Saturday, January 2, 2016

Jess Franco Gets Medieval in The Demons

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Director: Jess Franco

Cast: Britt Nichols, Anne Libert, Howard Vernon, Karin Field, Alberto Dalbas

Redemption Films / Region A / Unrated / 2.35:1 Widescreen / French language / English subtitles / 118 minutes

Extras: Jess Franco interview / Deleted footage / trailers

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Jess Franco's The Demons begins in France sometime during the middle ages when seemingly every woman who dared to defy the Church was considered to be a witch. She was tortured until she confessed, at which point she would be burned at the stake; or she would fail the "tests" (always) and she would also be burned at the stake. Unfortunately for the Church in the case of the old lady at the beginning of The Demons, she really WAS a witch and when they lit her up she cursed them all and vowed that her daughters would take revenge for her. Not knowing much about the old haggard woman, the Lord Justice Jeffries (the head witch-finder) thought maybe "daughters" meant the rest of her coven but she actually has two biological daughters who were turned in to the nunnery as orphans years ago. Just to be sure, Jeffries sends out his right-hand Lady de Winter and loyal servant Renfield to possibly find these daughters.

Lady Winter and Renfield end up at the convent and ask if there are any "Sisters" that may be witches and are told of the orphans that they don't know much about. The daughters, Kathleen and Margaret, couldn't be more different. Kathleen has impure dreams and writhes in her sleep nude while touching her no-no square. Her sister, on the other hand, is the model nun-in-training. After a quick virgin check, Lady Winter decides that Kathleen is unclean and therefore a witch. So they take her back to the estate where they torture and give her the tests and decide, of course, that she has indeed been practicing witchcraft. Neither Lord de Winter (Franco regular Howard Vernon) nor Renfield are convinced that she serves the Dark Lord, but maybe they are just under her spell?

Euro-sleaze maestro Jess Franco has outdone himself with The Demons, a well-written, masterfully directed and completely coherent tale of medieval torture, drama and of course, sleaze. I was very impressed with the pretty involved story that was told in a nicely structured way. The direction was not over-the-top and the cinematography by legendary Spanish camera wiz Raúl Artigot was just beautiful. As per usual you get the inappropriate close-ups and zooms during the sex scenes on the women's nether-regions but in all it was very tame for Franco. That's not to say that the content was "tame" because it surely wasn't; nude torture, lesbian sex, nun-on-nun action, Satan raping a woman... the list goes on and on. Somehow Jess Franco figured out how to mesh a really good story into a very sleazy movie and make it work. The whole production looks like a big-budget film with extravagant costumes and gorgeous medieval set-pieces.

The Demons

The cast was also top-notch. Howard Vernon is his usually creepy self even though his character is actually a good guy. Cihangir Gaffari (Bloodsport) and Karin Field (The Mad Butcher) are great as the evil, sadistic duo bent on getting their sexual jollies off of torturing women and crispy-frying them at the stake. The flip-flopping, love-struck "Renfield" is played by Alberto Dalbés who is also an Uncle Jess favorite, starring in great Franco films like The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein and Night of the Assassins. Anne Libert (A Virgin Among the Living Dead) as the hell-raising sister "Kathleen" is incredibly sexy but she doesn't hold a candle to Franco alum insanely hot Britt Nichols, who plays "Margaret". She is the pouty-lipped, cat-eyed demoness who could put a curse on me any day. I would love to drive my stake into her... oh wait, that's a vampire.

Redemption Film's new Blu-ray release of this lesser known Franco flick is pretty fantastic considering that it's never been available in the U.S. in any form. There is noticeable debris here and there throughout and a couple small spots of damage but overall the picture quality is good. The great costuming with its vibrant colors and textures looks spectacular and even Franco's penchant for close-ups shows good flesh-tones and detail. There are a couple of scenes where the framing is a little wonky with the 2.35:1 aspect ratio showing a line on the side, but that's only in a scene or two that I noticed. The audio is a little fuzzy in spots and the overall quality is a bit uneven but it never detracts from the viewing. In fact, the funky guitar and organ-driven soundtrack sounds pretty damn good. The 15 minute Franco interview is as entertaining as usual and the deleted scenes are edited together like one long 6 minute trailer, sans any sound.

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