Blue Underground: Night of the Blood Monster (1970) - Reviewed

Images courtesy of Blue Underground

There are times throughout the ongoing evolution of the 4K UHD playback format for films old and new that the technology for restoring and presenting films either forgotten or otherwise mistreated over the years is a revelation.  Like something that was dry and withered due to neglect is now bountiful and replenished, full of the life it once had audiences of today never knew about.  And other times it can be a bit like putting lipstick on a pig.  

Such is the case of Bill Lustig owned boutique label Blue Underground’s 4K Dolby Vision re-release of Spanish exploitation stalwart Jess Franco’s 1970 witch hunt trash sleaze heap Night of the Blood Monster or as it is more commonly known The Bloody Judge.  Starring Christopher Lee in his second film with Jess Franco alongside Count Dracula released the same year, it is more or less a Grindhouse version of Witchfinder General or Witchhammer by way of Mark of the Devil.  Not quite nunsploitation but somehow this feels filthier than a number of those films put together.
The true (albeit embellished for sensationalist effect) story of Judge Jeffreys the 17th century Welsh witchfinder and his sadistic reign of terror on medieval England who, like many witchfinders before him thrived on condemning women as witches to further his psychosexual desires and ruthless political chicanery.  Unbeknownst to Jeffreys, even more depraved forms of torture including but not limited to frequent sexual assault is taking place in his dungeons.  

When a sister of the condemned tries to appeal to the judge’s leniency but instead is met with unwanted sexual advances from Jeffreys, she joins a rebel gang to try and overthrow the dictatorial bloodthirsty judge.  All things considered, most of the rest of the film is keenly interested to a scopophilia including but not limited to a rape scene where as the victim is being attacked, Franco and cinematographer Manuel Merino’s camera slowly pans away from her face and zooms in on her exposed breast.  Its that kind of film, making no bones about the brand of sexploitation on display tailored for Grindhousers.
Tawdry, prurient and everything films like The Devils and Witchfinder General aren’t, this is the fifth screen portrayal of the infamous The Bloody Judge (alternate releasing title) featuring Christopher Lee in a film of his own admission is a collection of ‘scenes of extraordinary depravity’.  While the tortures of the damned do offer their varying degrees of transgression with women bound and stretched on a rack covered in blood with their ripped clothes barely hanging on to their threads, the characters including the infamous Judge Jeffreys aren’t rather fleshed out or interesting.  Despite the presence of notable actors like Maria Schell as a blind witch, Howard Vernon as a thuggish executioner and Maria Rohm from Jess Franco’s own Venus in Furs as a woman falsely accused of witchcraft, the film never fully clicks and what should be a synergistic mixture of religious and political chicanery, blasphemy and pornography instead is just kind of torpid.

That’s not to say the film doesn’t look decent, beautifully restored in 4K and unveiled on UHD disc with Dolby Vision and HDR by Blue Underground.  While not my first choice in showing people the many splendors offered over the years by Blue Underground, the disc release and collection of extras are top notch and should please Jess Franco die hards keen on his particular brand of sleaze.  The film’s most overqualified component outside of Christopher Lee is undoubtedly Bruno Nicolai, best known for his giallo work for Sergio Martino including but not limited to All the Colors of the Dark.  His orchestral period score is so good it begets a better film than the one it is stuck in.  Curiously, against tradition for Blue Underground, the disc only includes a mono track as opposed to the typical pattern of including newly minted Dolby Atmos remixes.
I love Blue Underground, I love Christopher Lee, and I especially love films that tried to dig their claws into a unique mixture of art, horror, exploitation and intellectual breakthrough through the subgenre of nunsploitation and/or the witchfinder movies.  I’m fully aware of the ease with which to dismiss this subgenre as a whole as nothing more than violent scopophilia which in cases like this one they are.  But I guess my disappointment in this piece stems not from the rampant transgressions and masturbatory fantasies one can glean from this sort of thing, but rather the hollowness.  

Whereas in Ken Russell’s The Devils or more recently Juan Lopez Moctezuma’s Alucarda they found a way to marry the prurience with strategic emotional or psychological power, Night of the Blood Monster aka The Bloody Judge in all of its debauched amoral glory just kind of lays there until its running time is over with.  Christopher Lee fans are inclined to pass on this.  Blue Underground’s release is terrific but this is strictly for Jess Franco disciples only. 

--Andrew Kotwicki