DIRECTOR: FRANK HORNINGTON. RUNNING TIME: 83 mins. DVD: SNUFFBOX. PRICE: £9.99. CERT: 18.
Unfortunately the title is slightly misleading, as this concerns the exploits of a modern day descendant of the famous sadist who is apparently possessed by the spirit of the long dead Marquis. Despite a superficial resemblance to Hammer’s 1971 Victorian set romp Hands of the Ripper, which had a similar premise, Frank Hornington’s Soho-set slice of sex and horror predates that film by three years. Moreover, no cod psychological explanations are given for the female lead’s actions, nor is she simply trying to continue her ancestor’s crimes. The ‘daughter’ of de Sade is instead intent upon exposing the hypocrisies of the ruling classes, showing that they themselves are practitioners of the very same sexual perversions her ancestor was persecuted for writing about. Set in ‘modern’ (well, Swinging Sixties), London, this slice of low rent exploitation has been given new relevance by the fact that she poses as a dominatrix, (drawing her victims in via cards placed in a Soho phone box she knows to be frequented by the capital’s great and good), and that one of her victims is a prominent Tory politician. Consequently, the film has been rushed back into a DVD and Blu Ray release, after being unavailable for several years.
The plot, such as it is, involves the heroine giving a bloody good thrashing to various leading members of the establishment, including the aforementioned Tory MP, a High Court Judge, a Bishop and a minor Royal. Whilst such a plot structure could have become tediously repetitive, the film does well to vary the scenarios sufficiently to maintain viewer interest. The bishop, for instance, finds himself tied to an inverted crucifix, his balls tied up and painfully thrashed with his crook, before having hot wax from an altar candle dripped all over him. The judge, clad only in his wig and secured in a set of stocks, inevitably, has his genitals pounded with a gavel, whilst the royal is subjected to such humiliations as being ridden like a horse by the heroine, thrashed on the buttocks with a riding crop when he seems to falter and being forced to sit on a very pointy metal ‘crown’. The worst humiliations are reserved for the Tory MP, who is both the director of an arms manufacturer and a moralising anti-porn campaigner, opposed to equal rights for women and the legalisation of homosexuality. Not only does he find himself chained to a bed and whipped, sodomised with a huge strap on and given an over-the-knee bare arsed spanking, but he also finds himself wearing a nappy as an ‘adult baby’.
It’s important to emphasise that whilst the treatment meted out to her various victims is both painful and deliberately humiliating, they actually enjoy it – the ‘punishment’ is that, whilst they are helpless, the ‘daughter’ of de Sade makes a photographic record of their ‘ordeal’, which she then sends to the press in order to ruin their reputations. This in turn results in a suicide, the bishop excommunicated, the royal exiled and the Tory MP promoted. Running parallel to the main plot is the usual tedious police investigation, which seemed obligatory in British movies of this type and vintage. To be fair, this is enlived somewhat by the fact that the enquiry is led by a pervy policeman (played by The Archers’ Jack May), whose interrogations involve him attaching electrodes to his own genitals and forcing suspects to endure him zapping his own balls until they break down.
Whilst the film vigourously captures the seedy side of Swinging London, with exteriors shot in Soho during its sleazy heyday, before creeping gentrification and tourist-friendly clean ups left it a pale shadow of itself, it never really makes up its mind whether its a horror movie or a sex film. Ultimately, it is this uncertainty that makes the film somewhat disappointing, as the horror is never really developed whilst the erotic elements come across as cheap titillation – selling itself on the fact that the protagonist is a young woman who gives people a damn good hiding with a whip. Nonetheless, it has a superficial gloss, with the dominatrix set pieces elaborately and energetically staged. The film also boasts a bravura performance by Eileen Cracks in the title role. A real life dominatrix cast by director-producer Frank Hornington in desperation after he found that none of the young actresses he auditioned for the role could wield a whip convincingly, (‘They couldn’t whip the skin off a rice pudding, let alone a pair of buttocks’, he reportedly complained), this appears to have been her only film. Her subsequent career remains obscure, although rumours abound that she eventually married a Tory cabinet minister – formerly a client – and retired to a life of respectability in the Home Counties. The cast is padded out with various half-forgotten British character actors playing Cracks’ victims – Miles Malleson gives quite a turn as the Bishop, although it is hard to believe that James Roberstson Justice was so desperate for work at the time that he was forced to appear as the Judge. Then again, he did do Zeta One not long after.
Viewed from a contemporary perspective, it is tempting to see Daughter of de Sade as satire. The fact, however, is that it was simply a cheap and cheerful piece of sixties exploitation, trying to appeal to both the horror audience and the dirty rain coat brigade, but satisfying neither. It also rather takes the Marquis de Sade’s name in vain, drawing only superficially on his works. Disappointingly, it also makes little of the fact that the male de Sade’s spirit is now inhabiting the body of a woman – a concept which deserved to be explored more fully. It also vague on the whole issue of how Cracks came to be possessed in the first place. Packing a lot of incident and a fair amount of perversion into just eighty three minutes, Daughter of de Sade at least never outstays its welcome.