I Sell the Dead [2008]



A recurring theme I’ve encountered in horror fan conversations is that of the dearth of new ideas in horror movies of the past decade. I’ve confessed my puzzlement at this in past posts. If folks want to find a wasteland of tired ideas and dead-horse flogging, they’ll find it–the underpinnings of genre entertainment revolve around the recycling of easily recognizable themes, concepts and images. I remember thinking, during my mandatory Art Since 1945 course in college, that NEWNESS and NEVER-BEEN-DONE-BEFORE-NESS in art was overrated–sometimes, an idea was previously unexplored because it was a bad one. My love of horror entertainment comes not from a thirst for freshness, but from a love of mist-shrouded castles, vampires with Eastern European accents, and over-the-top (often-fiery) climaxes. The horror-things I enjoy the best take familiar elements and tweak them enough to keep me smiling.

In this spirit, I really, unexpectedly, enthusiastically enjoyed Glenn McQuaid’s horror-comedy “I Sell the Dead.” It’s a 2008 film, it feels like a 2008 film, but its roots are in vintage Euro-Gothics. The movie is set in that tenuous “Old Timey” period that encompasses anything from about 1775 to 1905, roughly at the same time as the classic Hammer entries or the early-60s Bava and Margheriti Gothics. The film is told largely in flashback by grave robber Arthur Blake as he sits awaiting his execution. Imprisoned after a career of digging up bodies to sell with his crusty partner Willie Grimes, Arthur details how the pair went from unearthing human cadavers for physicians to seeking out the undead for sale (at a far higher price-tag) to occult employers.
Trying to capsule-pitch this movie and make it sound appealing is almost impossible: “Burke and Hare with ZOMBIES!” fails due to the invocation of the too-popular-right-now Z-word while “lovable Hammer-flavored comedy” is far too weak praise. I think the reason this movie has flown under a lot of people’s collective radar is because it’s not crude, controversial, or overly-grotesque. In that spirit, I’ll try to take a moment and bullet-point out exactly why you should go see this movie and quit yer bitching about Rob Zombie’s “Halloween II” (which was loud, good to look at, and not-very-smart, much like several of the girls I’ve known, and no less entertaining as a result):
  • “I Sell the Dead” has an *awesome* cast. Dominic Monaghan (of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy) and Larry Fessenden (whose career has largely consisted of supporting roles in some pretty darned interesting genre films) chew up the scenery in a glee-inducing manner as hapless-then-rich Resurrection Men. Their performances in these quirky roles carry the film and make the weird plot believable. No–show of hands: who here doesn’t love Ron Perlman? That’s right–no one. He may have made some dodgy script choices over the course of his career, but he’s an actor who always appears to be having a great time, and his performance in the role of Arthur’s confessor Father Duffy is no exception. Angus Scrimm is cartoon perfection as a cold-hearted physician who underpays Arthur and Willie for their efforts, a character that evokes his iconic Tall Man role in the “Phantasm” series without just reprising it.

  • I’d have been happy with a standard “grave robbers profiteering via murder” story, but “I Sell the Dead” sets up its own mythology and gave me SO MUCH MORE as a result! Arthur and Willie may be money-hungry, but they’re not murderers–they stumble into the lucrative field of trafficking in the undead quite by accident. In fact, it’s almost taken for granted that vampires, ghosts and zombies exist in their world. The grave robbers are unnerved by their first encounter with a revenant, but it only inspires them to refocus their business plan because such creatures are rare. Not impossible mind you–just unusual and therefore valuable. The movie takes a turn from the really good to the AWESOME when our protagonists encounter members of rival grave-robbing gang The House of Murphy. Scoundrels, sadists and scum of the vilest sort, these broadly-drawn baddies are one of my more favorite fictional creations of recent memory. The montage in which their history is roughly sketched made me grin THIS BIG.

  • “I Sell the Dead” keeps its comedy funny while incorporating some effective chills. If creating horror atmosphere is hard, and creating comedy is harder, then striking the proper horror-comedy balance is hardest of all. If we learned anything from “Dead Snow,” it’s that relying too heavily on the Sam Raimi “splatstick” school just leads to unflattering comparisons to previous movies. “I Sell the Dead” avoids this pitfall by creating a genuinely interesting story populated with likable characters BEFORE setting off on the task of spoofing gothic horrors of the past. Order of operations, people!

  • Texture, texture, texture! Great costumes, good-looking sets and creepy FX work (even if some of it is CG’ed) combine to produce a fully-realized world where the spooky plot takes place. It’s got that “labor of love” feeling, but it’s a labor that actually pays off.
Now that I’ve had a chance to explain why this film should rocket to the top of your must-see list, take a peek at the trailer with the understanding that what you see here is what you’re *actually* getting, so you can feel free to get psyched:

Inglourious Basterds [2009]


I don’t typically disclaimer myself, but I feel like it’s necessary for me to state a couple of things for the record before setting out on this particular write-up:

1) I was not a Quentin Tarantino fan going into “Inglourious Basterds”–in fact, I was more than a little pissy at his having co-opted the title of Enzo G. Castellari’s WWII actioner starring Fred Williamson and Bo Svenson.
2) This discussion is going to be spoileriffic. If you want to go into the movie fresh, please stop reading here. Don’t worry–I’ll be here when you’re done watching. I’ll even save you a seat at the cool kids’ table!
*****
Several people I know have expressed the fact that they don’t intend to see “Inglourious Basterds” because it’s a war movie. I have good news for those friends: this is not a war movie. There’s not a single line of dialogue shouted from behind the walls of a foxhole; there are no shots of smoke-shrouded battlefields; nary a tank is to be scene in the entire two-and-a-half-hour run time. Tarantino takes the espionage, soldiers, politicians and gunplay trappings of a war movie and creates a slick and subversive film that’s ultimately about film–namely, the genre film and the way it shapes our perceptions of history.
There’s a thin line between homage and hipsterism, and Quentin Tarantino is a filmmaker that I perceived as having his feet planted firmly on the latter side of that line. While my strong initial dislike of “Pulp Fiction” has mellowed with time, and I even dug “Deathproof” (thank you, Mr. Tarantino, for writing female characters who talk like people I actually know), I find his scripts to be far too thick with smirkingly self-conscious references to fast food, AM radio hits and vintage television. To me, they stagnate under the weight of their own perceived coolness.
By placing the events of “Inglourious Basterds” in an era before “The Brady Bunch” aired and a decade prior to the opening of the first Burger King, Tarantino has put himself in waters previously uncharted in his career. Initially, I thought this would be a remake/”reboot” of the Castellari film–wouldn’t it be IRONIC and CLEVER if a really famous director re-made a little-known grindhouse film, employing a huge budget and an A-list cast? Much to my initial relief and ultimate delight, that’s absolutely not the case here (except for the budget and cast stuff)–“Inglourious Basterds” is a work of visionary uniqueness.
Y’all probably know what “Basterds” is about at this point–at least from a plot perspective, but I’ll recap: A band of Allied soldiers composed primarily of Jewish-Americans has been put behind enemy lines in France, conducting a bloody terror campaign to demoralize the Nazi command. Simultaneously, Shoshanna Dreyfuss, the sole survivor of her family’s massacre at the hands of infamous “Jew Hunter” Col. Hans Landa, is plotting the assassination of key members of the Nazi Party (including Hitler and Goebbels) during a film premier at her Paris theatre. The success of “Basterds” lies in its texture–the threads of the plot are kept distinct enough that at the places where they intersect, there’s a tension that’s created, leading to the literally explosive and laudably cathartic finale when all of the elements of the film are brought together.
Let’s talk about that tension, shall we? Many viewers have pointed to the talkiness of “Basterds”–this is an accurate observation. There are words and words and words, but the overall effect of all this is to create suspense that’s fueled almost entirely by people talking about things that have happened or are going to happen, punctuated by outbursts of graphic, kinetic violence. Knowing that Tarantino is heavily influenced by genre films of the 1970s, which are often characterized as dialogue-heavy frames to support far-out setpieces, this cinematic structure is a clever one. Through skillful handling of his actors, Tarantino manages to make the downfall of many a Eurotrasher (admit it–you’ve yelled “stop your infinite TALKING and MURDER someone, already!” at some point in your film-watching life) and turn it into an asset. THAT, lieblings and liebchens, is no mean feat.
There are several in-film acknowledgements of Tarantino’s pulp film inspirations that make “Basterds” into a period piece within a period piece within a postmodern commentary on cinema. The costumes and uniforms are painstakingly 1944, but the soundtrack (taken directly from war films, Spaghetti Westerns, and thrillers of a 25-year-plus vintage) alludes to the cinematic representations of World War II that form the backbone of the Me Generation’s and Gen-X-Plus-ers’ increasingly mythical concept of the Greatest Generation’s conflict. The use of intertitles announcing “chapters” of the film along with strategic typeset call-outs underscore that this is a fictional film of history, several steps removed from the true events.
Tarantino does more than just portray a fictionalized version of events–he compresses and re-writes the end of World War II as a crowd-pleasing finale of roaring flame and raining bullets. The decision to reorganize history so that the F├╝hrer meets his death at the close-range hand of a Jewish assassin (played by Eli Roth, whose eyeliner has *never* looked better) is a bold one, and it’s a testament to Tarantino’s confidence in the strength of the universe he’s created. If history was a suspense film, we’d demand a clean ending to the unimaginable horrors of WWII, closing out that painful chapter in history in a single night.
Let’s rewind a moment and go back to all that dialogue. The characters in “Basterds” range from cartoonish to complicated to unnervingly sympathetic. It’s amazing that, in a movie as full of people as this one is, there’s not a bad performance in the lot (with the possible exception of Mike Meyers reprising his Austin Powers accent as British General Ed Fenech [hee]). Christoph Waltz’ depiction of Hans Landa is wickedly smart, balancing charm with a significant creep factor. It’s a performance that distills the screen Nazi to his primary elements, drawing less from history than from the histrionics of film villains like Helmut Berger’s SS Officer Wallenberg in “Salon Kitty.” In this version of the Nazi regime, it’s the SS that wields the power. They’re a deeply sinister brotherhood of slick, super-intelligent schemers. It’s interesting to note that High Command members Hitler and Goebbels are played for laughs–despicable men doing despicable things in the name of ego and self-aggrandizement while ultimately failing. That’s not to say that all of Tarantino’s Nazis are comic book villains–far from it. At several key moments, Nazi soldiers in the field of battle display humanity and even courage. They’re men in service to a terrible leader, but they’re not monsters. It’s an interesting story element that adds yet more texture to the tapestry that Tarantino is weaving.
Tarantino is making a cunning central statement with “Inglourious Basterds”–film shapes our concepts of historical events. It’s not an accident that the vehicle of Shoshanna’s revenge is a pile of flammable film stock, or that the spy working with the Basterds is a German actress, or that Propaganda Minister Goebbels plays a central role in the story. More ambitious still–Tarantino couches his message inside what is intended to be an entertaining film. Judging by the crowd reaction at the screening I attended, he’s succeeded.
“Inglourious Basterds” is a movie that makes me excited about film. It’s ambitious, over-the-top, beautifully crafted, funny, and dense-dense-DENSE with significance. Not only is this Tarantino’s best film, this is one of the best expressions of the power of genre films that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing.

The Abbess of Castro [1974]

Who doesn’t love a little naughty nun action first thing on a Monday morning? Traipse on over to Nunsploitation.net and check out my review of “The Abbess of Castro.” Gorgeous Barbara Bouchet dons the habit to play the feisty leader of a convent in 18th Century Italy, only to fall in love with a man of the cloth. Trust me when I say it’s melodramagasmic. Here are a few stills from this notable entry into the canon of Sexy Sisters of Sinema to whet your appetite:

VIVA Week Part 5: VIVA L’Erotica! VIVA Mr. Nude Toronto!

That’s right, interpals–VIVA Week is reaching its explosive climax! We’re getting down to the meat of the matter and tearing the pants right off of VIVA’s signature erotica, aimed specifically at the Fairer Sex.

VIVA
Have you ever seen a vintage PENTHOUSE spread and thought to yourself that it would be better if people were wearing more clothes and the focus was even softer? Well you, my cupcake, are in luck, because VIVA’s layouts are shot in dreamy glaucomavision with a naughty peek at genitals here and there. In this “Happy Housewife” spread, an insatiable stay-at-home trophy wife tends to the needs of a variety of gentleman callers, from the milk man to the Fuller Brush salesman.
Letter from VIVA
Letter from VIVA
As if that wasn’t moistening enough, a genuine reader and not-at-all-paid-by-the-word author writes in this completely-not-just-repackaged-FORUM piece about how HE was the VICTIM of a Door-to-Door Seductress! Uhm, VIVA? Can I have a word with you? If your intended audience is supposed to be… y’know… women, it’d be keen to not just trot out tired male fantasies. Just pointing that out.
VIVA
The only thing that women dig more than seducing the postman and hearing about promiscuous men is seeing pictures of the Mr. Nude Toronto contest in all its incredible Swinging 70s style! [Editrice’s Note: I have taken the liberty of pixellating the assets of the contestants because I don’t want to get my blog yanked–I trust you can fill in the necessary blanks. Suffice to say Mr. Blonde is not winning any Size Prizes.] There is just so much, so awesome going on here–the wood paneling, the gold chains, the picture of the female judges.
VIVA


Any man who isn’t a “tub of lard” or a “bag of bones” was invited to compete–how inclusive! It’s a world where a Toronto biscuit-factory worker can find glory by winning the male nude dance competition.
VIVA
I’m sorry–I need to take a moment; the CD of my brain is skipping on the words “male nude dance competition.” It’s… alarming.
VIVA
At least this guy had *some* sort of a clue–his talent was reciting sensual poetry. THIS rings of truth–chicks really dig poetry.
Ad from VIVA
So you were fortunate enough to pluck Mr. Nude Toronto’s key out of the bowl at the Key Party you just attended, you lucky woman you! Isn’t it a good thing that your bachelorette pad is decorated in appropriate VIVA style? Those “Cleopatra’s Power” and “Caesar’s Sceptre” prints are going to tell Mr. Nude Toronto that you are down for anything, baby.

VIVA Week Part 4: VIVA on Fashion

VIVA

VIVA’s “throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks” approach to erotica has its benefit–THAT much krazee is going to hit on something that is… shall we say… Relevant to the Reader’s Interests. Simply put, I love models with power tools. It hits me where I live: specifically, somewhere at the crossroads of Affect, Androgyny, and Inversion. This fashion spread on “Machisma”–a look that apparently combines plunging necklines, work boots and coveralls and is entirely NOT RECOMMENDED for Real Life–is just fucking awesome. Let’s take a moment to soak in the glamour, shall we?

VIVA
VIVA
VIVA

…And now that we’ve cleansed our respective palates a smidge, let’s get back to basking in looniness, shall we? Sex is everywhere in the VIVA woman’s world, and what better way to demonstrate one’s devotion to the debauched than by keeping one’s wallet inside of a disembodied ass?
VIVA
Holy Jesus–that looks like something out of Ed Gein’s house. Sadly, we’ll have to wait till NEXT season to see if nipple belts ever gain popularity. Disembodied ass not your cup of tea? How about disembodied breasts, navel, testicles and penis, as shown below in an “advertorial” on “Kinky Christmas Gifts?”
VIVA
It’s clear that not every VIVA reader was a fleshly fashionista. How else to explain these (actually kind of AWESOME) t-shirts, advertised in the back of the mag?
Ad from VIVA
I’d be lying if I told you I wouldn’t wear a “Frankenstein Supports My Boobs” t-shirt. Just sayin’.
Tomorrow: Erotica a la VIVA aka: There Will Be Wieners.

VIVA Week Part 3: VIVA Loves Animals–REALLY Loves Animals

Xaviera's Game from VIVA Magazine

It’s not particularly revelatory to say that the 1970s were a time of sexual experimentation taken to the point of faddishness. Porn films came into vogue, the Swinger lifestyle was the subject of much conversation, and the Free Love of the late 60s had morphed into a hedonistic zeitgeist that lots of folks talked about, even if relatively few were living it. Just check out this awesome ad for Xaviera’s Game, a board game marketed in conjunction with that Happiest of Hookers–what better way to get all the glamor of prostitution without actually having to–you know–have sex OR get paid for it? The goal of the game is to complete 6 of the 8 Phases of Lovemaking, according to the instructions I found. Partial completion of lovemaking might indicate the game was designed by a man, but the game’s emphasis on lengthy explanations tells us that women had some hand in creating this mind-boggling parlor game. In the spirit of this safe form of taboo busting, adult magazines pushed the envelope ever further with their content–sometimes to downright bizarre degrees.

The VIVA Woman, who we’ve already learned is a svelte, fashionable chick with a passing interest in soft occultism who knows that shutting the fuck up is the way to a man’s heart, is a person who seeks adventure. Primarily, adventure that ends with sexy results. At some point in their market research, the editors of VIVA agreed that Women Love Animals–which is really pretty true.
I think they were off on the degree to which most women love animals, however.
Letter from VIVA Magazine
When I stumbled across the above letter to the editor, I assumed that this was some kind of one-off bit of looniness. Surely VIVA was not eroticizing bestiality! Then I saw the centerfold:
VIVA Magazine Centerfold
That, lieblings and liebchens, is NOT Photoshopped–it just had to be scanned in two pieces because it is a centerfold and my scanner wasn’t large enough. A CENTERFOLD OF TWO LIONS HUMPING.
VIVA Magazine
Mule sex and lion sex aside (which–really–is A LOT to put aside, in my estimation), why did they choose the picture of the sexy kitty to highlight the review on an erotic art coffee table book? I have plenty of erotic art coffee table books, and there are far, FAR more suitable illustrations to highlight than a portrait of an anthropomorphic cat prostitute. Holy Special Needs, kids…!
Tomorrow: VIVA on Fashion

VIVA Week Part 2: VIVA’s Sensible Death Camp Diet Tips


Published during the 1970s, before the glittering spandex health club craze of the 1980s, VIVA espoused some pretty interesting ideas about how its allegedly-female audience should maintain their figures. Diet affects everything in the VIVA woman’s life, from how men view her (presumably “sleek and sexy” trumps “gaunt and undernourished”), to the fashions she can wear, to her sex life. Just check out that sidebar at Screen Right advertising PENTHOUSE FORUM. Diet is everywhere. Chop up your celery sticks and grab your ice water to suppress that Demon Appetite, cos we are going to explore the Horrors Of 1970s Dieting, interpals!

Simply put, the folks at VIVA seem to kinda want you to not eat. How else to reveal that gloriously ridged sternum when sporting one’s plunging Halston gown? It’s all about DISCIPLINE, people.
Just check out the TOTALLY TRUE and NOT AT ALL PENNED BY A PAID-PER-WORD AUTHOR letter from “Starved But Sexy” below:
VIVA Letter
VIVA Letter
That’s right–binging and starving has the awesome side effect of producing toe-curling orgasms! But it also might lead to your untimely death. Everything has its price. DISCIPLINE!
VIVA Sidebar
In December’s PENTHOUSE FORUM, there’s even MORE fasting! In fact, Fasting Is The Ultimate Diet (I’ll fucking well say so). Also anal sex and vibrators. But you will be a hideous hosebeast nobody will want to violate unless you FAST. DISCIPLINE! Also, apparently “being liberated” has something to do with “getting endometriosis.” I guess I’d have to read the article to understand what seems to me to be a raaawther dubious link. Next month: Giving Women the Vote and Breast Cancer–IT’S SCIENCE, FUCKERS!
VIVA Letter
FYI–36 calories in a mouthful of come. Mark that shit down in your food diary or it’s a hot trip to Hideous-Hosebeast-ville, ladies. DISCIPLINE!
Ad from VIVA Magazine
All that DISCIPLINE pays off, though, because you, too, might become one of the “Persons Who Made It All Possible.” I love the combination of uber-politically-correct verbiage (“Persons?” Really…? Who SAYS that?!) with what looks like the 1975 sexy Halloween costume aisle at Spencer’s Gifts. Apparently the road to women’s liberation was paved by Raquel Welch in “One Million Years B.C.,” Mary Poppins and beach-going French Maids.
I’m feeling incredibly well-educated on how I should diet–how about you folks? Anybody want to meet me in an hour for a hamburger and an ice-cream sundae, cos I think I’ll start my fast tomorrow.
Tomorrow: VIVA on animals.

VIVA Week Part 1: Who Is the VIVA Woman?


As the sister publication to PENTHOUSE, VIVA was envisioned as the worldly woman’s glossy periodical–an erotically charged magazine that would include celebrity gossip, politics-lite and diet advice next to racy pictorials and sexy fiction. In actuality, VIVA was a hilarious mash-up of OUI and PLAYGIRL, sort of a gay man’s magazine masquerading under the polite fiction of being made for women. Either that, or it’s a jaw-droppingly evil work of misogyny, designed to indoctrinate unsuspecting women into an unending hell of eating disorders and Social Diseases. Were I of an appropriate age during the years in which VIVA was published, I could see purchasing it for its extraordinary camp value, because–simply put–this is a ladymag that has clearly been guided by men who understand women only through the mirror-world of being a man: “I dig looking at beavers, therefore women dig looking at wieners!” Not so much, sir–not so much.

That’s not to say VIVA didn’t sometimes get it right. The Erica Jong love poems from the August 1975 issue are beautiful, and the “machisma” fashion shoot (to be shared later this week) made the Tenebrous Heart go pitter-pat. However, the majority of the articles are the same repackaged crud from COSMOPOLITAN cautioning against infidelity under the guise of titillation, running articles on diet trends in the same issue as an editorial on body image (tellingly placed next to a full-page nude photo of a woman’s body), and reprinting PENTHOUSE FORUM erotica in a “Sexual Fantasies” column with an expert’s interpretation of the ALLEGEDLY TRULY CONFESSED naughty-naughty thoughts.
VIVA Editorial
The VIVA woman isn’t all that terribly liberated, but that’s all right. She doesn’t NEED your stinking liberation, and DAMN all those mean ol’ feminists who want to keep her from being objectified! While I agree that it’s every woman’s right to define her sexuality on her own terms (THAT, cupcakes, is liberation), I take issue with statements like this:
  • “Biologically, [being sexy] is one of our more basic survival functions.” The author bases this on the famous research in which female apes who were given lipstick an negligees outlived their non-coiffed contemporaries by 20%.
  • “The energy boost I get from being openly admired for my looks is a whole lot better than any instant breakfast.” That’s right–food is overrated, girls! VIVA emphasizes this. A LOT. (More on that later this week)
  • On a notorious “sex object’s” sexiness: “she listens so well: she literally drinks in a man’s words. She makes him feel like he’s the most important person in the world–not to mention the most interesting.” STFU, ladies. It’s HIS world and you’re just living in it. A second “case study” is presented to underscore this TRUE FACT.
Ad from VIVA
On that not-real-liberated front, you’d think the VIVA woman would know how to use a vibrator. You’d be wrong.
Ad from VIVA
But it’s OK, because she’s got this chic zodiac clock! The VIVA woman fucking loves astrology and other forms of lite occultism. Each issue contains a two-page in-depth horoscope detailing the characteristics of HIS sign as well! Because it’s really important to know what men want (other than the “you being skinny” and “you shutting up” parts).
VIVA December 1975
All this, and makeup advice from Cher? DARE WE DREAM IT, LADIES?!
Tomorrow: VIVA on dieting.

Friday Miscellany–Vampire Romance, Pop Music, Vintage LadyMags

Twilight: Wot’s… Uh the Deal?
Look–I realize I’m a bitchy old hag and everything, and I’m wicked out of touch with what young folks are into these days, but I STILL don’t understand why there’s so much venom directed towards the “Twilight” phenomenon. I see “Twilight” to be precisely as threatening to the Vaunted Vampire Tradition as Harlequin romance novels are to my beloved pornography. Simply put–it’s different strokes for different folks (if you know what I mean), and if young ladies who are terrified of their stickyparts need some chaste way to pseudo-orgasm that won’t anger their Skydaddy, I’m cool with that.
Also, I can’t be the only one who realizes that pasty heterosexual boys everywhere should be *celebrating* the rise of the romantic vampire rather than condemning it. Opportunity knocks, and you’re too busy kvetching about not getting into Hall H in the San Diego Convention Center. Come on, gentlemen! Toss on some glitter, put your quills to paper, start making dramatic declarations, and SEIZE THE QUIVERING TWIHARDS!
Lady Gaga Goes Macabre for OUT
Oh Gaga–your casket or mine, cupcake? You are so fabulous, and if you have a penis, it’s just a happy surprise. *sigh* I love her in all her latter-day Andy Warhol Superstar selfhood. More of Lady Gaga’s spread (oo er) here and at OUT’s website.

Song of the Moment
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Heads Will Roll”
It’s got a disco-dancing werewolf in it. Also glamourous decapitation. BONUS!
Teaser: VIVA Magazine
SO! I finally came across a couple of issues of VIVA Magazine, the “sister publication” for PENTHOUSE that was published for a few years during the 1970s. This article from TIME dated September 24, 1973 does quite a nice job of summing up the ladymag. WELL! Because I love you and want you to be happy, I plan on *sharing* the wit, wisdom, and BATSHIT INSANITY of VIVA with you next week. For a week. Because it’s a rich vein of feminine krazee that I think the internet NEEDS TO SEE. You can expect to learn about the wonders of fasting, erotic dalliances with the milkman, and a lurid fascination with lion sex. No, really.

Eugenie de Sade [1970]


Look–we’ve all got them. Call them “chick flicks” or the male equivalent thereof, there are films of a nature that make them utterly unappetizing to our domestic partners but which sing their siren song to us, beckoning us to view their forbidden excellence when disapproving eyes are out of range. My own brand of “chick flick” is the kind of hazy, languorous, nudity-packed kink-tragedy produced Continentally during the 1970s. I know that for many, the long shots of Significant Glances and the injection of La Philosophie dans le boudoir adds up to boredom of the most excruciating sort, but for me, it’s pure bliss. A master of the form, director Jess Franco delivers the titillating goods once again in 1970’s “Eugenie de Sade.”

Based loosely on a tale by that venerable smut peddler the Marquis de Sade, “Eugenie de Franval” (available to read here, if’n you’re curious), “Eugenie de Sade” details an affair between a young woman and her stepfather (a character intended to be her biological father, but changed during script revisions in foresight of censorship rules) that descends into murder, madness and revenge (as these things do). Albert Radeck (played with oily sinisterness by Paul Muller, who LOOKS like a de Sade heavy) is an author and critic whose body of work is dedicated to such taboo topics as black magic and explicit erotic literature, and when he discovers that his stepdaughter Eugenie (whose mother died days after her birth under mysterious circumstances) has been surreptitiously reading forbidden volumes from his collection, he encourages her pursuits. Eugenie is whipped up into quite a froth by her newfound reading material, and her awakened sensuality doesn’t go unnoticed by Dear Old Stepdad. There’s a mutuality of desire in their eventual coupling–while Eugenie may be naive, she is not a victim. Together, the couple sets out on a series of eroticized murders, targeting beautiful young women until Albert decides it’s time to take on yet more challenging game in the person of jazz trumpeter Paul. Eugenie’s seduction of Paul has unforseen consequences, and when she begins to fall in love with him, Albert’s jealousy flames out of control, leading to the inevitable tragic ending.
"Eugenie de Sade" Film Still
All this would have been enough to keep me glued to my seat (hush, you dirty-minded thing, you!) and any movie that opens with close-up girlkissing is already a winner in MY book, but there’s an abundance of texture here that makes the film special. The dazzle of “Eugenie de Sade” doesn’t stem from flashy cinematography or surrealist setpieces, but directly from the magnetic screen presence of actress Soledad Miranda (credited as Susan Korday) in the title role. A dancer from a very young age, her screen presence evolved into a captivating, erotic naturalism, and there’s no doubt in my mind that–had she not been killed at age 27 shortly after completing this film–she would have gone on to an even more remarkable career. Miranda takes what could have been a scanty role as an S&M Lolita and invests the character with an unconscious sexiness that’s gorgeous to watch. Her signature pose throughout the film–her legs tucked up under her chin, silently watching and listening–evolves from schoolgirl shyness to sensual lounging to a predatory perching over the course of the film. It doesn’t hurt that Franco attires his star in an array of drool-worthy thigh high boots, or that Eugenie exhibits a noteworthy aversion to pants.
"Eugenie de Sade" Film Still
The sex scenes are filmed with an unblushing literalism, eschewing soft-focus in favor of sometimes-awkward but authentic-looking fleshiness. Sure, I could’ve done without shots of Paul Muller’s bum during his major sex scene with Soledad Miranda, but this choice to show sex in a realistic manner is an honest one, and the ultra-close-ups on Miranda’s parted lips and half-lidded eyes go a long way towards erasing the memories of man-bum.
Franco himself appears in a clever role as author Attila Tanner (dubbed with a giggle-worthy basso voice), who sates his fascination with Albert and Eugenie by following them and eventually revealing that he is aware of their murderous activities. This third-wall-busting turn as actor is a marvelous addition to the storyline–is Tanner complicit in the activities of the main characters? Is he omniscient in some way? It’s a mysterious and–yes–humorous addition to the film.
"Eugenie de Sade" Film Still
There’s symbolism peppered throughout the film, ranging from subtle to blatant. In the library where Eugenie first encounters the erotic literature, she is surrounded by paintings of flowers, evocative of a blooming into womanhood or perhaps of the marriage ceremony. There’s a bittersweet moment towards the end of the film, where Eugenie confesses her father’s plot to Paul, and the actors are framed by images of idealized womanhood and manhood–she by a larger-than-life pinup and he by a photo of his political idol, Che Guevara.
"Eugenie de Sade" Film Still
The visual world of this film is consistent, as it is in other examples of Franco’s best work. The color palate here is black, white, and a searing red that is used as contrast during dramatic sequences. It’s winter and the bleak backdrop of postwar Berlin enhances the melancholy of the tale. Eugenie and Albert are almost always clad in black, except for when they commit their first murder and don absolutely outrageous-and-therefore-AWESOME red disguises. A red light is employed during the signature Jess Franco Nightclub Scenes, which bookend the first murder and also serve as the first introduction of Eugenie to Paul. Significant Things go down in Franco’s nightclubs!
"Eugenie de Sade" Film Still
“Eugenie de Sade” has the kind of dreamy narrative and symbolism that Franco incorporates into his best work, and stands as a remarkable document to the talent and beauty of Soledad Miranda. Those seeking explicit BDSM or a fast-cracking plot should look elsewhere, but fans of the prolific and challenging director that is Jess Franco will be delighted.