Alone in her solitary New York apartment on a cold, soggy day, Justine Jones (Georgina Spelvin) takes a long look at herself in the mirror, draws a bath, and then slashes her wrists. She wakes to find herself in a still room overlooking a nicely landscaped lawn where Mr. Abaca (John Clemens) acts as a sort of transitory secretary between heaven and hell. While Justine had lived a chaste life, her end at her own hand all but assures her eternal suffering. This is unthinkable to her so a bargain is struck; Justine Jones will be allowed to return to life to enjoy the earthly pleasures, thusly playing out the one-sheet’s tagline “If you have to go to hell, go for a reason.”
Gerard Damiano’s The Devil in Miss Jones (1973) came hot on the heels of his smash hit, Deep Throat, the ceiling-shattering wildfire of a film that jumped the highway and singed the eyeballs of middle-class America the year before. But where that film was played for ultimate laffs centered around the absurd idea of Linda Lovelace’s clitoris being located beyond the valley of her tonsils, The Devil in Miss Jones goes to great lengths to be the anti-Deep Throat. Serious and solemn with an Oscar-worthy performance by Georgina Spelvin, The Devil in Miss Jones slaps you across the face to get your attention and is one of those masterpieces of hardcore that feels entirely emboldened by the idea of explicit eroticism as a legitimate art form.
And, again, this feat is pulled off mostly due to the incredibly strong performance by Georgina Spelvin. Justine Jones’s explicit sexual awakening, performed by an actress of thirty-six (unthinkable today), is believable and truly exciting and feels like it’s both taking place in a playground in hell (actually a converted apple-packing plant in Milansville, Pennsylvania) and in an elliptical kind of real time. Her ecstatic masturbation sequence in a stained bathtub against a wall of exposed bricks with some stolen, but effective, Ennio Morricone music all mix into something both hot and desperate (and, given the condition of the tub, a little bit gross). Her encounter with The Teacher (Harry Reems) is extended over time, eschewing the conventions of the singular hardcore scene by making it run parallel with her own discoveries.
Though it’s in the pursuit of something that’s being cast within the narrative as dirty and wrong, the sex feels relatively healthy and enjoyable (even the obligatory 70’s fruit sex scene feels within the acceptable bounds of the film’s story). Spelvin’s drift away from dour spinster to someone enjoying her best life (which all has to happen within the span of fifty minutes) feels natural. Likewise, the hot Marc Stevens/Sue Flaken threesome, the penultimate debauched moment, is followed by a level-up in which Levi Richards replaces Flaken in a double penetration scene that, within the context of what’s going on, is a perfect cinematic representation of the outer frontier of pleasure for Miss Jones. Spelvin’s performance in the scene, where she most certainly is in control of everything going on, is as incredibly hypnotic as it is jaw-dropping.
Captured mostly in dark shadows as if it were captured in the blackest velvet, The Devil in Miss Jones is beautifully shot by Joao Fernandes, cinematographer of some of the touchstone horror films of the early 80’s including Children of the Corn, The Prowler, and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. He and editor Damiano (who also wrote the script and produced) create some hallucinatory moments mostly by keeping the setups and the cuts to a minimum and lets the camera absorb long takes before building to their natural apexes which naturally sucks the viewer into the natural rhythms occurring on the screen. The perfect synchronization of story and craft all but ensures that everyone will feel that Justine Jones’s journey is shared with their own and it also helps the ending land with the wallop that it does.
More so than Deep Throat, The Devil in Miss Jones engages with audiences on not just a sensational level but on a serious one, as well. Reaching the heights as one of the ten highest grossing films of 1973 with a fistful of glowing reviews, it made Spelvin a star and proved Damiano to be a true talent to be reckoned with. Almost fifty years later, it’s not difficult to see what all the fuss was about as The Devil in Miss Jones remains a true masterpiece of the genre.
(C) Copyright 2022, Patrick Crain