24 November, 2021

The Demons (Jess Franco,1972; 2003 Director's Cut)

I recently revisited the 101 minute version of this Jess Franco witch burning epic, set in 17th Century England, actually a remake of his 1970 THE BLOODY JUDGE/NIGHT OF THE BLOOD MONSTER, with Christopher Lee playing the role of the historical Witchfinder General, Judge Jeffries. Here the Judge is played by the Iranian actor Cihangar Garffari (John Caffari), who doesn't have quite the psychological grasp which Lee had on the character. France decided to create this version in 2003, eliminating over 10 minutes of footage from the full 114 minute version, which is also included here, along with the much shorter German theatrical release. 

               Cihangir Gaffari, Jess Franco's second Judge Jeffries, Chief Inquisitor of England

Doris Thomas' masturbation scene is cut in half, in the original running an epic 3 minutes plus (see below). Jess Franco toning down a sex scene? Curious. A number of dialogue exposition scenes are also trimmed or cut. On the Spanish language option Franco included a number of cues, written for such earlier films as BARBED WIRE DOLLS, replacing the anachronistic acid rock/Pink Floyd style original cues of Jean Bernard Raiteux. In this complete version the self pleasuring writhing of Mother Superior (Doris Thomas) goes on for over 3 minutes as Franco's 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 burning of Nichols). Leaving the obsessive zooming aside, the scope compositions of Raul Artigot get a lot of period detail into the frame as well emphasizing the layers of political and psychological power in the historical context.

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 sadoerotic 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.

Frequent 1970s Jess Franco producer Robert De Nesle 

 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, and some of his films and projects were subject to the whims of the censorship of that era.

 THE DEMONS is certainly one of Franco's most visually compelling films for producer Robert De Nesle, with the cynical, shifty- eyed Jeffries portrayed by Gaffari as a suitable replacement for Christopher Lee (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. This version also has the complete flesh dissolving scene in which Karin Field is reduced to a skeleton after receiving the "kiss of death" from born-again witch Britt Nichols. This scene was also restored on the UK Nucleus Films restoration of the film. Franco's 1976 LOVE LETTERS OF A PORTUGUESE would be a more lavish exercise in transgression, and seemed more generously produced by Erwin C. Dietrich. After 1980 Franco avoided returning to Nunsploitation. 

R2 114 + 200 (Bonus)

Dolby Digital

2.35:1 (the German print looks about 2.50:1)

(C) Robert Monell, 2021