The Films (3/5 Justine, 4.5/5 Eugenie)
Blue Underground have been one of my favorite distributors since early in the DVD era. The reason simply being is that they have released many of my favorite films, or at least the type of films I enjoy onto the format in quality editions. They have continued that tradition into the Blu-ray era, but one of the the things I have wondered for a good many years would be when they would start tapping into their extensive library of Jess Franco films for Blu-ray releases.
During the DVD era Blue Underground released a good number of Franco's better known titles to that format, and for the time they looked quite excellent, and so the wait has been excruciating for these films to see some sort of Blu-ray release from the company. Well, it is many years into Blu-ray, but Blue Underground have unleashed the first 2 Franco films from their library, Marquis de Sade's Justine and Eugenie the Story of Her Journey into Perversion.
Justine follows the titular character played by Romina Power as she and her sister Juliette are thrown out of convent school after the death of their mother, and the their father running away in debt. They are giving 100 dollars each raised as charity from friends to help them settle in life. The sisters almost immediately separate with Juliette becoming a sex worker in a brothel before conspiring with another prostitute to kill the Madam for her gold and running away. After this she ends up killing her accomplice and taking the money, before becoming the mistress of a powerful member of the government. Justine being more sweet and innocent tries to take a more honest path. She becomes the housekeeper for the owner of an inn, who ends up framing her for theft. Following this she is thrown in prison, but ends up escaping as part of an elaborate jailbreak. She then finds herself in a series of circumstances that see her accused of murder, and kidnapped by a monastery of sexually abusive monks.
Justine is a very loose adaptation of the story by the Marquis de Sade. The film is probably the most lavish of all of Jess Franco's films (at least the ones I have seen), and plays out, especially early on as a costume drama. These segments earlier on in the film feel quite a bit slow, and drag the film down when it should be trying to catch the viewer, but the film does pick up quite a bit in the middle and end. Franco's direction here is quite a bit more restrained than in many of his other films even those from the same period. The performances are solid for the most part with Romina Power doing quite solid work as Justine. Klaus Kinski appears in wraparound segments as the Marquis de Sade writing the tale of Justine, and in these moments shows off his trademark intensity, and quite literally steals the show.
Eugenie stars Marie Liljedahl as the titular character. This work like the prior is also adapted from the work of the Marquis de Sade. The story follows Eugenie who in an attempt to break away from the strict structure of the home of her overbearing parents agrees to spend the weekend at the island home of Marianne (Maria Rohm) and her brother Mirvil (Jack Taylor). The pair have more than a nice weekend retreat in mind for Eugenie, and quickly begin drugging her into unconsciousness before torturing and raping her. As Eugenie believes these acts were committed in her dreams, and thus part of her subconscious desires she starts to willingly act upon them.
Franco made a good number of films based on the work of or at least inspired by the work of the Marquis De Sade. The interesting thing about these 2 is how opposite their approach is stylistically. Strictly speaking, Franco's version of Justine isn't a very accurate adaptation of that work, but it's one of his more controlled films. Franco as a director it can be observed works better when he uses certain subject matter as a springboard for his own visual ideas, and that's what we have with Eugenie: The Journey of Her Story into Perversion. The film came further down the line from Justine, and shows the director allowing more of his personal vision into the work, and thus it was much less restrained than the comparatively conservative Justine. Thus, Eugenie as a film feels more free flowing, and more organic as a Franco work. The performances from Franco regulars Maria Rohm and Jack Taylor are quite solid, however, Marie Liljedahl owns the piece as Eugenie. Her performance is subtle, yet dynamic, and feels nicely fleshed out.
Audio/Video (4.5/5, Justine, 4.5/5 Eugenie)
Justine is presented by Blue Underground in a stunning 1:66:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer. Eugenie is presented in a 2:35:1 1080p AVC encode, and both films have been given a 4k scan from absolute excellent elements, because what we have here is extremely detailed transfers for both films. In the case of Justine we get great fine detail throughout from the costumes worn by the actors to facial detail in close-ups. Colors are excellent and fleshtones are accurate. Eugenie also has excellent detail throughout with a lot of the same benefits, bright gorgeous colors, and natural looking flesh tones. There is a healthy, but unobtrusive level of grain present throughout the transfers giving each a healthy film look.
Both films are accompanied by a DTS-HD MA 1.0 track in English. The dialogue is crystal clear for both, and the scores come through nice. I did not detect any issues on either. Optional subtitles are included.
Extras (3.5/5, Justine, 3.5/5 Eugenie)
Justine includes the 2002 DVD featurette the Pleasures and Perils of Justine which include interviews with Franco and Harry Alan Towers. The newest extras is an interview with Franco biographer Stephen Thrower specifically on Justine. We also get a trailer, still and poster gallery, booklet of liner notes by Thrower, and a soundtrack CD.
Much like Justine the Blu-ray for Eugenie kicks off with a featurette from the 2002 DVD this one features interviews with Franco, Towers, Marie Liljedahl, and Christopher Lee. We then get another film specific interview with Stephen Thrower, trailer, gallery, booklet of liners by Stephen Thrower, and the films soundtrack.
It has been quite a wait getting Blue Underground's Franco films on to Blu-ray, but they have made the wait worth it. The Blu-ray releases of Eugenie: The Story of Her Journey into Perversion and Justine are simply beautiful, and sound fantastic. There are some nice newly added extras, but the new transfers are the real stars here. Just as this review was going to press, Blue Underground announced more Franco to Blu with the Girl from Rio and The Million Eyes of Sumuru, and we are excited to see those. However, these two are HIGHLY RECOMMENDED and would make excellent holiday gifts for the Franco-phile in your family!