During his ’70s-era heyday, Jesus Franco let nothing stop him from following his muse. With the slimmest resources – one location, a week or two of shooting time, a handful of uninhibited actors – he could crank out a few films back to back. Something that helped him in this single-minded pursuit was that he knew what he liked: he favored kinky softcore chamber dramas and looked to the works of Marquis De Sade for inspiration. How To Seduce A Virgin, a U.K. retitling for Plaisir A Trois, is a good example of how Franco could work his sadomasochistic mojo on a typically stripped-down budget.
The anti-heroine of How To Seduce A Virgin is Martine Bressac (Alice Arno). She is released from a mental institution as the story begins and resumes her old habit of seducing and torturing young women to add to a “living museum” of victims she keeps in her basement. Her assistants are her equally perverse husband Charles (ex-spaghetti western star Robert Woods) and her mute, mentally ill servant Adele (Franco muse Lina Romay). Martine sets her sights on seducing and killing Cecile (Tania Busselier), a virginal daughter of her husband’s friends. With Charles’ help, Martine ushers Cecile to their home for a weekend of decadence. However, a seduction is tricky thing – and it can get complex when your obsessions are burning hot.
The result is softcore erotica at its most fetish-driven. Franco goes for a debauched mood, creating a stylized world where a lush island setting and beautifully designed homes provide the backdrop for the antics of characters totally driven by lust and perversion. He goes for a couple of extended setpieces that work quite well: the first is a scene where the Bressacs are driven into a lusty coupling while spying on Cecile (who happens to be pleasuring herself) and a party game in the den that results in the Bressacs, Cecile and Adele trading off in a series of ever more heated couplings.
There are the usual Franco stylistic tics at play here – meandering handheld camerawork, a tendency to zoom in on the actress’s crotches – but they just add to the bizarro, oveheated texture of the film. It helps that Franco has some of his best and lustiest actors here: the statuesque Arno is both imposing and alluring, Woods is convincingly sleazy as the voyeuristic hubby, Busselier is a game participant in the seduction scenes and Romay camps it up in an amusing, unrestrained style. The portrait is completed by seedy, convincingly Sadean dialogue by Alain Petit and a wall-to-wall score of lounge-jazz noodling by Robert Hermel and Daniel Janin.
As is often the case with Franco films, How To Seduce A Virgin plays to a very specialized audience, without no concerns for accessibility beyond the chosen few. However, if you can tune into Franco’s oversexed “filmmaking as jazz” wavelength, this little quickie works as a perverse tone poem of bare flesh and twisted obsessions.