This Roger Corman production, which premiered on Showtime in 1996 as MARQUIS DE SADE, can't decide whether it's a straight historical chiller or a Ken Russell-style campfest, though its schizophrenia does have an entertaining side.
In 1789 Paris, the Marquis de Sade (Nick Mancuso) is imprisoned for murder. A young woman named Justine (Janet Gunn), whose sister Juliette was apparently one of de Sade's victims, bribes his guards for a chance to speak to him. De Sade tells Justine his story: Bankrupt, he married a young woman
named Renee (Irina Nizina) for her money, over the objections of her mother, Madame de Montreuil (Irina Malysheva). He soon inducted her into his world of sadistic sexual practices while also indulging in similar acts with prostitutes. These became the basis of his book Salo, for which the Madame
had de Sade put on trial for obscenity.
Once Justine brings him paper to continue his writing, de Sade tells her that Juliette (Charlotte Nielsen), an actress, was one of the victims of his debauchery--but denies killing her. The Madame has had de Sade's property sold off, including a secluded mansion where he indulged in his
perversions, and de Sade insists that someone else has taken Juliette there. Justine helps de Sade escape his execution, and at the mansion they discover Juliette held captive by de Sade's persecutors: Inspector Marais (John Rhys-Davies), Judge de Bory (Alexander Beliavskiy), and Father Paul (Igor
Yasulovich). De Sade kills them--and then spirits Juliette away, leaving a distraught Justine behind.
There are moments when DARK PRINCE... seems intended as a serious exploration of the psyche of the man who invented sadism. There are others which play like a B-movie version of THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT (1996), presenting de Sade as a man persecuted for daring to present unpopular ideas in his
art (with the climactic irony that his attackers are themselves deviants inspired by his writing). But for the most part, the prevailing tone is set by Mancuso's over-the-top performance, as he bugs out his eyes and rolls his tongue around his florid dialogue and predictable, anachronistic
punchlines. "The sexual perversities you write about are in fact the sexual perversities you practice," states the judge early on, to which de Sade replies, "I don't have to practice, Your Honor. I'm very good at them."
The whole film comes off as a warped historical pageant, complete with conspirators lurking in an alley plotting the French Revolution; de Sade's escape from the guillotine plays like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. All this is sporadically amusing in a trashy sort of way; too bad the
pacing frequently flags, and that the brutalities visited upon the female characters give some of the humor a sour aftertaste. (Violence, extensive nudity, sexual situations, profanity.) leave a comment