In the 1960s-70s, the relaxation of censorship, together with women’s greater social assertiveness, led to the appearance of a substantial number of art and/or exploitative films that explored male/female relationships through sexual power games. A large sub-section, including Mario Bava’s The Whip and the Body (1963), Luis Buñuel’s Belle de jour (1967), Sergio Martino’s The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh (1971) and Vicente Aranda’s The Blood Spattered Bride delve into what are presented as women’s secret repressed desires and internal conflicts.
Aside from his numerous Sade adaptations, Jess Franco also dreamily explored female characters who are both victims and tormentors in Venus in Furs (1969) and Succubus (1968). Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Woman in Chains (1968) and Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Eden and After (1970) create hyper-aesthetic worlds of kinky abstract obsession while in Kôji Wakamatsu’s The Embryo Hunts in Secret (1966) and Pete Walker’s House of Whipcord (1974), the violence of amorous relationships takes on social and political connotations. Artist Niki de Saint Phalle made two unusual and fascinating contributions to this theme: not only did she co-direct her own semi-autobiographic perverse family fantasy, Daddy with Peter Whitehead (1973), but her art also appears in the fascinating Femina Ridens (Piero Schivazappa, 1968), which toys with expectations about dominant and submissive roles. The lecture will examine all these and more ramifications of the period’s unfettered sado-masochistic fantasies.
This lecture was delivered at the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies – London, The Horse Hospital, 12 March 2015.