Screen Reviews
Night of the Blood Monster

Night of the Blood Monster

directed by Jess Franco

starring Christopher Lee, Howard Vernon, Maria Schell

Blue Underground

Night of the Blood Monster (more widely known as The Bloody Judge) started life as a pretty straightforward historical swashbuckler. When the production added legendary exploitation director Jess Franco (Female Vampire), the film would get much sleazier. Salacious sex, violence, and torture scenes were shot so they could be added or excised as needed to titillate audiences or satisfy censor boards and, of course, to cash in on the success of Michael Reeve’s classic film, The Witchfinder General (1968).

During the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685, Judge George Jeffreys presided over the trials of traitors to the crown. In this version of the events, in the summer of 1685, he also dabbled in witch hunting, with his executioner, Jack Ketch, performing various acts of torture against those accused of witchcraft in the dungeons below the castle. The witch hunting elements, though true to history, are not part of the biographies of Jeffreys or Ketch. In fact, Ketch, with his reputation for sadistic incompetence as an executioner, is far more horrific than anything appearing on screen. His victims suffered needlessly, as he would need multiple tries to finish off his gruesome work. It was appalling and ghastly, even by 17th-century standards. In this film, Ketch, played with hammy zeal by Howard Vernon, is pretty much confined to the dungeons, carrying out depraved torture on beautiful women. All the while, Christopher Lee as Jeffreys is playing his scenes like he is in a serious period piece. There are some clear aspirations for a high-quality product, though budget limitations ultimately win out. This is apparent especially in the battle scenes that were just too ambitious for the price, though Franco makes great use of location shooting, as real castles just look more impressive than sets, especially cheap ones. The end result is an entertaining, if schizophrenic, piece of cinema.

Long before someone coined the phrase “Boutique Blu-ray,” hell, before Blu-ray, William Lustig’s Blue Underground label was producing high-end DVD releases of low-grade cinema, preserving and celebrating the films of the American drive-in and urban Grindhouse theaters. They were one of the first and are still leading the way with stunning releases packed with materials that essentially create a film school in a box.

Night of the Blood Monster, with shiny new restoration in 4K UHD and standard Blu-ray in the same package, features three audio commentaries and interviews with Kim Newman, Stephen Thrower, Barry Forshaw, Troy Howarth, and others. This is the longest and most complete version of The Bloody Judge /Night of the Blood Monster ever released on video. Previous versions clock in at 84 minutes, while this release is nearly 20 minutes longer. This disc may be the only time all of this footage has been put together in any completed form, making this a “final cut” of the film. ◼

Blue Underground


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