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[whitespace] Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet
View to a 'Quills': Geoffrey Rush and Kate Winslet star in Philip Kaufman's new film about the Marquis de Sade, 'Quills.'

My Vengeance Needs Blood!

The Marquis de Sade has been used and abused in modern cinema

By Richard von Busack

EVERYBODY KNOWS that the Marquis de Sade was the wickedest man in history. He had a dungeon full of captives and a capacious cemetery where he planted his nameless human toys once he was sick of playing with them. Today he is 260 years old, alive and living on the west side of Manhattan. Thanks to personal ads and the Internet, he can find many more slaves than he could in the old days. He has great name recognition, and if he were so inclined, he could become a movie director. He couldn't have done worse than the following.

  • The Skull (1965) Peter Cushing unwittingly purchases the cursed skull of the Marquis de Sade, which floats in the air and orders him to kill, kill, kill! The cast includes most of the British horror luminaries of the time: Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Nigel Green and Patrick Magee (who played the marquis in Marat/Sade four years later).

  • The Bloody Pit of Horror, a.k.a The Crimson Executioner, a.k.a. The Red Hangman (1965) Mickey Hargitay--husband of the one and only Jayne Mansfield--plays a modern-day heir who channels a torture-crazed ancestor. The Marquis de Sade himself endorses the film in the print ads; he's seen, swearing, "My vengeance needs blood."

  • Marat/Sade (1966) Very '60s avant-garde play by Peter Weiss filmed and hardly released. Like Quills, it's a scary fictionalization of plays de Sade staged in the Charenton asylum--ordinary comedies, not violent or more than ordinarily salacious. Marat/Sade has the archetypal ending for an evening at the underground theater during the 1960s: the cast rises up and attacks the audience. Glenda Jackson, who starred, said, "I loathed and detested the play. I couldn't wait for it to end. Then we all did the film, and it was a shattering experience. People twitching, slobber running down their chins, everyone screaming from nerves and exhaustion." And when it was all over, she went to work for Ken Russell.

  • De Sade (1969) Keir Dullea (2001: A Space Odyssey), chosen for his astronautian funklessness may not have been significant enough of a presence to play Our Hero, chasing some topless babes and daubing strawberry jam on a girl's nipple. "It sure is a rotten movie," wrote Pauline Kael in Deeper Into Movies. "Poor Dullea did take rather a beating at the premiere. He had just come into the theater and sat down when the lights went out, and the picture started. There he was in the first shot, de Sade riding a horse, and in the next shot we cut to his face in close-up. The audience gave him a round of applause. But the very next cut was a close-up of the horse's face and it was inevitable: the horse got a round of applause, too."

  • Salo: 120 Days of Sodom (1975) The fascists under Mussolini set up a short-lived government in exile in a northern corner of Italy, after the rest of the nation fell to the Allies in WWII. Here, in the nation of Salo, proposes director Pier Paolo Pasolini, fascists worked their scatological, murderous will on a variety of naked captives. The film is still the grossest of the gross 25 years later. Unlike other masters of shock like John Waters and H.G. Lewis, Pasolini was dead serious. He equates fascism with sexual sadism, just as today the ultra-right-wing equates permissiveness with perversion, and neither equation adds up.

  • Marquis (1989) French funny-animals marionette film about the Marquis de Sade, who is here a sheep with a talking penis that he debates. Helps explain de Sade to the kids.

  • Marquis de Sade, a.k.a. Dark Prince (1996) Nick Mancuso as de Sade as Hannibal Lecter, playing some cat-and-mouse games with a captive woman. Mancuso was last seen in such Christian-themed apocalyptic movies as the aptly titled Tribulation (1999). After you've played the Marquis de Sade, what's left but the Antichrist?

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  • From the December 14-20, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

    Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

    For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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