Tuesday, August 31, 2010

DVD Reviews: JOY (1983) and JOY & JOAN (1985)

Continuing to live up to their reputation for bringing Mad Movie fans the best in titillating Eurotrash, the fine folks at Severin Films have recently put out a couple of legendary sexploitation flicks from the 80s, Sergio Bergonzelli's 1983 opus Joy, and Jacques Saurel's 1985 follow-up, Joy & Joan.

Inspired by the 1981 autobiography of French-American supermodel "Joy Laurey" (a pseudonym, apparently) and its sequels, the Joy movie series spanned six films, including the French TV movies Joy in San Francisco and Joy in Africa (both 1992). Comparisons to the long-running Emmanuelle series are apt, especially in that those flicks were likely their model and cinematic inspiration. Judging from the first two films in the series, I'd be willing to say that the Joy films are almost as sexy and at least as MAD as their 70s predecessors, and have a lot to offer fans of both sumptuous Euroflesh and the kitchen-sink plotting that often makes European films of this vintage such a...well, joy to watch.

In the first flick, the title role is portrayed by Canadian beauty Claudia Udy (a busy girl in 1983, appearing that same year in Skullduggery, The Funny Farm, and American Nightmare). This inaugural entry finds Joy already a successful, globe-trotting supermodel, filling her days posing for fashion spreads as well as skin-mag centerfolds, her nights with wild parties and champagne by the bucket-full. But she's haunted by the memory of one night as a child, when she spied on her father and mother shagging like rabid minx in their palatial country estate. (This we get to see in lovely, detailed flashback.) Sometime after this Joy's parents divorced, and it's clear the lack of a father figure--colored by this graphic, much-revisited childhood memory--has shaped Joy's psychological development in Very Significant Ways.

Sez you.

How significant becomes clear when she meets older man Marc (Gérard-Antoine Huart, who previously appeared in 1970's The Blood Rose ["The First Sex-Horror Film Ever Made!" according to its dubious tagline] and a year after this film graduated to Emmanuelle IV) at a ribald art show opening. After tooling around the City of Lights for hours in Marc's not-at-all-a-compensation convertible, they arrive back at Joy's luxurious shag-pad (literally--the floor looks like someone fragment-bombed the Children's Television Workshop), where Marc sits outside her apartment for hours until she comes out in nothing but an overcoat to invite him in, whereupon he pins her arms over her head on the mattress and fingerbangs her to shuddery bliss. Then...he leaves, without so much as loosening his tie! Whether this was a master stroke (so to speak) of sexual power-games or the result of having forgotten his cock-ring in his other pants, the effect is the same: Joy becomes infatuated with her superannuated lover, and soon promises to do anything he wants, just to make him happy.

Before you can say Story of O, Marc has taken Joy to a mysterious, richly furnished mansion, which is apparently some sort of club for wealthy degenerates. Telling her, "There is no love--only proof of love!", he takes her into a round room that looks like something out of a Star Trek holodeck (sex module) and commands her to sit in the Captain's chair and fiddle with the controls for him, IYKWIM. Things get weird when a tuxedoed old man and his two younger henchmen appear to set up a camera, complimenting Marc on his companion's good health while Joy frigs away for their entertainment. ("Oh, Monsieur, a magnificent specimen. A vagina in the bloom of youth, right in the middle of blossoming!" Gee, thanks, guys!) These gentlemen later retire to a control room to watch the CCTV feed, and Joy clearly gets off on this particular voyeurism/exhibitionism combination. It really is like the Château du Roissy, only with cams and cables instead of chains and whips.

These are the voyages of the Starship Fucksurprise

I was really interested at this point in the sexual power games going on: Marc as the Master, bringing out Joy's submissive tendencies through commanded exhibitionism rather than S&M. Add to that Joy's not-so-subconscious Daddy issues, and there was a veritable steam bath in the making. Udy has a great body--I mean, a REALLY great body--although her oddly-positioned 80s boob job and ocular-hazard nipples might be off-putting to some. Still, she invests Joy with a naive freedom and thirst for sexual discovery that's genuine and affecting. Director Bergonzelli, who also helmed exploitation classics like In the Folds of Her Flesh (1970, also available from Severin Films) and Our Lady of Lust (aka Christiana, the Devil Nun, 1972), has a real eye for sumptuous visuals, and a talent for sexy weirdness.

However, the movie abandons this aspect of the story for most of the rest of the film, focusing instead on Joy's various adventures in France and internationally. We go with her to a photo shoot in Mexico, which allows Joy to run naked on the beach, pose provocatively on the Aztec ruins, and perform an awesome nude underwater ballet with a sea turtle, with whom she kinda makes out! Back home in France she becomes the spokesmodel for a new public service campaign:

Let My People Come

which makes her infamous and unpopular with a bunch of crabby feminists with whom she shares a TV panel. She visits her mom and her mom's second husband, and has an uncomfortable flashback of Stepdad molesting her when she was a teen, but quickly shrugs it off. Meanwhile, Marc is making souffle for his Other Woman while wearing a frilly apron (symbolism!) and getting cranky that Joy never returns his calls anymore. Finally she goes to America, where she stars in an action movie that is clearly a satire of the perceived American cinematic product of the time. (Her kung-fu fight in metallic overcoat is a hoot.) There she meets a professor who's into tantric sex, who takes her to a Yoga Orgy that is choreographed like a Busby Berkeley number and is just as effective.

The sexual power games come back into play when she hooks up with Marc again, who, unmanned and desperate to reassert his dominance, takes her to a Dante's Inferno-esque sex club (located in the empty underground tanks at an old gas station!). The Jacob's Ladder-ish orgy here--complete with whipping, shackles, glass rooms full of writhing, oiled bodies and shower-rape/gangbangs--is in stark contrast to the paradisaical sex of the tantric cult, and after giving in to Marc's demands and participating in it all, Joy decides she's finally outgrown him and needs to move on. Then her friend from America calls with the answer to the riddle she's been trying to solve all along...


Overall, Joy is a very sexy, very entertaining example of 80s softcore sexploitation, with some wild scenes, a couple of interesting ideas, and no shortage of beautiful nudity to gaze upon. Severin's transfer of the film is quite pristine by my reckoning, and looks great on my HD. The audio is good, though you might curse that fact after having to sit through the plaintive "Joy Theme Song" several times over the course of the film. The ad copy states this is the first release of the complete uncut version of the film, as the aforementioned "dungeon orgy" was apparently excised previously, which I think must have damaged the theme and resolution of the film. The only other extra is "Reflections on Joy," an 11-minute interview with Claudia Udy about the production. Without makeup but full of enthusiasm, Udy comes across as pleasantly spacey and New Age-y, and shares several interesting anecdotes. An excellent DVD presentation all round.

Made two years later, the sequel Joy & Joan boasts a new director and a new star. One-timer Jacques Saurel is now behind the lens, and in front of it is Exploitation Royalty, Jean Rollin muse, and sometime porn star Brigitte Lahaie. You'd think such an illustrious actress in the lead role would signal an upping of the sexploitational ante, but whether due to the director's inexperience or simply the Law of Diminishing Returns, this second story captures only a little of the magic present in the first. That's not to say it's not worth watching, however, as the plot at least is about as mad as you could ask for.

As happens so often in Paul Naschy's Waldemar Daninsky saga, this first Joy sequel seems to have only nominative continuity with the prior film. As this narrative begins, Joy is still in love with Marc (portrayed here by Jean-Marc Maurel, a much younger actor, thus negating the Father Figure sex issues so important to the first flick). In Joy, Marc was an architect and his wife/main mistress a journalist, but here it's Marc who is the journalist, and there's no SO to speak of. Also, the Marc of Earth-2 is much more of a dick. Within the first few minutes of the movie he dumps Joy at a club, picks up a disco-slut on the dance floor, and makes damn sure Joy sees him as he grinds against her derriere and performs the tongue-centered maneuver the French made famous--well, ONE of them, anyway.

Joy gets extremely depressed, and it begins to affect her work--she can't even look happy while wearing a fluffy pink teddy bear head for a hat, so that should tell you something. In the depths or her despondency she's befriended by rich Germanic aristocrat Bruce (Pierre Londiche, in a role Helmut Berger would have knocked out of the fuckin' park), who showers her with gifts and offers to give her whatever she wants as long as she'll be his "companion." When Marc is called away on assignment to Thailand, Joy calls in the favor and has Bruce fly her over in pursuit. Her plans for how to get Marc back without looking like the most pathetic and needy woman on the planet are at this point unclear.

Can't Bear It
But not at all unclear are Bruce's intentions, as he quickly reveals himself to be a Sadean sexual-power player of the first order. In Thailand they stay at the home of "Le Prince Cornélius," a strange but powerful little man who owes Bruce his life somehow or other. Bruce has Le Prince assign Joy a maidservant, Millarca (Maria Isabel Lopez). "This woman is your slave! Do what you like with her!" he shouts, then demonstrates by slapping her around gratuitously, which judging from her reaction is something the girl's come to expect. Later Bruce makes his plans even more clear: "Once you get used to me, you won't be able to resist the pleasures that power and money bring!" Then he falls to her feet and starts licking her toes. Lahaie as Joy stares off into the distance in that impassive way she made an art form in Rollin's films.

Meanwhile, Le Prince is spying on Joy, listening in on her phone conversations as she tries to track down where Marc is staying in Thailand. Le Prince is quite a character--the sort of guy who keeps a full grown tiger in a bamboo cage on his porch, conducts a native choir with his diamond-topped cane, and wears a white Neru suit buttoned to the chin, be he never so sweaty. He also has a weaselly face and David Bowie eyes, making him a weirdo henchman of the type Jess Franco would have killed for.

Sexy M.F.
Eventually Joy's relationship with Bruce goes sour when he hosts a party for her, slips her a roofie, and then has her laid on a sofa in the middle of a ring of tiki torches and has a dozen or so of the male guests gangbang her, while fire-dancers twirl their ignited batons on the periphery! It's a wild set-up, but Saurel's strange directorial stand-offishness robs the scene of any intensity or uncomfortable sexiness. When she wakes the next day and realizes what's happened, Joy escapes the compound with Millarca's help (but not before a sensuous massage from her "slave" turns into a lesbonic grope-a-thon) and takes off on foot through the jungle.

On the run from Le Prince, who is the only person tracking her, she makes it to the city and finds Marc, who seems to think it perfectly natural she should rush up to him half-clothed in the city square in Thailand. They duck into a photo booth that looks like it's made from a discarded refrigerator box for a quickie, while what seems like thirty dollars worth of photos click away through the automated (and now butt-printed) lens. True to form, Marc then rushes off to catch his plane back to France, leaving Joy to find her own way among the Thais and the ruffians on her trail. Could she love him more?

Say Fromage
Wandering aimlessly through the city, Joy FINALLY falls in with Joan (Isabelle Solar, in her only screen credit), a French-speaking tour guide who immediately takes a shine to Joy and offers her a place to crash. Of course Joan is instantly smitten with Joy, and makes advances that first night, but unready Joy puts her off. This leads to a very well-staged scene in which Joy and Joan lie on their beds on opposite sides of a shared wall, both masturbating and getting turned on by the sounds of the other person across the way. Saurel isn't what I'd call an accomplished director, but he definitely got that one right. A later scene where Joy and Joan give in to their passions on a moving train (in some beautiful but totally impractical and borderline dangerous positions) is another winner.

The rest of the movie has Joy and Joan on the run from Le Prince and Bruce, occasionally having rows due to Joan's fierce possessiveness that borders on psychopathy. There's some comic relief with Le Prince chasing them through the city's floating market Keystone Cops style, and it comes to a head when a kindly bartender befriends the girls only to have them kidnapped and taken to a cave-sauna/sex party that mirrors the first film's sex dungeon scene. Incredibly, Le Prince rushes in to the rescue here, fighting off half a dozen fully nude Thai men with his diamond-headed cane, chop-socky style! Eventually he's overwhelmed, though, Joy and Joan are raped, and they're all left in the now-empty cave complex to lick their wounds.

From L to R: Joan, Joy

The ending keeps spiraling into silliness, as Le Prince reveals his unlikely but charming ulterior motives for helping them, Joy flies back to France, and Joan joins her there later. When Joy leaves on a job assignment, lonely and petulant Joan is visited by Marc, which leads to a rather out-of-left-field denouement and a strong finishing sex scene.

Saurel is not nearly the director that Bergonzelli is, and manages to make Brigitte Lahaie, while ethereally gorgeous as ever, somehow LESS sexy than Claudia Udy was in the first. Lahaie plays all of her scenes with a blank, bored expression, which is kind of her go-to mode, but a talented director like Rollin has shown how to get her to use that and break out of it when it will have the maximum effect. The plot is pretty wild, but the chase scenes drag on quite a bit and there's a lot of dead space. Also surprisingly for a movie with Lahaie in the lead, it feels like there's significantly less sex here than in the original film, to its detriment. What's here is pretty good though, and all the female flesh on display is well worth drooling over.

Joan, thinking of eating out tonight

Severin's presentation is good again, very clear both visually and audibly. (Once again there's a painfully plaintive pop theme song, leaned on even more heavily here than in the last film.) No real extras on this disc, except again the uncut version of the film.

Severin has done a great job unearthing and presenting these two movies, and anyone with a soft (?) spot for Eurotrash softcore will be more than happy with the both of them. I give Joy 2.5 thumbs, and Joy & Joan 2.25. Both discs are available now from Amazon and the regular online and brick-and-mortar DVD merchants.

Note: Severin Films provided both DVDs to MMMMMovies for review purposes.

A few more images from Joy (1983) and Joy & Joan (1985): 

Her Heart Belongs to Daddy

To compete with television and the Internet, the local Aquarium took drastic steps.

Everybody Wants You
Coming out of her shell
Veggie Berger
Make a Grab for the Gusto
Doesn't Look Safe
Confusing...but verrrrry interesting.

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