Justine  (1968) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Justine (it was called Deadly Sanctuary in its truncated North American release) is an excellent example of 60's Euro-cult cinema. Directed by Jess Franco, starring Klaus Kinski and Jack Palance, it was an adaptation of a novel by the Marquis de Sade. It had a big budget by the standards of the era, 100 different sets, an impressive original neo-classical score, some name stars, and crisp visuals, making it one of the Cadillacs of the genre. 

The film was originally to have starred Orson Welles as the notorious Marquis, but he backed off when he saw the script and realized that the film was primarily erotica. Klaus Kinski filled in nicely. The part of the Marquis was not really very important. 90% of the film is the actual presentation of his novel, Justine. The remaining 10% simply shows the Marquis in prison, writing the novel and grappling with his demons. Not only was this unnecessary because the story worked fine on its own, but it was historically inaccurate as well. Justine was written during a time when the Marquis was a free man, writing plays for the Comedie Francaise. Although the framing device was superfluous, Kinski did an excellent job adding mood to the story, turning in one of his most subdued and realistic performances. (Kinski and director Franco were friends and frequent collaborators.)


It included a tremendous amount of nudity by 1968 standards

  • Romina Power showed her breasts and buns
  • Maria Rohm showed her breasts and a brief pubic flash
  • Sylva Koscina showed her breasts
  • There was nudity from many others, including a frontal from one woman.

The weakest element of the film was Romina Power, who got the lead role because she was the daughter of Tyrone Power and was under contract to AIP. Franco told the producers that he couldn't make the film as written if he had to cast Power. She was not capable of portraying the naif who gradually turns herself over to the pleasures of masochism, and to use her was to force the movie into a different mold, making it a story of a naive girl who is bamboozled and exploited by everyone, never really "getting it". When Franco presented this argument to AIP, they said "hey, great idea", much to his chagrin and astonishment

Jack Palance turned in one of the most bizarre performances in screen history as the insane leader of a decadent cloistered brotherhood of pleasure-seekers. Franco turned him loose to do what ever he wanted to do, and Palance went utterly bonkers. The closest I can come to a description is "Christopher Lee on acid". Franco points out in the accompanying interview that he loved Palance's unique screen presence, but much of his performance derived from the fact that he was drunk 24/7. Palance started drinking every morning at seven, and was already well along before shooting began. I'm impressed that he could get up that early every morning!

Although the costumes seem reasonable for the period of pre-revolutionary France, the locales lent a surrealistic air to the film. The film was  was shot in Spain, in two buildings designed by the distinctive architect Antonio Gaudi. Although Gaudi's work is some of the most impressive of the 20th century, it is distinctively Spanish/Moorish, and obviously 20th century in design. Many of Gaudi's works look like they are melting, and he practically reinvented architectural space without straight angles, relying on curves instead. Very cool stuff, but clearly not from 18th century France.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen anamorphic 1.66:1.

  • 20 minute interview with director Jess Franco - fascinating and funny.

  • The transfer is excellent, with fully saturated colors and sharp focus. The thirty minutes cut from the North American theatrical release have been restored.

The director took the film further into the surreal with colored lighting. Some scenes are completely pink, for example. Other sets use different colored lights to highlight different parts of the rooms, using techniques that Franco and Mario Bava pioneered in their low-budget genre films, and which even great directors like Peter Greenaway and Stanley Kubrick would later imitate in some of their masterpieces.

Jess Franco is one of the most prolific movie makers in history. He directed at least 180 films. IMDb also lists more than 140 credits for him as a writer, and more than 60 as a composer. Unfortunately, of his 182 directed films, the very best one is rated only 6.5/10.

The Critics Vote

The People Vote ...


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, C+. Euro-cult softcore from the 60's is certainly a tiny niche in film history, but if you appreciate that kind of material, this is really an excellent example, with an intelligent script, crisp visuals, a decent budget, and international stars. WARNING: for nostalgia buffs and genre lovers only. Unbearably tedious and slow for mainstream tastes, and not really campy enough to laugh at, except for Palance.

Return to the Movie House home page