Blue Underground Debuts a Marquis de Sade/Jess Franco Double Bill of JUSTINE and EUGENIE on 4K UHD

Two erotic literary adaptations by the Prolific Spanish director hit 4K UHD just in time for Valentines Day

This week sees the release of two 4K UHDs by the prolific Spanish exploitation auteur Jess Franco by Blue Underground. While both films are worthwhile pickups on their own, together they’re two parts of a whole for this particular period of the filmmaker’s career. In the late 60s early 70s Franco was working with British radio and independent film producer Harry Alan Towers. The producer was looking to capitalize on literary properties in the public domain, to add an air of legitimacy to Franco’s exploitation flicks. Both films here are adaptations by the notorious French pornographer the Marquis de Sade (1740–1814), whose short novellas plunged the depths of human sexuality and depravity. His name alone on the poster set a high bar for anything Franco was responsible for filming, which are still rather tame compared to their source.

The first film is 1969’s Justine, which was a rather robustly budgeted erotic costume epic for the Spaniard, starring Romina Power as the film’s namesake. When we begin the film she is happily living in a convent with her sister Juliette (Maria Rohm). After their father is forced to flee the country by creditors and their mother dies of heartbreak(?), the now penniless two young ladies are asked to leave with nothing but 100 crowns and the dresses on their backs. We then follow both sisters in this period piece as Juliette indulges in every whim and vice, as Justine, who is still a virgin tries to remain pure and remains steadfast in what she learned at the convent. The two women separate when Juliette’s first stop after leaving the convent is at the local brothel to set up shop, which sends Justine on her own. She is then immediately tricked by a priest who takes her inheritance, sending her to an innkeeper who later frames her for theft.

That’s sort of the theme here as Justine is faced with one hardship after another, framed for theft and literally branded for a murder she did not commit, while her sister continues to thrive actually committing the crimes her sister is framed for. Given the Marquis de Sade moniker, I found this film, in particular its view of Justine to be a bit more positive than I was expecting, including the ending. Apparently this was due to the adaptation by Harry Alan Towers who attempted to reign in the story a bit, making it filmable. Maria Rohm attempts to take us through this narrative in a performance that struggles a bit here and there, but succeeds thanks to the young woman’s natural charm and presence. Franco originally wanted Rosemary Dexter, a more experienced actor in the role of Justine, but the 16 year old “It Girl” was mandated by producers.

In stark contrast is 1970’s Eugenie… The Story of Her Journey into Perversion, the second of Franco’s de Sade-themed erotic films, is a much bleaker exploration of pleasure. Unlike Justine, this film adapts its story to a modern setting, placing it during the time of free love on the cusp of the swinging 60s. The film follows the pure, yet curious Eugenie, whose father is seduced by Madame Saint Ange (Maria Rohm) into letting his daughter stay on her remote island for the weekend. Here the Madame and her “Step” brother Mirvel (Jack Taylor) plan to seduce the young woman and initiate her into a weirdly meta sex cult based on the writings of the Marquis de Sade, who even dress in 1700s attire. Her story is more a descent into madness as the girl is drugged by the pair and forced to participate in these twisted scenarios which culminates in Eugenie’s complete psychological collapse in a haunting ending contrasted by the picturesque beaches of Barcelona.

Whereas the first film sort of viewed Justine’s purity as something to be protected and celebrated and was a more liberal adaptation, Eugenie is the exact opposite. It’s all about the shattering of innocence and what that does to the young girl who is obviously not ready. Add in the sex cult led by Christopher Lee in a cameo, and the brother-sister angle, and you get a much more Marquis de Sade-esque foray that features much more nudity as well, compared to the tamer Justine. The film at the time of its release was viewed as pornography, even though it definitely resides in the soft-core realm. Of course the female nudity is there, but where Eugenie really stands out is the film’s exploration of psychology as it relates to our namesake’s corruption and the impact it has on her psyche.

Both transfers were struck from the original camera negatives in both cases and because of that both discs look flawless, coupled with Dolby Vision HDR to accentuate the rather robust color palettes on both films. There is some light damage on both masters and thankfully the grain has been preserved to keep the overall film-like feel of both discs. I personally love to see the dust or an imperfection here and there, it really helps to reinforce that analogue sensibility and experience of watching a film. Both films are presented in their uncut forms with Justine running over two hours long. Audio on both titles is DTS Mono, which is the best choice for both of these films and should please purists and those viewing these films for the first time. I found the presentation of both films to be impressive and given the locations on Eugenie and the costumes and settings on Justine it really exemplified Franco’s use of cinematography as a tool to elevate these exploitation stories into the arthouse realm, where they would eventually be recognized.

Each set comes with a 4K UHD that contains only the film, while the extras are carried over onto the included Blu-rays that also have a copy of the movie. I feel like they didn’t see how much they could include, instead sticking with interviews and featurettes that genuinely have something to offer. I watched everything on both discs after each film and found they did a great job at adding some more context and behind the scenes bits to add to the enjoyment of either film. The highlight of both have to be the vintage interviews with Franco and his contributors. Franco is candid as ever as he talks about how in Justine he was saddled with his lead and how her casting changed the entire film. The commentaries are also solid and the featurettes with Stephen Thrower, who literally wrote the book on Franco.

Full extras rundown below:

Justine Special Features:

  • NEW On Set With Jess — Interview with Star Rosalba Neri
  • NEW Audio Commentary with Film Historians Nathaniel Thompson and Troy Howarth
  • The Perils And Pleasures Of Justine — Interviews with Director Jess Franco and Writer/Producer Harry Alan Towers
  • Stephen Thrower on JUSTINE — Interview with the author of “Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jesus Franco”
  • French Trailer
  • NEWLY EXPANDED! Poster & Still Gallery
  • NEW! DEADLY SANCTUARY — The shorter U.S. version in High Definition (96 Mins.)
  • Audio: English (1.0 DTS-HD MA)
  • Subtitles: English SDH, Français, Español
  • Limited Edition embossed “windowed” slipcover (First Pressing Only)

Eugenie Special Features:

  • NEW Jack Taylor in the Francoverse — Interview with Star Jack Taylor
  • NEW Audio Commentary with Film Historians Nathaniel Thompson and Troy Howarth
  • Perversion Stories — Interviews with Director Jess Franco, Writer/Producer Harry Alan Towers, and Stars Marie Liljedahl & Christopher Lee
  • Stephen Thrower on EUGENIE — Interview with the author of “Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jesus Franco”
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • NEWLY EXPANDED! Poster & Still Gallery
  • Audio: English (1.0 DTS-HD MA); French (1.0 DTS-HD MA)
  • Subtitles: English SDH, Français, Español
  • Limited Edition embossed “windowed” slipcover with alternate title (First Pressing Only)

If you’re looking to get into Franco’s spicier offerings either of these films are a great entry point. They both show the director in his prime working with some of his biggest budgets ever with some interesting source material and an eclectic cast. The films morally/thematically are a bit dicey by today’s standards, while only Justine offers its heroine any reprieve, but that’s to be expected given the source material from the Marquis de Sade. If they were indeed true adaptations, they would never be releasable commercially.

For me both of these films were first time viewings and as exploitation films they work exactly as expedited and I think I prefer Justine out of the two due to its more gothic nature and moral nature. The films also exemplify, when they are in focus that is, Franco’s eye and how he captured the female form on film unlike any other director.

Previous post MAGIC MIKE’S LAST DANCE, Truth in Advertising (Hopefully)
Next post Discussing Faith, Film, and CONSECRATION with Writer/Director Christopher Smith and Star Jena Malone