Thursday, 27 May 2010

Jess Franco's The Demons (1972)

The Demons (Les démons) is classic nunsploitation eurosleaze from Jess Franco, dating from 1972. As usual with this sort of movie there’s a political subtext about power and the abuses of power, combined with copious quantities of nudity and sex.

The historical and geographical backgrounds to this one are a bit muddled. It seems to be based partly on the career of the notorious Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys in 17th century England (he was also the subject of Franco’s The Bloody Judge). But it appears to take place at least partly in France and/or Spain, and much of the actions centres on a nunnery, which makes 17th century England an unlikely setting. But hey, this is the movies, so let’s not get too hung up on history and geography.

Two orphaned sisters, Kathleen and Margaret, have been brought up in a nunnery. Their education was paid for by a mysterious anonymous donor, and the truth about their parentage is unknown. In fact their mother had been burnt at the stake as a witch. She had died cursing those whom she blamed for her fate, notably Judge Jeffreys, the powerful Lady De Winter and her henchman Thomas Renfield. Lady De Winter is so concerned about the curse that she decides it might be a good idea to destroy any children of this witch, and she believes that the two young nuns Kathleen and Margaret may be the witch’s daughters.

Lady de Winter and Renfield visit the convent and Kathleen, who has admitted to being troubled by sexual dreams, is accused of witchcraft. But while Lady de Winter is anxious to destroy Kathleen there’s a complication. She’s equally anxious to get this young and very pretty supposed witch into her bed. And Renfield is just as anxious to bed the young nun. Lady de Winter and Renfield have a complicated relationship of their own. They are lovers, and they share all their pleasures. Her ladyship makes it clear that Kathleen is a pleasure that Renfield will not be permitted to keep to himself.

There are numerous plot twists as the unfortunate young nun finds herself imprisoned and tortured, then freed, then recaptured. Several times over. Lady de Winter and Renfield are not the only ones taking a keen interest in her. There’s also a handsome young artist, and Lady de Winter’s father.

While all this is happening Margaret is being called to the service of Satan. After having sex with Satan she promptly seduces the Mother Superior (who has clearly been sexually obsessed by both Kathleen and Margaret).

There are ample opportunities for nuns to disrobe and to cavort in bed with other nuns and with just about anyone else who is available. And Uncle Jess takes advantage of every single opportunity.

The movie boasts a fairly strong cast. Howard Vernon is reliable as ever, playing Lady de Winter’s father Lord Malcolm De Winter. Karin Field is delightfully wicked and lascivious as Lady de Winter. Anne Libert as Kathleen and Britt Nichols as Margaret give solid performances.

This film was apparently banned in Britain until 2008. The torture scenes are fairly graphic, and there’s an extraordinary amount of sex and nudity, but it’s still difficult to imagine why it was ever thought necessary to ban it.

It’s now been released there on DVD by Redemption, in a reasonably impressive-looking transfer.

While the historical details are hopelessly garbled the plot itself is surprisingly coherent. And quite apart from having lots of exploitation elements it’s quite entertaining with plenty of action. This is eurosleaze with extra added sleaze, but it’s fun.

No comments: