Although Spanish B-movie director Jesús Franco’s career seems to represent quantity over quality—he’s credited on IMDb with helming over 200 projects—his exuberant way of telling pulpy stories has gained many admirers. Plus, every so often, Franco came dangerously close to making a “real” movie, despite never leaving the ghetto of exploitation films. For instance, The Bloody Judge offers a fairly serious look at a grim chapter in history, even if the project seems as if it was designed to piggyback on the notoriety of the Vincent Price picture Witchfinder General (1968). Like the earlier film, The Bloody Judge is about a 17th-century jurist who employs heresy as an all-purpose accusation with which to pressure victims into providing financial, political, and/or sexual favors. Yet while stylish UK director Michael Reeves elevated Witchfinder General into high drama, Franco stays mired in the muck. The Bloody Judge has coherent dialogue scenes and a reasonable plot with intense moral ramifications, but it also contains prurient torture scenes that accentuate beautiful women. Try as he might to incorporate highbrow elements, Franco seems fundamentally more interested in the trashy aspects of this story.
In any event, horror-cinema icon Christopher Lee plays Jeffries, a cold-hearted inquisitor tasked with rooting out witches in rural England. At the beginning of the story, lovely Alice Gray (Margaret Lee) is captured fornicating with a lover and brought before Jeffries. Alice’s sister, Mary (Maria Rohm), pleads with Jeffries for mercy, but refuses his proposed trade of sex for clemency. Jeffries has Alice burned at the stake. This sets in motion a complex series of political machinations, because Jeffries gets embroiled in a power struggle with an aristocrat, Lord Wessex (Leo Genn), who resents being kept under the imperious Jeffries’ thumb. Meanwhile, Mary maneuvers to get justice in her late sister’s name. The plot’s a bit hard to follow, and this problem is exacerbated by long stretches during which Lee is offscreen; like so many B-movies, The Bloody Judge teases the presence of a star, then devotes most of its screen time to supporting actors.
The movie also rides a fine line because Franco’s filming of torture scenes is sleazy but not stomach-turning. It’s as if the director can’t decide whether The Bloody Judge is a genre movie with historical components or a historical picture with genre elements. Accordingly, The Bloody Judge is unlikely to entirely satisfy fans of either serious cinema or schlock. Still, the subject matter is interesting, the supporting performances are lusty, and Lee glowers in his inimitable fashion. For no discernible reason, by the way, the picture was released in the US as Night of the Blood Monster, hence the absurd poster pictured above, which has nothing to do with the story.
The Bloody Judge: FUNKY