Director: Jesús Franco
Cast: Lina Romay, Monica Swinn, Peggy Markoff, Martine Stedil, Raymond Hardy
Length: 79 min
Rating: FSK: 18
Label: Ascot Elite Home Entertainment
Release Date: Sep 24, 2013
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: German: DTS-HD 5.1
English: DTS-HD 5.1
French: Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: Japanese (optional)
- Alternative Softcore Version (in HD)
- Interviews (Erwin C. Dietrich/Jess Franco)
- Photo Gallery
Producer Erwin C Dietrich’s label Ascot Elite continues their quest to release the catalogue of titles the producer collaborated on with Spanish auteur Jess Franco, for the high definition age. As part of the series, the uncut version of Die Marquise von Sade (aka The 1,000 Shades of Doriana Grey – 1976) has finally made it to blu-ray last October, as part of the Jess Franco Golden Goya Collection. But this has not come without issue—German censors refused to pass the work because of the scenes of hardcore pornography contained within. The release finally hit international distribution but can only be purchased at certain online outlets.
The film is often seen as a high-point for lead star Lina Romay from fans and blends the two biggest taboos sex and death in an explicit fashion. For those unacquainted with the director’s work, this is probably not the best starting point given the graphic content and, at times, a surreal narrative. The film reworks themes used in a number of the director’s films, most notably—if you consider the lead star Lina Romay—The Female Vampire, aka Erotikill (1973).
To write off Die Marquise von Sade as simply pornography for the sake of titillation is doing the work a great injustice. Yes, it is true that it has scenes of hardcore pornography; these include full penetrative sex, oral sex (male and female) and scenes of graphic lesbianism. Franco’s camera probes into these scenes leaving little to the imagination and under those terms this will not be for everyone. However, there are deeper things at work here. The story builds around the subject of the duality of sex and death, so those looking for a cheap thrill, will likely not find what they are looking for here. So if the film is neither pornography nor a straight up horror, what exactly is it?
To answer that question it is probably best to state what it isn’t and move on from there. As mentioned this doesn’t appear to be some cheap, seedy, exercise in getting the viewers off. The luscious locations and Moorish styled interior of Lady Grey’s grandiose castle take this as far away from your A-typical porn setting as you can get. The accompanying heady sitar based score conjures up the aura of a tantric yet deadly feverish sexed up dream. The surreal atmosphere, including up shots as Lina walks gracefully toward the camera—as seen similarly in The Female Vampire—and overall ponderous nature of the piece cancels out any link with quota quickie grindhouse material aimed at the dirty mac brigade. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that the camerawork here is some of the best I have seen so far in my foray into the world of Jess Franco. On that note, the film aligns in style, and to a certain extent thematic quality, with his erotically charged and artistic Vampyros Lesbos (1971).
The film also ties in with Franco’s huge inspiration from French Libertine Marquis De Sade (and the German title reflects this). Although there is no overt violence on show, the twinning of sex and death was an element that was rife in the French scribe’s work. This was an influence director Franco carried into a substantial portion of his cinematic output. Both Franco and De Sade can also be seen as kindred spirits in their similar pushing of boundaries and taboo in the pursuit of complete freedom of artistic expression.
Then there is the story to consider. Lina Romay plays a dual role as separated Siamese twins. The two siblings can be seen as a whole if placed together. Lady Doriana Grey, who haunts her isolated castle, and the twin sister who has been driven insane after being institutionalised at a young age. In the mental facility, the sister is under the care of Dr. Orloff (a repeating character name for the director). The two share a psychic connection, and along with their similar looks, they apparently have another common bond. It would seem that Doriana is unable to experience sexual satisfaction. Her enigmatic presence brings her many lovers; mostly female—which brings in another of Franco’s usual motifs, lesbianism—who are unable to resist her charms. In succumbing to their lust for Doriana, they pay the ultimate price. As she brings them to orgasm, they perish as a result. This curse is apparently what keeps Lady Grey young and enchanting. The lunatic sister on the other hand experiences everything, including the orgasms her other half is unable to achieve. She revels in the feelings her sister’s lovers project when they are in their final throes of life and passion. If you wanted to take this further, you could say the two sisters represent Freud’s Eros and Thanatos. Doriana is Thantos, the death drive, her unrequited passion translating into an aggression so forceful that it destroys her partners in the process. The sister, on the other hand, is Eros, ever blossoming with love and desire—something that is similarly a curse as this has sent her into madness and nymphomania.
For those wishing to see what Franco saw in his long-time lover, muse and collaborator Romay, this film is probably one of the purest specimens. The actress had many detractors during her career, and her association with the porn industry didn’t help her cause. Despite this, there is something undeniably enigmatic about the actress when she is on screen. Here, as Doriana Grey, she presents this to the audience in its most unadulterated form. There is a raw intimacy in her performance, which, with the help of Franco’s camera, draws the audience into her world, making them complicit in her plight. A strong connection that reaches beyond the camera, without obviously breaking the fourth wall—yet a certain hypnotic energy comes across to draw you in. Part of this was Lina’s unique ability to display unharnessed and authentic female sexuality on screen—something rare in cinema. You get the idea this isn’t a fantasy played out for a wider audience, but the actress and director playing into their own fantasies—a similar energy can be found in a lot of the work they did together but this is one of the most perfect examples. It has been said many times before, but the joining of Franco and Romay seemed like a match made in heaven—the voyeur and the exhibitionist. On that note Die Marquise von Sade represents the early days of that union as the two began to explore many avenues in film together and conveys the strong creativity between the two as they started out their journey.
Lina Romay in her dual role can portray two very different characters to great effect. Lady Doriana Grey is both a sexual vampire and a desolate individual who is haunted by her affliction. Grey wants to connect to the world, but cannot. Her quest for more victims drives her on, but she wishes for an end to the torment. In this role Romay conjures the feeling of someone aching to belong, but repressed by her sexual desire. Only that final release will be able to set her free and under these terms her character is cast under a shadow of sadness. The sister role, on the other hand, is childlike. She is someone who succumbs to her every desire—so much so that it consumes her. The extent of her lunacy is demonstrated in a scene where she furiously masturbates, contorting her facial expressions and yelling out in the process. Romay plays out the scene with a complete lack of restraint making this a hugely memorable moment in her overall extensive career in film. There is a limited cast, but worth a mention is Franco regular Monica Swinn appearing as a female journalist who is taken in by the noblewoman’s charms. Although the supporting cast members fulfill their duties perfectly, it is Romay that steals the show.
As with the rest of the Jess Franco Golden Goya Collection the print here is almost flawless, upgraded to 1080p high-definition and presented in 1.78:1 (16.9 Anamorphic). There is a nice presence of natural grain in Die Marquise von Sade that gives the film a cinematic look and feel. There are no issues with age related flaws. Colours are well saturated.
There are two versions of the film here: the hardcore and softcore. They are virtually identical, except that the hardcore version has extra shots of hardcore sex, which seem to have been inserted from different source material. The quality of these shots is still good, but is very slightly degraded, compared with the rest of the film. All in all, this is another fabulous upgrade from Ascot Elite.
The sound in line with the print is well mixed and demonstrates no distortion or damage. This particularly showcases the unique score of the piece. Included here is the original German audio track with additional English, and French dubbed tracks. There are no English subtitles, however, so English speakers are relegated to the English dub track.
This particular release arrives a little light on extras. Although it’s a wonder that what’s here has even made it as far as blu-ray–especially considering the censorship issues—and therefore can be taken as a welcome bonus. As well as some trailers for some of the other Jess Franco Golden Goya Collection, there is a gallery of stills and a featurette consisting of interviews with Erwin C Dietrich, Jess Franco, and Lina Romay.
To say Die Marquise von Sade is a strange film would be an understatement. In his quest to explore his ongoing themes of lesbianism, sex, and death, Franco produces something hypnotic and memorable with this piece. Given the explicit sex, and arthouse stylings it becomes neither one thing nor the other and therefore is difficult to pigeon-hole. The film carries one of Romay’s most beguiling performances, and Franco’s camera captures the spirit of the star perfectly. The strong graphic sex is bound to put off some viewers, and, therefore, it is not for everyone. However, if this is not an issue then Die Marquise von Sade is an extremely rewarding experience. Overall this is another quality release from Ascot Elite as part of their Jess Franco Golden Goya Collection.