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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

THE SADIST OF NOTRE DAME -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle

By now, I've seen a fair amount of Spanish cult director Jess Franco's films, and, despite his popularity among countless ardent fans, I've always found his works to be a great big grab bag of good and bad all swirling around together like socks in a dryer--mostly mismatched and full of holes, but occasionally wearable.

With 1979's THE SADIST OF NOTRE DAME, we see the result of Franco taking his earlier sex-and-horror film EXORCISM (already the result of much tinkering and consisting of various different cuts including a XXX-rated one), re-arranging and repurposing the existing footage, and adding several minutes of new footage to create what he himself considered the definitive version.

Franco stars as Mathis Vogel, who once studied for the priesthood at Notre Dame but ultimately failed the final audition, so to speak, due to the fact that he was a raving loon. 

Now, after years in institutional exile, he returns crazier than ever as your stereotypical "religious fanatic" intent on punishing "sinful women" and becomes a dreaded Jack the Ripper-style serial killer.

Vogel's twisted mind is a maelstrom of conflicting impulses as he stalks and murders women he considers whores (promising that this will purify their souls) while being irresistibly aroused by them.

Franco succeeds in portraying him as a sick, pathetic troll of a man tormented by his own desires while even his former friend in the priesthood denies him the absolution for his crimes that he desperately craves.

He meets and is obsessed by pretty Anne (Franco's lifelong lover and muse Lina Romay) who works for a lurid sex magazine where he submits autobiographical sex stories, and, through her, stumbles upon a group of upper-class swingers who meet regularly in a castle for perverted S&M sex shows followed by intense orgies. 

The rest of the film follows Vogel's stalking and killing of members of the group, usually after he has voyeuristically observed them having sex involving dominant-submissive roleplay.  Romay's fans will enjoy seeing her romping about in various stages, although I found most of the other anonymous, undulating nudes somewhat less appealing.

Much of the violence is surprisingly non-graphic while still managing to be deeply disturbing, especially when juxtaposed with ample amounts of nudity and fevered Freudian sexuality. 

Occasionally, however, there are flashes of more graphic violence that increase the shock value, and, taken as a whole, this must've presented late 70s audiences with quite a heady concoction.

Meanwhile, there's a subplot (mostly from the original version, I think) involving some bickering police detectives on Vogel's trail.  This is meant mainly to show us that the net is indeed tightening around our perverted protagonist as he goes about his murderous ways, although some of the conflict between the veteran French detective and a young hot-shot cop on loan from Switzerland is interesting.


Technically, THE SADIST OF NOTRE DAME is the wildly-prolific Franco's standard rushed production--he often burned through several projects at once--filled with quick set-ups, lots of zooming and meandering camerawork, and the occasional evidence of a talented film visualist at work. 

Often Franco simply allows his cinematic mind to wander, resulting in long stretches that may delight his fans while lulling others to sleep.  The story itself is pretty threadbare and dependant upon its outlandish, grotesque imagery and themes for whatever impact it may have on individual viewers.

The new Blu-ray and DVD release by Severin Films is taken from the only known existing copy of the film, a 35mm print scanned in 4K after reportedly being discovered "in the crawlspace of a Montparnasse nunnery."  The various resulting imperfections only add to its visual appeal for me since I find perfect, flawless clarity in a film to be off-putting.  When it comes to old-style exploitation such as this, I like a print that looks like it has been around the block a few times.

I found THE SADIST OF NOTRE DAME sporadically interesting but never particularly appealing for either its horrific or erotic qualities. Francophiles, I assume, will find it fascinating.  And still others will doubtless agree with the Spanish film board's assessment of it--proudly touted in the film's publicity--as "an absolute abomination."

Special Features:
The Gory Days Of Le Brady – Documentary Short On The Legendary Parisian Horror Cinema
Stephen Thrower On Sadist Of Notre Dame – Interview With The Author Of ‘Murderous Passions – The Delirious Cinema Of Jesus Franco’
Selected Scenes Commentary With ‘I’m In A Jess Franco State Of Mind’ Webmaster Robert Monell
Treblemakers: Interview With Alain Petit, Author Of ‘Jess Franco Ou Les Prosperites Des Bis’
Spanish language or English dubbed with subtitles

Pre-order it at Severin Films
(Release date: April 3, 2018)


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