top of page
  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

Night of the Blood Monster 4K UHD Review



Blue Underground

4K UHD Release: March 26, 2024

Video: 2.35:1/2160p (HDR10/Dolby Vision)/Color

Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

Run Time: 102:38

Director: Jess Franco


Note: Parts of this review are taken from my review of Marquis de Sade’s Justine.


The infamous 17th century Lord Chief Justice Judge Jeffreys (Christopher Lee) has an unholy obsession with a luscious wench (Maria Rohm) that fuels a jaw-dropping spree of torture, brutality, and flesh-ripping perversion. (From Blue Underground’s synopsis)


The period between 1969 and 1973 was arguably the peak of Jesús ‘Jess’ Franco’s 200+ film career, at least in terms of his erotic output, which took a particularly surrealistic turn, just as censorship rules were loosening throughout Europe. Personally, I prefer the period just before this, when he was making poppy, black & white horror, noir, and sci-fi movies, but I can’t exactly disagree with the fans and critics that specifically mark his work with British producer Harry Alan Towers as his most important, at least in terms of recognizability. Franco and Towers partnered for nine movies, shot over only two years between 1968 and 1969, including 99 Women (German: Der heiße Tod; French: Les Brulantes, 1969), The Girl from Rio (German: Die sieben Männer der Sumuru, 1969), Marquis de Sade’s Justine (Italian: Justine ovvero le disavventure della virtùre; aka: Deadly Sanctuary, 1969), Venus in Furs (Italian: Paroxismus - Può una morta rivivere per amore?; German: Schwarzer Engel, 1969), and Eugenie...The Story of Her Journey into Perversion (aka: Marquis de Sade’s Philosophy of the Boudoir, 1970).



Franco’s Towers era began and ended with collaborations with actor Christopher Lee – The Blood of Fu Manchu (German: Der Todeskuss des Dr. Fu Man Chu, 1968), The Castle of Fu Manchu (German: Die Folterkammer des Dr. Fu Man Chu, 1969), Count Dracula (German: Nachts, wenn Dracula erwacht, 1970), and the subject of this review, Night of the Blood Monster (Italian: Il trono di fuoco, 1970), better known as The Bloody Judge. Franco made six movies with Lee and Lee made another six with Towers. By most accounts, the relationship between the three men was difficult, but, between Lee’s professionalism, Franco’s as yet undiluted skill, and a lot of recycled sets, props, and costumes, they managed to close the gap between classy costume drama, the burgeoning adult market, and European horror. Night of the Blood Monster wasn’t the best film in the series or best representation of Franco’s unique filmmaking perspective, but it is an impressive display of will over budget – especially the modest, but ambitious horse cavalry battle scenes, which I assume were a case of Franco making use of Spain’s growing army of spaghetti western stuntmen.


The film drew inspiration from Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General (aka: The Conqueror Worm, 1968). Witchfinder General was a modern horror watershed that brought counterculture grit and cynicism to British horror and gave Vincent Price a chance to stretch his acting skills by playing a real-world villain. Witchfinder General spawned a series of witchburning movies, including rather blatant copycats that emphasized scenes of women being tortured, including Michael Armstrong’s Mark of the Devil (German: Hexen bis aufs Blut gequält, 1970), Bernardo Arias’ The Inquisitor (Spanish: El inquisidor, 1975), and Paul Naschy’s Inquisition (Spanish: Inquisición, 1976). With its castle locations, grand costumes, and deviance, the fad was practically tailor made for Franco and Towers. Add to that Lee’s kinship with Price as a horror icon and Night of the Blood Monster sort of seems inevitable. The only surprise is that Towers got there before Hammer did.



Like Witchfinder General’s Matthew Hopkins, Lee’s character, George Jeffreys, was a real person who lorded over a series of trials known as The Bloody Assizes that occurred in 1695. As the chief justice overseeing the trials of Monmouth rebels, he wasn’t a witchfinder, but he was responsible for punishing treason, culminating in hundreds of deaths via hanging, beheading, drawing & quartering, and burning at the stake. Following the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Jeffreys was thrown into the Tower of London to rot. I don’t know much more about Jeffreys or the assizes, but, despite Lee taking the role seriously (and probably annoying the cast & crew with his extensive research), the movie seems to take a lot of liberties with the actual history for maximum sensationalism and in an effort to connect itself to Witchfinder General and Mark of the Devil; though, again, Jeffreys wasn’t, as far as I know, overseeing witch trials in the traditional sense of the phrase.


Franco made a lot of S&M-type torture movies of his long, long career, including the Fu Manchu movies, and touched back upon witchburning with The Demons (Spanish: Les démons, 1973), which was a shameless cash-in on Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971), but generally preferred sticking to erotica over horror. On this film, he was definitely working in different modes between the dramatic sequences Lee lords over and the sensationalistic scenes of sex and violence that occur when Lee is off-screen. While these alterations in energy and style may indicate the director’s disinterest or willingness to let Lee call the shots during his scenes, it ends up working in the film’s favor, because it characterizes Jeffreys’ evil as banal and the torturous deaths of his victims as chaotic in their depravity.


Bibliography:

  • Obsession: The Films of Jess Franco edited by Lucas Balbo and Peter Blumenstock (Gruf Haufen & Frank Trebbin, 1993)

  • Bizarre Sinema: Jess Franco El Sexo del Horror by Carlos Aguilar (Glittering Images, no copyright date)



Video

As far as I can tell, Night of the Blood Demon never appeared on stateside VHS tape, but Blue Underground released an anamorphic DVD under the Bloody Judge title in 2004. It recently made Blu-ray appearances from Filmjuwelen in Germany (2020), Umbrella in Australia (2022), Artus Films in France (2022), and 88 Films in the UK (2023). I don’t have access to the other discs for a direct comparison, but, given how recently it came out and that it also has the Night of the Blood Monster title, I’m guessing that the 88 Films disc uses a version of the same remaster and more or less matches my sample caps, which are taken from the 1080p Blu-ray copy included with BU’s UHD release. According to BU’s own promo literature, this 2160p was mastered in 4K from “various European vault elements,” which I suppose means negative and positive sources. Like all BU UHDs so far, it also features Dolby Vision HDR enhancements.


Not all of Franco’s films benefit from major 4K restorations, but the ones produced in conjunction with Towers look pretty spectacular across the board, especially based on their small budgets. Night of the Blood Monster is comparable to some of Hammer Studio’s better Gothic horror films in terms of its production design and Manuel Merino’s cinematography. This transfer features rich colors, deep blacks, and some really delicate shadow work, all of which is magnified by the HDR boost. Textures and patterns are complex, but the purposefully softened details aren’t oversharpened. Film grain also appears mostly accurate and picks up during misty and diffused shots. If you’re on the lookout for inconsistencies, you’ll probably notice the occasional dips in clarity (a bit more grain, a hint of ghosting, softened color and dynamic range, et cetera), which I assume indicate the different sources Blue Underground was working from.


As often happened with multi-country co-productions – in this case Spanish, German, and French – there were multiple cuts of the film released to coincide with censorship rules and cinematic trends. This disc features the 102:38 minute international cut, which combines the German and English language export versions. The missing footage, totaling about 10 minutes, have been added to this disc as deleted/alternate scenes.



Audio

Night of the Blood Monster is presented with a single English dub in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono. I’m a little surprised that there isn’t another language option (aside from a couple quick German insert scenes), considering the other Blu-ray and DVDs on the market, but I also can’t imagine wanting to watch the film without Christopher Lee dubbing his own performance. Actually, I suspect a number of his scenes, especially the ones where he’s speaking to other British actors, were filmed using live audio, but I don’t know for sure. The track is very dialogue-driven and there’s surprisingly little buzz, hiss, or inconsistency. The very basic sound effects are muffled in comparison, but never unclear. Bruno Nicolai keeps things classy with chamber music-type cues and doesn’t deviate too far from traditional period melodrama. He gets a few chances to flex his western chops during the battle sequences, in which his soundtrack becomes a critical aural element.



Extras

Disc 1 (4K UHD)

  • Commentary with Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson – The first of three expert tracks is the only Blue Underground exclusive and features the author of Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci and His Films (Midnight Marquee Press, 2015), Howarth, and Mondo Digital head, Thompson, in the latest of dozens of commentary team-ups. Three tracks is a lot of information, so this was definitely a case of me sampling back & forth during a second playthrough. This track covers the careers of the cast & crew, the films that inspired Night of the Blood Monster, various versions of the film (Thompson offers a pretty extensive run-down of the home video releases), the other Franco/Towers collaborations, and Franco’s recycling of Nicolai’s soundtracks.

  • Commentary with Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw – The second track is taken from 88 Films’ Blu-ray and features the authors of Nightmare Movies: Horror on Screen Since the 1960s Paperback (Bloomsbury, 2011 [2nd edition]) and British Crime Writing: An Encyclopedia (Greenwood Pub. Group, 2009), respectively, who also explore the cast & crew’s larger careers – in particular Franco, Lee, and Towers – the real history behind the film, and Franco’s odd relationship with erotic scenes.

  • Commentary with David J. Flint and Adrian Smith – The third track, also from the 88 Films disc, has the critics and veteran commentators doing a fine job covering mostly the same ground as the previous two tracks. 




Disc 2 (Blu-ray copy)

  • Commentary with Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson

  • Commentary with Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw

  • Commentary with David J. Flint and Adrian Smith

  • Bloody Jess (25:08, SD) – This combination of interviews with Franco and Lee was recorded for Blue Underground’s original DVD. Lee treats the interview like a lesson plan about the historical Lord Jeffreys, followed by complaints about the exploitation elements that he claims were added after he was finished (he has nice things to say about Franco himself), while Franco runs down the making of the film with his usual matter-of-fact attitude (though he’s less cynical about this particular movie).

  • Judgement Day (33:32, HD) –  Stephen Thrower, the genre film expert and author of Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jesus Franco (MIT Press, 2015), explores the multi-country/multi-company financing of Night of the Blood Monster and the other Franco/Towers films, Franco’s dueling sense of morality and sadistic voyeurism, the film’s comparatively larger budget, the multiple versions released, the production being inspired by Witchfinder General and Mark of the Devil, Lee’s participation, the work of other major cast members, and filming locations (which by and large still exist). 

  • In The Shadows (24:15, HD) – In the final featurette, Thrower and Killer's Moon (1978) and Don't Open ’Til Christmas (1984) director Alan Birkinshaw (mostly Thrower) break down Harry Alan Towers’ career from radio presenter to television producer and minor film mogul.

  • Deleted and alternate scenes:

  • “Mary's grief” (5:57, SD, Italian with optional English subtitles)

  • Alternate clothed love scene (1:27, SD)

  • Alternate “Jeffreys' nightmare” (0:55, SD)

  • Alternate “Mary's release from dungeon” (1:34, SD)

  • Bloody Judge main titles (2:06, HD)

  • Der Hexentoter Von Blackmoor main titles (2:26, HD, German with optional English subtitles)

  • Alternate German ending (1:53, HD, German with optional English subtitles)

  • Two US trailers and a US TV spot

  • Still galleries – Posters, advertising materials, lobby cards, B&W stills, color stills, home video & soundtrack images



The images on this page are taken from the included BD – NOT the 4K UHD – and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.

0 comments

Comments


bottom of page