Thanks to those delightful folk at Medium Rare Entertainment, lovers of 60s and 70s exploitation have cause to rejoice this month.

The reason? Well, that’s because the company are releasing four gems on DVD for the first time on these shores, kicking off with director Jess Franco’s The Bloody Judge on January 21.

Anybody who has sat through Franco fare before knows exactly what to expect, but if you haven’t the motifs quickly become evident – ropey effects, copious amounts of female nudity and some awful dubbing.

But The Bloody Judge stands shoulders above a huge swathe of the director’s output.

For starters, the whole thing has quite an impressive sheen, with Franco being backed by a sizeable (for his standards) multi-national budget, as well as securing some impressive locations.

The script also crackles, with the whole thing positively rattling along.

And if that was not enough, the film features an inimitable performance from Christopher Lee as the titular character.

To say Lee chews the scenery as Judge Jeffries is probably the biggest understatement I will ever write, with the legendary actor positively devouring everything in his path in a true tour-de-force of a performance.

Set in 1685 England, Jeffries is a ruthless, sadistic judge, travelling from court to court happily dishing out execution orders.

The judge’s antics are further ramped up due to the simmering political situation at the time, with the rule of James II threatened by the potentially-invading William of Orange.1084957

This allows him to sentence a host of poor souls to death for supposed treason, as well as the usual witchcraft etc.

But things get a lot more complicated for Lee’s character when he embroils the son of Lord Wessex, Harry Selton, in one of his treason rants, along with a growing obsession for Selton’s lover, Mary Gray (played by Maria Rohm).

Before long it’s a headlong descent into a spree of torture, brutality, flesh-ripping perversion and some rather gruesome dreams on the part of Jeffries.

Kudos to Medium Rare for producing a cracking disc, with the film’s running time expanded by the inclusion of a number of scenes previously only seen in Germany – although it should be pointed out those scenes do contain German subtitles.

Franco himself, on the DVD’s interview selection, admits The Bloody Judge shifted from a horror movie with a historical backdrop to a historical movie with horror elements during filming, and the flick is all the better for it.

In fact, the stumbling blocks for the film are when the horror or erotic elements are overplayed – some truly ridiculous torture sequences are more laughable than frightening, while a lesbian scene crowbarred in towards the conclusion is simply awful.

But there is so much to enjoy here (heck, you even get a full-scale battle scene) that those faults can be overlooked.

I suppose The Bloody Judge was always going to be assessed alongside the similarly-themed Witchfinder General, and in all honesty it does fail to match up.

But, thanks in the main to a murderously memorable display from Lee, it does make a worthy companion piece to the Vincent Price classic.

 

Extras: As alluded to earlier, there are 20 minutes’ worth of interviews with both Lee and Franco, discussing both the real-life Jeffries as well as the film’s production.

There are also a selection of deleted and alternate scenes, gathered far and wide from the likes of Spanish VHS releases, as well as a picture gallery and a trailer.

 

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.