I Only See Darkness: Jac Avila’s Justine, Part Two

by Rich Moreland, December 2016

SPOILER ALERT! The ending of Justine will be revealed in the final installment of this review.

I’ve said previously that Jac Avila/Amy Hesketh films are worthy of academic study. Keep this in mind as we go through the rest of this multipart review.

All photos are courtesy of Pachamama Films/Decadent Cinema.

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From her predicament in the pillory, Justine’s story continues.

She landed in prison for crimes she did not commit and is now “on the brink of paying with my life,” she tells Juliette.

For the moment, Jac Avila is on board with Sade as outlined in Justine, Part Two: Novel to Film.

Here’s a quick summary to give us a flavor of how this part of the story is cinematically handled.

Lost Virginity and a Murder Plot

Justine escapes her confinement thanks to Dubois and her gang. A prison fire provides cover though, as we’ve mentioned, the blaze exacts its price in consumed victims.

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Once free, the gang (Justine is now one of them) roam a local road and run into a merchant named Saint-Florent (Erix Antoine). The outlaws make their intentions known and Justine manages to prevent Saint-Florent’s death by claiming him as a relative.

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Satisfied with their conquest and profit, the gang imbibes too much and Saint-Florent and Justine simply walk away.  Later the cad leads Justine into the forest where he relieves her of her virginity after knocking her cold.

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Left alone, the violated girl wanders the woods and comes upon the Comte de Bressac (Alejandro Loayza) and his valet (Rodrigo Leon Leon) engaged in a bit of homoerotic delight.

Notice the small white bubble-like lights that drift from the bottom to the top of the screen. They’re the visual “stars” of Justine’s dazed and muddled brain as she stumbles into a scene that shocks her.

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Befriended by the count, Justine learns of his plot to murder his aunt. She is to be his accomplice.

Of course, Justine refuses to deliver the poison and is beaten and destined to be torn apart by Bressac’s dogs for her insolence.

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From here, Jac Avila departs from Sade. Before looking into how he changes the scope and message of the story, the focus of the next installment of this review, a couple of points need visiting.

Time

Jac Avila’s narrative cuts across time in such a way as to universalize the story and playfully push Sade into this century. We see this in two instances worth noting.

The first is an image. When Justine and Saint-Florent are walking along a road, there are two discarded automobile tires off to the side. The camera focuses on them. Why?

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The positioning of the tires (one looms over the other) is indicative of the questionable “path” our virtuous girl is taking in her journey. Vice awaits Justine who will, like the tires, soon be beaten down, worn out, soiled, and discarded.

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Before reaching the end of her dismal adventure, Justine is deflowered and sold into slavery to be tortured and sodomized.

The second reference related to time counterbalances the tire imagery.

In a seemingly odd moment, Saint-Florent tells the gang his horse’s name is Athena.

As the film heads for its conclusion, Juliette identifies herself to Justine as a “Priestess of Venus . . . whose fortune is the product of a pretty face and much misconduct.”

Considering the ingenuity we’ve come to expect from a Jac Avila production, there is more here than a couple of names.

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Athena is the patroness of ancient Athens, but she is also a virgin. On the other hand, Venus is the Roman version of Aphrodite, the symbol of female seduction, sex, and lust. Consider that the Romans conquered the Greeks as part of their empire building and the contrast is clear.

aber58-75Athena and Venus are the clash of virtue and vice before the coming of Christianity.

In other words, virtue versus vice is as old as mankind and as so often happens, vice wins . . . thus the reason for the rise of the faith!

Still, that is not the complete picture Jac Avila is showing us.  Justine eventually indulges in the taste of the libertine (albeit forced upon her, one could argue), enjoying brief  moments of vice Sade never considers.

Will Heaven take its revenge assuming, ahem, there is a paradise? We’ll revisit this question before time expires, as they say in sports.

The Auction

The film is now ready for its departure from the Marquis’s narrative.

Jasmin suggests to Bressac they profit from Justine. Rather than feeding her to his dogs as Sade illustrates (see Justine, Part Two: Novel to Film), Bressac agrees to sell her into slavery. The underground auction is the work of profiteers because eighteenth century France had outlawed all slavery beyond its colonial holdings.

The buyers in this flesh for sale crime are libertines with designs that compel abducted women to suffer the whims of others.

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Justine is naked and humiliated by the proceedings. The bidding is fierce with Juliette going against Rodin who is present with his possessions, Ompahle and Rosalie.

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Our virtuous misfortunate is inspected (the marks of her beating at the hands of Jasmin are severe) and sold to Rodin. Juliette loses to the villain here, but will triumph in the end.

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Justine’s nightmare of confinement and torture amidst Rodin’s political and philosophical arguments is just beginning.

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I’ve mentioned in previous reviews that the performers in Jac Avila/Amy Hesketh films are truly a neighborhood theater group much like Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater on the Air in the age of Radio.

Having fun among friends is an ingredient Pachamama/Decadent camaraderie carries into every film.

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I Only See Darkness: Jac Avila’s Justine, Part One

by Rich Moreland, December 2016

Now that we’ve discussed Justine, the novel, and looked at what Jac Avila has borrowed for his version of the story, we’re ready to analyze the film.

SPOILER ALERT! The ending of Justine is included in this five-part review.

All photos are courtesy of Pachamama Films/Decadent Cinema. Performer names are inserted where appropriate.

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In a nod to the Marquis de Sade, Jac Avila’s cinematic version of Justine tells the story in flashback mode and sticks closely to the novel early on.

justineposterv04oficial-510x775However, the opening scene departs from Sade and establishes that this film will forge its own path in ways that reveal Justine dabbling in the libertine philosophy she supposedly abhors.

This is not to say Justine abandons her virtue, but the bottom line in this film is about defiance and empowerment that, contradictory to Sade, requires a woman of strength who endures her fate.

Jac Avila puts the abused lass on that trajectory.

 

Public Humiliation

Justine (Amy Hesketh)  is brought into the town square for a public scourging. It’s announced she’s charged with prostitution and theft and will spend a night in the pillory before being sent off to a “hard labor” fate.

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Prostitution? Sade mentions nothing of that. What’s more, there is no public humiliation at the whipping post in his novel.

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The officer in charge (Gonzolo Konka) isn’t finished because the crimes of murder and arson are also part of the charges. Justine escaped from prison with the gang leader Dubois (Gina Alcon) during a fire which our heroine supposedly set.

Twenty-one people died and later Justine is blamed for a second murder, that of Madame de Bressac.

So the unfortunate girl is doomed.

The flogging begins, the crowd counts the strokes, and Amy Hesketh initiates this provocative film in a fashion only she can orchestrate. It’s a superb scene and another cinematic triumph for an actress/director whose performance art we’ve come to take for granted.

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Notice the crucifixion position of Justine as a criminal. That’s important because this film has a religious undercurrent that challenges the Church.

By the way, after receiving the thirty-ninth lash, Justine faints and has to be revived. Keep in mind the number thirty-nine, it is significant in understanding the film and will be mentioned later.

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The Medieval Church

That leads us to the prostitution charge. Why is it there?

It’s not part of Sade’s story, but its inclusion here makes sense if we remember that Sade is an atheist and condemns the Catholic Church as the charlatan of illusionary constructs. (See Justine, Part One: The Novel).

On the other hand, Jac Avila’s cinematic version of Justine does not abandon Christian ideology, choosing instead to confront it particularly over the Church’s attitude toward women.

Is the virtuous Justine turned into a modern version of Mary Magdalene, the supposed woman of the evening, to argue this point?

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If so, the flogging scene with the priest standing by tells us two things that set the tone for the film.

First,  doubts are cast on how we see Church doctrine when it comes to the female cause. After all, there is no real Biblical evidence that Mary Magdalene was an adulteress or profited from sex, though the patriarchal Medieval Church hinted otherwise.

Nevertheless, women were regarded as second class citizens, the Virgin Mary aside. She avoids what churchmen abhorred in the Early Middle Ages, the sensual woman. After all, she never really had sex.

Jac Avila challenges this minimalist view of the women in two other characters in the narrative, Rosalie (Mila Joya) and Omphale (Beatriz Rivera), who are present at Justine’s punishment.

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Rosalie, Omphale, and Justine share the common bond of torture and pain, a point that becomes more important when the film delves into Rodin and his amusement with the fairer sex.

In fact, the girls are nervously watching a punishment that is already familiar to them.

That leads us to the film’s second theme: the empowered woman. Jac Avila’s Justine is hardly Sade’s innocent, hapless soul imploring Heaven’s Grace to save her.

She has her own will that leads to self-created problems . . . and she pays in the end.

But more on this feminist view later.

You Can Only Die Once

After her bloody punishment, Justine is taken to the pillory and secured to await the dawn.

The spectators are informed that by daybreak Justine’s execution will be settled upon since she has “but one life to live.” So much for the years of hard labor in the original sentence.

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Juliette (Cortney Wills), a witness to the whipping, walks over and touches Justine’s cheek, asking how “you, with a very sweet face, find yourself in such a dreadful plight.”

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A tearful Justine replies that were she to tell her story, she “would accuse the Hand of Heaven and I dare not.”

The dictates of her unwavering faith are understandable, though a bit over-the-top. But there’s more. Justine’s troubles are of her own making. Even for those who conceive of God as the great clock maker (popular with the Deists in Sade’s time), the miserable wretch has to bear some responsibility for her actions.

Sade would not disagree, but Jac Avila’s alternative look at an empowered Justine flies in the face of the French aristocrat.

Remember, empowerment means making choices.

Pounds of Flesh

The executioner (Eric Calancha) puts aside his whip and sodomizes his helpless victim.

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Rodin (Jac Avila as actor) approaches Juliette and introduces himself. She responds with “Madame de Lorsange.”

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By this time, the executioner has finished with his pound of flesh, so Rodin politely excuses himself to duck behind the stocks for his own Sadean go at Justine. Juliette looks on with patience, thoroughly amused.

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In the face of all plausibility, Justine calmly begins as Rodin pumps away. Apparently anal violation at the hands of a pedophile sparks casual conversation. It’s a parody of Sade, of course, whose own narrative of Justine’s travails is so outré as to garner chuckles. But does Jac Avila also parody the Church in a way Sade ignores?

If that’s not enough grist for the mill, consider the film’s flashback narrators.  Justine, and later Juliette, break the fourth wall and talk directly to the camera, engaging the audience directly with a more pointed method than a simple literary first person.

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What’s going on here?

A lot, actually, and it sets up a very entertaining and highly recommended film.

In the next post we’ll find out the details of Dubois, Saint-Florent, and Bressac.

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One of the endearing aspects of indie film is the cooperation that is built into everyone connected with the project. When money and time are limited, the cast accepts responsibilities to assist the director of cinematography.

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Justine, Part Two: Novel to Film

by Rich Moreland, December 2016

Jess Franco's Justine 1969

Jess Franco’s Justine, 1969

Justine as film is not new. The earliest version dates to 1969, two productions were released in the 1970s, and another followed in 1987.

To understand Jac Avila’s adaptation, a snapshot of Sade’s original work he borrows is helpful.

All quotes come from the Oxford University 2012 publication of Justine or the Misfortunes of Virtue.

All photos are courtesy of Pachamama Films/Decadent Cinema.

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Film adaptations of novels can be daunting.

As a result, filmmakers must sort through characters and scenes to personalize their version of a story.

Justine is no exception, so here are the major characters Jac Avila selected out of the many in Sade’s work. I’ve summarized them as they appear in novel.

Juliette, the Sister

Sade introduces Juliette by her married name, “Madame the Comtesse of Lorsange,” and tells us she owes “her fortune to a pretty face and a great deal of misconduct.” When she and Justine leave the convent as young girls, Juliette reminds her sister that their “youth and looks” will make it “impossible for them to die of hunger.”

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With morals that “are completely corrupted,” Sade writes, the older Juliette learns the ways of the flesh as a brothel “working girl.” At twenty she marries an older man, the Comte de Lorsange, whom she eventually murders for his wealth. Thus, Juliette’s life as a libertine and party girl begins.

Incidentally, never deterred by moral restraint, Juliette later offs “one of her admirers” to gain a “legacy” that enriches her further.

But she isn’t finished.

Throw in “three or four infanticides (abortions) to these horrors,” Sade says, and the dissolute Juliette becomes the poster girl for “prosperity can reward the very worst conduct.”

Immediately within the pages of Sade’s work, Juliette and her current sugar daddy, Monsieur de Corville, encounter a poor girl brought in chains to the inn where they are lodging. The wretch is accused of “three crimes, murder, theft, and arson” and is destined for execution in Lyons.

The aristocrats take pity and the prisoner offers to tell her tale. Thus, the devout Justine, who calls herself “Therese” to conceal her identity, begins the narrative that becomes the novel.

Bressac, the Gay Comte

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Having escaped a gang of criminals who beat and anally rape her, Justine comes upon two men in the woods “drunk with lust.”

“The young master (the Comte de Bressac) was always the woman,” Justine observes. She later says he “possessed a considerable degree of wickedness.”

When the count and his valet, Jasmin, realize Justine is watching them, they tie ja7her nude and spread-eagled to four trees to frighten her.

But the count has plans to use her as a companion for his aunt. Justine stays in Madame de Bressac’s house for four years, but her doubts about the Comte never go away.

“An evil spirit lay concealed beneath (his) feminine charms” that fostered a “hatred for his aunt,” Justine says.

Not unexpectedly, she refuses to participate in a plot to poison the woman.

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As punishment for her insolence, an enraged Bressac, with the help of Jasmin, takes Justine into the forest where she is tied naked to a tree. Admiring her “lovely bottom” and its “superb flesh,” the count predicts the stupid girl “will be an excellent lunch for my three hounds!”

The dogs are released.

“The cruel man walked away . . . I never saw him again,” Justine says.

Bloodied but alive, the abused girl finds her way to Saint-Marcel and a surgeon to treat her wounds. He is Rodin.

In the meantime, Justine discovers that Bressac does indeed carry out his deadly machination and she, the chambermaid, is accused of murder.

The Scientist and his Daughter

Rodin is a doctor “purely out of interest.” His passion is his boarding school. Students of both sexes provide the flesh he sadistically whips and debauches. Living with Rodin is his youthful daughter, Rosalie, who becomes Justine’s friend.

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Rodin offers Justine a place in his home though she is suspicious because two pretty servant girls are already there.

“Why does he need a third woman,” Justine asks herself, “and why does he want pretty ones?”

From a crack in the panel boards in her bedchamber, Rosalie reveals to Justine her father’s Friday punishments. As they watch the spectacle, Rosalie confesses she is treated likewise and suffers incest.

Concealed again later, Justine watches the same whipping and carnality this time with the two servants and Rosalie, who is sodomized by her father.

Sade tells us, “Drunk with passion, the libertine dares to taste the sweetest pleasures that incest and infamy have to offer.”

Confiding in Justine, Rosalie says she is now fifteen and ripe for sacrifice in the name of science. Her father and a colleague are going to use her for experiments; her destiny is determined and nothing will save her.

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When the fellow doctor questions Rodin about his indifference toward his daughter, the depraved scientist replies, “I, in love with a girl?” Referring to Rosalie as “that little bitch,” he adds, “it’s time she paid for putting an end to my intoxication with her life.”

Rosalie disappears for days before Justine discovers her tied to the posters of a bed. Furious, Rodin grabs Justine and brands her with a mark that “will get her hanged,” he declares.

Helpless, Justine is left at the edge of the forest. Faced with her own pain and troubles, Justine abandons Rosalie to her fate.

Omphale and the Monastery

After fleeing Rodin, Justine comes upon a hidden monastery deep within the woods where depraved monks imprison young women for pleasure, torture, and sex. In this society of vice, the monks are “quite sure their crimes will never be revealed.”

Justine’s string of bad luck predictably continues and she is put into the ranks of the abused.

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All sorts of horrors befall her but she does find a friend, Omphale, who, like Virgil guiding Dante through the Nine Circles of Hell, shows Justine everything, including exaggerated and whimsical punishments that would quickly kill any human being.

But this novel is pure fantasy, so the girls survive and their bodily marks simply disappear leaving them fresh for another round of torture, flogging, and sex.

The only way out of this hellish existence is to be among the mysterious “discharges,” Justine learns, the girls who are dismissed and sent away. Despite their promises to help those still imprisoned, these unfortunates are never  heard from again.

This fate befalls Omphale.

Later when Justine manages to escape in total darkness, an improbable turn in the tale, she traverses the six walls that conceal the monastery. Along the way, she finds a skull in the dirt and believes she’s come upon “the cemetery where these torturers throw the bodies of their victims . . . This skull was perhaps that of my dear Omphale,” she laments.

Though she is free, Justine never returns to rescue the tormented girls she leaves behind.

Others

ja14There are other characters Jac Avila places in his film: Dubois, the female gang member who helps Justine escape from prison and the traveler Saint-Florent, whom Justine rescues from the gang.

After treating her with care, Saint-Florent takes Justine into the forest as darkness closes in and knocks her unconscious with his walking stick.

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When Justine regains her senses, she finds herself “bruised, bloodied . . . and dishonoured,” her virginity gone.

It is at this point she comes upon Bresssac and his man, Jasmin.

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Chris Boger's Justine, 1977

Chris Boger’s Justine, 1977

We are now ready to examine Jac Avila’s treatment of the story. He keeps Sade’s narrative in tact at the beginning before exploring his own take on Justine’s character.

That, after all, is the nature of an adaptation.

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Justine is available for purchase at Vermeerworks.com.

Jac Avila can be contacted at Pachamama Films or via his blog.

 

 

 

 

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Justine, Part One: The Novel

by Rich Moreland, December 2016

Jac Avila’s adaptation of the Marquis de Sade’s novel, Justine, is now available from Pacahamama/Decadent Films. Before taking a critical look at the movie, it’s helpful to have an understanding Sade’s work.

All references to the original story, Justine or the Misfortunes of Virtue, posted here come from the Oxford University Press paperback edition published in 2012. The translator is John Phillips.

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ja200Born in 1740, the Marquis de Sade was a French aristocrat during the Age of Enlightenment. His proclivity for debauching young girls and his fascination with sodomy (anal sex) landed him in prison on more than one occasion.

During his time in the Bastille, the prolific author and playwright penned Justine. Published in 1791 after the French Revolution, the novel is an early example of pornography, eighteenth century style.

Sade’s story is a satirical work. ja201The marquis rails against the Church and society and marvels at the libertine (free thinking) way of life.

He uses Justine, a pathetic girl who tries to preserve her virtue in the face of overwhelming vice, as the punching bag to justify his philosophy.

The Story in Brief

At age twelve Justine and her older sister Juliette fall upon hard times. Though born of nobility, they are orphaned and penniless and forced to go their separate ways after leaving the protection of a convent. Fifteen years later, they meet again when Juliette is thirty and Justine well into her twenties.

sade_etching_1Juliette lives a pleasurable life of vice, Justine a miserable one of virtue. Despite her desperate pleas to Heaven to protect her, Justine suffers a series of tribulations that include graphically described tortures and repeated sodomy.

Her tormenters come from all corners of society: criminal gangs, aristocrats, and churchmen among them.

Imprisoned by disreputable characters who abuse her incessantly, Justine is accused of various crimes, branded a whore, and is in the hands of the authorities when Juliette, known now as Madame de Lorsange, rescues her.

The novel is a flashback in which Justine recounts her miseries. Virtue is rewarded only briefly, however, as the poor lass is struck dead by a lightning bolt.

Influences on the Novelist

The Marquis de Sade was undoubtedly familiar with the fairy tales of fellow Frenchmen Charles Perrault, particularly “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Bluebeard” and incorporated elements of both (as well as sordid legends from around the world), in his novel.

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Justine is often lost in the darkness of the woods, a terrifying experience and a reminder of Little Red Riding Hood’s dire straits.

Falling into the hands of one “bad wolf” after another, she ends up in foreboding environs typical of the Gothic writing of Sade’s day such as castles, forbidden rooms, and hidden monasteries where tortures occur.

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Because Justine is trusting and gullible, she is often abandoned after being abused setting her up to be easily duped by the next person who comes long.

As this abysmal cycle continues, Justine meets other young women who likewise suffer indignities and sometimes death as do Bluebeard’s wives.

sade_donatien_alphonse_francois_marquis_de_justine_ou_les_malheurs_de_d5840801gThe Libertine

Justine is as much a philosophical statement as a decadent novel about libertine sexuality and anti-Church diatribes.

Incidentally, during the Enlightenment period, “libertine” originally referred to those who considered themselves atheists. Over time, the label was expanded to include sexually obscene written works.

Sade explores this further when Justine morphs into the lengthier , The New Justine, published in 1797. It is more pornographic than its older cousin.

Sade’s Message

The Marquis’ original Justine carries two prominent themes.

marquisdesade2The first justifies its libertine leanings. Virtue is of little account. When Justine escapes prison with the help of Dubois and her gang, she is told, “abandon the path of virtue which has never brought you success.” Trust your instincts, the gang believes, and advises Justine that “moral feelings are deceptive, only physical sensations are true.”

In other words, vice is rewarded, a message Justine hears throughout the novel.

The second theme centers on religion. Sade is an atheist in a time when the hegemony of the Catholic Church in France is coming under fire.

The “creator” is a fantasy, the gang informs Justine. The only reality is the here and now and like a dog, they assert, why should we “abandon the bone for the shadows and renounce real pleasures for the sake of illusions?”

If anything in the state of nature (the time before societies existed according to the French philosopher Jean-Jacque Rousseau) is bad, why does nature allow it to exist?

This is Sade’s central question.

But the author is not finished. Later when Justine is under the thumb of the perverted monks, one of them, Clement, takes pride in their impiety, finding pleasure in the “egoism, cruelty, and debauchery” that offends “the mythical God.”

260c1b95dac55720bcb251a30a113aa7Rebirth

All of this is not to say that Sade believes that an end is an end. In fact, he has his own version of regeneration or eternal life, if you will.

The Comte de Bressac tells Justine that matter is “reborn in other guises” because “all men, all animals, all plants . . . grow, feed, and are destroyed.” They go back into the earth where they “never truly die but merely undergo variation and modification.”

Later Rodin justifies murder using the same logic.

“If nothing dies or is destroyed, [or] is ever lost in Nature,” he says, it’s “just waiting “to reappear immediately in new forms.”

To deny this process (even if it is what society calls murder) is the “real crime,” the scientist claims.

Finally, Sade accounts for man’s perversities.

From Clement, the defiled Justine learns that “there are no tastes (sadomasochism included) that do not derive from the kind of make-up we have been given by Nature.” He expands on this inborn deviancy by stating the “pleasures of the senses are always dependent on the imagination.”

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When Justine assails him for his “taste for cruelty and horror,” Clement retorts, “If Nature were offended by these tastes it would not inspire us [to express them].”

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So we have Justine, a novel that tackles Jean-Jacque Rousseau’s social contract popular in eighteenth century France. Man is born into a State of Nature where there are no moral laws and must enter into communities to preserve himself.

Of course, Sade has his own libertine opinion on the outcome.

Next we’ll look at the characters from Justine Jac Avila has taken for his adaptation of the narrative.

 

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The Horror Community and The Outside World

by Amy Davis, November 2016

This is Amy’s final post on her favorite the film genre. Since she has been working with me, I’ve certainly learned a lot about slasher films and the fans that love them.

My thanks to Amy for educating all of us.

Rich

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I am a woman who likes horror, but it hasn’t been an easy journey.

As far back as I can remember my interest in the macabre was actively discouraged. Pretty frustrating, I might add, because the interests of my male counterparts, regardless of how off-the-wall they were, were chalked up as “boys will be boys.”

Things haven’t changed much. Society still seems to view the female horror fan as an anomaly. I’ve heard everything from “why?” to “you’re too smart to watch that garbage.” The weird part is the horror community doesn’t bat an eye at me and that’s just the way I like it.

A Fellow Fan

1425663_10151759614861604_2061633023_nI’m a member at upcominghorrormovies.com and go to horror conventions around the Baltimore-Washington metro area where I live. While, yes, the community is mostly male, they don’t actively encourage or discourage female fans from being there. Because horror films project examples of strong women, the guys have no issue viewing us as equals. Most guys greet me as a fellow fan not a female fan.

My theory is that most females are discouraged from liking horror at a young age and never bother to go past that. And, yes, every now and again you will have a guy that is trying to “meta nerd” by drilling people with obscenely hard questions about crazy obscure things. These questions tend to get harder when a vagina is present in an attempt to weed out the posers.

Fortunately meta nerds constitute a miniscule percentage of the horror population. They want to prove they are bigger fans than anyone else, a sort of self-validation at the expense of others which makes everyone (male and female) uncomfortable.

I can only assume this gender bias stereotype harks back to the assumption that only psychopaths watch horror films and since ladies are less likely to kill anyone, they clearly can’t like the genre at all. The stereotype that horror fans are more likely to kill someone is insane and downright offensive.

Frankly I can’t tell you how many news reports I have read about would be killers where they felt the need to mention what horror films they watched. Each time I react with disgust that they would plan or do such a thing. But then I get furious with the news outlet for trying to imply that this would be killer’s taste in films had something to do with that behavior.

A Welcome

All of the films discussed here are in my personal collection and guess what, I haven’t gone postal nor do I know anyone who has or even considered it. I assume this is because we are smart enough to know that movies aren’t real.

Most horror fans shy away from real life gore. Not so with non-horror fans. Often they check out the news for blood and NASCAR for the crashes.

To those that hold these views I might suggest getting a day pass to a horror convention or going to a midnight showing of an older horror film.

The casual or non-horror fan is welcomed at these events. My husband confesses he wasn’t into horror before we met but took an interest based on my self-defined extreme tastes. Most “hardcore” horror fans we talk to react by asking what he likes and giving him film recommendations.

They do this to make him feel more included in the community which can be very tight knit. From the outside looking in it may be weird to think that people who watch fake violence for fun tend to enjoy helping others, but from my experience this is the case.

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There is even a horror-based charity called Scares That Care! It focuses mainly on raising money for sick children with another branch devoted to breast cancer. In fact, the CEO used to direct horror films. This charity shakes a tree that many wouldn’t think of as charitable and leverages a community to give back.

Equality

As a woman, the bottom line for me is this: I have never felt objectified by any man in the horror community. Honestly, I experience total gender equality when talking to fellow horror fans.

As mentioned above, they see so many strong women on film that they assume each female is their equal. Since we are all so different and horror is our common thread it stands to reason that our viewing habits nurture this attitude.

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The Revenge Killer

by Amy Davis, October, 2016

This is Amy’s fifth post on the female archetype found in horror/slasher films. Here she takes a look at what happens when the tables are turned.

Rich

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Themes of seduction and excessive violence are staples in exploitation horror films that present the female “revenge killer.” She’s on a mission not of her own doing and settles the score with people directly related to the incident she is avenging.

Mom and Dad

39_33665_0_thelasthouseontheleftLast House on the Left (1972), directed by Wes Craven, starts off as a tale of teenaged girls kidnapped, tortured, and murdered. The twist comes when the killers unknowingly seek lodging with the parents of one of their victims. After piecing together what happened, mom and dad exact revenge.

With Dad’s assistance, the mother uses her feminine wiles to do in the killers. Under the guise of performing oral sex, she bites off the penis of one, robbing him of the power he had used to subjugate her daughter.

Mom played to his preconceived notions that women are weak, just mounds of flesh built for his pleasure and therefore easily seduced. Thus the rapist is “bitten” by his own hubris.

Rape and Mayhem

I Spit on Your Grave (1978) also uses fake seduction to avenge a particularly graphic gang rape. The victim, Jennifer, returns cruelty tit-for-tat. Confronted with the “you were asking for it” spiel from her four attackers, she convinces them that she was turned on by the rape, plays on their vulnerabilities and kills them off one-by-one.

Jennifer is an excellent example of the pure revenge killer and in doing so elevates the raped woman to an empowered avenger.

hardcandy2005-2008dvdHard Candy (2005) also explores the idea that young non-threatening females are vulnerable to rape and mayhem. Hayley, a girl in her early teens, meets up with Jeff, an older man she encountered online who turns out to be the predatory “big bad wolf.” Dressed in her red hoodie, Haley acts awkward and innocent.

When they go back to his place it’s assumed she will be attacked but Hayley drugs his drink. Turns out Jeff killed her best friend.

Hakey plays innocent to regain control and save other girls from befalling the same fate.

In all of these films women are assaulted as a means for them to shift their personality and exact revenge.  Rape is seen as a deplorable act across gender lines ensuring that both male and female audience members root for the heroine to kill those who harmed her.

Using her sexual agencies to seduce her attackers is a way to regain control and exhibit her own power. The heroine will not let this rape define her nor will she allow any other woman to suffer from sexual violence.

Just Us Girls

In the second half of Death Proof (2007) heroines Zoë, Abernathy, and Kim are test-driving a white 1970 Dodge Challenger when Stuntman Mike, who uses his car to murder young women, tries to run them off-road.

The girls emerge mostly unharmed but they are not “survivor girls” who simply walk away. Instead, they chase him down with their car and mercilessly crush him with brute force.

Moral of the story? death-proof-movie-poster-2007-1020403304Stuntman Mike believed a car full of women was of no threat to him.

In breaking with the theme of using rape as a cause for revenge, the women of Death Proof show strength because that is just who they are. In other words, they are more than girls being girls. For example, there are several discussions about typically “male” topics such as cars and weapons demonstrating that women can play a mans’ game, so to speak.

This is not an attempt to make women seem more masculine but instead shows that females can enjoy traditionally male activities while still retaining their femininity.

In summarizing the female revenge killer, she is about taking back her sex from the presumptive male as Death Proof demonstrates.

The young trio gains control by repaying the violence they experienced and doing away with their attacker. While “eye for an eye” justice may upset some viewers, these heroines show that inner strength can come from even the darkest of places

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The Female Killer

by Amy Davis, October, 2016

Next in our series on horror/slasher films is the girl who kills for her own thrills.

Rich

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Sometimes the typical killer archetype found in horror is flipped. Normally it’s a male killer; but a female is not out of the question. True, a woman murderer is a cheap shock, but some films break the mold enough to surprise the audience.

thebadseed1956Take The Bad Seed (1956), for example. The movie focuses on eight-year-old Rhoda who appears to be a sweet, well-mannered, young lady when in reality she has affections for snuffing out life.

The theory of nature over nurture or a “bad seed” explains Rhoda’s behavior. Even more startling, especially for the time period, her mother tries to off both herself and Rhoda to cover up her daughter’s crimes.

The Killer as Child

The female child as killer trend continues with Kill Baby, Kill (1966), The Exorcist (1973), Alice, Sweet Alice (1976), and The Reaping (2007). While girls don’t have quite as many entries into the malevolent youngster subgenre as boys, they retain a strong early presence and a complex one at that.

A young male exhibiting an interest in death is written off, as “boys will be boys.” On the other hand, females expressing similar fantasies are cause for alarm due to society’s expectations for female behavior.

This gender difference means young lasses fascinated with death must be much more careful and methodical with their crimes.74a1609fe3d8ab749100fed012796721

In Friday the 13th (1980) Mrs. Voorhees’ son Jason drowns as a result of negligence. The camp counselors choose to have sex instead of doing their job. Though she sets out on a self-appointed mission, mom is not an archetypal mother.  Rather she generalizes her murderous rampage to any counselor that chooses to have sex, drink, or do drugs even when children are not present.

Incidentally, though Mrs. Voorhees dies in the end, Jason returns later in the franchise concealed by a hockey mask, revisiting of one of horror’s fondest tropes.

Siblings

Ginger Snaps (2000) is an interesting example of young teenage sisters fascinated with death.  Their actions are exclusively female and have no claim on gender neutrality though in some scenes puberty is addressed with phrases like “hair where there wasn’t hair before” that are relatable across genders.

220px-thegingersnapsfilmposterIn a film infused with a heavy fantasy element, Ginger is transformed into a mythical being, a werewolf, when she is bitten because the beast smells the menstrual blood from her first period.

By the way, this Canadian production is pegged as a dark comedy about puberty and ends with one sister stalking the other that brings the female killer full circle. Subsequent films in the franchise are more straightforward horror and look more like a typical werewolf flick.

In contrast to Ginger Snaps, a clear example of gender equality among predators is August Underground: Mordum (2003) and August Underground: Penance (2007). The films offer up two slayers, a male and a female.

While these films are far too graphic for many casual and even seasoned horror fans, they do highlight a balanced male/female on-screen dynamic, albeit in an obviously unhealthy relationship. The audience never senses that the girl is forced or manipulated in any way; she is an equal partner in crime.

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The Archetype

Normally, a woman overcoming a male pursuer or torturer is the norm in horror. If she is a homicidal figure she sometimes exists with little to no explanation or what might be considered character development, though such a thing is often absent in horror across the board.

What’s more, the female killer archetype often challenges our assumption that a woman is unlikely to be a murderer and that she cannot overpower a man.

The idea of gender equality through violent films is a feminist concept and can leave a bad taste in the mouth of some viewers. Yet, there is little doubt that the horror movie is a cultural staple. Generations of teens and young adults have flocked to the theater for the newest slasher offering, indicative that horror is not going anywhere and will return soon to your neighborhood cinemaplex.

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