After wowing the prolific Spanish director Jess Franco, with her performance in the role of Lucy in his "El Conde Dracula" (Franco's attempt to bring a more faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel to the screen), actress Soledad Miranda went on to appear in a further six of his movies, all completed in under two years — which still represents only a fraction of the great man's output during that period! Two of those films have since become some of Franco's most well known and popular works, and a large part of the reason for this is probably down to the presence of this mysterious Spanish starlet, whose life was tragically cut short by a car crash at the age of 27, just before she could start work in yet another Franco opus.
"Eugenie De Sade" is one of the two movies ("Vampyros Lesbos" is the other) that have since captured the imagination of Miranda fans — and now, Oracle Home Entertainment bring UK fans a marvelous treat in the form of a completely uncut version of the film. Curiously letterboxed at what looks something like 1:44.1 (more-or-less a full screen presentation, with just a thin black band along the bottom of the screen) the transfer is, at least, more than acceptable, despite the loss of picture information at the sides of the screen (which is only occasionally noticeable), and the audio options present us with both the mono English dub and the much more preferable French audio track with English subtitles. Besides a theatrical trailer there are no extras, but this is definitely a must-buy for any Franco or Soledad fan. Franco's camera is simply in love with his leading lady: lingering scenes dwell on her beauty in an almost voyeuristic fashion, and the finished film (which also stars Franco himself in a lead role) is one of the director's most self-conscious and playful examinations of erotic obsession. The images and scenarios played out on the screen are like reflections in a conceptual hall of mirrors with Soledad -- the directors pale, fragile muse -- at its centre, still able to captivate new fans all these years later. A glorious score from Bruno Nicolai, which ranges from haunting melodic pieces to percussive jazz drenched in electric feedback, is the icing on the erotic cake.
The film is another of Franco's adaptations of the work of the Marques De Sade, following on from the previous year's two Harry Alan Towers produced features. Although updated to the present day (or rather the late sixties/early seventies), the film follows the basic outline of the plot of De Sade's Eugenie De Franval, although certain elements of the plot have been toned down. The film's title sequence depicts Eugenie in a sexual encounter with a young woman before her stepdad suddenly appears and strangles the woman. This turns out to be a snuff-movie made by the couple for their own entertainment which Attila is viewing in the course of his investigations. The rest of the story is then narrated to the writer by Eugenie from her hospital bed on the condition that he kill her afterwards!
Eugenie (Soledad Miranda) is the stepdaughter of writer and philosopher Albert Radeck (Paul Muller). The two live an insulated life in the French countryside with the young Eugenie spending large amounts of time by herself when her stepfather is away at various conferences as he tries to gain recognition for his radical philosophical ideas, which are frowned upon by his academic peers for their wanton immorality. To pass the time, Eugenie spends her days reading works from Albert's extensive library of pornographic literature. When Albert discovers this, he begins to tutor Eugenie in his ideas and eventually hatches a scheme to commit the perfect crime. After the two successfully murder a young fashion model (Alice Arno), Albert reveals to Eugenie that he murdered her mother after Eugenie was born so that he would have complete control over her upbringing and could raise her as a living embodiment of his ideas. Their relationship develops into a sexual one, and the two now embark on an unstoppable orgy of sexual transgression and murder. All the while, a mysterious writer, Attila Tanner (Jess Franco) is constantly keeping tabs on the relationship between the two -- his interest in them sparked by his awareness of Albert's writings. He seems to know exactly what they are up to, but rather than try to stop them, he is happy to merely observe their lifestyle as inspiration for his own work! Things come to a head when the corrupted, yet still innocent, Eugenie begins to fall in love with one of Albert's intended victims sparking murderous sexual jealousy in him.
Despite it's low production values and cheap look "Eugenie De Sade" is one of Franco's most assured works -- full of layers of reference for the Franco devotee to ponder. Like much of Franco's work, the film frequently draws attention to the artificiality of the film making process and the relationship between audience and film maker. The film's flat, documentary style (complete with wobbly camera) gives it a realistic dogma-style feel, and after the opening snuff-movie scene, we often feel that we are watching Albert and Eugenie's silent home movies along with Eugenie's narration. But, playing against this realism is a subtle strain of theatricality: The scene in the film where Albert and Eugenie murder a fashion model takes place in a photo shoot where the couple are posing as photographers. The photo-shoot has a sado-masochistic theme and the model uses lipstick painted on her body to represent blood (before she is brutally dispatched for "real" on film). Franco references this scene when the injured Eugenie is glimpsed on her deathbed at various points in the film -- her injuries are painted on with lipstick! Franco's own constant presence in the narrative as the writer Attila, and the reuse of sets and props from other films (a Franco constant even when it is not a moneysaving necessity) adds yet another layer of self-reference.
The presence of Soledad Miranda, who spends a good deal of the film naked, means that it cannot fail to be erotic. But given the film is about sex and death, as well as film making, it's not surprising that the film's many erotic scenes often melt into disturbing sexual violence and murder. Amazing then that the film has been passed uncut by the BBFC, who usually get into a lather over mixing sex and violence, especially since this film seems to actively rejoice in blurring the boundaries between the two! Franco fans will rejoice though, to have this prime piece of Franco sexploitation finally released in the UK in all its dubious glory.