Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Eugenie... the Story of Her Journey Into Perversion (1970)

... aka: De Sade 70... aka: Eugenie
... aka: Marquis de Sade
... aka: Marquis de Sade - Eugenie
... aka: Marquis de Sade's 'Philosophy in the Boudoir'
... aka: Philosophy in the Boudoir
... aka: Story of Her Journey Into Perversion, The

Directed by:
Jesus Franco

Madame Marianne Saint Ange (Maria Rohm) seduces Monsieur de Mistival (Paul Muller) and gets him to agree to let her take his impressionable, sheltered 15-year-old daughter Eugenie (played by 19-year-old Marie Liljedahl) away to her tropical island mansion (only accessible via boat) for the weekend. She promises no harm will become of his virginal little girl in the process. Upon arriving, Eugenie is showered with attention, fancy wardrobe, ocean-front dinners, wine and smoke by her libertine hostess, who also enjoys bathing and rubbing lotion on her guest in various states of undress. Eugenie is also introduced to Marianne's step-brother (and lover) Mirvel (Jack Taylor), who immediately falls in love with the naive young beauty, a black handyman named Augustin ("Kablan" / Anney Kablan) and reclusive, mute maid Therese (Uta Dahlberg). Seems harmless - and typical - late 60s/early 70s soft-focus soft-core fluff, right? Not so fast, sucker. This is actually an adaptation of the Marquis de Sade's controversial, oft-banned and (some say) socio-political 1795 book La Philosophie dans le boudoir ("Philosophy in the Bedroom"). There's sadism galore, druggings, rapings, beatings, nightmares, murders and a strange cult dressed in Victorian era garb and headed over by Christopher Lee as Dolmance. Said cult seems to want to get their hands on a human heart for some kind of ceremony.

Though he has received his fair share of criticism over the years - some of it earned and some of it by yours truly - director Jess Franco deserves much credit for what he delivers here. Not many filmmakers actually had the nerve to film de Sade during this era, not many filmmakers actually had the nerve to film erotica involving such then-taboo subjects as incest, lesbianism, interracial relations and S&M and not many directors could do it with an actual budget, actual actors and attention paid to both location and art direction. Furthermore, not many directors could do it all with an intoxicating signature style. Visually-speaking, this is a very interesting piece of work for both the director and cinematographer Manuel Merino, especially in regard to camera focus. Yes, this film does go out of focus to blur quite often. Image being out of focus is often regarded as an elementary technical error, but done intentionally in this context it's an interesting and creative technique that manages to up the dreamy allure and dark sensuality of the film considerably.

Acting-wise, the film makes a particularly fine showcase for Rohm, who previously had played the title role in Franco's murder-mystery VENUS IN FURS (1968). Rohm, who was married to writer and producer "Peter Welbeck" (Harry Alan Towers) and sometimes got sidelined in these productions, gets a wicked, manipulative role to sink her teeth into and makes the most of it. Liljedahl, who'd just made a name for herself in the international erotic hit INGA (1968), is just adequate but at least looks the part of a teenager. Both actresses spend much of their screen time nude. Euro-horror staples Taylor (the male lead in Franco's FEMALE VAMPIRE) and Muller (the male lead in Franco's EUGENIE DE SADE) don't quite get the showcase the ladies do here but are fine nonetheless. Maria Luisa Ponte (billed as "Inga Swenson" and horribly dubbed) has just one scene as Eugenie's overbearing mother but would go on to win many prestigious European film awards later in her career. Colette Giacobine (star of Franco's Nightmares Come at Night), Herbert Fux (from Franco's Jack the Ripper, Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun and others) and Franco himself also appear in small roles.

The part played by Lee was originally offered to George Sanders, who turned it down either for personal reasons or illness (the stories vary), and then to Wolfgang Preiss, who turned it down because of his wife's passing. Lee would later claim he had no idea this was soft-porn until he actually saw the movie (it premiered with an X rating). According to him, his scenes were shot, and then edited in with the sex scenes later on. Though he claimed to be dissatisfied with the end result, he'd still go on to act in several other Franco films, including 1970's THE BLOODY JUDGE, 1988's Dark Mission and 1989's Fall of the Eagles. His imposing presence here during the cult scenes is definitely a plus either way.

It was filmed in Barcelona, Spain and also boasts an evocative Bruno Nicolai score. The DVD was released in America through Blue Underground.

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