Eugenie…the story of her journey into perversion

Jess Franco is one of the legends of European Cinema, and thankfully he’s been getting the recognition he clearly deserves. Many people are still divided on their opinions, but for me he has created many films worthy of viewing, and despite all of the many low-budget quick makes he’s Directed that has his critics always pointing out, most of his work through The 60’s and 70’s (sometimes beyond) has been ground breaking, sometimes controversial, usually erotic, and proving that the highlights of his career seriously hold up well. Thanks to the numerous reissues of his films, people now have a chance to know what some have been writing about (Writers like Tim Lucas and Pete Tombs have sparked much interest), and after years of pan-and-scan VHS tapes with bad presentations, the full view is now easier to find.

Why is Eugenie a choice for the first Franco article in this Blog? It has a great blend of what makes Franco’s films of his Harry Alan Towers era (The one that possibly had the most worldwide success) seriously interesting including a notable appearance by Christoper Lee, the legendary Actor who has appeared in other great Towers-era Franco films such as The Bloody Judge and the ill-fated but notable Count Dracula who, even as someone who worked for Towers before his films, wondered about joining in this film (the story is well known, and it should be stated that he has much respect for the Director.), as well as a great eye for classy Sexploitation, plus the inclusion of star Marie Liljedhal, who was at the peak of her fame which started with Joe Sarno’s great Drama Inga. Plus, it’s a centerpiece of a time when he was about to make a big break in The States thanks to films like 99 Women only to have a major streak of disappointment through bad Distribution, cut releases, and very little fanfare; Eugenie was perfect for what was happening in the Film World, when it came to Erotica and daring subject matter, but despite some European success, it’s release in The States was a major let down, almost an example of the coldness the industry had to X-Rated films by the time Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was released while retreating to Action and Family fare…but more on that later…time for the show.

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Madame Saint-Ange (Maria Rohm) is indulging in that legendary past time that everyone interested in the darker side of Erotica has went or still is going through, reading the work of the Marquis de Sade – in this case Philosophy in the Boudoir, the short story that this film slightly adapts for it’s own world. Taking her eyes off the page and thinking about a rite, which sees Jess Franco in a small cameo, the sights quickly focus on Dolmance (Lee) who introduces the viewer into this scene of perversion and Erotica. Like the legendary film Venus in Furs and several other Franco films, the word “dreaming” takes center stage ushering in a kind of Surreal scene where the viewer has it’s own interpretation of what’s going on.

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Eugenie, tired of her Mother’s intrusion on her life, stating “I’m old enough to do what I want to when I please!” (The ultimate statement of rebellious films of the era), will soon be invited to a gathering on a remote island by the Madame, who has the unnamed Father (Paul Muller) as one of her customers. After arriving on a boat driven by Augustine (Anney Kablan), one of those who work for the Madame, Eugenie is also eyed on by the Madame’s Stepbrother Mirvel (Jack Taylor), leading to the Drama later on. Mind games and indulgence are on order, and the screen is used very well for all of it, blending Franco’s and Manuel Merino’s keen eye for visual Sexploitation and location shooting, in this case Barcelona.

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When the party heats up, including plenty of scenes covered in red, a gathering of friends appear when Eugenie is introduced to torture including whips of wool while Dolmance carries on with the Philosophy According to de Sade. It is then back to “Reality” and the fateful meeting between Eugenie and Murval, who just earlier killed the Maid, resulting in a caving into cruelty as the Stepbrother is stabbed. Upon finding out, the Madame stages the scene for Eugenie’s own death, but Dolmance stops the show and turns the verdict over to the Madame as Eugenie once again give into her feelings of vengeance by stabbing her host in a style much like the rite the viewer saw in the introduction while being watched over by Augustine with much happiness, leaving the guilty woman to leave the house and run alone as a Police boat gets ready to pick her up…and then we return once more to The Madame ready to call her lovely friend…
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Although some of the acting may not be among the most distinctive in Franco’s films, and it’s logical to think that there are those who would have rather had Soledad Miranda or Lina Romay around, the film still ranks as among the best of his work for Harry Alan Towers, the Producer who, to be fair, brought the Director to a bigger audience around the world, especially The States where his films would normally play just the Grindhouse and Drive In circuit if they got an actual release with a small company. The music by Bruno Nicolai is great, with some moments even reflecting an influence of The Doors (Something sounds a bit like their version of “Back Door Man” in a final party sequence), and while it only took part of the original story it claimed to be an adaption of (It usually is with de Sade’s works), it did, at least, capture a blend of the Erotic, Sadistic, and sometimes Ghastly in one fine show.
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Still, with this film fitting in with the time, it remained a mystery as to why it did not do all that well in The States.

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First, it’s US August, 1970 release was shortly after the infamous launch of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, which when all was said and done was a good hit despite the reservations of the industry. Despite having then X-Rated films like Midnight Cowboy proving to be winners, there was much aversion to promoting X films in several newspapers through the country as well as protests by some so-called “Concerned Groups,” resulting in some hesitation with theaters playing these films (And, for those who watch Documentaries like Inside Deep Throat, the old line “It was the Nixon era” might be used as well), and one may view that the infamous Myra Breckenridge, 20’th Century Fox’s other X-Rated film around the same time as BVD, possibly turned more heads away from the rating. It was a very shaky time for Mature films, the time between BVD and Deep Throat when even companies like AIP and Crown were announcing their plans to gear their business more into PG-Rated territory (At that time, PG was not a wimpy way to go as it is now), and with the film being released in the States by a little-known company with hardly any background, it was a given that it would have a tough hill to climb in terms of promotion beyond the Grindhouses.

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To look closer, there was already too much classic X and R-Rated competition of controversial and Erotic films that succeeded in their targets. To set some major examples which were playing through Late 1970 – BVD was a classic that went straight for the Adult audiences in the way only Russ Meyer could do, the wonderful Performance was a major hit with the Rock Audiences trying to look hip, and there were the long list of films like Sexual Freedom in Denmark that caught the audiences from day one along with the standard Adult fare from companies like Box Office International and Entertainment Ventures, Inc. which proved to be an easy play and a good draw. Taking all of this into consideration, and adding in the fact that this was not critically well-received, this may have been something seen as a bit “too arty” for some audiences despite the classic casting decisions and some notoriety…then again it may have been through the promotion, or really lack of, that this was not noticed as well.

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Distinction Films was a very short lived outfit in The States, and very little has been noted about their existence apart from one other film, Mac Ahlberg’s Nana. It has been reported that it was connected to National General Films, and if that’s correct, then one can imagine that it joined in the Late 60’s-based Adult film game a little bit too late, releasing it’s flagship film in a time when the aversion to these films with the influence of a small but vocal section of the public started to get noticed in the industry, with the main company possibly deciding to kind of sweep the division into a bit of a hush-hush (or…was this division always something to keep a decision that was quickly changed quiet), giving this film little hope to be noticed. The result: very little promotion for a solid film that instead was put into a small Grindhouse run.

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Whatever the reason, Eugenie went to disappointing business in The States (In the UK, it pretty much played the Soho-type theaters that were it’s very own Grindhouse style circuit, the release that caught Lee by surprise), but that was only the start of the sad story of Franco’s films in The US after a strong performance for films like 99 Women and Succubus, the later connected to AIP through it’s Trans-American wing, who knew more on how to deal with these films (99 Women was originally slated to be distributed through AIP when the film was in production in 1968, but was mainly distributed through it’s original company Commonwealth United once it established itself in The States. It was seen with some of AIP’s Drive In packages, possibly after CU closed up shop in 1971, however). There were plans to release Count Dracula, Justine (Which was shelved until a cut release around 1972 under a different title), and The Bloody Judge (The worst treatment by AIP…aka Night of the Blood Monster), but things were held back with Count Dracula going to another smaller company. Franco would continue to concentrate on the area he knew the best, Europe, through a wild selection of films for a number of noted Exploitation companies with only a select few given a Stateside release including The Demons with Hemisphere and Ilsa the Wicked Warden through Bernie Jacon.

Still, now with the film easy to get, it should be seen again. Eugenie is one of the best ways to get into the spicy world of Jess Franco’s films.

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~ by screen13 on July 28, 2009.

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