Director Jess Franco–a cinematic magician with the uncanny ability to make a scene of two nude women bathing one another and making out into something distinctly boring. Regardless, there seems to be no shortage of people who are interested in watching these films. I count myself among them. To sate your mid-tier softcore exploitation needs, there’s likely no better way to come to these particular sorts of titles than with Blue Underground’s 4K Blu-ray releases. The latest are of two of Franco’s most scandalous features: Justine and Eugenie.
Many Franco fanatics will point to Vampyros Lesbos as his magnum opus (I’m personally enamored with his 1981 English-language slasher Bloody Moon). Indeed, very few will cite Justine or Eugenie in a suggestion of the director’s most essential works. Justine boasts one of Franco’s most lavish productions, but the film is a mostly tedious and loose adaptation of the Marquis de Sade’s novel of the same name. Romina Power is largely uninspiring in the titular role, but Klaus Kinski is endearingly (and characteristically) overwrought playing the notorious French nobleman writer himself. Kinski writhes and gesticulates under the glow of moody lighting from the confines of his prison cell, assailed by the tormenting visions of semi-nude women in various states of repose. (Egads!)
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Elsewhere, the show is stolen by Jack Palance. The actor delivers one bafflingly outlandish line-reading and erratic movement after another. This is a notably jaw-dropping brand of strangeness, but nothing else in the film is so freakishly compelling. Franco’s camera can be expressive during some choice sequences, and the wide scope and relatively lavish sets and costuming at least lend an intriguing grandiosity to the various forms of unsavory titillation presented.
Eugenie… The Story of Her Journey into Perversion is a more compact and modest affair, but exhibits a far greater indulgence in the sexual sadism that such films as these are intended to display. Drawn from Sade’s Philosophy in the Bedroom, it depicts a lethargically executed (and rather abruptly concluded) descent into ludicrous sadomasochism and enslavement. Like Justine, it features a lush and delightfully melodramatic musical score by the legendary Bruno Nicolai.
The presentation of both features is excellent. These films are hardly shot with a technical majesty that could be stacked against their most impressive contemporary counterparts, but these new editions emphasize the texture of their film stocks, the jolting richnesses of their color, and the fun overactive segments of camerawork that are most notably present in Justine (the madly focus-racking and hazy opening of Sade’s arrival at prison is a great opening swell of exaggerated visual excitement typical for the period). Filmmaking like this is greatly missed. Films of equivalently scummy content are few and far between, and none of them are adorned with such aspirations of legitimacy.
Many of us became accustomed to seeing films like this exclusively in appallingly unrepresentative quality presentations (from ruddy VHS to low-res streams). Even that which was largely unforgivable junk had a vibrancy and panache at this time in film history–a refreshing quality that is now re-appreciable due to this admirable restoration work. These films are all but unwatchable in SD butcheries, but are somewhat less plodding and silly when their visuals exuberantly shine like the garish tinted beacons of your local red-light district.
Both of these releases boast a commendable gamut of special features. They will be released in stunning 4K via Blue Underground on February 21st.