Latarnia presents CASTILIAN CRIMSON
The Spanish Horror Film






Director: Jesus Franco
Screenplay: Enrico Colombo, Jesus Franco
Photography: Manuel Marino
Music: Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Christopher Lee, Leo Genn, Maria Schell, Maria Rohm, Margaret Lee, Diana Lorys, Howard Vernon
Co-production of Spain, Italy, West Germany
Running time: 104 minutes
Technicolor, Techniscope

Review of Blue Underground DVD
copyright 2003 by Robert Monell

It is 1685 and England quakes under the rule of James II while William of Orange plans an invasion from Holland. Meanwhile, the King's Lord Chancellor, Judge George Jeffreys (Christopher Lee) dispenses harsh sentences to those accused to breaking the letter of the law.

The Crown Jewel of the Christopher Lee Collection this is a terrific DVD presentation of one of Jess Franco's most uneven, yet, in the end, rewarding and fascinating works. A good DVD gives us a superior transfer from good original elements, uncut, in proper aspect ration and supported by pertinent and informative extras. A great DVD gives us all that and a number of different ways to watch, experience and reflect on the film we have just viewed. It can be a double disc containing uncut,alternate or a high quality composite versions. BU's disc is a great DVD because it is an absolutely stunning transfer of the definitive version of this Harry Alan Tower's exploitation of Michael Reeves' WITCHFINDER GENERAL while providing us a choice of ways in which to view this composite. It's BETTER than a "Director's Cut", since Franco obviously was filming different versions for different international venues.

This can rightfully be termed the BLUE UNDERGROUND cut,a tribute to the intelligence and dedication of its creators in that they have simultaneously preserved Tower's exploitation agenda, Franco's personal and artistic struggles with that agenda and revealed a truly Sadean melodrama which (although obviously cut-rate) works as a historical epic, grindhouse item and restores those "scenes of extraordinary depravity" Lee has so famously mentioned over the years.

The scenario, credited to Anthony Scott Veitch,from a story by Peter Welbeck (Towers), follows the WITCHFINDER GENERAL template of having a young, attractive innocent couple, Mary (Maria Rohm) and the rebel sympathizer Harry Wessex (Hans Hass Jr) pursued by the agents of Jeffreys until history itself does "The Bloody Judge" in. There's little doubt that Michael Reeves' film is the finer, more historically important (considering the young director's iconoclastic, visionary talent and his premature death) film but Franco was equally iconoclastic,a Spanish rebel to boot and what this DVD reveals is exactly how he made the JUDGE dance to his own tune.

First and foremost: there are no "innocents" in the Franco filmography and it is a tribute to the underrated talent of Ms. Rohm that she is able to create such a guileless character in the midst of endemic erotic turmoil. The most telling irony (now obvious in the fully restored ending where Jeffreys utters "I never knew" as he witnesses his own justice before dying) is that the Bloody Judge himself is the most naive of all the characters as to the consequences of his actions. Lee's magisterial performance illustrates Pascal's paradox: "There are two kinds of men--the righteous who believe they are wicked, and the wicked who believe they are righteous." Even more engrossing is the gallery of henchmen and suspects who haunt the periphery: Maria Schell's spectral witch, Margaret Lee's tragic and lovely Alicia, Jose Maria Prado's lusty Palafox, Milo Quesada's wormy Satchell and Howard Vernon's enthusiastic Inquisitor, Jack Ketch. Vernon almost steals the show now that his performance has been fully restored via additional footage of his torture chamber and chopping block antics. Dressed in black from head to toe, with huge boots and topped off with a hood, he suggests a shriveled, aged, proto-fascist version of John Philip Law's Diabolik. Here's man for whom torture is SEX and vice-versa. The unbridled glee and his obsessive movements as he tortures Margaret Lee tell us all we need to know about his pathology. In a way, he's the unrepressed Id seemingly sprung from Jeffrey's own tortured soul. The most notorious of the restored scenes is the long "blood licking" prison interlude wherein Mary must orally comfort the open wounds of a recently tortured female inmate. As she gently tongues the nude woman who is hung up by her wrists Bruno Nicolai's intensely Romantic and tender main theme transforms what was intended as savage sexploitation into Sadean irony. This long lost scene, presented here in German with English subtitles (as if THAT mattered in these circumstances) is one of the most perfect examples of Franco's personal brand of Sadisterotica and contrasts instructively with the film's other great sequence, the battle in the forest where rebels are tumbled off charging horses by the Royal cannon. It will be up to the discerning viewer to decide if the latter, as Tim Lucas suggests in the his comprehensive liner notes, proves "...beyond a shadow of doubt, who was responsible for the combat scenes of Orson Welles'...THE CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT (1966), whose second unit Franco had supervised." It almost made me into a believer and does prove that Franco could stand toe to toe with the best action directors from Hollywood. What? Franco as an superior action director!? Now that we can see these scenes in 2.35:1 scope one is led to speculate just what may have followed had Franco relocated to Hollywood in 1970 instead of going his own way. Not that Franco's skill in any way impedes his obvious interest in the torture (one of the several essential'photo galleries show the director gleefully applying studio blood to chained victims while being teased by Ms Rohm and other cast members) and "extreme" elements, such as having Satchell "punished" by his former victims who, at the gorgeous Diana Lorys'(Wanda Bronsky in Franco's first horror film, GRITOS EN LA NOCHE-1961) behest proceed to chew the skin off the unfortunate toady. Another still established THE BLOODY JUDGE was in production during the summer (August) of 1969, high season for Euro-sexploitation gorefests intended for US drive-in venues, where I drove OUT of the cut version NIGHT OF THE BLOOD MONSTER in the summer of 1971. I saw only the ragged remains of the summer before and a Portuguese lensed "false" version of a film I admired.

Lee was lucky enough to have an actor the caliber of Leo Genn (CIRCUS OF FEAR; LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN) playing opposite him as the wily Earl of Wessex. Their testy dialogues hover over the mayhem," We try our best.." "..God save us from your worst", imparting the proceedings with much needed dramatic gravitas.

After a conventional "happy ending" -- Mary saved,the revolt consummated, we are left with the tragedy of a man who meant to do his level best to serve his country. But it is the abyss between intention, however sincere, and the labyrinths of pathology in which Franco places his camera. He is both more and less memorable than Vincent Price's Matthew Hopkins, whose historical person died a generation before the rule of "The Bloody Judge", and as Franco makes clear in the documentary "Bloody Jess" that IS his preferred title.

The Alternative Scenes including a Spanish language video clip of 6m showing Mary being rescued from suicide by Harry give us the full 1 hr 50m runtime Franco has alluded to in some previous interview, although the disc runs 104 minutes. Just as crucial are a "clothed" alternate of the lover's making it in the hay (for once, Franco may have preferred this to the nudity) and the complete, very different credit sequence to the German language version, DER HEXENTOTER VON BLACKMOOR (Franco really has some fun with THIS titling in his documentary comments), which depict the credits amidst flames (THE BEYOND, anyone) and segue into Lee beside a basin, a scene which appears in the middle of THE BLOODY JUDGE. And there's so much more: international theatrical trailers, TV spot, poster and still galleries,talent bios and the documentary face-off between Lee and Franco is breathtaking to behold. What the BLUE UNDERGROUND cut finally reveals is the truly Sadean vision that the direct Sade adaptation JUSTINE failed at delivering. If you are a Jess Franco fan it's a GREAT DVD; if you are a 60's exploitation fan it's a GREAT DVD; if you are a Spanish horror completist it's a GREAT DVD. And if you're NOT a Jess Franco fan it's a GREAT DVD because it will demonstrate his role in the history of exploitation and may get you to reconsider your position.

Reviewed by Robert Monell, copyright 2003