I used to consider Spanish auteur Jesus Franco (AKA Jess) just another trash-hack somewhere between Jean Rollin and Joe D'Amato. He's got a resume of sleaze containing at least 187 films directed, stretching back to 1957. We're talking; writing, directing, usually acting in and often scoring somewhere in the neighborhood of three or four films a year for 50 years - and many of them, many of them not so good. But now I've seen Eugenie De Sade, and damn it, something's happened. I'm starting to kind-of like the guy.
Eugenie, based on the work of The Marquis De Sade, follows the titular character down a sinful road with her perverted stepfather. The depravity starts quickly, as Eugenie (Soledad Miranda - here billed as Susan Korda) gets turned on by reading daddy's secret books, doffs her mini-skirt and undergarments, then flops around on her bed - all in clear view of glaring step-dad Albert, (played with perfect haughty pretension by Paul Muller) a creepo who not only doesn't mind the view, he's been angling for it all of Eugenie's life. Just his luck, his sick machinations have turned the trick, so to speak, and Eugenie's up for whatever. Whatever happens to be using dirty sexual tactics to commit an ongoing series of 'perfect murders,' even though the pair is being overtly followed by weird-beard author Attila Tanner, a man (deliriously underplayed by Franco) who clearly has their number. What follows is a lesson in where overconfidence gets you, readers, so if you have in mind dragging one of your children into the sex-murder trade ... don't!
You'd think such a slate of slime would be jaw-droppingly disgusting. You'd be wrong, as Franco takes the meditative route. While plenty of Eugenie's (and others) charms are on display, the gory murders are rendered via obfuscation and tiny amounts of fake blood painted on by brush. The emphasis here is placed on meditative takes detailing the minutiae of Albert's schemes. Long minutes are spent listening to weird jazz and watching Eugenie or dad's eyes as the devious duo sits in clubs patiently waiting for their preordained moments to act. They enact their plans almost in real time, arriving finally at the kill in moments colored by unnerving, controlled mania. There's no glamour in these clockwork slayings, only attenuated adrenaline infusions, intellectual climaxes and sublimated shame. Franco is onto something with this film, but we're not sure if even he knows what or why - yet he does it nearly perfectly.
Franco - a man for whom camera movement is limited to panning and zooming - often disregards niceties such as pulling focus. These weaknesses have clouded his career, and his contrary concentration on sex and death has distanced him from most other discriminating filmgoers. Eugenie De Sade won't sway the naysayer, but genre fans with a weakness for Continental corruption might find the movie a revelation. Clumsy or plodding moments seem to magically transform into graceful contemplation of the doomed, dark side of ego and desire. Franco's weakness for lingering in jazz clubs captures a spirit of times when pleasure seeking was a cultural mandate, and his dispassionate gaze casts tacit judgment. Plot-holes and low-cost production values will confound many, but those who savor genre movies of this ilk should overlook such problems to find a unique and artful take on the gutter from a source often disparaged.