DVD Release Date: Sept.
= Highest Rating
vaguely recall seeing this on the big screen in 1972, when I
was around 10 years old, under its ludicrous alternate U.S.
title Night of the Blood Monster. What I remember of
the experience is that as a young horror fan, keen to consume
anything starring Peter Cushing and/or Christopher Lee, I was
sorely disappointed that there wasn't really a 'monster' in
the flick at all —
just 'Dracula' in a funny-looking wig, yelling at people and
throwing them in jail. (The deliberately misleading poster certainly
promised otherwise.) Quite a revelation indeed to view the film
now, totally uncut, as never before seen in any country, in
any theatrical release or home video edition. This is
courtesy of the folks at Blue Underground, who've apparently
gone to great lengths to assemble the most complete version
of The Bloody Judge extant. The
DVD is available exclusively as a bonus disc included in the
company's upcoming Christopher Lee Collection box set,
which streets this September 30th.
isn't really a horror film, but rather an historical drama with
exploitation elements mixed in for added spice. In concerns
the excesses and abuses of Lord George Jeffreys, chief magistrate
of England during the reign of King James II. In 1685, with
revolt brewing in the land, Lord Jeffreys was given license
to root out and punish traitors to the crown. This he did with
a fanatical, sadistic zeal, condemning hundreds of people (both
guilty and innocent) to all manner of hideous tortures and executions.
His campaign of legally-sanctioned terror continued until James
was forced to flee England and William of Orange ascended to
the throne. With his patron in exile, "Bloody Judge"
Jeffreys finally found himself on the receiving end of 'justice'
and was imprisoned. He died of kidney disease in the Tower of
London in 1688.
Franco's film gives us a somewhat distorted Cliff Notes version
of events, seen mostly through the eyes of fictionalized characters.
Despite his stern countenance and public veneer of righteousness,
Jeffreys (Lee) has the hots for Mary Gray (Maria Rohm of Franco's
Eugenie... The Story of Her
Journey Into Perversion), the sister of an innocent woman
he condemns to be tortured and burned alive. He uses his official
power to get Mary into his bed against her will. This puts him
in conflict with her lover, Harry Sefton (Hans Hass), son of
the influential Earl of Wessex (Leo Genn). Wessex secretly holds
anti-Tory sympathies and is unsuccessful in protecting son Harry,
who is active in the rebellion against the reigning king. Jeffreys
gets to kill multiple birds with one stone: he's destroying
traitors, maneuvering a high-ranking member of the aristocracy
under his thumb and getting a hot bit o' tail, all at
the same time. Interspersed between the romantic travails of
Mary and Harry and some minor political intrigue are scenes
of Jeffrey's chief torturer and executioner, Ketch (The
Awful Dr. Orlof's Howard Vernon), working his trade in the
Bloody Judge's dungeon. Vernon provides the movie with its horror
element. He's perfectly cast in the part, which according to
Franco was a deliberate homage to Boris Karloff's role in 1939's
Tower of London. Garbed head-to-toe
in black, wearing what could almost be described as an 'evil
superhero' costume, his scenes are brief but memorable. I wish
he'd been in the film a bit more.
Though not as opulent as Franco's Justine
is surprisingly comparable in production values despite the
shoestring budget. A large-scale battle sequence involving charging
cavalry and batteries of artillery was filmed, so the director
claims, for the paltry sum of only $5,000! The costumes and
period detail buoy the film considerably, as does the lush symphonic
score of Bruno Nicolai — perhaps one of the composer's best
— and the occasional artistic flourish on the part of Franco.
(Picturesque landscapes, the sun breaking through mist-shrouded
trees, etc.) For those not too keen on an historical film featuring
guys in panty hose and poofy wigs there should be just enough
debauchery and torture on hand to keep them watching. The voluptuous
Maria Rohm has some notable nude scenes, including a rather
twisted sequence in which she's made to lick the blood from
the naked body of a woman being tortured in Ketch's dungeon.
(The gore isn't really that heavy or severe — a tongue pulled
out, a severed hand, some bloody whippings — so the film just
barely merits an EC "Blood 'n' Guts" icon.)
The haughty, imperious Christopher Lee is
well-suited to the role of the haughty, imperious Lord Jeffreys.
Per the interview included in the disc's documentary (see below,)
Lee tried to incorporate as many known historical details as
possible into his performance, which sometimes led to disagreements
on the set with Franco. (The director didn't necessarily want
reality to interfere with his filmmaking choices.) Since the
real "Bloody Judge" was in near-constant pain from kidney stones
we occasionally see Lee grimacing with discomfort while shifting
in his chair; because the script never explicitly mentions Jeffrey's
medical condition, one might think Lee just has a bad case of
hemorrhoids. Still, the actor's many fans should enjoy his performance
as a real-life 'monster' and delight in the opportunity to see
the film as it was meant to be seen — uncut and in the most
complete form possible.
true 'director's cut' of Bloody Judge,
never before seen anywhere, was put together using near-pristine
vault elements from a number of different countries. The result
is virtually seamless. Aside from some minor, fleeting instances
of print damage the film looks stunning, with rich colors and
sharp detail. The transfer is letterboxed at 2.35:1 and enhanced
for 16x9 TVs. A few minutes of this final print were culled from
a 'naughtier' German version (Der Hexentoter Von Blackmoor),
which adds nudity and extra torture; these scenes are in German
with auto-enabled English subtitles. (Howard Vernon is even more
sinister when threatening his victims in Deutche! These
subtitles also provide an instance of unintentional hilarity,
when Jeffreys [off-camera] tells Mary, "You really turn me on."
Not a phrase in common use during the 17th century, I'd vouchsafe!)
The disc's mono audio track is surprisingly clear and robust,
whether the dialog's English or German, and doesn't shortchange
Nicolai's fine score.
A wide variety of extras are offered. First
and foremost is an excellent 25-minute documentary, Bloody
Jess, featuring recent interviews with Lee and Franco. Both
amusing and informative, it's a perfect companion piece to the
film itself. The disc also features a deleted scene (from a Spanish
VHS edition), four alternate scenes (from more chaste, toned down
versions of the film), a slate of U.S. trailers (under that wretched
American title, Night of the Blood Monster), a U.S. combo
TV spot (a double feature bill pairing it with Hammer's Blood
from the Mummy's Tomb), and an extensive image gallery (divided
into sections by subject). Insightful liner notes by Video
Watchdog editor Tim Lucas put "Bloody Judge" Jeffreys in context,
both historically and cinematically.
As mentioned in the opening paragraph, The
Bloody Judge is available only as a bonus disc in BU's
multi-DVD Christopher Lee Collection. The other titles
— Circus of Fear (1966), The
Blood of Fu Manchu (1968) and The
Castle of Fu Manchu (1969) — will be sold separately in addition
to their inclusion in the box set. We'll be reviewing those DVDs
here at EC in the coming days. Stay tuned! 9/19/03
Currently available only as part of Blue Underground's Christopher
Lee Collection, the
DVD (as described above) will be released in a stand-alone edition
on October 26, 2004.