Color, 1970, 102 mins. 33 secs. / 89 mins. 29 secs.
Directed by Jess Franco
Starring Christopher Lee, Maria Rohm, Leo Genn, Maria Schell, Hans Hass Jr., Margaret Lee, Milo Quesada
Blue Underground (UHD, Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 4K/HD/NTSC), Koch Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL), 88 Films (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Umbrella (DVD) (Australia R0 PAL), Mediumrare (DVD) (UK R2 PAL), Sinister Film (DVD) (Italy R2 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9), Salvation Films (DVD) (UK R0 PAL) / WS (2.35:1)

An ambitious attempt to cash in on the wave of religious persecution horror so prevalent in the late '60s, The Bloody JudgeThe Bloody JudgeJess Franco’s glossy, sprawling historical horror melodrama lies somewhere between the lofty aspirations of Michael Reeves’s Witchfinder General and the unabashed sleazy wallowing of Mark of the Devil. Filmed luxuriously in scope during Franco’s tenure with notorious producer Harry Alan Towers, what was originally entitled The Bloody Judge was slapped with a ridiculous title change (Night of the Blood Monster) and shuffled off to US drive-ins on a double bill with various Hammer titles like Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb. Unfortunately, this version was also hacked down to receive a ‘PG’ rating, with a slew of other variants in existence from country to country even throughout the home video age.

During the reign of King James II, the stern Lord George Jeffries (Lee) oversees the trials and persecutions of local witches while dealing with the delicate political balances of various warring factions. The waffling Earl of Wessex (Genn) watches it all with a degree of irritation, while his son, Harry (Hass, Jr.), carries on an affair with Mary (Franco regular Rohm), the sister of a condemned witch, Alicia (Lee). Meanwhile, in proper Macbeth fashion, a blind prophet in a cave, Mother Rosa (Schell), frequently intones about the various miseries that will befall the land before a change in power. In the meantime, Jeffries uses his wicked disciple, the hysterically named Satchel The Bloody Judge(Quesada), to do his bidding and keep all those witches under control.

Rather than presenting Jeffries as an utterly corrupt, self-aware psychopath like Vincent Price in Witchfinder General, Franco takes the odd approach of depicting the historically based The Bloody Judgefigure as a man so firm in his beliefs and warped principles that he doesn’t comprehend the full damage being inflicted by his gavel. Unfortunately this treatment also makes him a less menacing and compelling figure, despite Lee’s usual commanding performance (mostly confined to sitting behind benches and desks). Otherwise the story is pretty much the same as Reeves’, with a young couple (Rohm and German actor Hans Hass Jr.) torn apart by the misguided religious persecutions inflicted by blind justice. The Bloody Judge also bears a resemblance at times to another Franco/Towers production, Justine, by playing like a costume melodrama punctuated with an odd nasty torture scene that seems to have strayed in from a different movie.

The first DVD out of the gate from Redemption sublabel Salvation in the U.K. in 2000 was notable for containing one fairly strong, bloody sequence with Alicia’s barely covered body being tortured on the rack by Franco stalwart Howard Vernon (in a very funny costume), but otherwise there was precious little violence or sex in this so-so, non-anamorphic letterboxed release clocking in at 89 minutes. The German edition, The Witchhunter of Blackmoor (Der Hexentöter von Blackmoor), featured many additional topless and torture scenes (primarily with Ms. Rohm), and this footage was incorporated into the English version for Blue Underground’s much The Bloody Judgelonger, sleazier edition first issued on DVD in 2003. The transfer itself is nothing short of miraculous for anyone accustomed to those bad bootlegs over the years. Generously letterboxed and remarkably clean considering its age, the film looks fantastic from start to finish. The mono soundtrack is fine if unspectacular, with Bruno Nicolai’s rich score (possibly the best thing about the film) surviving intact. Extras include a "Bloody Jess" featurette (25m7s) with Franco and Lee reminiscing about the historical Jeffries and working with Towers, a dupey 5m50s additional sequence from the Spanish version (pulled from VHS) featuring Rohm's grief-stricken suicide attempt and a lot of Hass beefcake, four short alternate scenes (including the clothed version of the barn encounter), two U.S. trailers and a combo trailer, a TV spot, eight galleries (posters, German lobby cards, U.S. lobby cards, publicity stills, behind-the-scenes stills, U.S. press book, soundtrack The Bloody Judgebooklet, and video releases), and talent bios.

In 2022, Koch Films released an elaborate five-disc set in Germany featuring two Blu-rays, two DVDs, and a soundtrack CD. The first Blu-ray features the "international cut" (102m40s), identical content-wise to what was on the Blue Underground disc, featuring the Night of the Blood Monster title card and English and German audio and subtitle options. The second Blu-ray is devoted to the German version (79m4s), obviously in German only and featuring a wildly different, striking main title sequence over lots of flames; extras on that disc include the usual three trailers and TV spot, a German promo material gallery, the extra Spanish sequence (in scope and much better quality), and a German-language appraisal by Christian Kessler (4m37s). Disc three is a DVD of an "integrale fassung" (104m8s) adding the Spanish sequence back in but running faster due to PAL speed; a 2m14s comparison of the alternate scenes is also included. Finally disc four is a DVD featuring an expanded version of the "Franco-philes" featurette (65m19s) first seen on 88 Films' Devil Hunter, plus the 31m40s German Super 8 version of the main feature.

In 2023, 88 Films brought the film to U.K. Blu-ray as The Bloody Judge featuring the usual 102-minute version (with fleeting subtitled German dialogue), and as with the German release, it's locked for Region B. Extras include two audio commentaries, the first with Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw and the second with David Flint and Adrian Smith. Video-wise you get "In The Bloody Judgethe Shadows - Alan Birkinshaw and Stephen Thrower on Harry Alan Towers" (24m15s) analyzing the legendary globe-hopping producer, the main titles as The Bloody Judge, the deleted and The Bloody Judgealternate scenes, one trailer, and a gallery.

Finally we get to the film's global UHD premiere as a two-disc release from Blue Underground in 2024 with a Blu-ray as well. Apparently going off of the main title sequence, it's now officially Night of the Blood Monster for better or worse, and this marks the most impressive presentation yet of the 102-minute cut. Detail is exceptional virtually throughout (some of the German bits are a tad lesser but not significantly), and the colors are deep and rich with some particularly striking blue skies. Go for the UHD option if possible as the HDR10-compatible Dolby Vision makes a nice difference here. Audio is presented in DTS-HD 1.0 English mono with optional English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles. The film also comes with both of the U.K. audio commentaries, plus a new one with this writer and Troy Howarth that can't be appraised here; hopefully all three tracks will prove unique and worth a listen. The Blu-ray houses the rest of the extras including the "Bloody Jess" and "In the Shadows" featurettes, the deleted and alternate scenes (here adding the German main titles and ending), the trailers and TV spot, and still galleries. The big new extra here is "Judgement Day" (33m32s), another excellent, in-depth Franco plunge with Thrower (sans beard) who examines the reasons for the film's odd tone and genre approach, the state of the Franco-Towers partnership during a very prolific nine-film period, the opulence of the budget for a Franco film, the peculiar nature of its international funding (including the whole Lichtenstein thing), and much, much more.

Blue Underground (UHD)