Friday, December 28, 2012

Justine de Sade (1972)

... aka: Justine
... aka: Justine - Lustschreie hinter Klostermauern
... aka: Violation of Justine, The

Directed by:
Claude Pierson

After being tossed out of a convent, 15-year-old Juliet (France Verdier) is forced to look for a way to support herself. Thankfully, a local brothel is hiring. After passing her virginity test, Juliet is promised retirement after just ten years as a working girl. In that time, she makes all the right connections and manages to carve out a cushy life for herself as the wife of a wealthy count. The same cannot be said for Juliet's sister, Justine (Alice Arno). Instead of prostituting herself, Justine decided to try to live a more virtuous life. And if you're familiar with the de Sade novel in which this is based, you'll realize that trying to take the more 'respectable' road has its own misfortunes. This begins with Justine, who now goes by the name Thérèse, being brought into a tavern by two armed guards on their way to Paris. Justine has been accused of theft, arson and murder, and may face death if convicted. Juliet happens to be in the same tavern and, married to a Count, gets a chance to talk to Justine. Since the two women were separated as children, and Justine has only revealed her alias, they don't even realize they're sisters.

Justine's story is a sordid one full of cruelty, abuse and misery. As a poor orphan girl, Justine got her first taste of what men are really like when a potential employer forced her to jerk him off and then ejaculated on her face. Humiliated by that ordeal, Justine moves on to the home of eccentric Mr. Du Harpin, who encourages her to steal a gold box from an upstairs neighbor in exchange for a raise. After Justine refuses, Du Harpin frames her and she's thrown in prison. There, she meets a notorious gypsy named Madame Dusbois, who usually runs with a pack of thieves. Dusbois starts a fire which kills 21 people so she can escape, and takes Justine along with her. Justine refuses to give up her virginity to Dusbois's bandit friends, so they make her do other sexual things instead. Right when one tries to enter into "the altar where I will burn my incense" (her ass), Justine is saved by the arrival of Saint-Florent (Franco Fantasia). The bandits rob him but spare his life when Justine agrees to do any sexual favors the men want. Instead, she unties Saint-Florent and the two manage to sneak out the next morning before any deflowering of incense burning can commence.

Saint-Florent rewards Justine for saving his life by knocking her out with a stick and then violating her while she's knocked out. Afterward, she encounters a young man "immolating his master with a colossal spear" (i.e. fucking another guy) in the woods. When they realize she's spying on them, they "flush the slut out," strip her naked, scare her and then take her back to an aunt's home to work as a chambermaid. When she refuses to take part in poisoning the aunt, she's taken outside, where De Bressac lets a couple of dogs chew up her ass. Justine goes to a seemingly charitable surgeon, who tends to her wounds and lets her convalesce for a month. Nice guy? Nope. He turns out to be a sadist who likes being whipped and is a pedophile who uses his daughter Rosalee as a sex slave and then plans on killing her. When Justine tries to help Rosalee escape, she's branded a criminal and tossed out of the boarding school.

Off to a monastery Justine goes, where she hopes to find sanctuary with some holy men. Nope. These monks are actually sadistic creeps just like the rest of the men in this movie. The men have their own female sex slaves, who have been beaten into complete submission during their stay there. They'd like to add Justine to their little harem. She's gang raped multiple times, has her ass beaten bloody with a piece of wood, is whipped, forced to take part in orgies, is douched with boiling hot water, has a communion wafer shoved up her ass (!) and has to have sex with another woman. She escapes from there after six months and is immediately kidnapped and brought to the home of a bisexual painter with a major ass fetish who lives with his sickly wife (played by Arno's real-life sister Chantal Broquet) and two boy toys and likes to slice them all up with a scalpel. Her last little adventure involves a wealthy, well-endowed nobleman (with a cock "the size of half an arm") who's into torturing and killing women and oxygen deprivation.

This makes quite the interesting companion piece to Jess Franco's MARQUIS DE SADE'S "JUSTINE" (1968), an adaptation of the same controversial tale. Both movies had a major central casting flaw. Franco's movie featured 17-year-old Romina Power (forced upon him by producers) in the titular role. While Power certainly looked the part of an inexperienced, naive young virgin, she lacked the talent and experience necessary to make the character anything more than a wooden plank to bounce the action off of. Pierson's choice of Alice Arno (then in her mid-20s) also doesn't really ring true. Though a better actress than Power, she's still pretty wooden herself and doesn't look anywhere near as fresh and innocent. To solidify the connection between the two films, Arno was a frequent player in Franco's films both before and after this one. She was a victim to incestuous father-and-daughter killers in EUGENIE DE SADE (1970), played the titular cannibal in THE PERVERSE COUNTESS (1973), was a sadistic lesbian in FEMALE VAMPIRE (1973) and had numerous other roles for the Spanish director.

Franco's film was the bigger-budgeted, better-looking, more visually stylish of these two movies and had the star power of actors like Jack Palance, Klaus Kinski and Mercedes McCambridge to fall back on. Despite having a cast not well-known outside of France, Pierson's film is actually the better acted of the two movies and is also adequately produced itself, with fine sets, period costumes and production values. Pretty much in the pocket of his producers, Franco had to tone down the material considerably to ensure a wider release. Pierson, however, did not. He covers more of the novel in much less time and is able to stay more faithful. His film features lots of kinky sex and full-frontal nudity and even retains de Sade's downbeat ending (which Franco had changed). It's almost as if one took the best elements from both of these movies we'd have a very good adaptation instead of two watchable though highly-flawed ones.

If possible, try to view this one in French with subtitles. The English dubbing makes the whole thing rather laughable. Many versions are censored; including the original U.S. theatrical and VHS releases (there's now an uncut DVD from Blue Underground). The most complete version runs 115 minutes.


Fogbrook Thing, The (1985)

... aka: Berko Brothers, The

Directed by:
Mark Osborn

In 1965, a busload of boy scouts of various ages and their chaperone arrive deep in the Victorian brush of Fogbrook for a camping trip. 280 miles from the nearest town, the scouts set up their tents, raise their flag and, later that night, share ghost stories around a campfire. One of the older scouts tells the "true story" about The Berko Brothers ("berko" is Aussie slang for "berserk") to the younger ones in an attempt to scare them. According to the legend, a pair of Italian brothers crashed their plane near the area years ago. One of the brothers' legs were horribly mangled in the crash, forcing the other to piggyback his sibling across the dangerous terrain. Because the brother who could walk spent so much time carrying his crippled brother around on his back, the two managed to fuse together into one mass of two heads and four arms. And they both went crazy in the process. Visitors to the area have even reported seeing the brothers in the area lurking around in the brush. Some even claim they've seen them warming themselves by their fire late at night...

This 22-minute short is quite well done and manages to brilliantly capture the impact a good scary campfire tale can have on an impressionable young mind. The director and cinematographer do superb jobs setting up an eerie atmosphere and really make the most of the thick forest surrounding the camp; turning it into a sinister place indeed, and compounding that with scenes in the tents late at night, with shadows of tree branches swaying in the wind reflected inside and a bunch of young and scared boys lying awake in silence just waiting for the mangled brothers to make an appearance... The ending is a tad pat after such a great build up, but this is precisely the type of film that would make a great segue for younger viewers to start getting into the genre.

There were many reports of people viewing this Aussie production before it actually materialized online. In some theaters in both Australia and the UK, it was shown before Space Camp (1986). It also may have been a bonus feature on some video releases in the 1980s. The short finally turned up because it was featured on the Australian children's program Kaboodle, which was eventually released on a DVD box set. You can now view it on Youtube.


Encounter with the Unknown (1973)

Directed by:
Harry Thomason

During the years 1949 through 1970, Dr. Jonathan Rankin conducted extensive research in the field of psychic phenomena and catalogued hundreds of events that defy rational explanation. The most intriguing aspect of the research was the discovery of an apparent relationship between many of these events and certain cemeteries located throughout the United States. According to Dr. Rankin, 453 people directly involved in these strange events were buried in only 23 separate cemeteries throughout the nation. Some of the persons died as a result of the recorded event but many lived normal life times before being interred in one of the 23 cemeteries. This apparent final grouping of people who were touched by the unknown is referred to in parapsychology as the Rankin Cluster Phenomena. Dr. Rankin's research was never completed due to his untimely death August 20, 1970. He was buried 16 blocks from his home in one of the 23 cemeteries he spent his lifetime studying. The following episodes are based on supposedly true events described in Dr. Rankin's writing and involving one of the mystery cemeteries.

Sounds intriguing, no? Well, the filmmakers responsible for this trio of supernatural tales just made all of the above up. Not only is there no famous parapsychologist named Dr. Jonathan Rankin, but there was also no study and no linking of strange events to cemeteries. The film doesn't even bother following that fake set-up itself!

The Twilight Zone's Rod Sterling narrates, introduces the major players and reminds us that "There are few things as strange as reality." While attending the funeral for Johnny Davis, three college students; Frank (Gary Brockette), Randy (John Leslie) and Dave (Tom Haywood), are approached by Camille (Fran Franklin), mother of the deceased. She informs them they'll get their just reward, mentions a heptagon and says "one by land, two by sky." Later, while traveling by plane, Frank recounts his story for priest Father Duane (Robert Ginnaven). He and his friends had tricked the geeky Johnny into going to an old woman's home to get laid; claiming she was a young and willing friend of theirs. Instead, Johnny was accidentally shot and killed. Seven days after the event, Dave was run over and killed by a car. Now it's fourteen days later. After Father Duane gets off at his destination, the plane takes off again and crashes. Seven are killed, including Frank. Father Duane then sets about to locate Randy and see if the 7-7-7 prophecy is real or mere coincidence.

Our second story (a "soul-shattering rendezvous with darkness") is set in Southern Mississippi in 1906. While out fishing, young Jess (Kevin Bieberly) falls asleep and his dog Lady runs off. Later that night, the boy hears barking so he sneaks out of his window to take a look. When his father Joe (Robert Holton) finds him, he's lying on the ground half out of it next to a deep hole. The hole is actually an underground cavern which has been opened up by rain. Smoke, strange noises and beastly growls come out of it. Word soon gets around town about the mysterious cave. Some think it's "the work of the devil." Others want to know what's inside of it. Against his wife's (Annabelle Weenick) psychic premonitions, Joe and some other men from town (including Bill Thurman) decide to further investigate the strange hole. Joe agrees to be lowered down into it with a rope... and doesn't emerge as the same guy went down there.

Finally, we have "The Girl on the Bridge," which is based on an popular urban legend with slight variations depending on which area of the U.S. you live in (I've usually heard it called "The Hitchhiker"). After wrecking her car in the river, pretty young Susan (Rosie Holotik) is found standing on a bridge in a daze by a Senator (Michael Harvey) and his wife (Judith Fields). She has no recollection of what had happened. All she knows is that she just wants to go home. Susan then recounts what led up to her fateful crash. During an argument, her father (Gene Ross) told her to stop seeing Paul (August Sehven), the man she truly loves, because he doesn't have much money. Susan refused and continued to sneak out to see him. The star-crossed lovers eventually attempted to run off together and elope... and that's when they crashed. When the Senator and his wife go to drop Susan off at her home, they understand why Susan's father has deep regrets about telling her that "I'd rather see you dead than married to that boy."

If you can overlook the low production values, highly variable acting (many appear to have been dubbed) and predictability of the plotlines, the three stories are somewhat entertaining. Unfortunately, this is brought down a notch by both sheer redundancy and an awful final 10 minutes, which is nothing more than a narrated recap of what we've just seen. The echo-voiced narrator (not Serling) rambles on and on about death, witchcraft, white magic, black magic, the Egyptian 'Book of the Dead,' burial rituals, energy released during birth and death and a bunch of other nonsense. Just like the beginning fake scroll, this seems like a desperate attempt to tie things together and it doesn't work. Serling's narration is also unnecessary and just as redundant, though it does at least lend this low-budget regional picture a little class.

This was filmed in Texas and features many regular actors in the films of such Alamo State filmmakers as S.F. Brownrigg (Ross, Weenick and 1972 Playboy Playmate Holotik were the stars of his hit DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT) and Larry Buchanan (Thurman and Weenick). The director also made VISIONS OF EVIL (1973) and THE DAY IT CAME TO EARTH (1979); both of which featured Ginnaven in a major role.

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