“You know what your problem is? You can’t face reality?”

The first sequel to Gerard Damiano’s existential masterpiece appeared in 1982. DMJ 2, in which the physically hell-bound Miss Jones finds favour with the Devil and returns to earth in a variety of guises, follows quite naturally from the original but adopts an entirely different tone. Whether for artistic or commercial reasons, the desperate atmosphere of its predecessor is replaced by warm-hearted comedy and, against all odds, it works beautifully. The scenarios are imaginative (especially the opening sequence featuring Cyrano De Begerac), the production values are high and director Henri Pachard keeps the action coming at an admirable pace. Georgina Spelvin reprises her role as Justine Jones but most of the sexual sequences are wisely entrusted to younger stars like Jacqueline Lorians, Joanna Storm and Anna Ventura.

The Devil In Miss Jones 3, revealingly subtitled ‘a new beginning’, foregoes any linear connection with the preceding films and is actually closer to a remake than a sequel. From this point on we’re dealing primarily with a lucrative franchise and, although parts 3 and 4 are certainly sequential, it’s more helpful to think in terms of a recurring character and a shared template than narrative progression. Directorial duties this time fell to Gregory Dark who, along with producer ‘brother’ Walter, had already attracted attention considerable for New Wave Hookers.

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The film begins in typical Dark Bros. fashion with Lois Ayres, a decidedly punk incarnation of Justine Jones, showering against the backdrop of an electro-pop soundtrack. It then cuts to a very young Tom Byron, speaking directly to the camera, being interviewed on the subject of his ex, Miss Jones. It transpires, partly by way of a return to a more traditional form of cinematic story-telling, that the two had fallen out over Byron’s insistence on sleeping around. We watch as Justine, freshly scrubbed and looking like a member of the Go Go’s, applies her make up and heads out to a bar. Once there, having encountered a jive-talking pimp (Jack Baker) and been groped by number of the patrons, she enters into conversation with a white-suited, and recently jilted, Paul Thomas. The two return to her apartment and, in the throes of ecstasy, Justine bashes her head against a wall. When she awakens, she is naked, in near-total darkness, and informed by the aforementioned pimp that she’s dead. However, perhaps not all is lost: it seems that there is an escape but ‘‘in order to get outta hell, you gots to go through hell’.

The remainder of part 3, and the entirety of part 4, follow our heroine on her trip to the depths of hell. In order to escape, she must proceed through a number of rooms – the voyeur room, the perverse room, etc. – and witness a number of escalating outrages. Her ordeal will not be over until she has confronted the darkest aspects of her existence and faced the devil himself.

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Although they’re not without their problems, the first Dark entries in the DMJ series remain among the most interesting films of the mid-1980’s. I say films, plural, because we are talking about two separate releases. However, parts three and four were clearly shot as one and would have been better released as such. Neither film runs much more than an hour and part four, in particular, feels rather bloated and repetitious. Nevertheless, there’s much to admire. This isn’t a lavish production but Dark gets the maximum from the imaginative sets with a skillful combination of infernal lighting and abundant darkness. Striking imagery abounds, from a disembodied pigs head to a recurring inflatable skeleton, and the structure is also quite unusual. The action is punctuated throughout with faux interviews, typically overblown and comedic, as a motley assortment of acquaintances recount their memories of Justine and speculate as to her disappearance.

As with most Dark Bros. movies, humour – and often quite risqué humour – is to the fore despite the themes of death and perversion. Ayres and Baker have a number of verbal exchanges – most memorably over the use of terms such as ‘ho’ and ‘spade’ – which address the subject of racism, and they’re not the only ones. During DMJ4, Baker asserts that there’s no such thing as a black racist (preferring to use the word ‘smart’) and Justine’s brother speaks with revulsion of her fascination with ‘blacks’. As if that weren’t enough, we have a cartoon dyke asserting her hatred of men and Tom Byron talking disdainfully about women who don’t engage in anal sex. Of course, I’m not suggesting that the authors (Greg Dark and a pseudonymous Antonio Pasolini) actually share any of these views – we are, after all, talking about a comedy featuring a host of absurd characters – and would imagine this is intended as social commentary. Nonetheless, it is quite startling given the political correctness that informs contemporary culture.

On the subject of potentially offensive content, the sex scenes in these films are not for the faint-hearted. Two of the most popular female stars of the period – Amber Lynn and Vanessa Del Rio – appear in jaw-dropping encounters, the latter taking on five grunting men simultaneously. It would appear there’s a great deal of group sex in the afterlife – and much of it anal. Incidentally, the conception of hell on display here owes more to Dante and Rinse Dream (director of post-apocalyptic porn classic Café Flesh), than it does either Sartre or Damiano.

DMJ 3&4 stand in stark tonal contrast to their predecessors and are not really recommended for couples. Although the punk aesthetics are now a little dated, the movies remain potent on a number of levels. Whether or not they’re remotely erotic is another matter, but having Jack Baker gurn and shriek during the majority of the sex scenes makes me wonder if eroticism was actually the intention. Be that as it may, they are undoubtedly prescient, in that the focus on ‘circus acts’ foreshadows the gonzo sub-genre that would emerge in later years. On the subject of Baker, it’s hard to imagine these movies without his kinetic presence but the real focus is obviously Lois Ayres. I wouldn’t want to suggest she’s a major acting talent but she is perfectly cast as the assertive, at time abrasive, incarnation of Miss Jones.