The Frightened Woman (1969) – Film Review
Director: Piero Schivazappa
Cast: Philippe Leroy, Dagmar Lassander, Lorenza Guerrieri
By Sarah Morgan
Take a hint of Fifty Shades of Grey, throw in a pinch of Peeping Tom, add a dose of Hoffman and then sprinkle it with the set design of The Final Programme and what do you get?
The Frightened Woman, of course. It’s an odd film described in its publicity material as an erotic thriller, but it seemed more likely to repulse this reviewer than turn them on. Still, it’s an intriguing diversion, if a not wholly satisfying one.
Also known as The Laughing Woman and, in its native Italy, Femina Ridens, the film was directed by Piero Schivazappa, and was his first big-screen feature. Its controversial use of BDSM caused problems with the censor at the time, and he’s made few forays into the cinema since, preferring to work on the small screen.
“Strong visual style”
Nevertheless, he clearly has a strong visual style because even if you find the subject matter unsavoury, everything looks amazing. That’s probably helped by the impressive 4K restoration, with Shivazappa himself stating that “this is the version which you should watch.”
Fans of Italian giallo movies may recognise the lead actress, Dagmar Lassander, from her appearances in the likes of The Iguana with a Tongue of Fire and Reflections in Black, as well as the Lucio Fulci horror movies The Black Cat and The House by the Cemetery. It bugged me for a while who she reminded me of, and then it came to me – she bears a striking resemblance to Alexa Davies, the Welsh actress who’s appeared in the likes of The Long Shadow, Detectorists and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.
Lassander plays Maria, a journalist working for Dr Sayer (Philippe Leroy), the seemingly perfect head of a philanthropic foundation. However, what few others realise is that he spends his weekends at his luxurious villa, indulging his wildest sadistic fantasies with help from a prostitute. When the latter doesn’t turn up for their latest assignation, Sayer kidnaps Maria, forcing her to take part in his activities.
Although she’s initially repulsed by his behaviour, it soon becomes clear she isn’t going to take it lying down, so to speak. Instead, Maria begins playing Sayer at his own game, gradually turning the tables…
I don’t want to give too much away about the plot, but I will say that it’s a relief when Maria starts to take control, otherwise The Frightened Woman would merely have been another cinematic exercise in misogyny, which we can surely do without. The ending also surprised me somewhat, which is never a bad thing.
Nevertheless, I remained rather uncomfortable throughout The Frightened Woman. Because, although the scenes of cruelty and degradation are pretty tame by today’s standards, they are relentless. There’s very little here in terms of light and shade. It’s certainly not one to watch with your Nan either!
As is often the case, however, the special features make it well worth a look, particularly the exclusive interview with Lassander herself.
- Dagmar Lassander World-Exclusive Interview
- Piero Schivazappa Interview
- New 4K-Restored Version
- English Language + separate original Italian
- New English Subtitles & additional SDH