Night of the Blood Monster 4K UHD/ Blu-ray Review

Written by Robert Gold

Blu-ray released by Blue Underground

Directed by Jess Franco
Written by Enrico Colombo, Jess Franco and Michael Haller
1970, 103 minutes, Not Rated
Released on March 26th, 2024

Starring:
Christopher Lee as Judge George Jeffries
Maria Schell as Mother Rosa
Leo Genn as Lord Wessex
Hans Hass as Harry
Maria Rohm as Mary
Margaret Lee as Alicia
Howard Vernon as Jack Ketch

Review:

In 1685, Lord High Chief Justice George Jeffries is a cruel man serving King James II, protecting the Crown from rebellious uprisings, conspirators and those suspected of practicing witchcraft. Jeffries will condemn anyone he believes guilty themselves or by association. Torture on the rack is followed by either public hanging or burning alive at the stake, depending on the crime. Following the trial of her sister Alicia, Mary is also suspected of being a witch, but takes comfort in the arms of a rebellious young man named Harry. An uprising is coming and Harry plans to help take down the diabolical judge and topple the monarchy.

Night of the Blood Monster (aka The Bloody Judge, aka Il trono di fuoco) is inspired by true events involving the very real Judge George Jeffreys. He was a cruel man by all accounts, but felt his actions honorable in the line of service to his King. The great Christopher Lee (Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Horror Express) gives a command performance as the tyrannical judge, bringing a sense of intimidating authority to the character. Lee has stated this is one of his favorite roles and it is easy to see why. On one hand, the film is primarily a period drama with action sequences and horror overtones. But in the hands of director Jess Franco (Vampyros Lesbos, Bloody Moon), the picture is stuffed with extended sequences of graphic torture and nudity, something of which Lee greatly disapproved.

Franco made nine pictures for producer Harry Alan Towers, and this is the most ambitious, complex and expensive The director co-wrote the screenplay for The Bloody Judge with Enrico Colombo (Scream of the Demon Lover) and Michael Haller (The Castle of Fu Manchu), and secured financing from international sources, including Great Britain, France, Italy, Spain and West Germany. The script was tailored to appeal to each market, resulting in at least five different cuts of the finished film. The British censors removed the violence and nudity while the Germans kept all the salacious content and dropped some plot points. By the time the film played in the United States (two years later), it was saddled with the preposterous title Night of the Blood Monster and released to the drive-in circuit minus all the exploitation elements and with a PG rating!

This movie was made at an interesting time in cinema as it no doubt found inspiration in the success of the Michael Reeves/Vincent Price picture Witchfinder General (1968). Night of the Blood Monster also borrows from the classic Boris Karloff chiller Tower of London (1939) and was shot at roughly the same time as Michael Armstrong’s similarly themed (and equally brutal) Mark of the Devil (1970). Franco frequently pushed the envelope with his pictures and isn’t subtle with his anti-authority/anti-establishment message either, as the cruel, hypocritical judge crushes the idealistic youth movement.

Night of the Blood Monster has something for everyone, including large battle scenes, gratuitous nudity, disturbing violence and an eye toward historical accuracy. As to the violence, the tone is set right away with the torture of Alicia, the sequence running over three minutes, which can be a long time to linger on the unpleasant. Christopher Lee did not participate in any of the torture scenes and a double was used for his more intimate scenes, as he found the material distasteful. This release of the film is a composite of all the versions, creating something close to a definitive version. There are some scenes in German without translation since this is the only source available. Genre fans will find a lot to like, be they devoted Christopher Lee fans or are curious to see Jess Franco working on a grand scale or are totally new to Euro-horror.

Video and Audio:

Presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the film has undergone a stunning new 4K restoration by Blue Underground and has never looked better. The picture is reference quality, and the UHD disc comes with both Dolby Vision and HDR grades in native 4K. Colors are bold and pop off the screen while black levels are inky. There is an impressive amount of small-object detail, and flesh tones appear natural throughout. I cannot say enough about the restoration, as this composite version was created from multiple sources, with picture quality blending seamlessly throughout. I would love to see a featurette on the work that went into constructing the composite edit.

A DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono track delivers a crisp, clean mix free from hiss, pops or other distortion. Audio levels are well-balanced with dialogue always understandable and music cues powerful without being intrusive. As stated above, two short scenes were pulled from a German source and the dialogue is in untranslated German. For the rest of the picture, optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.

Special Features:

Disc 1: (4K UHD) Feature Film and Extras

The majority of the supplemental content is found on the Blu-ray in this set. What we do get on the UHD is a trio of audio commentaries; the first featuring film historians Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson, the second with historians Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw, the third with scholars David Flint and Adrian Smith. All three commentaries are engaging and informative, loaded with behind-the-scenes trivia about the cast, crew and the production. There is a lot of overlap, as everyone covers similar ground, including facts about Jess Franco, Christopher Lee, Judge Jeffreys, the numerous edits and titles, and where this film sits in the pantheon of horror cinema.

Disc 2: (Blu-ray) Feature Film and Extras

This disc contains the same three audio commentaries found on the UHD disc.

The featurette Bloody Jess (26 minutes) catches up with Christopher Lee and Jess Franco, discussing the history of Judge Jeffreys and how this production came together. Franco is speaking French with English subtitles.

Judgement Day (34 minutes) is an archival interview with author Stephen Thrower (Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jess Franco) talking about Franco’s career as a whole and specifically this film.

Thrower returns alongside filmmaker Alan Birkinshaw to discuss the work of producer Harry Alan Towers in the segment In the Shadows (25 minutes).

There is a collection of four deleted and three alternate scenes (18 minutes) including a tame love scene with the actors clothed for American audiences.

Two US trailers and a TV spot are also included.

A collection of photo galleries spotlighting international poster art and other advertising materials, lobby cards and production stills in both color and black and white provide a look at the marketing campaign.

Grades:

Movie: Cover
Video:
Audio:
Features:
Overall: 4.5 Star Rating

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Robert Gold
Staff Reviewer
Robert's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
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