If you see only one Franco-directed "Eugenie" film, don't make it this one.
While that's pithy, and this movie is not Franco's strongest effort, it's also needlessly dismissive of a film that provides the kind of delightful nudity, tingly girl-girl seduction, and revealing fashions that fans of early-70s Euro-softcore find so delightful. Based on episodes from the Marquis de Sade's La Philosophie dans le boudoir (just like Franco's superior Soledad Miranda vehicle "Eugenie"), this sex tragedy (I'm coining that shit RIGHT NOW--it's the more awesome opposite of the sex comedy) offers plenty of redeemingly mean-spirited BDSM to spice things up. Then there's the small matter of Christopher Lee having essentially been tricked (much like our hapless heroine!) into appearing such a kinky little flick. At least fellow character actor and Great Face of Cinema Herbert Fux, who also appears here, never pulled such dubiously truthy two-facery!
The film starts promisingly enough, with a red-lit scene of occult weirdness involving stocking-masked cultists and the sacrifice of a nude woman. We cut to young Eugenie (played by Swedish starlet Marie Liljedahl), who has been invited to spend the weekend at the Mediterranean island villa of her new friend and fellow Person of High Society, Madame St. Ange. Little does Eugenie know that her father has traded her innocence for sex with the icily seductive St. Ange, and that there are very wicked plans afoot that involve his daughter. Shortly after Eugenie's arrival on the island, St. Ange puts the lesbonic moves on the girl (bathing together: CHECK! Sunscreen application: CHECK! Girl-kissing: Double-motherfucking-CHECK!). St. Ange's brother Mirval looks on while all this innocent play takes place, and things take a turn for the dark after the pair (who are involved in a typically Sadean affair) drug Eugenie's drink and molest her. When she wakes up, Eugenie has hazy memories of the event, believing it to be a not-entirely-unpleasant dream. Picking up on the girl's willingness to participate in hijinks of a fetishey nature, St. Ange and Mirval offer her some Turkish cigarettes (rolled in colorful paper, no less!), and then junk gets really weird. Christopher Lee and his bedraggled steampunk brigade show up--they're supposed to be members of the cult from the beginning of the film--and there's a hallucinatory episode in which St. Ange and Mirval hideously abuse Eugenie. After this turned out to be a dream, I just stopped following the plot entirely, figuring the movie had gone off the rails. It did, and it continued to do so for the next half hour as Eugenie is seduced into increasingly bizarre acts that escalate to murder and madness.
Let's address the good stuff first, because the bad is well documented (as is generally the case with Jess Franco's filmography). There's a psychedelic jazz-inspired soundtrack that combines sitar ramblings with bump and grind burlesque, adding alternately dreamlike and lurid flavor to each scene. Madame St. Ange dons a variety of skimpy, pantsless, and/or see-through outfits that she carries with a haughty dignity. I've got to doff my cap to any woman who can wear black stockings, no pants, a white crochet serape, and a sombrero and still look sexy. Attempt THAT, Urban Outfitters catalog! Maria Rohm's portrayal of Madame St. Ange is deliciously amoral, and it's easy to believe in her scheming power.
The obviously intercuts in which Christopher Lee and the supernatural Pearlies are watching the sex scenes between St. Ange, Mirval and Eugenie are unintentionally hilarious--one could easily cut Lee's reactions into any montage, be it one of baby animals romping, scenes of Civil War destruction, or extreme sports mishaps. I want someone to turn "Christopher Lee's 'Eugenie' Reaction Shots" into the next Keyboard Cat. I also want to know how Mr. Lee could've thought that a movie based on the works of the Marquis de Sade could be anything other than Eurotrash softcore. But that's a story for another day, I'm sure.
The negatives are a bit overwhelming, however, and are ultimately what make this movie into one for completists, rather than for anything approaching a general audience. While Marie Liljedahl is undoubtedly beautiful, plush, and erotic and she sells her portrayal of the untouched innocent well enough she doesn't make Eugenie's titular Journey Into Perversion at all believable. Paul Muller reprises his role as Eugenie's dad (seriously, see "Eugenie de Sade" again instead--that's a fabulous flick), but here he plays a less central role as the sex-starved businessman who will sacrifice his daughter's well-being for a piece of (admittedly great-looking) tail. The cinematography is very strange here, with several scenes appearing to have been shot out of focus. I'm not sure if this is print deterioration or a gaffe (or bad aesthetic decision, for that matter) made at the time, but it does distract from the on-screen events. For a director as careful to use depth-of-field in his other works, it's surprising to see this kind of camerawork.
While "Eugenie... the Story of Her Journey Into Perversion" isn't at the top of Franco's body of work, it's got enough spice to attract fans of the director's work. For those who enjoyed seeing Marie Liljedahl in other softcore efforts, that actress' ample charms are on full display. Watcher be warned, however, that this can be a bit of a slog to get to the sexy, amusing, or melodramatic bits!