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Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.25:1
Audio: French: LPCM 2.0
- 16 minute interview with director Jess Franco
- 10 minutes of deleted footage
- Two original theatrical trailers
Kino Lorber/Redemption’s latest Blu-ray release, Les démons aka The Demons (1973), is a welcome addition to their growing catalog of Jess Franco films, which include Nightmares Come at Night, The Awful Dr. Orloff, and A Virgin Among the Living Dead among others. Though it is one of the late, beloved Spanish director’s more obscure entries, The Demons is a needed addition to any Franco fan’s collection, as it finally presents the complete, uncensored version of the film for the first time in the U.S.
The film opens with the torturing of a witch, who is later burned at the stake and curses those responsible for her demise. From here, the convoluted plot focuses on two orphaned sisters, now adults, living in a convent. The blonde and innocent Margaret (Britt Nichols) disapproves of her sister Kathleen’s (Anne Libert) masturbation and sex dreams. A local aristocrat, the Lady De Winter (Karin Field) convinces the convent that Kathleen is a witch and is possessed by the Devil. As such, she must torture into confession with the help of her right-hand man, Thomas Renfield (Alberto Dalbés). Renfield, quickly falling in love with Kathleen, allows her escape. Enraged, Lady De Winter insists that Inquisitor Lord Justice Jeffreys (Cihangir Gaffari) punish Renfield, but Jeffreys gives the man a chance to bring Kathleen back. Defying Jefferys’ requst, Renfield runs off with Kathleen, but the two are eventually caught, imprisoned, and nearly tortured to death.
It turns out that the two girls are the daughters of the witch burned at the stake in the film’s introduction. While still in the covenant, Margaret is visited and raped by the Devil. Now possessed by his diabolical will, she is determined to enact revenge on anyone who has punished her sister or mother. She pays a visit to the home of Lady De Winter and quickly worms her way into the Lady’s good graces, which kicks off an orgy of sex and death.
Franco may have been riding the coattails of Ken Russell’s masterpiece The Devils, but The Demons is not a direct rip off of that film. Early on, it seems like it’s going to be a fairly straightforward nunsploitation film, but dramatically veers from that path into more traditional witch-hunting territory with torture, exploitation, political machinations, and plenty of sex. It actually pairs up more closely with films like Witchfinder General, Franco’s The Bloody Judge, and Mark of the Devil. The Devils notwithstanding, The Demons is probably the most erotic witch-hunting film of the period, putting far more emphasis on sex than violence.As with many of Franco’s other films, there is also a nod to his love of the female revenge film. Similar to his works She Killed in Ecstasy, Venus in Furs, and many others, Franco has Margaret spend most of the film seducing and then killing anyone she plans to get revenge on, including Lady De Winter. She kills them and then plants a supernatural kiss, causing her victims to smoke and dissolve into a skeleton, a device no more explained by the film.
More traditional than his other films from the same period, there are far fewer nonsequitors in the plot than the Franco-fan might be used to. There is an excessive amount of soft-core sex and female masturbation scenes, not necessarily helped by the constant use of the zoom lens. As far as gore or violence, the torture scenes are pretty lackluster. The majority of the effects go towards Margaret’s supernatural kisses, which are seemingly thrown in for good measure
At face value the film is more of a period piece, but the historical accuracy is laughable, particularly where costumes are concerned. There’s a dash of political intrigue that focuses on William of Orange’s rebellion and subsequent British invasion, but this gets little more than a mention. The real strength of this production is in the acting. Franco regular Anne Libert (A Virgin Among the Living Dead) is lovely as the wanton Kathleen, though she is quickly overshadowed by the incredibly sexy Britt Nichols (The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein), costarring as her murderous sister. Finally, Karin Field (The Mad Butcher, Web of the Spider), in the lovely and gleefully malevolent Lady De Winter, emerges as one of the film’s most compelling characters.
While many of the strong and interesting roles essentially all went to the female characters, there are a few male characters that shine. Franco regular Howard Vernon is delightful in his small role, though both he and Cihangir Gaffari are essentially wasted. Other Franco regular Luis Barboo and Alberto Dalbés also put in nice performances.
Redemption’s latest Jess Franco release is certainly a more obscure entry, but it looks fantastic. The 1080p HD transfer from the original 35mm negative, with an aspect ratio of 2.25:1, is one of Franco’s cleanest looking prints. It has certainly aged better than recent releases like Nightmares Come at Night, and suffers from almost none of the age damage and speckling present in some of the other films from this period in his career. The only real flaw is that the print can occasionally look soft and a bit fuzzy, but this may be more an issue with the cinematography than with the transfer. Kino’s minimalist restoration policy means that no attempt was made to sharpen the image, or filter out the lovely patina of film grain, leaving an authentic representation of Franco’s vision.
The linear PCM 2.0 audio track sounds decent with clear audio and effects, though it is a little underwhelming. The inclusion of the original French audio track is certainly a bonus, and there are optional English subtitles included. One way Franco’s stamp found its way into the film is with the wild and jazzy prog-rock soundtrack, totally out of place in this medieval period piece. Composed by Jean-Berbard Raiteux (Diary of a Nymphomaniac), there are frenzied bongos during the sex and masturbation scenes, making it clear: this is most definitely a Franco film.
There aren’t an abundance of extras with this release, but Redemption did provide a good 16-minute interview with Jess Franco, some deleted scenes, and a handful of trailers. While it would have been nice to have a commentary track, particularly one placing this film both within the witch-hunting and nunsploitation subgenres that were so popular during this ‘70s, the Blu-Ray lacks this feature.
Perhaps, because it is one of the most atypical Jess Franco films of the ‘70s, The Demons will likely appeal to a fairly wide range of horror fans. Though it lacks the more surreal, nonsensical, and dreamlike elements of films like A Virgin Among the Living Dead and Nightmares Come at Night, it is a must-see for Franco fans. Anyone interested in witch-hunting films and nunsploitation will also find a lot to love. The film’s uncut arrival on Blu-Ray with the original French language track more than makes up for a lack of special features. Hopefully the Redemption line will keep up the good work and continue moving through Franco’s catalogue.