03 May, 2014


Directed by Jess Franco 
France-Portugal 1972
Produced by Robert De Nesle
Director of Photography: Raul Artigot
118 m 30s
2.35:1 1920x100p
In French and German
with optional English subtitles
Interview with Jess Franco by David Gregory (16m)
Deleted footage (6m)
2 theatrical trailers

THE DEMONS Blu-ray: Witch burning...
Margaret (Britt Nichols), accused of witchcraft, is burned by Lord Jeffreys...

In 17th Century England Grand Inquisitor Lord Jeffreys (John Foster) tortures, questions and burns women accused of witchcraft. One of the condemned women, an elderly crone, curses the Judge, Lady De Winter (Karin Field), along with Renfield (Alberto Dalbes), from the pyre, vowing that her vengeance will be executed by her daughters, Margaret (Britt Nichols) and Kathleen (Anne Libert), who are both novices in a convent under the authority of a frustrated Mother Superior (Doris Thomas). Lady De Winter and her secret lover Renfield quickly locate the daughters and haul off Kathleen to the Inquisition where she is tortured and seduced with promises of clemency by the corrupt Jeffreys. She eventually escapes with the help of Lord De Winter (Howard Vernon), who is revealed to actually be her father and is secretly plotting against the present government to restore the crown to its rightful owner. But Kathleen's journey has only just begun and numerous revelations spell out an ironic fate for herself, Margaret, and eventually Lord Jeffreys.

LES DEMONS (onscreen title) is one of the better made and more coherent of the films Jess Franco made for French producer Robert De Nesle between 1971 to 1978 (the year of the prolific producer's demise). While still relatively poverty stricken, it appears to have been better resourced than his 1972 Portugal lensed  monster rallies (DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN, LA MADICION DE FRANKENSTEIN) also co produced by De Nesle.  Based on a script by Franco, from a "novel" credited to "David Khunne", this is actually a remake of Franco's earlier THE BLOODY JUDGE (EL PROCESO DE LA BRUJAS), a 1970 release with Christopher Lee playing Jeffreys in a totally different interpretation. That film, produced by Harry Alan Towers, may have had a higher budget and somewhat competent battle scenes included, but the cinematography in LES DEMONS, by Raul Artigot (who directed Foster [rn Cihangir Gaffari) in LA NOCHE DE LA BRUJAS the same year) is superior in terms of lighting, atmosphere and framing, although Franco's obsessively telezoom is very much in evidence, especially during the many bump and grind sex sequences.

In this complete version the self pleasuring writhings of Mother Superior (Doris Thomas) go on for over 3 minutes as the telezoom moves in and out of her copious folds of flesh, very much like the probings of the verdant Portuguese exteriors. It somehow seems appropriate within the establishment of a totally voyeuristic aesthetic illustrated by the repeated framing of sadistic tortures (performances) from the point of view of enthused audiences (the Inquisition in the opening scene, the villagers in the closing burning of Nichols).

Point of view is everything in cinema, especially the cinema of Jess Franco, and he often places his camera amidst the onscreen viewers of the sado erotic spectacle as a way of subversively implicating/deconstructing the off screen viewer's appetite for such tortures. That may seem a stretch but even the critical Phil Hardy Horror Encyclopedia compares Franco's approach here favorably to Ken Russell's in his equally sadistic 1971 nunsploitation epic, THE DEVILS, which, as admitted by the director in the interview with David Gregory, was  the direct inspiration for this project. Both films exclusively deal with sexually inflamed clerics in the midst of a historical context of witch hunting and official corruption and both have their merits and demerits.The point of interest is that the accused and accusers in both films are related to religion, the catch being that the Inquisitors often sport political ambitions and agendas. One could expand this in the case of LES DEMONS ( and Franco indicates this in the interview) into an allegory of the situation in Spain under the yoke of Francisco Franco at the time the film was made. Religious hypocrisy in his homeland was a running theme in the life and career of Jess Franco.

 THE DEMONS is certainly one of Franco's best cast and acted films for De Nesle, with the cynical, shifty- eyed Jeffreys convincingly portrayed by Foster (as Franco notes in the interview), solidly backed up by Anne Libert, Karin Field, Doris Thomas, the always welcome Howard Vernon and especially the stunningly sensual Britt Nichols. In some ways the film is stolen by Franco and Spaghetti Western regular Luis Barboo as the dedicated torture supervisor. It's not great Jess Franco but it's surprisingly compelling and complex, given the debased genre and available budget. It's definitely a "Jess Franco" film, overflowing with his personal obsessions and touches.

[Below] Vintage US theatrical poster; obviously a post THE EXORCIST release

THE DEMONS beats THE DEVILS to North American Blu-ray release with this highly recommended release. THE DEMONS actually played theatrically in the US* in the the mid 1970s and was advertised as a kind of lurid companion to the wildly successful THE EXORCIST (1973). There is no record of a Canadian or French Canadian theater/home video release but it may have been banned./deleted from databases there. It's many release titles include THE SEX DEMONS, OS DEMONIOS, LES DEMONS and Les Enfants de Demon (alternate French video title).

[Below] 79m UK Video

This Blu-ray release is an absolutely stunning presentation, the best Jess Franco BD so far from REDEMPTION, in terms of both video and audio quality. Newly mastered in HD from original 35mm elements, the source materials appear to have been almost pristine and the colors, sharpness, definition, luminosity are impressive throughout the nearly 2 hour run time. The film has always seemed a bit overlong but it has never looked or sounded better, especially Jean-Bernand Raiteux's startlingly anachronistic, acid rock influenced soundtrack (released as TRAFFIC POP-J.M. Lorgere) All in all, a far cry from any and all previous VHS/DVD presentations. My own introduction to this film was via the 1980s ear UNICORN VHS, THE DEMONS,  89 approx. a heavily cut, cropped monstrosity in comparison. To have it finally totally uncut, in OAR and HD, with language options and English subtitles now gives us the ability to enjoy and evaluate the film for what it is.

The special features include a revealing interview with the late director by David Gregory. Jess Franco, appearing frail and tired, totally dismisses his film, calling it "bad" and admitting it's not as good as its model, THE DEVILS. But he praises the skilled Portuguese costume designers, whose detailed period costumes are a highlight and are even more impressive in this 2.25:1 1920 x 1980 p transfer. He also, in an interesting aside, comes out against films which use sadomasochistic imagery as an exploitation element, and denies his films do so, although he does manage to fend off the interviews challenges of that dubious statement. In a way, this film and certain others (NECRONOMICON, EUGENIE...THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION) can be seen a cautionary tales of what happens to participants in such activities. At least Jess Franco, in what may be his very last interview, goes out fighting.

*[Mick Cantone (from EL FRANCONOMICON): "THE DEMONS played theatrically in the US sometime in 1973. It was released by Howard Mahler Films and the running time was 79 minutes. In fact, the Dutch VHS release from VML Video was sourced from that print (an MPAA R rating card appears at the end). It is the same print I saw with Mirek Lipinski at Anthology Film Archives last November.]" Thanks to Mick and John Charles for additional information on the North American theatrical history of this film. Special thanks to Eric Cotenas for the vintage US theatrical poster and information on the vintage international video releases]

(C) Robert Monell, 2014

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