Friday, January 14, 2011

Les demons (1972)

"While Lorna was Franco's most over the top and fevered film for de Nesle, some of the others, like The Demons and Sinner (both 1972), come pretty close to its creative outrage. The Demons was one of those 1970's films that used witch-hunting as an excuse for sadistic sexual shenanigans. It was less flat than the earlier Der Hexentö ter von Blackmoor (Night of the Blood Monster; 1969), which tackled a similar subject. Despite lashings of dungeon scenes and pernicious nipple torture it had some joyous overtones. The demons, or witches, of the title were lusty catalysts of desire who writhed around with tumescent vigour. Unlike other films inspired by Ken Russell's The Devils, these demonic nuns weren't neurotic figures, they were more like unstoppable forces of nature. In contrast, the witchfinders were one-dimensional power brokers, puritans, who in the end were defeated by their own repressions. In another break from most period films, the music in The Demons wasn't ambient or medieval, it was pure European progressive rock, with plenty of rapid bongo beating, scattershot guitar solos and atonal bowing and bending on the strings. Twenty years on, it adds a kitsch quality to the proceedings, making the film ripe for rediscovery....
"The Demons is basically another Women in Prison film. There's the same heated bed-writhing, the same fixation on lesbian activity and depraved frolics. Unlike the Women in Prison films, the authorities can't cope. The Mother Superior reels, red-faced and turned-on, when she finds a hot-blooded naked nun rolling around in a cloistered bedroom. Overcome by lust, she throws herself off the balcony rather than give in to her amplified desires." (from Immoral Tales: European Sex and Horror Movies 1956-1984 by Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs, St. Martin's Griffin Press, New York: 1995, pp.110-11)
"Franco's second examination of the evil doings of witch-hunter Judge Jeffreys has some things going for it, but all in all, this must be considered a disappointing movie despite the talent involved.
"I don't agree with Phil Hardy's Aurum Encyclopedia which complains about 'zooms moving in and out of female crotches.' Well, zooms are there, and also female crotches. But Raoul Artigot's camerawork compares favorably to Manuel Merlino's, being much less hectic and providing the movie with a badly-needed solidity that almost manages to weld together the disparate elements (In the same year, Artigot helmed his own witchcraft-movie, La Noche de las Brujas, starring Patty Sheppard.) The acting in the movie is uneven. Doris Thomas as the doomed Mother Superior is actually very good, and so is Karen Field as the evil Lady de Winter.
"Howard Vernon takes a 180 degree turn from his role as the main torturer in Franco's El Proceso de la Brujas (1969) to his part as a good nobleman who takes pity on Jeffreys' victims. The tortures are presided over by Luis Barboo, who does his job with relish. Most of the other performances are not really memorable, even if there are some pretty faces (the award for the sexiest nun-eye makeup goes to Britt Nichols!). There are some rough sex scenes with much pain and agony.
"The music ranges from medieval music and church organs to wild electric guitars and the 'nuns-in-heat' subject has never before been treated with so much squalor." (from Obsession: The Films of Jess Franco, by Lucas Balbo, Peter Blumenstock, Christian Kessler, and Tim Lucas, Selbstverlag Frank Trebbin, Berlin, Germany, 1993, p.93)"The first work Franco authored with the assumed name of Clifford Brown (as a homage to the omonimous black trumpet player, an exponent of the so-called hard bop style), the film features once again Judge Jeffreys, the leading character of Proceso de las brujas/Il trono di fuoco (starring John Foster aka the Iranian Cihangir Gaffari in place of Christopher Lee), in a story mixing I lunghi capelli della morte (1965) by Antonio Margheriti with The Devils (1971) by Ken Russell. A formidable lesbian sequence, bordering on hard core, performed by Britt Nichols and the ambiguous Karin Field (here on her first and only interpretation for Franco) dominates the rest of the movie, a very second-rate work with a horrible soundtrack.” (from Bizarre Sinema! Jess Franco El sexo del horror, edited by Carlos Aguilar, Stefano Piselli, and Riccardo Morrocchi, Glittering Images, Firenze, Italy: 1999, p. 103.) “Dieser Film ist mit Sicherheit einer der sehr professionell aufgezogenen Franco-Filme, da er auch mehr Budget zur Verfü gung hatte. Die Mischung aus sinnlicher Erotik, mittelalterlichem Religionswahn und grausamer Folterszenen hebt den Film ungemein an. Selbst VMP war damals sofort als Videoanbieter gefunden. Leider war die FSK 18 Schnittauflage fü r dieses Band sehr streng, so daß aus der 93 Minuten Originalversion eine deutsche 82 Minuten-Fassung wurde. Bestes Beispiel dafü r ist die Szene, bei der man bei der nackten, gefesselten Nonne die Brustwarzen mit heiß en Eisen zerquetscht. Der Film ist mit Sicherheit auch fü r nicht-Franco-Fans und bietet keinerlei Trash, sondern nur gut ü berlegte Inszenierung. Daß Howard Vernon vom bö sen Folterknecht hier zum Edelmann wird, ist ebenfalls sehr untypisch.” (from Jess Franco Chronicles, by Andreas Bethmann, Medien Publikations, Germany, 1999, p. 47.)A woman is tortured and pronounced a witch by Lord Jeffreys. Before being burned at the stake, she curses the populace, and noblewoman Lady de Winter requests from Jeffreys to hunt the countryside for any relatives of the deceased witch. This search leads the Lady to a convent where two sisters, Kathleen (Anne Libert) and Marguerite (Britt Nichols), are housed. Their parentage is unknown, and noting a suspicion, the Lady, much to her enjoyment, probes the two sisters to determine if they are virgins. Kathleen is not and is subjected to torture. She is pronounced a witch by Lord Jeffreys. Marguerite is visited that evening by her mother, the deceased witch who uttered the curse; and the old crone recruits Marguerite into the league of Satan to exact revenge.

Franco's Les demons is a corruption of the story of Justine and Juliette which Franco had film previously as Justine in 1968 for Harry Alan Towers. In Les demons, Libert's Kathleen is Justine, but unlike the Marquis de Sade's heroine, Kathleen is literally innocent, unlike Justine who is naive and innocent in the ways of the world. Like Justine, Kathleen floats into and out of the arms of various people, most of whom take advantage of her while precious few show her kindness. Nichols's Marguerite is like Juliette who quickly adapts to the ways of society, but here, Marguerite is adapting to exact revenge. The majority of Les demons takes place outside of the cloister, and to be noted, the version here under review is the 2003 "Director's Cut," from the region 2 DVD from German label, X-Rated Kult. It runs approximately a hundred minutes.
Les demons, despite quite a bit of sex and violence, is one of Franco's most conventional films, enhanced by Artigot's formal and classical photography and Franco's own screenplay. Here is an interesting tidbit found in a old digest magazine, serving as a "sneak preview" for a subsequent release of Les demons:

The Demons. Starring Anne Libert, Britt Nichols, Doris Thomas, Karin Field. Directed by Clifford Brown.

In the recent months, there has been an increasing interest in the occult, witchcraft and, of course, a resurgence of the "Dracula" theme. The forces of evil have never had it "so good" as in films. The Demons begins with a witch burning in medieval England, just before William of Orange acceded to the throne. Vengeance, erotic witchcraft, curses (which the scenario writers pass on to the audience) not to mention "every extreme of torture and degradation" make up some the happy components. For those who have a genuine interest in black magic (and for those who like it combined with old fashioned sexuality), look for The Demons. (from XSighting Cinema, Vol. Two, No. One, P.S.I., Canoga Park, CA, Fall, 1976, p.40.)
The preceding quote I find of particular interest as to giving perhaps an insight into the cultural (and commercial) milieu of time.

The Devil really does exist and appears in Les demons. This is a telling reveal. Any sociological or theological examination is absent. Nearly all those in power in Les demons are self-absorbed, corrupt, and abusive. Libert and Nichols are two of my favorite Franco actresses. Libert is given a very rich role and gives one of her better performances. Nearly all of the performances are well above average. The best scenes in Les demons always involve either Libert or Nichols or both; and when they do appear, Franco has a tendency to loosen up his camerawork and make some creative compositions. Unfortunately, Les demons lacks the poeticism and hallucinatory quality of other De Nesle productions during the period. It's a precious film, however, for Libert and Nichols.


Alex B. said...

I am all for Libert and especially Nichols, too!
The scene with the Devil wearing red tights jumping on the bed is a blast.
Also a moment where Luis Barboo is ordered to kill two guards and they just stand there and get stabbed, not even trying to defend themselves = how surreal is that?
Just a little bit more poeticism and Les Demons would rank up there with Virgin Amnog the Living Dead.
As it is, it's still worth a watch now and again. Especially since there are at least three different cuts available, each with slightly different music.

The Film Connoisseur said...

I havent seen Les Demons, but reading your review made me remember ALUCARDA, a mexican horror movie where two homeless girls who live in a convent with a bunch of nuns end up falling in love with each other AND selling their soul to Satan, who by the way also makes an appearance.

Ever seen that one? Highly recommend it if you havent.

Hans A. said...

Cheers gentlemen!

@Alex--yes, you describe two of the funniest scenes in the film! I can watch it now and again, too, just because of Libert and Nichols.

@Francisco--thanks for reading and commenting. I've seen Alucarda--very trippy flick indeed. Quite enjoyable.

Thanks to you both for your thoughts!