• Demons, The



    Released by: Kino-Lorber/Redemption Films
    Released on: April 29th, 2014.
    Director: Jess Franco
    Cast: Britt Nichols, Anne Libert, Howard Vernon, Karin Field
    Year: 1973
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    The Movie:

    Jess Franco's 1973 sexploitation/nunsploitation epic (at nearly two hours epic is indeed the word) opens with a nice nod to a couple of its spiritual peers - Michael Reeves' WITCHFINDER GENERAL and the sleazier German shocker MARK OF THE DEVIL. The prolog features an accused older witch being tortured using a pin on her flesh (variations of these "bleeding tests" were often used during the witch hunts of the Middle Ages). Lord Justice Jeffries (Cihangir Gaffari billed under the name John Foster) is leading the torture session and he fits right in with the likes of Vincent Price's Hopkins - he is clearly a sadist and his religious zealotry is secondary. His cohorts - one Lady de Winter (Karin Field) and a soldier named Thomas Renfield (Alberto Dalbés) aren't much better. After our victim is found guilty and sentenced to death, she pronounces a curse on the descendants of those who have murdered her. The last bit recalls one of the key plot points of Mario Bava's BLACK SUNDAY. But most of all this is Jess Franco's version of Ken Russell's THE DEVILS.

    Jess Franco has always been one of cult cinema's most deeply polarizing figures. Often brutally dismissed by his detractors as literally the worst that exploitation has to offer, his rabid supporters often occupy a just as extreme position on the polar opposite end of the scale claiming him as a master of pure auteur cinema. Franco had a few defining features as a director both stylistically and in terms of what kind of material he was attracted to. Regular use of the zoom lens has become a bit of a running joke (though truth be told it has become an oft exaggerated trope by the man's detractors) as well as the copious amounts of softcore and even hardcore sex that appear throughout his films. Franco wasn't without technical skill but his insanely prolific filmography and commonly micro-budgeted films also meant that actual incompetence wasn't a stranger to his films either. They were often violent but truthfully sex was Franco's driving force - and some social commentary.

    DEMONS falls squarely in the middle of the Franco pantheon both artistically and in terms of quality. He's dealing here with themes and settings that he's comfortable with. Religious hypocrisy and rampant sex are principal interests of the Spanish director and he gets to fully indulge both in THE DEMONS. The main narrative thrust of the story concerns Mother Rosalinda (Doris Thomas) who is in charge of a convent. Two of her charges are orphaned sisters Kathleen (Anne Libert) and Kathleen (Anne Libert). Mother Rosalinda is also a bit of a pervert - she admits at confession to having spied on Kathleen while the girl masturbated. Unable to face her own sexual orientation, Rosalinda starts to believe that Kathleen may be a witch. When Thomas the soldier and Lady de Winter show up at the convent to track down any descendants of the witch executed in the prolog (yes they aren't taking that death curse lightly!) the real fun begins. Kathleen is not a virgin you see and will need to be tortured to find out the truth...

    Using a "witch hunt" as an excuse for a bunch of sex scenes and violent material wasn't anything new even in the early 70's. Both were staples of Italian and German exploitation with an entire genre being coined "nunsploitation." THE DEMONS remains pretty lively by the standards of this kind of material despite the film's convoluted storyline and overall bloat. Set design is surprisingly effective for one thing and manages to create some legitimately creepy vibes. The acting is uneven but some stalwarts like Howard Vernon show up (as a cuckolded husband) to bring a bit of professional élan to the proceedings and quite frankly the female leads are good-looking enough that they get by just fine. Honestly, a lack of inhibition in front of the camera is the main thing needed for this movie. As far as message goes this one will never be confused for a letter to the Catholic Church.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Kino/Redemption stick here to their regular plan. The 2.35.1 widescreen AVC 1080p encoded transfer shows no signs of digital manipulation. This is a film like presentation with no visible print corrections (but no clean up either). Color balance is good and most importantly the HD presentation has improved image detail considerably. Soft focus shots are kind of rampant in the film but that is simply the way the film was shot and the HD transfer can't change that. Since there has been no cleanup of the elements you should also expect to see a few scratches and other minor defects. The print itself was in pretty good shape however. Finally - a healthy grain pattern is visible. All in all this is a faithful transfer that looks natural.

    Audio is provided by a French LPCM Mono track that gets the job done. English subtitles are provided and are well rendered. Volume levels are correct and while the track doesn't have an outrageous amount of power it handles the highs and lows without cracking on either end. Hiss and other audio anomalies are at a bare minimum.

    Extras consist of an interesting sixteen minute talk between Franco and David Gregory. Franco is initially quite dismissive of THE DEMONS but warms up by the end of the discussion. There are also about ten minutes of deleted scenes present as an extra but these are presented without sound. The deleted scenes are of minor interest. We also get a couple of trailers for the movie and some other Redemption titles.

    The Final Word:

    One of Jess Franco's less well treated titles on DVD gets a welcome upgrade from Kino here. The technical presentation is quite good despite the lack of extensive restoration. Fans of Franco should be pleased. While quite derivative of Ken Russell's THE DEVILS it has enough of Franco's spin to be worthwhile. This certainly wouldn't be the film to start with in regards to Jess Franco but for those who know what they are doing this comes recommended.


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    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Paul L's Avatar
      Paul L -
      I watched this disc yesterday, funnily enough. It's long been one of my favourite Francos (from my favourite period of his output). What I like about this film is that, unlike Reeves' WITCHFINDER GENERAL (or Michael Armstrong's riff on that film, MARK OF THE DEVIL), in Franco's film the witches *are* witches (or sorcerers) - and though you spend a fair portion of the film questioning whether or not they are capable of sorcery, towards the end of the film witchcraft is depicted as a very 'real' phenomenon (firstly, with the visitation by Satan, which at that point in the narrative could still be written off as a fantasy engendered by Catholic repression; but then with the 'kiss of death', which in the film is depicted as a very real piece of magic/k). Franco is confident enough to provoke sympathy for Kathleen (I'm sure that in the French dialogue, they call her Catherine!) and Margaret without needing to establish the fact that they're 'innocent' of witchcraft - Kathleen and Margaret are real sorcerers (read: partisans/subversives), and Franco doesn't feel the need to pardon them for that particular 'crime'. However, the cycle of repression instigated by, and capitalised on, by Jeffries and Lady de Winter, is the real villain of the picture: it's a cycle of violence which begets the desire for vengeance (as depicted in the circular structure of the film, with its near-identical opening and closing sequences). As with many Franco films, this is Franco's thinly-veiled commentary on the Francisco Franco era. All of this is set against the buildup to the Bloody Assizes and the attempt to overthrow Charles II. The history's a little fudged: the Monmouth Rebellion was against James II, Charles II's son. But nevertheless, there's an element of real history depicted in this film. I love the ending too, and the mysterious blind woman in the woods who initiates the girl's into sorcery.It's quite a deceptively clever film, and it's fantastic to see this longer version with English subs. Kudos to Redemption for this, which is one of my favourite releases of the year so far.