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The Demons (1971) (DVD)

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Genre: Horror / Director: Jess Franco / Theatrical Release Date: 1971 / DVD Release Date: 2011

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      11.07.2012 09:34
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      One of Jess Franco's more tolerable films

      ***This is a somewhat smutty review of a smutty film. If such things upset you, go and do something more healthy instead of reading it. Gardening, perhaps. Or a nice round of golf.***

      This Redemption DVD is oddly overpriced at £12.

      Jess Franco is a legendary director of mucky horror movies. He is probably the most consistently infuriating director in film history, but somehow I end up seeing more and more of his films. I believe he's now second only to Hitchcock as the director whose work I have seen the most of. I find that the more Franco films you see, the more immured to become to his stupid little ways. It all starts to make some sort of sense around the 15-film mark, and by the time you hit 20 you'll be greeting the wobbly camerawork like an old friend.

      This is allegedly set in England, in the time of Charles II. Evil Judge Jeffries is hunting down witches with his villainous friends Lady de Wynter and Renfield. One witch curses them as she is burning, and swears vengeance through her children. These children (actually fully grown women) are nuns, and while one of them is virtuous, the other happily falls under the sway of Satan and starts to plan her revenge on Jeffries and his pals.

      This is an almighty mess. Anyone with even a vague knowledge of history will know that it's complete bollocks. The king is presented as some kind of tyrant, and some characters yearn for William of Orange to come and liberate them. The main problem with that is, of course, that it was James II who was the unpopular one who got overthrown. Everyone loved his brother Charles. We never get to see William of Orange, but we're told at one point that he's landed on 'the north coast of Britain', suggesting that not only was British history beyond Franco's grasp, but he didn't even know what shape the country is. Similarly, while the costumes are quite pretty, they're clearly medieval. There are some amazing hats in the climactic feast sequence.

      The obviously Catholic nunnery, complete with Latin mass and confessionals, is a deeply unlikely location for Restoration England. And the cheesy English names, all taken from famous books, are clearly rubbish. Renfield and de Wynter my arse! When a character introduces himself as 'Brian de Quincy' you just kind of give up finding fault and go along with the flow. It's easier that way. It doesn't help that the scenery is very obviously Spanish and Portuguese, with the actors all looking thoroughly European.

      Franco had already made a Judge Jeffries film, The Bloody Judge, starring Christopher Lee (it's not clear why Judge Jeffries exerted such fascination for Franco). That had much better production values, but was far less of a 'true' Franco film. The Demons, happy to say, is very much a 'classic' Franco outing, and is probably the most fun Franco film I've seen. As such, it's probably a perfect gateway drug for people unfamiliar with Franco who might find the tedium of Vampyros Lesbos or embarrassing amateurishness of Devil Hunter a little hard to deal with.

      The thing for which Franco is best known is his wobbly, constantly zooming camera work. It is very much present and correct here, as Jess randomly zooms in one completely irrelevant background details after another, and moves the camera behind semi-transparent objects during important scenes, so we can't actually see what's going on properly. It also contains what might be the Franco trademark shot: a badly focused close up of a naked vagina.

      Old Jess was a mucky pup, and this film is chock full of nudity. Nuns writhe naked in bed, women wander around in completely transparent nightwear, people have unconvincing sex, and there are lesbian scenes which are actually quite well-paced by Franco's usual standards (for some reason, slow-motion lesbian scenes are another Jess staple). The supposedly virtuous sister celebrates her release from the nunnery by jumping into bed with whomever she meets. Her sister has an absolutely hilarious sex scene with the devil himself (who sadly just looks like some dude, rather than having horns or red skin. He seems to enjoy himself, though).

      But anyway, there is a lot of nudity, much of it full frontal (predictably enough, we see no men naked below the waist). There's also some violence. The film is clearly trying to rip-off both Witchfinder General and Ken Russell's The Devils, both shockingly violent movies for the time. There are torture scenes which would be nasty if they were well executed, but which instead just annoy. One character's scars go away between scenes, as if they couldn't be bothered to put them back on. There are some hilariously perfunctory swordfights. The main attempt at a special effect - which I won't spoil - is abominable. It happens three times, just in case you missed how awful it was first time round.

      There's a general air of ineptitude about the film. Apart from Franco's own camera-wobbling idiosyncrasies, there are some out and out cock ups. Modern light fittings can clearly be seen on the walls of a building. They keep dubbing the sound of running footsteps over one scene, even when the actress has stopped running. The geography of the film is very bad - the editing suggested that the torture chamber was in the nunnery, but it turned out to be at Lady De Wynter's house. And the plotting is terribly transparent, with the silly contrivance required to get everyone together for the denouement particularly clumsy.

      It has a typical Jess Franco cast for the era, with plenty of familiar faces from his other early 70s films. The only one a non-fan might feasibly recognise is Howard Vernon, who's in loads of Franco movies, but occasionally made a 'proper' film. He plays the unworldly Lord De Wynter. The girls are attractive, but Renfield looks a bit like Chris Huhne and Jeffries is very obviously not an English actor. The film is dubbed into English, as almost all such films are, so I doubt we're hearing anyone's real voice.

      Probably the best thing about the film is the music, an electric jazz treat that is absurd in the context of the film but a lot of fun anyway. Brian de Quincy's house sounds like he's got Elton John staying in his spare room, as frenetic rock piano plays whenever the film takes us there. One scene has the evil Lady de Wynter fondling two nuns accompanied by prog-style organ music. From some angles it almost looks like the nuns are a musical instrument that she is playing.

      The picture quality on the DVD is decent enough, although there are quite a lot of speckles on the print. This being Redemption, the cover image bears no relation to what we see in the film. The blurb is curiously honest, admitting that most of Franco's films are 'dire' or 'functional'.

      There's an image gallery that's just screenshots taken from the film rather than lobby cards or posters. There are two trailers for truly abominable looking modern shot-on-DV horror movies. At least they've dropped the horrible lesbian vampires menu screen that made earlier Redemption releases so embarrassing.

      This is a lot more straight-up enjoyable than most Franco films. I'm not really sure if I can recommend it without reservation, but it probably won't annoy you as much as his other films would.

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