Review: The Bloody Judge / Cert: 18 / Director: Jesus Franco / Screenplay: Enrico Colombo, Jesus Franco, Michael Haller, Harry Alan Towers, Anthony Scott Veitch / Starring: Christopher Lee, Maria Schell, Leo Glenn, Howard Vernon, Maria Rohm / Release Date: January 21st 2013
Prolific filmmaker Jesus (Jess) Franco could be the movie equivalent of Marmite, but with a back catalogue that runs to almost 200 films, there's bound to be at least a couple of his flicks that a mainstream audience could enjoy. This 1970 offering may well be one of them.
It's the late 17th century, and 'Hanging Judge' George Jeffries (Lee) is busy doling out the death penalty to anyone and everyone opposed to the reigning monarch, King James II. If no evidence of treason is forthcoming, accusations of witchcraft make a handy standby. When one particular girl is burnt at the stake (having refused Jeffries' offer of leniency in exchange for sexual favours), her sister (Rohm) plots against the Judge with the aid of her well-connected lover (Harry Hass, Jr.).
Obviously riding on the coattails of Witchfinder General, this film comes from the period of Spanish director Franco's collaboration with British producer Harry Alan Towers. It was the pair's third film with Christopher Lee, and the horror legend is on brilliant form here as the real life judge, bringing a gravitas which is missing from most of Franco's oeuvre. The director's on good form too, demonstrating his wonderful eye for setting up a scene and refraining from the numerous fast zooms which tend to annoy his detractors. There is a copious amount of female nudity and sadistic violence in this, the most complete available print of the film, which runs some ten minutes longer than previous UK releases. There are a number of short sequences which are in German as they were not in the other English speaking versions, but there is none of that loss in quality that you usually get with cut and paste jobs (the aforementioned Witchfinder General being a case in point). While it's not as graphic as today's films, it does go a little further than the Hammer style it emulates. Some of the dubbing on the Spanish actors is unintentionally funny, often from the Dick Van Dyke school of accents. Franco regular Howard Vernon pops up as the executioner, in what should have been a nod to Boris Karloff's role in Tower of London, but he ends up looking more like Marty Feldman. As a historical drama (if not as historically accurate as Lee would have liked) it holds up well, and has a fantastic, if sparingly used, Bruno Nicolai score. The widescreen print used for this release looks great, too.
Extras: An interesting 25 minute interview with both Franco and Lee, talking separately. It's well edited, and they both have a lot to say. There are some alternate scenes from different versions of the film, and one deleted scene, a stills gallery and the obligatory trailer (under its awful US title, Night of the Blood Monster).