Saturday, January 15, 2022

Justine and the Whip (1979)

Around the late ‘70s, Joe D’Amato got his paws on three Jess Franco films and, with editing help from Bruno Mattei, combined separate footage from each film into a single film called Justine and the Whip, starring Lina Romay, with Alice Arno receiving top billing. The dialogue from the original films was changed and redubbed in Italian, and the soundtrack was reworked. 

The reasons for why a patchwork movie like Justine and the Whip exists aren’t clear. Some have said that it was because D’Amato was salvaging an unfinished film from Franco that was originally intended to be another version of De Sade’s Justine. But I read in Stephen Thrower’s The Delirious Cinema of Jesus Franco: Volume Two that the original film was called Julietta 69 and was completed and actually had a 1976 French cinema release before becoming inaccessible. It’s speculated that Jess Franco sold Julietta 69 to an Italian production company, and D’Amato and Mattei were eventually commissioned by Franco Gaudenzi to make the mashup Justine and the Whip. Thrower also points out that D’Amato claimed in an interview from Joe D'Amato Totally Uncut (1999) that they were trying to make Franco’s films more “usable”, but the result here is an incoherent mess that seems quite unusable, at least by comparison to what the completed Julietta 69 must have been like. Maybe by “usable” D’Amato meant more commercially appealing for the time by possibly increasing the number and frequency of love scenes in the film.


Before I heard of Justine and the Whip, I was already a fan of two of the original films, so normally I would frown on a production company taking liberties with an artist’s work like this. But this is just such an interesting curiosity, as its fabrication was supervised by another favorite filmmaker of mine (D’Amato), most of the original music is replaced by a nice selection of familiar Nico Fidenco tracks that were used in the Black Emanuelle films with Laura Gemser, it features a hefty amount of footage from a highly elusive Jess Franco film (Julietta 69), the title suggests a Marquis de Sade connection, and most bizarre of all, the ‘70s erotic queen Alice Arno is not even in the movie, despite receiving top-billing. So much to unpack here…

The footage that was used to assemble Justine and the Whip came from Shining Sex (1976), Midnight Party (1976), and the virtually unseen Julietta 69 (all three films star Lina Romay in the lead role). Shining Sex is like a glittery Sci-Fi version of Female Vampire (1973), and Midnight Party is a masterpiece and one of Lina Romay’s most nuanced performances. So, it’s pretty bold to just disregard these individual films and try and give them new identity as another film altogether.

It is hard to buy in to and become invested in Justine and the Whip, but my initial interest in the film was for the chance to at least see some of Julietta 69. After seeing it, I appreciate the film for being an interesting revisit of the previous films from an alternate perspective and with new music. Plus, the rare Julietta 69 footage is worthwhile. Julietta 69 did contain some captivating and quite alarming scenes of Lina in an erotic performance using a gun like a sex toy that gives some context to the flashbacks that make up a lot of the film. These gun scenes are also an intriguing addition for anyone who thinks they may have seen it all when it comes to Lina Romay.

I also really like the conversation between Justine and one of her old school friends, Ingrid (Marlène Myller), where Justine, like a poet of life, waxes about a desire to return to innocence, when there was still yet a whole lot to explore with love.

In this sort of, but not really, adaptation to Marquis de Sade’s Justine, it is mostly Lina Romay’s show. Her character has more in common with Emmanuelle than De Sade’s perpetual victim, but tragedy is brewing nonetheless. Be prepared to spend nearly the entirety of the film in Romay’s lovely company. As is usually the case, the sincerity and commitment in Jess Franco’s voyeuristic direction results in a constant intimate connection to Lina on a deep erotic level. Whether she has seduced and dominated another lover or is in despair, there’s never a dull action, position, pose, or expression in her performance. There is also a diverse collection of love scenes, including lesbian, S&M, menage a trois, and a real odd one involving death.

I was well aware of the Fidenco music used in this film from the Black Emanuelle films. Normally, I wouldn’t think these songs belonged anywhere but in their respective Emanuelle films, but I think it works here. I usually find myself swaying when the familiar Nico Fidenco tracks kick in. I think this music was just meant for lovemaking in the ‘70s. They do lend a different but still suitable vibe to Jess Franco’s world. And even in the Emanuelle films, I always thought the music really captured the miracle of love and the inimitable sex act.

There is the problem of Justine and the Whip coming off so obviously as a mashup of different films, which adds to its incoherency, but I feel like anyone seeking this film nowadays already knows this going in. The flow of the film is generally made up of a long series of sexual encounters, with a lot going on in-between, and a good deal of voice-over from Justine, primarily reflecting on her complicated/open relationship to a sensitive musician named Chris (Alain Petit). She loves him, but she can’t stay away from other men and women who she encounters at parties or at the night club she and Chris perform at. I wanted to think of Chris as a sadomasochist, but when he takes to using the whip, he’s usually in a religious frenzy, getting emotional, like he’s trying to cast out demons rather than getting kinky. Justine eventually wields the whip late in the movie and shows us how it’s really done.

Now, unfortunately I struggle with following the story. I know the story is there, and there is a lot of subtitled dialogue that I still like to think enriches my mind upon each viewing. I do understand that it is an erotic tragedy, leading up to a moment I was anticipating, but the movie is just more of a vibe to relax to, especially if Jess Franco, Lina Romay, and groovy music are your cup of tea. It's just something you float through, taking in the sights and sounds. The story ends up passing through me even though I’m still absorbing and processing the good vibes and emotions. All of the footage is just gorgeous, dreamlike, and a good condensed collage of mid-‘70s Franco in good form.

It is individual segments of Justine and the Whip that are great but not necessarily the film as a whole. This is understandable since there’s only so much you can do when limited to crafting an exploitation piece of art using footage from only three separate unrelated films. If anything, it inspired me to revisit Shining Sex and Midnight Party, mainly to remember what they were like and what footage from those films were not in Justine and the Whip. If you have an interest in seeing different versions of films, then with this one you at least get three different versions in one. 

© At the Mansion of Madness


Friday, October 29, 2021

Nude for Satan / Nuda per Satana (1974)

“Think of nothing but the fact that you are marrying me, and are promising to love and obey me forever, past death, into eternity!” – Vincent, Lord Satan (Louisa Bronte)

A movie called Nude for Satan already sounds pretty good without even knowing the plot. The notion of satanic panic combined with Italian exploitation resulted in an impulse buy for me. When I looked the DVD case over, I was like, “yes, please!” Plus, it’s from the same director, Luigi Batzella, of The Devil’s Wedding Night (1973) and The Beast in Heat (1977). And, it stars one of the most amazing Italian scream queens, Rita Calderoni. There’s lots of promise here. 

If you are watching the Dutch Sodemented DVD version of this film, there will be p#rn, as in hardcore inserts of other actors and body-doubles legitimately bumping uglies. If you think that will take you out of the movie, I would recommend one of the DVDs released by Redemption instead, or check it out on Redemption TV.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Demons 5: The Devil's Veil / La maschera del demonio (1989)

Lamberto Bava’s made for television Demons 5: The Devil’s Veil really took me by surprise when I first saw it. Historically, it’s been pretty rare, so, years ago, when a friend pointed out to me that the film had been uploaded to their YouTube page, I initially watched it as a curiosity (always going the extra mile when it comes to Italian horror). Being somewhat forgotten and without much praise and recommendation to go off of, I was expecting a mediocre ‘80s horror film, but the experience was really quite technically impressive and entertaining, with several memorable horror sequences. Story wise, I’ll admit, it was a little hard to stay invested the entire time, but I loved Sergio Stivaletti’s creature effects, and I really appreciated the sometimes subtle and sometimes startling approach the movie took to demonic possession. There’s just a number of really nice touches in how peculiar the characters act when it’s apparent some kind of demonic force is acting on them, a similar kind of peculiarity that I appreciated in The Church (1989) from Michele Soavi, who also stars in this.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Zeder / Revenge of the Dead (1983)

Pupi Avati’s Zeder has been an odd enigma of an Italian horror film to me. I’m not really sure what it is trying to do, but its mystique and mismatched place in the genre are part of what make it special. While watching it, I usually wonder what it is we are looking for or what the lead character is so obsessed and serious about, and yet I can't help always feeling drawn in. It’s a movie searching for something deep and menacing, and it does eventually find it, but the journey along the way is a challenging, unsettling, and memorable one with an impressively creepy payoff and a serious lead performance from Deep Red’s (1975) Gabriele Lavia. I also like the way it alludes to a kind of sinister underbelly to the city in a way that is similar to Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974). 

What I buy most about Zeder is the academic and research side, fixating on knowing and overcoming death. The scientific field approach, with shady occultist researchers and their cameras and experimental equipment is pivotal to one of the best scenes. 

Stefano’s (Lavia) investigations become a paranoid obsession that he never really lets up on once he starts on it. Being a writer and a college student (overdue for graduation it seems), his focus feels like a thesis from hell.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Vampyros Lesbos (1971)

There’s no other experience quite like Jess Franco’s Vampyros Lesbos, or even the alternate clothed Spanish version Las Vampiras. I recall coming across the DVD of this film on the shelf in the foreign-film section at (the now defunct) Hastings Entertainment, and, being a newborn Jess Franco fan at the time, I knew I wanted it. I had just come off of Jess Franco’s Macumba Sexual (1983) and was ready for more. Only problem was I remembered being a little too self-conscientious about looking like a weirdo bringing a film called Vampyros Lesbos up to checkout, but I bit-the-bullet and proudly made my purchase. 

To tell you the truth, I’d like to relate my first-time experience watching Vampyros Lesbos, but I honestly cannot seem to remember a lot about it, other than that I noticed some similarities to Macumba Sexual. I do remember that afterwards, I quickly picked up Jess Franco’s She Killed in Ecstasy (1971), which was made around the same time and also starred the sultry Spanish beauty Soledad Miranda in another arousing but also sympathetic role. 

While re-watching Vampyros Lesbos more recently, despite seeing it several times before, I noticed that I had forgotten a lot of specifics to the storyline, but I still remembered my favorite parts quite well while also realizing new favorite parts. It just seems to become more enriching upon each viewing, opening itself up further each time I revisit it. It never feels old, overwatched, or stale. Basically, it’s a real keeper that should be kept close and revisited at least once a year. Every scene is worth savoring.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Blood and Roses / Et mourir de plaisir (1960)

Roses always fade in a Vampire’s hand.”-Carmilla (Annette Stroyberg

I’ve always loved the supernatural femme fatale Carmilla since I was first introduced to her in Vicente Aranda’s The Blood Spattered Bride (1972). There was something so appealing about the sapphic predatory vampiress from J.S. Le Fanu’s 1872 novella, whose influence was all over the erotic vampire films from the 1960s and 1970s I loved, and more. After I reviewed The Blood Spattered Bride, naturally, I felt compelled to read Carmilla, a short but marvelous piece of gothic literature. I loved the dark, forested isolated castle setting and the peculiar relationship that develops between Laura and Carmilla. After reading it, I felt I had hipster boasting rights to tell people who never heard of it that I knew of and read a vampire book that was written twenty-five years before the more well-known Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). Now, the book, Dracula is much more developed, but it is astounding how many story similarities there are between Dracula and Carmilla (itself sharing similarities to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s unfinished Christabel (1816)). I don’t think there can be any doubt that Carmilla heavily influenced Dracula. 

It’s been a delight to explore different adaptations of Carmilla, such as The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Crypt of the Vampire (1964) as well as movies influenced by Carmilla like Vampyros Lesbos (1971) and Daughters of Darkness (1971). I remember thinking back in 2013 that the time was right for new Carmilla movies. I must have been asleep the last seven years, because I only recently learned that there have been new Carmilla films being made, such as The Unwanted (2014), The Curse of Styria (2014), Carmilla (2015), a Carmilla web-series that eventually got a follow-up movie called Carmilla the Movie (2017), and most recently Carmilla (2019) from Emily Harris. I just recently checked out the 2019 movie, and all I can say is, what a powerful ending. I’d say it comes pretty close to the modern Carmilla film I was hoping for.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Emanuelle and Joanna / Il mondo porno di due sorelle (1979)

So, here we are, nearly ten years in to writing for this site, and it would look like I’m finally getting around to covering an Emmanuelle movie… Well, not quite… In fact, Emanuelle and Joanna seems to me to be an anti-Emmanuelle movie, since I believe the literary Emmanuelle is mainly about embracing and normalizing sexual taboos. Whereas the protagonist in Emanuelle and Joanna is haunted by sexual taboos and is seemingly punished for her altruism by providence, or the scriptwriter if you prefer. I felt it was much too negative to be in line with the sexually positive but still iconoclastic spirit of the writings of Emmanuelle Arsan (Louis-Jacques Rollet-Andriane) and to me had a little more in common with the writings of the Marquis de Sade. Emanuelle and Joanna, who I’m assuming are the two women seen on the movie poster engaging in what is surely a kind of esoteric sex ritual, aren’t even in the movie. The lead sisters, alluded to in the film's Italian title, are Emanuela (Sherry Buchanan) and Giovanna (Paola Montenero). I don’t feel duped at all though, because this is the kind of shit I go for, a pleasing dark piece of dated erotica that sends its protagonist down a rabbit-hole of perverts.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

A Candle for the Devil / Una vela para el diablo (1973)

The pleasures I tried to deprive myself of assailed my mind more ardently…” –Madame de Saint-Ange (Marquis de Sade)

I feel like A Candle for the Devil (aka It Happened at Nightmare Inn) from Spanish filmmaker Eugenio Martin, director of the astounding Horror Express (1972) and the rare gem Aquella casa en las afueras (1980), was that demented shocker I was always looking for when I was channel surfing as a kid looking to satiate my thirst for something twisted with big bloody kitchen knives and bloody nightgowns. It’s also an intelligent and thought-provoking film with enough memorable moments to prevent anyone who watches it from entirely forgetting about it. I had only seen it twice, in its cut and uncut version, but for years it had been stored in my memory as a truly special Spanish horror film that I knew I would revisit someday to write about.

After I first watched it, I remember feeling cheated out of the definitive experience of A Candle for the Devil after finding out the version I watched titled It Happened at Nightmare Inn from a bargain DVD box set was heavily cut, omitting the graphic violence and nudity. I still thought it was a pretty sweet film even in its censored form, but of course that’s not the version I wanted for my collection, and so I later ordered off for a DVD-R containing the uncut A Candle for the Devil, with Esperanza Roy’s (from Return of the Evil Dead (1973)) nude scenes thankfully intact. The film has since been released on Blu-ray in 2015 by Scorpion Releasing.