MarquisDeTrashy straight-to-video fodder, nominally about the Marquis de Sade. It’s really just another crummy 1990s-era “erotic thriller” with little to recommend outside a lot of gratuitous nudity.

This 1997 film, a Roger Corman executive produced Russian co-production, was packaged as DARK PRINCE: INTIMATE TALES OF MARQUIS DE SADE, but the onscreen title is simply MARQUIS DE SADE, so that’s how I’ll identify it. Unfortunately it’s very much in keeping with the trashy erotic thriller silliness Corman’s New Horizons Pictures put out in the nineties (OVEREXPOSED, NAKED OBSESSION, etc), albeit with a historical wraparound.

Like many nineties-era films, this one was released on VHS in R and unrated versions, the latter promising “Extra Sensual Footage.”

In late-18th Century Paris the notorious writer Marquis de Sade is arrested for improper conduct, and despite his protestations is sentenced to be hanged. He’s taken to the Bastille, where he’s whipped—and enjoys it!

Around this time the young Justine enters the Bastille in search of her missing sister Juliette. The latter, Justine believes, was a victim of Sade’s penchant for violent sex. Justine confronts Sade in his cell, inspiring him to relate the story of his writing career up to that point.

According to the succeeding flashbacks Sade knew early on in his life that he’d be a famous writer. He patronized houses of ill-repute for “inspiration” and smugly cavorted with whores in plain view of his wife. His books were constantly banned by French authorities, yet he soldiered on.

Eventually Sade arrives at the part of his story involving Juliette. As described by Sade, she was a down-on-her-luck actress recruited by Sade for a very special “performance” involving sexual humiliation.

Justine finds herself growing attracted to Sade despite her better instincts, and has erotic dreams about him. This is no help, however, in getting the wily Sade to reveal the whereabouts of Juliette.

The day of Sade’s execution approaches, yet on that day he escapes the guillotine with Justine in tow. They head back to Sade’s remote country chateau, where the dark truth about Justine’s sister is finally revealed.

This is probably the least convincing depiction of the “Divine Marquis” ever seen in a film. As played by Nick Mancuso this film’s Sade is a muscle-bound stud more in line with a Hollywood action movie hero—which in the final scenes he actually becomes–than an 18th Century French writer. The details of Sade’s life are given scant lip service in this faux-biography, which in true exploitation movie fashion favors sex and violence over historic detail—which might not have been such a bad thing if only the film were better made.

The cut rate production design, clashing accents and tacky cinematography are to be expected, I guess, from a straight-to-video no-budgeter. So is the copious nudity (the only element that held my interest), but the sexuality is strictly of the RED SHOE DIARIES variety (meaning a lot of heavy breathing amid smoke-filled interiors), and never very arousing. Thus MARQUIS DE SADE fails miserably as a history lesson, and nor does it quite succeed as exploitation.

Vital Statistics

New Horizons/Afra/Mosfilm

Direction: Gwyneth Gibby
Producer: Anatoly Fradis
Screenplay: Craig J. Nevius
Cinematography: Yevgeny Guslinsky
Editing: Dan Holland, Dexter Adriano
Cast: Nick Mancuso, Janet Gunn, John Rhys-Davies, Charlotte Nielsen, Irinia Malvsheva, Alexander Beliaskiy, Igor Yasulovich, Irina Nizina, Tatiana Mitrushina, Alexander Rezalin