Jess Jesus Franco (director)
Mediumrare Entertainment (studio)
Cert 18 (certificate)
21 January 2013 (released)
24 January 2013
It is 17th century England, but not as we know it. Spanish sleaze director Jess Franco took considerable liberties in this tale of real life notorious Judge Jeffreys, better known as ‘The Hanging Judge’ during the reign of King James II.
Released in 1970 (two years after Witchfinder General, starring Vincent Price), this Spanish/Italo/West-German co-production obviously tried to cash in on the cinematic witch-hunt craze that swept across early 70’s exploitation cinema. It even features it’s own British cult star, Sir Christopher Lee, in the title role.
But whereas Witchfinder General – concerning real life notorious witch hunter ‘Matthew Hopkins’, depicts at least some gritty authenticity, the emphasis in The Bloody Judge lies firmly in naked flesh, more naked flesh, and sadistic scenes of torture and execution. I mean wow! Here are condemned wenches about to meet their gruesome death at the stake, and yet, their eyeliner hasn’t smudged one millimetre, their luscious tresses are perfectly coiffed, even their garb is hardly in any disarray. Call me impressed, for these 17th century babes must have had cosmetics at their disposal that put 21st century products to shame!
Things don’t fare much better inside the dungeon… Stretched limbs, whipped buttocks, branded breasts, flayed skin… and yet, the majority of suspected witches still look impossibly glamorous and impeccably groomed. Yes, the desperate rolling of the eyes suggests some level of pain and discomfort – if you can spot the eyes underneath the layers of fake lashes, that is.
Even more bizarre is the in-house executioner, who slightly resembles comedian Marty Feldman in looks. And he wears black spandex leggings! The mind boggles!
Right. Is there a plot as such? Surprisingly, there is. It centres on Mary (Maria Rohm), the sister of a recently executed witch. Having tried to save her sister from the stake, Judge Jeffreys made it clear he expects certain favours in return. Refusing the favours and – worse still – falling for one Harry Selton (Hans Hass Jr.) instead, our Judge becomes incensed with rage and thoughts of bloody revenge. Selton furthermore happens to be part of a group of rebels not exactly in favour of the King. Suffice to say, Judge Jeffreys has his hands full sentencing unfortunate folk to a terrible end, and sending out his henchmen trying to capture those still on the run. There’s also a blind wise woman (Maria Schell) as the foreboder of this and that.
In the end though, Judge Jeffreys gets his comeuppance and a new reign begins.
Christopher Lee contributes much needed quality and gravitas to an otherwise mediocre flick, though of course this DVD release will delight Jess Franco/exploitation fans nationwide.
Bonus material includes: trailer, deleted scenes, poster, still gallery, and interviews with Franco and Lee.