Viewing Jess Franco's EUGENIE (1969) is an experience like no other. In the first place, if your preconceived notions of Franco's filmmaking abilities write him off as a hack, erase those thoughts from your mind. The film is essentially one stunning visual tableau after another, accompanied by a story that will leave even the most jaded viewer devastated by the closing credits. Following a brief U.S. theatrical release, EUGENIE was lost to the ages, one of the only Franco films to never appear on the grey market circuit. It then emerged remastered and uncut on DVD in 2002, and now it’s to be appreciated by an entire new generation on Blu-ray.
Eugenie (Marie Liljedahl of INGA) is a sprightly young teenager who becomes the pawn in a vicious game of sexual kicks and sadistic pleasures. Her father (Franco regular Paul Mueller, LADY FRANKENSTEIN) is entranced by the elegant Marianne Saint-Ange (Maria Rohm in her definitive performance), who agrees to sleep with him on the condition that Eugenie spend the weekend at her private island mansion. Inviting her awkward step-brother Mirvel (Jack Taylor, NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS) for the weekend as well, the two sexually charged half-siblings (a situation that bears a striking resemblance to that of the more recent CRUEL INTENTIONS) devise a plot to stain the virgin-white reputation of young Eugenie, who by the conclusion of the film is a physically and mentally twisted woman. Watching EUGENIE isn't an easy sitting. Liljedahl still looks the part of a teenager, a mere two years after INGA, and the film is essentially the making and breaking of a girl, not a very pleasant thing to endure for 90 minutes. Squirming in your seat wouldn't be an uncommon occurrence during the duration of the film. And if you see the five (!) plot twists and endings coming, you deserve a medal. Based on the Marquis de Sade's "Philosophy in the Boudoir", Franco's EUGENIE manages to remain faithful to the original author's writings, in both aura and incident. If De Sade were alive today, I have a feeling he would approve of Franco's adaptation.
EUGENIE is quite possibly Franco's masterpiece. The director himself says this is the one of his films that he hates the least, and it's not hard to see why. Other than several out-of-focus shots, it is a technical marvel. Franco's usual stationary photography is given a generous boost via the use of the dolly and crane shots, and the scope cinematography is expertly framed. In addition to its technical brilliance, EUGENIE is made all the more intoxicating by its cast. The star, Marie Liljedahl, isn't as naturally convincing as she was in her debut film, INGA, but is still capable of conveying the transformation from innocent to sadist. The scenes of her running nude over the deserted island are particularly striking and well-acted. Maria Rohm proves she was more than just the wife of producer/screenwriter Harry Alan Towers (who used his “Peter Welbeck” nom de plume across the board here). She was a true blue actress, and she gives her all in the performance of her career. Jack Taylor has always delivered in his films, regardless of how unbelievable the storyline is or how shallow his character is (truthfully, he is one of the underrated actors of the Eurocult genre). Christopher Lee, despite appearing for a fleeting few minutes as Dolmance (the onscreen narrator), is a suitable menace. And look quick for Herbert Fux (MARK OF THE DEVIL) as one of Marianne's "guests". When you're not admiring the look, feel, and performances of the film, you will be grooving to the outstanding musical score by underrated composer Bruno Nicolai. Whether it be the lilting female vocals of the opening theme to the choppy harpsichord-driven sadism theme to the jazzy revelation music near the close of the film, Nicolai's score is terrifically kitsch and available here on a third disc as a CD soundtrack.
Elements of EUGENIE will seem familiar to those who view Franco movies regularly, especially present in his later VAMPYROS LESBOS. The drugged wine and subsequent sexual escapades were later echoed successfully and the deserted island locale recalls several similar sequences at Countess Nadine's seaside villa. And doesn't Maria Rohm, adorned in her flowing black cape, mirror the image of Soledad Miranda in an identical costume? Not only does Franco's film recall images from his own films, there are sequences that are better associated with other directors and genres. The red tinted finale is straight out of a Bava film; the island cemetery brings to mind a spaghetti western; the arrival of Marianne's guests on the island strangely feels like a Rollin film; and shots of the desert island are similar to what was later to be found in Nicolas Roeg’s WALKABOUT. What these scenes resemble is really rather unimportant; as a whole, they combine to create one of the strangest and most rewarding Franco films you'll likely to see.
Lee commented on the film in the book The Films of Christopher Lee, saying, “George Sanders was to have done the picture; for some reason, he was not able to. Then a distinguished German actor was hired. On arriving in Barcelona, where the picture was made, he received word his wife had been killed in an accident. So someone in the production rang me up and asked me if I would come to Barcelona and do it on Saturday afternoon and Sunday, and then go back home. The part was that of Domance, who narrates the story. I saw no reason not to do it: after all, George Sanders, the German actor, etc… So I went to Barcelona. Six months later, to my dismay, I was walking along Old Compton Street, in London, and to my horror I saw this film advertised at the kind of cinema that only shows exploitation films. It seems after I had left, they shot a lot of similar scenes in which everybody took their clothes off. In one scene, I had my back to the action, and behind me it showed some naked girl. This was created by the cutting. I wasn’t pleased. I made my feelings known, but it was to no avail”.
Some 13 years after its initial DVD release, Blue Underground revisits EUGENIE on Blu-ray, presenting the film uncut once again in a stunning 1080p 4K HD transfer. The film has been presented in its proper 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and the color schemes here are a thing of absolute beauty. Detail is extremely sharp except in the out-of-focus shots (the original cameraman's fault), and the textures in the actors’ facial features is most impressive. The source element is also in pristine condition, so there is nothing at all to complain about here. The DTS-HD 1.0 mono English audio is exemplary, with dialogue being distinct and Nicolai's score playing at full-blast at all the right moments. The French language track that was on the 2002 DVD has not been carried over here (the film was shot in English, with some of the actors, including Lee, doing their own dialogue and the rest of them post-dubbed). Subtitles are included in English SDH, French and Spanish. A standard definition anamorphic DVD is included and it contains the same HD transfer as well as the same extras.
Picked up from the 2002 DVD is "Perversion Stories", a 17-minute featurette discussing the influence behind the film (the success of JUSTINE) and behind-the-scenes stories from Jess Franco, Harry Alan Towers (very briefly), Marie Liljedahl and Christopher Lee. Franco does the most talking of the four, in French with English subtitles. He discusses Jerry Gross' disapproval of the film (not enough male penises!), the casting, and the film's locations. Towers mentions the decision to cast Liljedahl and Lee, but doesn't appear to talk about much else. Liljedahl (who had only previously contributed an audio interview for the INGA DVD) appears on-camera for the first time in over 30 years, and despite being a bit heavier, she still has those lovely eyes and lips. Speaking in English, she talks about her dedication to the film and on-set relations with Franco, Rohm and Lee. The late Lee doesn't have much screen time, but does mention how he became involved with the project, his two days on the set, and his surprise at seeing his name top-billed on an adult cinema marquee! It's a great featurette, and the late Franco is much more lively than he was in some of his other DVD interview appearances, probably due to the fact that he was speaking in a language he was comfortable with. A new featurette is “Stephen Thrower on EUGENIE” (18:07). Here the author of Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jesus Franco starts by mentioning that the film was shot in early 1969, right before THE BLOODY JUDGE and COUNT DRACULA (both with Lee). Thrower relates that the film’s De Sade-inspired ideas were reconfigured for the modern day, he talks about some of the differences between the main character in the original story and in the film, praises Rohm’s performance and how well she looks on camera, and he touches up the various theatrical releases and Lee’s involvement in the film (Thrower also scribes the excellent liner notes found within the package’s collectible booklet). A great theatrical trailer is included, as is an extensive poster and stills gallery, featuring stills and posters from the various international releases, behind-the-scenes photos, the American pressbook, the German pressbook, the original soundtrack LP, DVD covers, photos of theater marquees playing the film and German lobby cards under the title DIE JUNGFRAU UND DIE PEITSCHE (translation: The Virgin and the Whip).
There are at least half a dozen eras in the filmography of Jess Franco. Most viewers are familiar with his Soledad Miranda stage, his Lina Romay period, and his Eurocine films. Blue Underground's Blu-ray/DVD/CD package is a perfect introduction to his Harry Alan Towers films, a series of productions which featured incredible casts, lavish budgets, and advanced technical prowess. EUGENIE will not only please Francophiles, those who despise the man's films will find much to love here. It's a film you'll want to share with others just to talk about, and every single person who frequents Euro Cult or Franco films must seek out this release. (Casey Scott and George R. Reis)
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