‘em or hate ‘em, no one seems to deny that generally
speaking, British sex films of the 1970s were bottom of the barrel
efforts, with minimalist production values. So 1977 production
Cruel Passion certainly stands out of the pack
– a period drama that is certainly as handsomely mounted
as any Tigon piece, and based on De Sade’s Justine,
a book that would not be available in Britain for over a decade (and caused
outrage when it was reissued), the film is something of a curio,
sitting uncomfortably between genres.
Cruel Passion follows the divergent adventures of teenage
sisters Justine (Koo Stark) and Juliette (Lydia Lisle), who find
themselves orphaned and alone in the world, having been booted
out of a convent full of lesbian nuns. Juliette decides a life
of wanton wickedness is the way forward and becomes a prostitute
in the house of Madame Laronde (Katherine Kash), while Justine
seeks a life of virtue that brings her nothing but misery.
Given British censorship regulations of the time, it’s no
surprise that this is ‘de Sade lite’ – though
to be fair, the Marquis himself write three different versions
of Justine, ranging fro the relatively wholesome
to the utterly depraved; it’s fair to say that this is based
on the former. So while there are a couple of mild flagellation
scenes, the sex doesn’t really scale the heights / plumb
the depths (depending on your viewpoint) of Sadean perversity.
Certainly, there is less nudity than you might expect and considerably
less sex than in other versions of the story – though director
Chris Boger is happy to make up for this with some surprisingly
graphic violence, more rape than you’d expect to pass the
British censors and the odd deviant moment, including necrophilia.
Boger shows pretensions to be Ken Russell in a fantasy sequence
(imagine what Russell could’ve done with de Sade!), though
he is hardly up to the task; however, he generally does a decent
enough job here and certainly didn’t deserve to slide back
into obscurity afterwards. This would seem to be his only film.
Stark – fresh from Emily and some years
away from becoming a tabloid sensation – is unquestionably
lovely and manages to be convincingly innocent as Justine, while
Lydia Lisle is suitably sexy and frisky as Juliette. Martin Potter,
playing Lord Carlisle, had gone from Fellini Satyricon
to Goodbye Gemini
and Satan’s Slave
before this, so it’s unsurprising that we treat his seemingly
dashing hero character with suspicion (and rightfully so), while
the brothel scenes make room for brief appearances from exploitation
faves Ann Michelle and Glory Annan.
This new edition is uncut – having not seen the film for
almost two decades, I can’t tell you what is new, though
I imagine it’ll be a mix of sexual violence and ass whipping.
There are – sadly – no freshly discovered hardcore
inserts for this one! Also included are alternative opening titles
(with the film renamed Justine or The
Marquis de Sade’s Justine), a fairly thorough image
gallery and a totally spoilerific trailer.
IT NOW (UK)