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DVD Review: Vanessa

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Vanessa is a decent bit of Eurosleaze, originally released in 1977. The case proclaims it to pick up where Emmanuelle left off. I have never seen any of the Emmanuelle movies, but I imagine them to be like Vanessa.

The film begins in a convent in Europe, where the virginal Vanessa is sharing a book of erotic art with a number of her schoolmates. She is called into the Mother Superior's office and told that her uncle has died, leaving her a huge inheritance. She travels to Hong Kong to retrieve it. Her newfound fortune consists of a massive plantation and a chain of successful brothels. Oddly, it is the plantation, not the brothels, that is the focus here. The current caretaker of the plantation claims to be an illegitimate son of Vanessa's uncle, and insists that the plantation is his.

While Vanessa's lawyer is working to secure her inheritance, Vanessa – and the other characters – are exploring the carnal delights that Hong Kong has to offer. Kay delights in cheating on her husband – then telling him about it; Jackie is an exhibitionistic young teen (played by an actress who looks 40) who gives Vanessa her first sexual experience; Vanessa explores one of the women-only brothels and is shocked by what she sees.

The film is surprisingly coherent. Sleaze movies are generally just scenes of sex and degradation, strung together with a loose thread that the producers laughably call a plot. This was just the opposite: a plot intercut with sex scenes. Some which fit (like Jackie and Vanessa's sex scene) and some which do not (like the scene where the plantation caretaker has sex with one of his servant girls beneath a shower of dried barley).

There is also a half-assed plot line about black magic – some prince has dark magical powers, and Vanessa is tapped into these powers, too. This "plot line" only serves as an excuse for the prince to have sex with women using his mind alone. This film tries to add all sorts of elements: nunsploitation (the convent and a convenient flashback), straight-out exploitation (Vanessa is inexplicably whipped at the end), and satanic elements (this black-magic nonsense). But what Vanessa comes down to is soft-core porn with surprisingly decent acting. You get all the traditional 1970s porn elements: big fluffy bush, scary mustaches, and bow-chicka-bow-wow music.

There are actually a couple of special features on this disc: theatrical trailers, behind-the-scenes footage, and an interview with the director. Unfortunately, this footage is so shaky it is barely watchable. The behind-the-scenes stuff is rather disappointing – just shaky close-ups of the sex scenes with cheesy music over it.

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