• The Demons (Nucleus Films) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Nucleus Films
    Released on: November 20th, 2017.
    Director: Jess Franco
    Cast: Britt Nichols, Anne Libert, Howard Vernon, Karin Field
    Year: 1973
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    The Demons – Movie Review:

    Jess Franco's 1973 film The Demons (or The Demons as it's called on the packaging for this Blu-ray release) may have drawn obvious inspiration from Ken Russell's film of The Devils but make no mistake, Franco's touch is all over this picture. This is evident from the start in which we see a woman accused of witchcraft stabbed with a pin. The inquisition, led by Lord Justice Jeffries (Cihangir Gaffari credited as John Foster), is using this tactic to tell if she's guilty of sins against God or not. When they do in fact find her guilty, she tells Jeffries and his cohorts, Lady de Winter (Karin Field) and soldier Thomas Renfield (Alberto Dalbés), that, after they burn her at the stake her descendants will get revenge.

    From here the story moves to a convent where Mother Rosalinda (Doris Thomas) watches over a group of nuns. Two of the young ladies in her charge are orphaned sisters Margaret (Britt Nichols) and the Kathleen (Anne Libert) who are being taken care of here at the insistence of a local nobleman. When Mother Rosalinda gives confession, she talks to the priest about spying on Kathleen as she masturbated and the conflicting emotions she felt while doing so. Not only does this stir feelings that Rosalind has obviously repressed for ages but it also leads her to believe that randy Kathleen might be a witch herself. From here, de Winter and Thomas arrive at the convent. Having taken the executed witch's threat seriously they've decided to find any female orphans on site, which obviously brings them to the two sisters. When it's discovered that Kathleen is not a virgin, she too is accused of witchcraft and taken away for more inquisition style torture. Malcolm de Winter (Howard Vernon), the Lady's husband, is completely unaware that his wife is cheating on him. He feels sorry for Kathleen and helps to get her out of prison while back at the convent Margaret is talking to the spirit of her dead mother, after which she is raped by a man in red who by doing so consummates her marriage to Satan. Once Rosalind dies, the victim of a mysterious suicide, it would seem that maybe the witch's threat in the opening scene was not one to be trifled with…

    The Demons is presented here completely uncut and clocking in at an hour and fifty-eight minutes in length. Though the movie does occasionally lag, Franco turns in a well-made picture and while, yes, he does definitely borrow from Russell's bag of tricks, his spin is unique enough that this works on its own level. Less concerned with historical accuracy and more interested in gratuitous sex scenes, there's a lot of writhing, naked, nubile nuns to ogle throughout the film. Britt Nichols and Anne Libert are both fine casting choices in this regard, they're both natural beauties evidently not shy in the least in front of the camera and while the movie definitely plays up their sex appeal the script ensures that there's enough going on that they do occasionally warrant our sympathy. The characters are a bit more complex here than in many of his other films, and we wind up with a picture in which no one is really innocent.

    Of course, the most obvious finger pointing is done towards the inquisition, the characters of Jeffries and Lady de Winter being the most deserving. Given that Renfield has a change of heart towards the middle part of the film we see that he, at least, feels for the girls but the other two? They're content to abuse their respective positions in society as they see fit. As such, they're responsible for a whole lot of torture and sexual degradation essentially for the sole purpose of amusing themselves. Franco takes some barbed but fair shots at the institution of the Roman Catholic Church throughout the film, but given the context of the story, that should come as no surprise.

    If some of the locations used for the shoot feel a little more modern than maybe they should, production values are otherwise quite good for a film made with a modest budget. The cinematography is solid and the score from Jean-Bernard Raiteux is frequently impressive as are most of the costumes. A slew of Franco regulars populate the cast. Not only did Nichols and Libert work with him on A Virgin Among The Living Dead and Dracula's Daughter among others, but Franco mainstay Howard Vernon shows up here and is used well, playing one of the few good characters in the picture. Franco would use Doris Thomas in Faceless in 1987 but had cast her prior in Sinner: Diary Of A Nymphomaniac and The Erotic Rites Of Frankenstein, Alberto Dalbés pops up in that last one too. All in all, this one might be a little too uneven in its pace to draw in those who are new to the director's work but seasoned fans who have already acquired the taste for the director's unconventional work should find much to appreciate here.

    Note that Nucleus Films has presented two different cuts of the film on their disc. The French 119-minute French cut of the film which contains quite a bit more sex, violence and nudity and the shorter 88-minute English "Export" version, reconstructed from the same elements and featuring a new English language master believed to match what would have been included for this cut of the film.

    Thought the French version is superior, it’s interesting to see the Export version as there are considerable differences in the editing of the picture and the English dubbing used to create this version gives it a very different vibe overall. It’s also worth pointing out Nucleus has made some corrections to their release to errors that were on previous releases. A few shots used in the incorrect aspect ratio, there were some scenes that suffered from synch issues, there were spots where the audio was flat out missing, there were bits of German dialogue on the French soundtrack and there were spots where actors were clearly speaking but no dialogue was heard. This attention to detail is appreciated and means a lot to Franco fans and film fans in general, and as a lot of these smaller details are easy to overlook, it’s worth drawing attention to them here.

    The Demons – Blu-ray Review:

    Both versions of The Demons arrive on region B Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 2.25.1 widescreen, with French version taking up 30.6GBs of space and the Export cut just over 10GBs of space. These are both taken from the same source (which was also used for the North American Redemption version, though this has been cleaned up more and looks better than that release), though understandably compression is noticeably better on the French version as there are some minor but noticeable artifacts to be spotted on the Export cut. Otherwise, no real complaints here. Some very minor print damage shows up in some spots. This being a Franco film and all, some softness is built into some scenes due to the original photography and, as such, detail can and does vary from shot to shot. Overall though, it looks quite nice. Colors are generally reproduced quite well, skin tones look good and black levels are solid.

    For the French cut of the movie, we get 16-bit LPCM 2.0 Mono and a 24-bit DTS-HD Mono options to choose from, with removable subtitles available in English only. Both tracks sound quite nice but the 2.0 mix does sound a little more open in terms of the score placement. Either way, both tracks are clean and properly balanced. The Export version gets an English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track, there are no alternate language or subtitle options offered here. This track doesn’t sound quite as good as the French options but it gets the job done without any real issues.

    Extras start off with Exorcising Demons, an interview with Stephen Thrower that runs for twenty-three-minutes in length. Here, Thrower talks about the differences between the portrayal of witchcraft and its practitioners in this film as compared to other films from this subgenre, the morality of the story, censorship issues that the film tangled with in different territories, the film’s unusual score and, quite helpfully, the different versions of the film that have existed over the years.

    Carried over from the North American Redemption Films Blu-ray release is a sixteen-minute interview with the late Jess Franco himself conducted by David Gregory. Here the director speaks in his typically blunt style about his thoughts on the film, how de Nesle was only in the film industry to get girls, what it was like working with certain performers on the picture, the influence of Ken Russell's The Devils, and about some of the set pieces and locations used in the feature. Franco's interviews are always interesting and often times unpredictable, this one is no exception (he clearly doesn’t like this particular film all that much!).

    Rounding out the extras is a U.S. theatrical trailer, two different German theatrical trailers, a silent French trailer, six-minutes of silent outtakes, a still gallery with some radio spots playing in the background, menus and chapter selection options.

    The Demons – The Final Word:

    The Demons holds up well, a sleazy slice of nunsploitation done with Jess Franco’s inimitable flair, finding that right mix of exploitation tropes and arthouse style that makes his work as compelling as it is. Nucleus Films has done an excellent job bringing this one to Blu-ray, presenting the film in two different versions and with a nice selection of extra features. Highly recommended.

    Click on the images below for full sized The Demons Blu-ray screen caps!