LesCousinesUpscale sleaze from France. Don’t let this 1970 film’s refined surface fool you, as it’s just as trashy, amoral and exploitive as any of the more skuzzy offerings of the grindhouse era—and that’s no small claim!

LES COUSINES, based on the novel THE PERVERSE WOMEN’S NIGHT by Fletcher D. Benson, was a rare directorial credit by Louis Soulanes (who it seems was far more prolific as a screenwriter and/or cinematographer). The film is infamous in cult circles for the fact that its U.S. release (titled FROM EAR TO EAR), courtesy of Cinemation Industries, was heavily cut to appease the MPAA, yet still received an X rating!

The twentyish Elisa lives in a vast country house with her mother and cousin Lucile, a strapping blond with whom Elisa shares a deeply perverse bond. Also living in the house is Elisa’s wheelchair-bound sister Josine, who due to a childhood trauma has become catatonic. On those rare occasions when Elisa isn’t canoodling with Lucile, she likes to bang her hunky boyfriend and callously torture her sister. Among other things, Elisa and Lucile slap Josephine, fondle her breasts, strap a blaring radio to her wheelchair and wave an armless doll in her face, which for some reason terrifies her.

One weekend Elisa and Josine’s mother leaves town on a business trip. Left to their own devices, Lucile and Elisa throw a party that quickly gets out of hand. During the melee Josine is removed from her wheelchair and force-fed cigarette butts by a particularly randy male guest, and a bit later Elisa and Lucile drunkenly kill the man.

Upon waking up the next day Elisa and Lucile are shocked to find the man’s corpse, and become apprehensive that Josine might somehow alert the world to their misdoings. The cousins decide to kill Josine, and in the process uncover a dark secret.

The X rating this film received seems a little gratuitous by modern standards, but LES COUSINES remains an eye-opener. The sex and violence quotient is nothing to shout about, but the film’s unrelieved sordidness is directly at odds with most everything in today’s sanitized movie landscape.

The film in any event is well made, as you might expect from an early seventies French production. The lavish production values are striking, the performances generally strong, and the cinematography crisp and professional (even though most prints of the film are considerably scratched and faded). Such things only serve to amplify the sleaziness of the enterprise, which despite its upscale trappings revels in ugliness and perversion.

The whole thing could have been a bit more expansive overall, as LES COUSINES often plays like a filmed play with its tightly contained setting and repetitive narrative. But viewers desiring unadorned exploitation are in for a treat!

Vital Statistics

Les Actives Cinegraphiques/Productions Claude Capra

Director: Louis Soulanes
Producer: C. Leon-Dufour
Screenplay: Louis Soulanes
(Based on a novel by Fletcher D. Benson)
Cinematography: Albert Susterre
Cast: Nicole Debonne, Danielle Argence, Solange Pradel, Liliane Bert, Robert Lombard, Jean Genin, Alain Doutey, Katia Tchenko, Bernard Mesquich, Katia Bagarry