The Bloody Judge (1970)
“Horror will hold you helpless!”
The Bloody Judge (1970)
Director: Jess Franco
Cast: Christopher Lee, Maria Schell, Leo Genn
Synopsis: A sadistic witch hunter carves a path of terror through the once-peaceful countryside in 17th-century England.
The infamous Jess Franco, whose output at the time of writing totalled close to 200 movies, evidently still had aspirations as a serious filmmaker when he made this period drama to cash in on the success of Witchfinder General, but he wasn’t beyond inserting frequent episodes of soft-porn – of which he apparently neglected to inform his star, Christopher Lee (To the Devil a Daughter, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) until after shooting was complete. The result is a curious mash-up of history lesson and sleaze that fails to satisfy on either level.
The story, such as it is, has Lee playing the historical figure of Judge Jeffries, a sadistic purveyor of the law who seemed to delight in condemning comely young wenches to burn at the stake. However, the political landscape in 17th Century Britain is changing, and James II is about to be usurped by William of Orange, leaving Jeffries in a vulnerable position that he refuses to acknowledge. Despite the title, Jeffries’ situation pretty much serves as a sub-plot to a tepid love affair between Harry Sefton (Hans Hass), the son of Lord Wessex (Leo Genn – The Mackintosh Man, Frightmare), and young Mary (Maria Rohm – The Blood of Fu Manchu), whose sister was one of Jeffries’ victims.
Anyone who has seen a Franco movie will pretty much know what to expect in terms of plot and quality. The story is played fairly straight to begin with, but it’s as if even Franco grows bored of the tedious pace with which the muddled plot unfolds and decides to spice things up with gratuitous female nudity. Most of this involves an unsavoury focus on violence towards women, including beatings and rape. Many of these scenes in the version of the film that I watched (there are many, apparently) were in German, as if two versions of the movie had been spliced together. Despite the attempts at respectability and relatively high production values for a Franco production, no attempt is made to add any depth to the characters. Jeffries is simply a sadistic monster with no human emotions whatsoever, and no back-story to speak of.
There’s little to recommend about The Bloody Judge. Lee gives an acceptable account of himself, but the part restricts him to a one-note performance. The young leads are bland, although Rohm, a regular star of Franco’s movies, looks delectable. The period costumes look reasonably authentic, and Franco’s direction is just about adequate, but the story is so dull that even the pluses provide only passing diversions. One to miss unless you’re some kind of masochistic Franco completist.
(Reviewed 15th March 2012)