The original poet of perversion, the Marquis de Sade captured into words, art, and literature a mode of thinking, a style of seeing mankind and nature, that continues to reverberate. A French writer, libertine, and philosopher, de Sade was one of the first truly intellectual artist to suggest the relationship between sexual excess and criminal violence, claiming that these acts of man -- of nature -- were more honest than the false restraint championed by an upper class and church that secretly indulged the very excesses that they publicly defamed. Infamous for his licentious prose, his free thinking, and his real-life amorous exercises, the sexual deviancy that this man captured in his essays, antireligious pamphlets, dramas, and novels have proved themselves ideal for exploitation cinema. Imprisoned for 'scandalous' conduct, the Marquis wrote many of his works behind bars, including his most famous, Justine. A precursor of modern psychological theory, de Sade may also be seen as a patron saint of the sexual horror film, wherein depravities of the flesh and mind are celebrated in techno-color detail. While Jess Franco's vision most often mirrors the delicious amorality of de Sade, particularly in his film adaptation of Justine, the director coming closest to capturing the philosopher's paradoxical crises of pleasure and pain was Claude Pierson. A sensual and dark orgy of human cruelty, crime, and sexual depravity, Justine Sade captures without reservation or censure the troubling marriage of terror and pleasure than de Sade himself preached -- and one that is as cringe worthy as it is undeniably erotic. This treasure of cinematic perversion finds its way to your DVD collection courtesy of Blue Underground, treated with the respect and visual polish of Criterion (minus the ridiculous price tag).

The novel Justine: or Good Conduct Well Chastised wasn't only one of de Sade's most popular works, it was one of his most ironic and morally devastating. Following the sordid and increasingly bleak adventures of a supposed 'innocent' as she is tested and tempted by amorality/evil, the novel's theme posts the question: is there any 'good' outside of man's creation of it, or evil for that matter? Justine, a moral girl with social values and a conscience, is tortured and punished throughout the narrative while those who openly practice what society deems as evil are rewarded. Director Pierson captures with honesty and poetry this friction between morals and the pleasure principle. When a young orphan girl, Justine (Alice Arno), is torn from her family, she attempts to find a place in a vicious, misleading world as 'Thérèse.' All the while her virtue and goodness is attacked -- and both her body and mind are victimized as long as she attempts to be a 'good girl.' Along the way she finds herself trapped in the company of wicked nobles with a taste for bare flesh, a murderous surgeon, 'religious' men who help their flock find Jesus with hard-ons, and a Count who demands blood from his admiring slaves . . .

A feast of fear and fetish, Justine de Sade is a carnival of hedonistic nightmares, questioning where the line between pleasure and pain, morality and pleasure, begins or ends. Most disturbingly is the film's suggestion that such lines are imaginary or, at best, regulated to the mind of the beholder -- arbitrary ideals forged by weak men while the strong engage in private games of ravishment and murder. This is erotica with a philosophy. Dangerous and seductive, just as it should be! Claude Pierson achieves near perfection with this visual representation of the de Sade philosophy, walking the tight fiery line between evil and amorality. There are no easy answers here, no recourse to Bible, law, or conscience. There is only the sting of the whip, the cut of the blade, and the frenzy of orgasm. Death and Eros are vivid bedmates here, and Pierson's camera and delicious use of color capture the wicked delight inherent in the themes. Climaxes end in death as often as cum, and it's a safe that you'll dirty and aroused (and not a little ashamed!) after the gritty conclusion.

Just one more scandalous gift from Blue Underground, who have devoted themselves to artful smut in recent months, Justine de Sade is a startling orgy of skin, sin, and terror. An extraordinary retelling of the De Sade's masterwork, the anamorphic widescreen print, presented in 1.66:1, is sterling. The transfer is sharp, gorgeous, and well defined. The colors are bold and bright, skin tones realistic. Audio in Mono English and French (with Subs) is sharp and clear, without background interference, further complimenting this impressive package. A first rate release from start to finish, the extras, while not exhaustive, do a nice job of lending context to the film. These include A Deleted Scene (opening credits), an Alternate Scene (clothed orgy), and both the French and English Trailer.

Review by William Simmons

Released by Blue Underground
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review