Spain / West Germany, 1969
Review by Thomas Scalzo
Posted on 04 April 2006
Source Blue Underground DVD
One of the more colorfully titled films I have ever seen, Eugenie is also my first exposure to the notorious films of Jess Franco: a director whose career encompasses everything from straight-up horror to hardcore pornography. As a chilling tale of psychological and physical terror that is also an unabashedly erotic story based on the works of the Marquis de Sade, Eugenie falls somewhere in between these extremes, though ultimately the terror here significantly outweighs the titillation.
We begin with Eugenie receiving a call from a Marianne Saint-Ange inviting the young girl on an island getaway trip. Eugenie is understandably thrilled, imagining day upon day of sun-drenched beaches and lazy high-society life in the company of fabulous adults. Unbeknownst to our heroine, however, this ersatz family friend is in reality an influential member of a sadistic cult that worships the Marquis de Sade and preys upon the innocence of the young.
At first, Eugenie’s exposure to the more sordid aspects of existence is limited to drugs and alcohol, but she is soon initiated into the cult’s bizarre sexual predilections and undying devotion to the pleasures of the flesh. Rightly assuming that the girl would not willingly go along with such perverse debauchery, Marianne surreptitiously drugs the hapless Eugenie, and convinces her that it was all just a dream, a story Eugenie finds it increasingly difficult to accept.
What brings the film unimpeachably into the realm of horror is the terrifying way in which Eugenie is made to be an accomplice in the ruthless activities of the cult. Much like the heroine of Rosemary’s Baby, Eugenie is systematically drugged and made to act as the pawn of a nefarious, self-serving society; pushed to the brink of madness by a seemingly inescapable situation. But where Polanski concludes his film in a quieter, and arguably more disturbing, fashion, Franco has Eugenie take center stage in the cult’s most outlandish and blood-soaked ceremony; an act which saps the girl of any but the basest remnants of sanity, and ultimately leaves her wandering naked and helpless among the sand dunes of the island paradise.
Despite this graphic and bleak climax, Franco leaves us with a modicum of hope that perhaps all is not quite as bad as it seems. A series of enigmatic closing shots show a fresh-faced Eugenie once again receiving the initial phone call from Marianne. Could it be that everything that happened was nothing more than a young girl’s twisted imaginings of what goes on among the glamorous adults of the world, possibly inspired by her own unsupervised reading of the Marquis? Franco’s consistent use of hazy, dream-like sequences and his shooting of several pivotal sequences with an eerie, nightmarish red tint certainly allow for the possibility.
Moreover, there is a tangibly supernatural air hovering over the entire film, particularly scenes centered on the arrival of the cult. Headed by none other than Christopher Lee, this devout band of de Sade disciples reaches the island seemingly buoyed by a fell wind; a lone bell on the dunes tolling as if to signal their approach. And instead of knocking on the front door, the sadistic assemblage darkens Marianne’s terrace by appearing out of the shadows, staring dully through the glass at their intended victim. It is certainly conceivable, therefore, that Eugenie’s entire journey is the product of an overstimulated mind.
Of course, even if we do accept that all we’ve witnessed was nothing but a dream, the ominous tones with which the film’s final scenes are shot hint that the impending reality will prove to be at least as horrible, if not worse, as anything that might have been imagined. Thus any hope gleaned from the film’s enigmatic conclusion is quickly lost. Taking our leave of Eugenie in this light, knowing full well the awfulness almost certainly awaiting her, we cannot help but recall horror of the tale just witnessed, and shudder to think of such a scenario actually unfolding.