Saturday, October 29, 2016

Jac Avila's JUSTINE Review

Director Jac Avila has created a definitive film version of the Marquis DeSade's JUSTINE. The film, based on DeSade's famous novel about the misfortunes of virtue, is in my opinion true to the book's spirit and content in a way no other version has ever been.

If, hearing this is a film of DeSade's JUSTINE, you expect "sadistic" scenes of beautiful women subjected to whippings and other torturous ordeals, Avila's JUSTINE pulls no punches and will fulfill your expectations. But you can also approach this movie hungry for a refreshing tour de force of artistic filmmaking and have your desires fulfilled.

Avila opens JUSTINE with a startling close-up of Justine's face, beautiful and innocent, but with a haunted look in her eyes that suggests she has already been through more horrors than we can imagine and knows the worst is probably yet to come. Amy Hesketh achieves this effect by looking straight at you in a certain way that has to be experienced to be understood.

In the background we hear the ominous pounding of military drums, which immediately, given the situation, brought to my mind the "March to the Scaffold" in that great French symphony by Berlioz, SYMPHONIE FANTASTIQUE. And it was an appropriate association to make, for within moments, poor Justine is dragged away, bound in an X between two pillars, and mercilessly flogged, helplessly naked before a crowd of soldiers and elegantly dressed aristocrats. And, of course, this is only the beginning of what is to come. 

Hesketh again, as in other films, such as Avila's relentlessly realistic historical horror of Inquisitional terror, MALEFICARUM, pushes her art above and beyond to achieve another deeply sympathetic and totally convincing performance. Needless to say, there are no "mambo breaks" for her in JUSTINE, referring to the delightful Vampire Mambo sequence in OLALLA, the innovative and persuasively effective Vampire film she recently directed (available, as is JUSTINE, from

JUSTINE's music, sets, casting, costuming, lighting, editing, and all the other intricate and vital aspects of quality filmmaking and behind the scenes production activities are all quite excellent to my mind, but because I am a writer, I especially appreciated the writing.

The dialogue has a proper historic quality without being so authentic that modern ears might have trouble keeping up. This is a tricky effect to pull off, I guarantee, but JUSTINE does it with style. I especially enjoyed the narrative remarks spoken directly, from time to time, to the viewer by Justine, a technique that could have detached the audience from their involvement in the story if handled by a lesser filmmaker than Avila and spoken by a lesser actor than Hesketh.

Bottom line, if you have read DeSade's novel then watched Avila's JUSTINE, you might be tempted to believe Avila either employed necromancy to resurrect the corpse of the Marquis long enough to write the screenplay, or that Avila took dictation from DeSade's ghost.

I wish I had a time machine back to 1930s Paris and could screen Avila's JUSTINE for the founders of the Surrealist movement, the poets, philosophers, filmmakers, and artists. Many fans of DeSade's writing and challenging philosophy do not realize how important he was to the Surrealists.

DeSade was plumbing the forbidden depths of the subconscious long before Freud, and the subconscious is where many dreams are spawned. Dream imagery as a key to unearthing hidden psychological urges was an important theme of surrealist expression. To the surrealists, DeSade was an explorer of forbidden themes and a foe of religious and societal hypocrisy.

Consider this in connection with Avila's JUSTINE. According to SURREALISM: PERMANENT REVELATION by Cardinal and Short, the surrealists valued DeSade "…for his lucid exploration of man's darkest instincts." Avila's film also explores those instincts, in spades.

From THE HISTORY OF SURREALIST PAINTING by Marcel Jean, we are told that Luis Buñuel's film, L'AGE D'OR (AGE OF GOLD), includes the Comte de Blangis, Sade's protagonist in 120 DAYS OF SODOME, appearing as Jesus Christ, and the last image in the film is of a crucifix to which several women's scalps are nailed. Avila's last scene of surreal sadism in his JUSTINE, however, takes Buñuel's climactic image to another level entirely.

As for the surreal life-death, eros-thanatos juxtapositions in DeSade's novel and Avila's film, DEATH AND SENSUALITY: A STUDY OF EROTICISM AND THE TABOO by Georges Bataille says, in a chapter on DeSade, "Life, he maintained, was the pursuit of pleasure, and the degree of pleasure was in direct ratio to the destruction of life. In other words, life reached its highest intensity in a monstrous denial of its own principle." And with Avila's JUSTINE, this surreal theme is definitively expressed.

So, yes, I enthusiastically recommend Jac Avila's JUSTINE. I believe that the Divine Marquis would approve of its challenging, morality- twisting philosophy and scenes of well-whipped flesh. I think that Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali would applaud its surreal juxtapositions of potent imagery. And I feel that filmmakers can study and learn from Avila's masterful new film for years to come.

But most importantly, ordinary blokes like me can just be entertained, gawk in wonder, and cheer. The right person has finally created a film version of JUSTINE that brings DeSade's book to uncompromising, throbbing life.
For full cast and crew and other detailed information on IMDB, use this link: 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Bathory's Viking Metal Epic, "One Rode to Asa Bay"

I wrote this on the afternoon of February 17, 2016, and only later that evening realized it was the birthday of Quorthon, about whom this blog is largely concerned. Not just any birthday, either. It would have been his 50th! But he died in 2004. So, wherever you are today, Quorthon, thanks for all the great music! And I hope you are giving 'em Holy Hel in Valhalla! Hail the Bathory Hordes! 

There is a famous "Viking Metal" song and video titled, "One Rode to Asa Bay." It was written by the Swedish musician named Quorthon, the stage name of Tomas Forsberg, and performed by his rock band, Bathory. "One Rode to Asa Bay" is the last track on the first whole Viking Metal album, HAMMERHEART.

The song is about the coming of Christianity to the Northlands. Quorthon is credited with having created the Viking Metal genre on Bathory's previous album, BLOOD FIRE DEATH, but there were also remnants of Bathory's previous style of metal music on BLOOD FIRE DEATH.

In a letter at the time, the late 1980s, Quorthon said he had created Viking Metal as a reaction to the way his Swedish heritage was being lost to foreign influences that were steadily eroding the native culture of his homeland. That letter was written when BLOOD FIRE DEATH was being created. The genre he started has grown and expanded with groups like Amon Amarth, Tyr, Unleashed, and many more. 

Here is a photograph of Quorthon showing his wearing of Mjolnir, the Hammer of Thor-style pendant that was historically worn by those who called on Thor, and is often worn now by Viking Metal bands and those who still honor the Gods and Goddesses of the North. 

Quorthon died young in 2004. "One Rode to Asa Bay" is the only music video made that showed Quorthon and Bathory. Quorthon used his own money to produce the video. It is a true "labor of love" and shows his dedication to his heart-felt art. 

People have asked me why Quorthon dedicated "One Rode to Asa Bay" to me. The short answer is, he did it because of the Hel Books. Link to Hel Books information 

The long answer about why Quorthon dedicated Bathory's famous Viking Metal song to me is as follows.

I was working on a horror novel about Elizabeth Bathory, the historical Blood Countess of Hungary. As the writing progressed, I saw a magazine that had the word "Bathory" on the cover. There was an article in it about the Swedish rock band Bathory. It was the first time I had heard of them.

My father was born in Sweden, and Swedish things interested me. I bought Bathory's album, UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK. There was a song on it about Elizabeth Bathory, "Woman of Dark Desires." I wanted to use a quote from the song in the front of my novel about the Blood Countess, RAW PAIN MAX. 

I wrote a letter to Bathory asking for permission to quote from the song. Quorthon wrote back and gave his permission. In thanks, I sent him the Hel Books. They had a Scandinavian Mythological setting. Quorthon said he enjoyed them.

The Hel Books were originally published under a pen name, Asa Drake. Later, when Bathory's HAMMERHEART was released, I discovered "One Rode to Asa Bay" was dedicated to me in reference to the Asa Drake Hel Books.

Art by Boris Vallejo.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Review of Park Hyo Min's Japanese movie, JINX!!!

I originally wrote a review of this film for its IMDB site. This new blog review has slight differences.

Korean actor Park Hyomin created an endearing and memorable character playing Ji-Ho, a Korean exchange student in Japan. The film's subtitle, "90 Days to Say I Love You," hints at the plot. Here is a photo from the film showing Ji-Ho (Hyomin) between the two reluctant lovers. 

Ji-Ho is determined to get a withdrawn Japanese friend and the equally withdrawn boy the friend loves together, because Ji-Ho's boyfriend in Korea, as we see at the first, has died in a tragic accident, and Ji-Ho wants her new friend to find the happiness that Ji-Ho herself has lost. 

The bittersweet theme does not stop the film from having great good humor, and the ending is positive and uplifting. It is a charming romantic comedy. Its exploration into the nature of grief and how to cope with the pain of great loss never devolves into sentimentality. And Hyomin's touching portrayal of Ji-Ho, hiding her wounded soul beneath a smiling, happy face, keeps you caring and, at the end, just might have you cheering. 

Hyomin and the other members of T-ARA, the Korean pop music band of which she remains an important part, all have personally experienced the necessity to hide inner pain behind a smiling face, for both professional and personal reasons, and their tragic, unjust experiences in that regard must have contributed to the understanding with which Hyomin portrayed the wounded but heroic Ji-Ho.  Here is an interview with Hyomin when JINX!!! was released. Interview with Hyomin

Here is a link to a trailer for JINX!!! with English subtitles. JINX!!! Trailer with English Subs

Hyomin remains an important member of the superstar K- Pop group, T-ARA (pronounced Tiara). She won a MBC Best Female New Comer Drama Award in 2011 for her role in the Korean historical drama, Gyebaek. She debuted as a solo artist in 2014 with the hit, "Nice Body."  In 2015 she was the female lead in a Korean web drama titled, "When You Are in Love, It Rains." She returned as a solo artist in Spring of 2016.