Italy. It is around this point in the movie where the tables start to turn on Dr. Sayer, and Dagmar Lassander – along with the funky jazz score – is electric.


As the movie moves into its third act, the genre stylings all but disappear as the relationship between the two leads becomes more conventional, lulling the audience and those on the screen into a false sense of wellbeing that is intentional, setting up the final revelations which, as far as twists go, aren’t the biggest game-changers in movie history but the dip into conventional romance before the final hurdle makes it work, leading to a satisfactory ending.


Restored from a 4K scan, the Blu-ray looks fantastic, with colours popping delightfully from the screen, especially during the exterior scenes in the final act, and the detailing and lighting is crisp and pristine throughout. The disc also includes exclusive new interviews with star Dagmar Lassander and director Piero Schivazappa that cover all sorts of ground on the making of the movie. Lassander also claims THE FRIGHTENED WOMAN as her favourite of the movies she made, and in a career that features nearly 70 roles in genre touchstones like THE BLACK CAT, THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY and THE FORBIDDEN PHOTOS OF A LADY ABOVE SUSPICION that tells you something. THE FRIGHTENED WOMAN may not be the most intense, explicit or violent of thrillers to have come out of the Italian cycle of the ‘60/’70s, but it is one of the most stylish, subversive and enjoyable, and thanks to Shameless and their impeccable restoration it continues to be one of the best looking.


Chris Ward.


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Film, DVD, Blu-Ray & Streaming Reviews
By Fans For Fans