The Bloody Judge is an historical horror / drama, in the Witchfinder General style, that was directed by prolific hack/auteur/pornographer [delete according to taste] Jess Franco. It was first released in Italy in February 1970 under the title ‘Il Trono di fuoco’, the first of many such retitlings as the film made its way around Europe; however, The Bloody Judge was Franco’s preferred title. His least favourite title, incidentally, was ‘Night of the Blood Monster’ a ludicrous and nonsensical title bestowed upon the film by our unscrupulous American cousins.
The film stars Christopher Lee as Judge George Jeffreys, a Welsh lawyer of the 17th century who rose to the position of Lord Chancellor under King James II. When a Protestant rebellion against the Catholic King James was quashed in 1685, Jeffreys was tasked with conducting the trials of captured rebels, with the instruction to be as severe as possible. Some 300 rebels were executed and the rest deported and it is for this reason that Jeffreys acquired his infamy.
It’s against this backdrop that the film’s events take place. Harry Selton, son of the Earl of Wessex (a bewigged and, frankly, slumming it Leo Genn) is one of the rebels plotting against the King; on the side, he is in love with Mary Gray (Maria Rohm – Franco regular and, probably not coincidentally, wife of producer / sleaze impresario Harry Alan Towers) whose sister Alicia (Margaret Lee) is being persecuted by the Bloody Judge himself, who when not executing treasonous Protestants indulges in a spot of witchfinding.
Harry (Selton, not Towers) is eventually captured and imprisoned at Taunton, which evidently looks a lot like rural Portugal given Franco’s decision to shoot there. The Earl of Wessex attempts to intercede on his son’s behalf but is cruelly rebuffed by the merciless judge who then receives a much more appealing offer from Mary who is prepared to do whatever it takes to secure her lover’s freedom.
Into this heady brew are tossed a blind sorceress (Maria Schell, who must be wondering how she went from Visconti to Franco in little more than 10 years), a hooded torture-master (Howard Vernon) and battle scenes involving cannons and cavalry. On top of that you get lashings of torture and soft porn – you know, the kind that Christopher Lee swears he knew nothing about – which is, let’s face it, what most of us are sitting through a Franco movie to see.
I have to say though that, as Franco movies go, it’s not half bad. Apparently he had a decent budget on this production and used it to good effect securing a far better cast than he usually got, with the consequence that the amateurish feel of a lot of Franco’s efforts is absent here. It looks good too; okay, the locations don’t look much like the west of England but the buildings themselves are authentic and even if the film is exploitation rather than history it is at the very least plausible.
On the DVD are a 25-minute interview with Franco and Lee (separately) who, despite Lee’s attempts to distance himself from his horror past, seem to have got on pretty well. There are also some deleted / alternate scenes one of which carries the notice that it was sourced from a VHS bootleg tape. Watching that scene was a nostalgic reminder of the lengths you had to go to in pre-internet days to see this sort of film and the generally poor quality you experienced if you managed to find them. So if, like me, you’re of an age that had to suffer third-generation dupes back in the day you’ll want to see some of Jess Franco’s movies again, and this time on a quality DVD like this one.
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