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The Bloody Judge
Il Trono di Fuoco / Der Hexentöter von Blackmoor / El Juez Sangriento / Night of the Blood Monster

UK/Italy/Spain/West Germany 1970
produced by
Harry Alan Towers for Towers of London, Fénix Cooperativa Cinematográfica, Prodimex Film, Terra Filmkunst
directed by Jess Franco
starring Christopher Lee, Maria Rohm, Leo Genn, Maria Schell, Margaret Lee, Hans Hass jr, Horard Vernon, Peter Martell (= Pietro Martellanza), Milo Quesada, Diana Lorys
screenplay by Anthony Scott Veitch, based on a story by Peter Welbeck (= Harry Alan Towers), music by Bruno Nicolai

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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1685, at a time when King James II & William of Orange fought for the throne of Britain: At this time, Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys (Christopher Lee), loyal to King James, ruled the West of England with terror, torturing, killing & burning people as witches like nobody's business, mostly innocent commoners whom he deemed guilty by suspicion. Innocent people like Alicia (Margaret Lee), whose only fault it was to be caught with the wrong man at the wrong time.

Her sister Mary (Maria Rohm) even pleads for her, but when Jeffreys asks for sexual favours in exchange for her sister, she is shocked & refuses ... & thus Alicia is burned.

Later, Jeffreys finds out that Mary has a relationship with Harry (Hans Hass jr), the son of the Earl of  Wessex (Leo Genn), who despite being a King's loyalist (or so one thinks) has long been a thorne in the side of Jeffreys. So Jeffreys decides to accuse Mary of being a witch, and, under the pretencethat he suspects Harry of being bewitched, arrests hjim too. Even when Wessex presents him with a letter of pardon for his son, Jeffreys remains unimpressed, claiming the letter is merely a suggestion.

In prison, Harry & Mary & especially their fellow prisoners, have to undergo the most brutal of tortures ... until Jeffreys gets horny again & promises Mary to set her lover free in exchange for sexual favours. But after sex, he seems to have somehow mislaid his noble intentions ...

Ultimately, Harry can organize a prisoners' revolt, that ends in the chief guard Satchel (Milo Quesada) being eaten alive, & when they have at last made it out of prison, they realize that William of Orange has already conquered the throne, with the help of none other than the Earl of Wessex.

King james II has fled the country, & suggests that Jeffreys, whom he has just made Lord Chancellor, to do the same - but self-righteous Jeffreys sees himself as a mere servant of the law, whom nobody can harm.

In the end, he sits imprisoned in the Tower & from his window sees Jack Ketch (Howard Vernon), once his own faithful executioner, hang a man ... & Jeffreys knows he is next, when a merciful heart attack saves him from the gallows ... but not from death ...

 

After the incredible success of Witchfinder General, producer Harry Alan Towers (like many others) decided to jump the bandwagon, & chose the historical Judge Jeffreys - even in his time dubbed the Bloody Judge - as cut-out material for his film. True, Jeffreys never did burn people as witches in real life, but behaviour as judge was at least as arbitrary as that of a genuine witchhunter (truth to be told, the references to witchhunting in the film do not quite fit in with the rest of the story, even if one has never heard of the historical figure).

The film marks one of the few occasions where Jess Franco did have sufficient money, excellent actors & impressive sets (historic Portuguese buildings admirably doubling for 17th century Britain) for a film ... & Bloody Judge really proves to be a well-crafted violent historical drama - but the film falls between a few too many stools (which Jess franco later himself remarked in an interview): It tries to be historical drama, torture travelogue, horror film & erotic cinema all at the same time, with different versions for different countries always emphasizing more on one aspect or the other. Also large portions of the film look rather impersonal, like ready-made historical drama, only in a few erotic scenes does Franco's real genius away from the mainstream really shine through.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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