THE DEMONS (1973) Blu-ray
Director: Jess Franco
Redemption Films/Kino Lorber

Jess Franco tackles nunsploitation while hunting witches in THE DEMONS, out on Blu-ray via Redemption Films.

When a condemned witch curses her persecutors – Judge Jeffries ("John Foster", aka French-born Turkish actor Cihangir Gaffari, BLOODSPORT), aristocrat Lady de Winter (Karin Field, WEB OF THE SPIDER), and soldier Thomas Renfield (Alberto Dalbes, MURDER MANSION) – vowing that her daughters will carry out her vengeance, the fearful trio search out any children the witch might have to put them to the test. The investigation leads them to the Blackmoor convent which houses two orphan sisters – chaste Kathleen (Anne Libert, A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD's "Queen of the Night") and sensual Margaret (Britt Nichols, EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN) – among their novices. Margaret has been troubled by arousing dreams that lead the Mother Superior (Doris Thomas, SINNER) to believe she is possessed by the devil. So besotted with Margaret as she peeks in on her nightly masturbatory sessions, the Mother Superior intentionally reverses her descriptions of the sisters' temperaments, leading them to believe that innocent Kathleen is the witch. Lady de Winter quickly becomes jealous of Renfield's pity and desire for Kathleen – under torture by Franco favorite Luis Barboo (the Countess Irina's mute servant in FEMALE VAMPIRE) – so she has Kathleen put to the test while Renfield is away. When her astronomy-minded husband Lord de Winter (Howard Vernon, COUNTESS PERVERSE) frees the innocent girl, his wife tells Judge Jeffries that Renfield has betrayed them. Back at the convent, the ghost of Margaret's mother appears to her and tells her the identities of her murderers (as well as the identity of her and Kathleen's father) and tasks her with avenging her death. The devil then appears and makes the novice one of his brides. Margaret then seduces the Mother Superior who commits suicide. Margaret flees the convent and meets a witch who shows the girl her special power to destroy her mother's murderers.

A looser, more explicit variation on Franco's WITCHFINDER GENERAL-esque THE BLOODY JUDGE with some of his own JUSTINE as well as Ken Russell's THE DEVILS thrown in, THE DEMONS was one of a handful of productions Franco made with Robert de Nesle following his turbulent collaboration with Harry Alan Towers with many shared actors and locations between this and the other Portugal-shot de Nesle productions THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN, DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN, and DRACULA'S DAUGHTER including Barboo, Dalbes, Vernon, Nichols, and Libert (the latter three having previously appeared in Franco's A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD as well). Running just under two hours, THE DEMONS is actually quite well-plotted and full of incident for a Franco film (although still overlong thanks to the lengthy and unerotic scenes of masturbatory writhing and lesbian caresses, apart from the scene between Field and Nichols late in the film). It also boasts some of the more attractive and technically proficient cinematography of Franco's films during this period – courtesy of Raul Artigot (who also shot the aforementioned Frankenstein films, Eloy de la Iglesia's CANNIBAL MAN, Amando de Ossorio's GHOST GALLEON, and had also directed THE WITCHES MOUNTAIN which starred Gaffari) – authentic medieval locations, and some gorgeous costuming (not to mention some gorgeous starlets). The special effects are laughable and the actors are more presences than performers, but the anachronistic scoring by Jean-Bernard Raiteux – actually cues picked by editor Gerard Kikoine (BURIED ALIVE) from the composer's psychedelic album "Traffic" (under the pseudonym Jean-Michel Lorgere) – which complements the proceedings in a way they only could in a Franco film (although Franco had no input in the editing and reportedly hated the soundtrack). Apart from historical figure Jeffries, the names of various characters are pulled from various literary sources (Renfield from DRACULA while de Winter likely refers to THE THREE MUSKETEERS' villainess although other Franco films have referenced Du Maurier's REBECCA). Andres Monales (the bland love interest of Franco heroines in EUGENIE DE SADE and VAMPYROS LESBOS) turns up here as painter Brian de Quincey.

Released theatrically stateside by Howard Mahler Films ("Let THE EXORCIST beware, THE DEMONS are here!") – and in the UK by Cinecenta (exhibited with a local certificate despite its rejection by the BBFC as they also did Franco's HOW TO SEDUCE A VIRGIN), THE DEMONS then turned up in a severely cropped and trimmed cassette from Unicorn Video– one of their less circulated tapes – and as bootlegs of a longer but cropped Dutch VHS (a British pre-cert running only 79 minutes was even rarer) before getting a digital revitalization courtesy of German/Austrian boutique label X-Rated Kult Video which showcased three cuts of the film on two discs: the first was the original French cut (112 minutes in PAL) with only French and German audio options, the second Franco's 2003 director's cut (101 minutes in PAL) with the German and English dubs composited to fit the cut while the Spanish track was a new dub with new music cues that were suited to the period but lacked the verve of the original tracks, and the third was the shorter German theatrical cut (84 minutes) from an older master (Redemption's subsequent UK disc also featured the 2003 director's cut with only the English track).

Redemption's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC-encoded 2.25:1 widescreen affords English-speaking audiences the first opportunity to view the original French version (118:24) with translation. The elements look virtually pristine for the most part with nary a scratch (although the shadows looks a little diluted during the pre-credits sequence), and the transfer clear enough to detail the goosebumps on bare flesh. The French audio is encoded in uncompressed LPCM 2.0 mono and the optional English subtitles are free of errors. Regrettably, Redemption has not composited the English dub – on which Nichols was dubbed by the same voice actress who dubbed Sylvia Kristel on the English version of EMMANUELLE – to the French version or included a separate transfer or reconstruction of the English version. This isn't a major exclusion, but Redemption has included alternate versions on their Blu-rays of EXORCISM, FEMALE VAMPIRE, and A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD. Presumably Franco's director's cut wasn't included because Redemption did not have film materials for it.

Extras start off with an interview with the late director (16:19) who feels the film is just as bad now as it was "twenty years ago" (although the film is forty years old and he last revisited it for his director's cut in 2003). He recalls that de Nesle made films solely to get girls and that he asked Franco to give him something like Ken Russell's THE DEVILS. Franco was concerned that he could not execute a period piece on the budget comparable to the other productions, but de Nesle told him to change the story as he saw fit to achieve something like the Russell film. As on his interview for A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD, he talks about the differences between shooting in Portugal and Spain during the Generalissimo Franco reign, as well as the talented seamstresses who created the film's costumes quickly and inexpensively. He says he favors erotica over sadomasochism in his films because he likes people, which kind of makes sense since most of the S&M acts in his film are stage shows while the real ones in his films are committed by villains (he also describes Jeffries as well as the inquisition as sadists).

The deleted scenes (10:15) includes just over six minutes of outtake trims used in the construction of the trailer (which saved the cost of a duplicate negative) and a three minute version with added titles. No audio survives for these elements and it is uncertain if the trailer was ever used. Two finished trailers for the film do exist, however, and are included here: the original German DIE NONNEN VON CLICHY (3:18) and a recreated German one with computer-generated titles that was included on the X-Rated Kult Video release. The disc also includes trailers for THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF, FEMALE VAMPIRE, and EXORCISM/DEMONIAC. While the Eurocine-sourced Jess Franco Redemption Blu-rays have been all region, the North American rights for the Robert de Nesle-produced THE DEMONS belong to the British company Euro London Films (who also own Redemption's Pete Walker titles) so the disc is coded for Region A playback only. (Eric Cotenas)