Justine Jones (Georgina Spelvin, EASY; I SPIT ON YOUR CORPSE) has lived a sheltered life, and is approaching middle-age as a virgin. It's all too much for her and she decides to end it all in the bathtub. Slashing her wrists then lying back to let the blood muddy the water and her naked body, this is the last thing Justine recalls about her "accident".
In a plush spacious office, Mr Abaca (John Clemens) sits behind his desk awaiting his next interviewee. In walks a frumpy Justine, believing she is attending a job interview. She discusses her "accident" and thanks Mr Abaca for giving her a chance to move on. However, during the course of their conversation it becomes apparent that Justine was successful in her suicide bid and is currently in limbo.
The problem is, Abaca informs her, she has never done anything bad enough to warrant damnation in Hell. But she's deprived her body of pleasure too, therefore wasting her life and negating her from access into Heaven!
Justine begs for an opportunity to redeem herself, explaining that she lived her life too prudishly to succumb to the lust that she harboured. She would happily go to Hell, she says, if she can only prove her worthiness of such an honour by being sent back to Earth to indulge in depravity.
Abaca agrees to send Justine back on a limited basis, to wallow in sleaze and perhaps earn her pass into the promised deviant pleasures of Hell.
Once back on Earth, the film becomes an episodic run of enjoyable porn sequences, kicking off with a couple of scenes starring Harry Reems (FORCED ENTRY; DEEP THROAT) as Justine's teacher. He shows her a thing or two (how to fellate; how to take it up the arse, etc) then sends her into several other experiences devoid of background or explanation.
Justine throws herself into each act of fornication, revelling in her newfound sexuality. Lesbianism, double-penetration, blowjobs - she relishes the lot. But will it be enough to take her to Hell? And, if she does get there, will she ultimately regret it?
THE DEVIL IN MISS JONES is an inspired, intelligent film for the raincoat brigade. It has very definite arthouse allusions (the laconic original score by Alden Shuman; the lighting and camerawork during the silent suicide episode), and ambitious casting in Spelvin as the lead - who, at 37 when the film was made in 1973, is much older than what you'd normally expect in a porno.
The film is neatly bookended with director Gerard Damiano's own personal vision of Hell - a witty, if rather predictable one for someone who's made their living from shooting porn movies. The idea that a person needs to be sexually awakened and liberated to justify their existence is an interesting notion, although again it's hardly surprising coming from people working within the adult entertainment industry. What's more interesting is the downbeat denouement suggesting an inversion of these ideals, and placing the filmmakers' moral stance in an awkward contradictory corner.
If, as the finale suggests, Damiano is berating his lead female for giving in to her inner lusts, he's been bold in challenging the viewers' perception of all the genuinely erotic footage that has preceded it. He also runs the risk of alienating an audience that perhaps don't intend on digging into the psychology behind pornos this deeply.
On the other hand, the finale could just be a personal vision of what Damiano sees as the ultimate living Hell - just as Fulci implies his own idea of Hell would be blindness at the end of THE BEYOND, or Winner suggests physical deformities as being too much to bear at the climax to THE SENTINEL.
Whatever Damiano's intentions were thematically (it has also been suggested that the 1943 play "No Exit", which famously suggested "hell is other people" and became an influence on no less a film than Bunuel's THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL, was a source of inspiration), he has fashioned a well-made, superbly acted - especially by Spelvin - artistic film that would aesthetically satisfy the mainstream. The suicide is disturbingly effective, while the set design and camera work are unusually good. As a film, it's far more accomplished and considered than Damiano's earlier hit DEEP THROAT.
Importantly for it's genre, the film also offers plenty of genuinely invigorating sex scenes - people who actually enjoy rutting with their onscreen partners, women who swallow (try finding that in pornos these days) and not a hint of silicon in sight - to keep the balance between art and porn just about right. A marvellous film, and serious contender for the title of "Best Adult Movie Ever".
Incidentally, look out for Damiano in a cameo role at the beginning and end of the film, under one of his many pseudonyms, Albert Gork.
Media Blasters (under their subsidiary label Raincoat Theatre) must be applauded for this 2-disc Special Edition. Who'd have ever thought?
Disc 1 presents the uncut film in a letterboxed 1.66:1 aspect ratio, which while not 16x9 enhanced is newly mastered from an original negative. It's not the sharpest picture, with some print damage to be witnessed here and there. But considering the age and budget of the film (very low), this is the best you could expect from the source material. Colours are vivid and natural-looking, and image clarity is light years above any former release the film has enjoyed.
The English mono audio track is cleaned up and very clear, while a 5.1 mix emphasises the score too much, making dialogue seem subdued in comparison. A Spanish mono audio track is also available and is very quiet, judging by the fleeting look I had at it.
Extras on disc 1 are restricted to a commentary track from Damiano. He starts off slow then finds his feet a few minutes into the film. He reveals that he'd read his script for the first time in years the night before recording the commentary, and was amazed by how tight it was - even down to the dialogue during the sex scenes being specifically scripted.
Of course, a large amount of Damiano's commentary is devoted to praising Spelvin. Rightly so. As he acknowledges, the film would not have worked with anyone else in the role: she acts as if she's in a mainstream movie, putting her all into conveying her character's emotions convincingly. Damiano's anecdote about a projectionist who fainted while screening the suicide scene is amusing too, regardless of how true it may be.
Disc 2 offers the film in its truncated cable TV version (seventeen minutes shorter than the hardcore version on disc 1). It's presented in a full-frame ratio with English mono soundtrack. With inferior sound and vision, and devoid of the movie's "meatier" scenes, this is a pretty redundant affair - but here as a point of interest for die-hards.
More tantalising is a 30-minute interview with Spelvin, who discusses her career in the film industry (both as an adult actress and as an editor, anti-war campaigner, etc) at length. She talks frankly about her experience on the one-week shoot of MISS JONES, discussing her relationships with Damiano and Reems, and the rather incredible scene where she got friendly with a snake ...
A 24-strong stills gallery and trailers for MISS JONES, INSATIABLE, DEBBIE DOES DALLAS, BABYLON PINK and NEON NIGHTS round off disc 2.
An excellent film, one that even stuffy film critic Roger Ebert declared as being "the best hardcore porn film I've ever seen". And a great release. Highly recommended, along with Raincoat Theatre's other brilliant 2-disc Special Edition of the sublime Marilyn Chambers film INSATIABLE.
Review by Stu Willis
|Released by Raincoat Theatre|
|Region 1 - NTSC|
|see main review|