Color, 1973, 118 mins. 4 secs. / 88 mins. 6 secs.
Directed by Jess Franco
Starring Anne Libert, Britt Nichols, Doris Thomas, Karin Field, John Foster, Luis Barboo, Howard Vernon, Alberto Dalbés
Nucleus Films (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Kino Lorber (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Salvation Films (DVD) (UK R0 PAL), X-Rated Kult (DVD) (Germany R0 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

One The Demonsof the more perplexing films in the The DemonsJess Franco filmography for many years was his French production, Les demons (The Demons), which not only picks up on elements of his previous The Bloody Judge (itself a riff on Witchfinder General) but draws a little inspiration from Ken Russell’s infamous The Devils (though only a sliver) and drive-in staple Mark of the Devil. However, the film wound up being released in a baffling multitude of different edits, some clocking in under 80 minutes with over a third of the two-hour film hacked away. On top of that many encountered it on VHS where its careful, very expansive scope compositions were diced to pieces, making it impossible to enjoy on any level apart from its distinctive and sometimes psychedelic score by "Jean-Bernard Raiteux" (culled from Jean-Michel Lorgere's epic library LP, Trafic Pop).

Having apparently learned nothing from every other witch burning in history, some accusers decide to hang around when an old woman gets burned at the stake and promptly places a curse on Lady De Winter (Field), Lord Jeffries (Foster),  and Thomas Renfield (Dalbés). Specifically, she intones that her daughters will avenge her after their prolonged inquisition that left her body decimated. The DemonsYears later, young convent novice Margaret (A Virgin Among the Living Dead's Nichols) feels something funny’s going on when she’s The Demonsplagued by inexplicable nightmares, and her sister, budding pagan libertine Kathleen (Libert), gets flagged as the town witch despite being a sister of the cloth in progress as well. Since they’re both beautiful and mysterious – and, as it turns out, the rejected daughters of that executed witch – it’s easy to seduce and entrap those responsible, especially when every other women in sight is harboring same-sex impulses.

As opposed to many witch-themed films, Franco’s makes no bones about going full-on supernatural with its content including an appearance by Satan himself and the visually bizarre gimmick of a death kiss that turns its victims into skeletons (or less). In typical fashion the director also tosses in lots of outside literary references with character names like De Quincey, Renfield, and of course De Winter. It's a fascinating and beguiling film if you just roll along with it and don't worry too much about historical accuracy (or traditional good taste); it's really Franco through and through, particularly with the Sadean focus on contrasting sisters being lured by the "dark" outcasts of society (a la Justine). Of course the obligatory torture scenes are included as well, though they're more an excuse to showcase nudity than indulge in gross-out shocks like some of its more infamous predecessors. The Demons

Long available on home video but rarely in a version that could be called even remotely watchable, The Demons confounded lots of VHS treasure hunters with its heavily cut and very, very zoomed-in Unicorn tape release in the U.S. packaged in an eye-catching clamshell box. In the U.K. it The Demonsfinally turned up from Redemption in a 104-minute "director's cut," basically splitting the difference between the French version (the longest of all possible variants) and the drastically shortened English version, which fluctuated between 79 and 88 minutes depending on where you saw it. A German double-disc DVD set featured the French and the director's, though only the latter was English friendly, plus a Spanish version with an overhauled, less effective soundtrack. Additional outtakes, alternate scenes, and trailers were included on that release as well.

In 2014, Franco's film debuted on Blu-ray from Redemption Films via Kino Lorber in its longest possible version, in French with English subtitles. Image quality is a vast improvement over past releases, with the full image on display in fine quality and the superior French version track (LPCM mono) finally viewable with English subtitles. The main extra is "Jess's Demons" (16m18s) with the now deceased director is as candid as always, interviewed by Severin Film's David Gregory and recalling his producer Robert de Nesle used films as a way to get girls and come up with the idea of cashing in on The Devils. He isn't such a fan of the finished product but seems enthused about the actors he got to work with, and he also touches on his own views of S&M ("I don't want to hurt anybody"). Watch for the funny cigarette lighting break, too. Two trailers and a reel The Demons(10m15s) of alternate and excised footage are also included.

In 2018, U.K. label Nucleus Films revisited Franco's film and gave it a generously expanded special edition containing not only the French cut but the reconstructed 88-minute one as well, which is valuable both for comparison purposes (including its alternative editing choices) and the The Demonspresence of familiar voices on the dub track. Most significantly, they've also done a massive amount of work on the film itself in both its variants, fixing a number of audio and video issues including missing and incorrectly mixed sound effects and adjusting some transitions including one pivotal dissolve effect. Image quality is excellent, not surprisingly, and the French track is presented in both an LPCM mono option and a 2.0 stereo DTS-HD choice, with optional English subtitles.

In the new "Exorcising Demons" (22m50s), Stephen Thrower (author of the essential Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jesús Franco) points out the fact that witch hunters in this film are in fact justified in light of the genuinely harmful dark witchcraft at play, covers the film's wrangling with the BBFC, defends the highly unorthodox (and epic) music choices, and tries to parse out the multiple versions floating around out there. The English, French (silent), and two German trailers are included along with a reel (6m36s) of stills and poster art, a less repetitive silent batch (6m27s) of outtake footage originally compiled to be cut into trailers, a German title sequence, and bonus trailers for The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein, Death Laid an Egg and Lady Frankenstein.

Reviewed on September 30, 2018