The Bloody Judge (1970)
By: J.R. McNamara on August 22, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Stomp Visual (Australia). All Regions, NTSC. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0 Mono. 102 minutes
The Movie
Director: Jess Franco
Starring: Christopher Lee, Maria Schell, Leo Genn, Hans Hass Jr., Maria Rohm, Margaret Lee
Screenplay: Anthony Scott Veitch
Country: Italy/ Spain/Germany
AKA: Il Trono di fuoco; Night of the Blood Monster; Trial of the Witches

Jess Franco has been called it all in his prolific career (well if you would call directing over 180 films 'prolific'). From genius to pornographer; comments made about him vary from each picture he assembles to the point that some may completely change their minds about him from film to film. One thing that can be said about Franco though is that he never lets it stop him from doing what he loves, even if he is never satisfied with his own product. Always a dissident against the norm, Franco's success can be attributed to his sense of professionalism when it comes to making a film on time, and within budget. In some cases, Franco was able to have films finished simultaneously.

This film, The Bloody Judge, is based on the life of Judge George Jeffries. Born in 1648, Jeffries became Lord Chief Justice of England at age 33 under disliked Catholic King James II. Jefferies was generally known not as 'The Bloody Judge', but 'The Hanging Judge', due to the penalty handed out to approximately 300 rebels at the trials of the allies of the Duke of Monmouth. Jeffries died of kidney disease at aged 44 while being hidden in the Tower of London after King James II was deposed by his sister and her husband William.

This film seems to be a Witchfinder General wannabe. Made two years after that Vincent Price vehicle, The Bloody Judge tells the tale of Judge George Jeffries (Christopher Lee) who defends King James II by finding dissidents against the crown, and when there is no concrete evidence of treason, accusing them of witchcraft and having them executed. Mary Grey's (Maria Rohm) sister Alicia (Margaret Lee) is accused of such a crime and pleads for her life at the trial, but will not repay the Judge's leniency with sexual favors, and so she is burned at the stake. Mary's perils do not end there however, for she falls for Harry Selton (Hans Hass Jnr), son of the Earl of Wessex (Leo Genn) who is plotting against the king, and if found out will be put before the Bloody Judge himself….

One of the alternate titles for this film, as can be seen in the trailers on this disc, is Night of the Blood Monster, which is like calling James Cameron's Titanic 'Night of the Blood Iceberg'. The Bloody Judge is a politically driven period drama with unnecessary pieces of nudity and torture to provide meager titillation. The man who was once declared to be 'the most dangerous filmmaker for Catholics' by the Catholic church just seems to have run out of steam here. To me it just seems that this film didn't know if it wanted to go for Hammer styled gothic-ness, or exploitation, and while it almost delivers on both counts, it seems somehow unsatisfying. This is not to take away from Franco's style or Lee's presence, or most of the actors for that matter; it just seems on occasion to be directionless.

One major problem I had with this film was the performance of Franco regular Howard Vernon, who portrays executioner Jack Ketch. Initially Vernon attemps to riff Boris Karloff in the Dark Tower, but ends up looking just a little bit too much like Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein to be taken completely seriously. Luckily, anytime the lovely Maria Rohm was on screen, I could almost forget about it.
An occasional artifact does not suppress the fact that this is a pretty decent 16x9 widescreen transfer of a 30 something year old film. The colours remain bright and vivid, and the picture is clear throughout.
This feature is presented in mono, but that doesn't alter the fact that Lee has THE voice for horror, and it booms out of the speakers.
Extra Features
Bloody Jess (25 mins) is a series of interviews with Franco and Lee about the production of this film and several others they made together. Lee's knowledge of English history is exhaustive, and their collective memories of this film are interesting.

Deleted Scene (5 mins 50 secs) is a deleted scene of Mary's lament after the death of her sister which has been sourced from a bootleg VHS, so the quality is lackluster.

There are four alternative scenes (2 mins 7 secs, 1 min 13 secs, 41 secs and 1 minute 20 secs) which include an alternate opening sequence from the German version.

There are 3 theatrical trailers (54 secs, 1 min 2 secs and 1 min 57 secs), all for the alternative title of Night of the Blood Monster, the third one being for a double feature, The Night of the Blood Monster and Blood from the Mummy's Tomb.

TV spot (32 secs) is the TV commercial for the double feature mentioned above.

The Posters and Stills gallery is divided into several sections: Posters, German Lobby Cards, US Lobby Cards, Publicity Stills, Behind the Scenes, US Press Book, Soundtrack Booklet and Video Covers. This is an amazing collection of publicity stuff that is a real credit to the disc.

Talents bios are text bios of Lee and Franco.
The Verdict
A professional looking period drama, but superfluous scenes of torture, nudity and lesbianism make The Bloody Judge a confusing film. Christopher Lee of course drips evil from every pore, and his bass baritone voice booms forth with much fearsome gusto. Franco fans may be disappointed, as will historical drama fans, as this film tries to be for both, and while looking pretty and having some quality acting, it fails to deliver completely to either party.
Movie Score
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