Thursday, April 12, 2018

THE SADIST OF NOTRE DAME (1979) (Severin Blu-ray Review)

THE SADIST OF NOTRE DAME (1979)

Label: Severin Films
Duration: 99 Minutes
Rating: Unrated 
Region Code: Region-Free
Video: 1080p HD Wide Screen (1.66:1)
Audio: English, Spanish Dolby Digital Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: Jess Franco
Cast: Lina Romay, Olivier Mathot, Pierre Taylou

With a staggering filmography of over 200 films to his credit Spanish euro-cult auteur Jess Franco was without a doubt one of the most prolific filmmakers of all time. Now, the quality of every single one of those films wasn't always of a high-caliber, the guy was working with different producers and financiers with varying budgets through the years, but being the consummate craftsmen he was he did the best he could with what he had, and that's what I love about him, his love and enthusiasm for delightfully artful and sinful cinema, at any cost. The Sadist of Notre Dame (1979) is actually the third incarnation of a film that began as Exorcism (1974), a film that failed to find theatrical distribution so Franco altered it to meet the demand of the market, skin flicks, inserting some hardcore sex scenes and marketing it as Sexorcismes (1975). A few years later he went back to the source material, added twenty-five minutes or so of new stuff, releasing it once again with a new title, and surely it's that sort of cinematic-chicanery that resulted in Franco's prolific catalog of titles. 

In an unusual move Franco himself stars as a defrocked priest named Mathis Vogel who has just arrived back in Paris on the back of a garbage truck, he wanders the grey early morning streets, walking  among the drunks and bums, including a scene of a drunken man walking along while simultaneously pissing on the street, it's a nice melancholic opening. We come to discover Vogel's just been released from the asylum, but it seems he's struggling with some serious inner-demons, a deeply conflicted and devout Catholic who struggles with the erotic feelings when aroused by what he considers to be immoral women. He begins prowling the Paris streets like a modern Jack the Ripper, stalking and knife-murdering prostitutes and whores - in his twisted mind believing he is absolving them of their sins by murdering them, an idea similarly explored in the minor 80's werewolf classic Silver Bullet (1985). 

Even though he's a murderer he still a devout Catholic and regularly goes to church to offer confession to a priest (Antonio De Cabo, Devil Hunter) he formerly attended the seminary with, whom chooses not to turn the killer into the authorities because he believes him to be a good God-fearing man, oh the hypocrisy of the church, which is not at all lost on Franco, who seems to be examining his own connection to his faith with this one. Vogel also seek out the publisher of the dirty magazine The Dagger and the Garter, Pierre Franval (Pierre Taylou, The Hot Nights of Linda), submitting his own stories to the rag in hopes that they'll publish them. During  their meeting Vogel is struck my the publisher's comely secretary, Anne (Franco-muse Lina Romay, Jack the Ripper), whom he follows back to her apartment, discovering she's a lesbian who engages in faux satanic black masses as a bit of foreplay before hosting an orgy, inspiring Vogel to seek out and punish/absolve the sinners for their carnal impurity. 
  
I should say I have never actually watched the other variants, that being Exorcism or the hardcore-inserted Sexorcismes, though via the excellent extras which accompany this release I have a decent idea of what's been carried over, added and re-purposed to make this version of the film. The scenes added by Franco for this version are not additional scenes of sex and murder, which is unusual for the Godfather of euro-sleaze, by all accounts this is a more chaste version of the story - and it's not all that chaste! - adding more depth and nuance to the Vogel character. On the whole it worked for me, Franco is surprisingly good as the disturbed/conflicted former priest, this is his most substantive role I've seen to date, but I've only seen about thirty or so of his over 200 credited movies, so there could be another out there I guess. Unfortunately Lina Romany doesn't have a lot to do here, she's more nude eye-candy than anything else, but luckily Lina Romay eye-candy just happens to be one of favorite forms of eye-candy, she's a gorgeous, lust inspiring nymph. Speaking of eye-candy, we get some great Paris and Spain locations used to enhance the film, the shots of Notre Dame really pumping up the production value, but the cinematography from Raymond Heil (Cecilia) is not the best we've seen from this era of Franco. 

The defrocked priests as a sinner-killing lunatic is a pretty great idea, but it's not executed to total perfection, the scenes Franco has re-purposed and re-sequenced from Exorcism aren't quite seamless, I found myself scratching my head more than once trying to figure it all out, but it doesn't fall apart into a formless mess either. Truthfully, it's not that different from any of Franco's other delirious narrative thrillers from the 70's, so it's luridly  entertaining and always strangely satisfying, it's just not his best or most cohesive flick, nor is it anywhere near his worst - let me point you in the direction of Devil Hunter (1980) - also available on Blu-ray from Severin Films as a double-feature with the even-worse Cannibal Terror (1981). 

Audio/Video: The Sadist of Notre Dame (1979) arrives on Blu-ray from the fine purveyors of euro-cult over at Severin Films, sourced from the only known existing 35mm print of the film, which as legend tells was found in the crawlspace of a French nunnery - which if true (it can't be) would be amazing. This is a new 4K scan of that theatrical print honestly looks pretty rough. There's ample amounts of scratches and film damage throughout, some of which is mighty egregious, but they did the best with what they had, and now we have The Sadist of Notre Dame (1979) on Blu-ray, all things considered not too shabby at all. While the image can show considerable softness the grain is decently managed and there are some scenes that show some modest detail, but it's not eye-popping. Colors are a bit on the cold side and some of the whites look a bit hot, which is something I think goes back to this being derived from a 35mm print, which hampers clarity, the effectiveness of color-grading and other restorative processes.

Onto the audio we get three options: we have dubbed French, English and Spanish DTS-HD MA Mono with optional English subtitles. Overall I think the Spanish track is probably but the strongest of the three in regard to fidelity but all three have issues, including hiss and some distortion, though I still preferred the English track which to my ears had better separation. The Daniel White (Barbed Wire Dolls) score sounds a bit flat but they absolutely enhance the film.

Onto the extras we get plenty of Franco-love beginning with Stephen Thrower looking back at the film, nearly as much as I enjoy taking in a new-to-me Franco film is the joy of Thrower waxing on the Franco love, always a thorough and detailed appreciation, going into the three films make from the original film Exorcism (1975) and how that film was re-worked into the x-rated Sexorcismes (1975) with hardcore inserts - which include Franco himself in front of the camera - there's even a clip of him licking the clam! We also get a look back at the Parisian theater Le Brady with former Le Brady projectionist Jacques Thorens who gives a thorough history of the cinema through the years with loads of great pictures to accompany the story, this extra ties into the Franc love fest with various showing of his films in the 70's at the cinema - this is in French with subtitles. There's also a contextualizing video essay from "I'm In a Jess Franco State of Mind" Webmaster Robert Monell, and an interview with Alain Petit, author of "Jess Franco Ou Les Prosperites Des Bis, in French with subtitles, who speaks about the three versions of the film, pointing out that Exorcsim (1975) didn't get a theatrical release because at the time porno was in such high demand at the time, thus resulting in distributors demanding a hardcore version, spawning Sexorcismes (1975).

The single-disc Blu-ray release comes housed in a black Blu-ray keepcase with a one-sided sleeve of artwork, which I believe is new oil-painting, though I do not know who the artists is, the disc itself featuring an excerpt of the same artwork.  There's not too much more I could have wanted as far as extras aside from a more pristine transfer of the film, maybe the x-rated version of the film for tits and giggles the way that Severin included the "Hard Banana" version of three-disc limited edition version of The Hot Night of Linda, but otherwise I am very pleased with what they ponied-up for on this release. 

Special Features:
- The Gory Days of Le Brady - Documentary short on the legendary Parisian horror cinema (31 min) HD 
- Stephen Thrower on Sadist of Notre Dame - Interview with the author of "Murderous Passions - The Delirious Cinema of Jesus Franco." (28 min) HD 
- Selected Scenes Commentary with "I'm In a Jess Franco State of Mind" Webmaster Robert Monell (7 min) HD 
- Treblemakers - Interview with Alain Petit, author of "Jess Franco Ou Les Prosperites Des Bis." (5 min) HD 

Severin Films continue to please with the rare and raw delights of Spanish cult director Jess Franco on Blu-ray, while this is not one of his finest of this era I found the story behind it rather interesting, and the extras thoroughly explore that aspect of the film. On top of that we get Franco himself in a starring role playing a defrocked Catholic psychopath out to punish the impure , which is notable in itself. As usual Franco is an enigmatic and eccentric filmmaker, his movies aren't for everyone, sort of the way Italian cannibal films have a niche audience, so to do the sleaze-dripping films of Mr. Franco. 

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