Saturday, August 08, 2020 15:25

Les Démons (1972) – Jess Franco

Some classic Uncle Jess here, this time homing his infamous zoom lens on a seventeenth-century convent and two nuns/natural sisters, Margaret and Kathleen (Franco regulars Britt Nichols and Anne Libert) who are threatened with witchcraft trials by perverse bisexual aristocrat Lady De Winter (Karin Field). We are treated to a little of the back story of the two sisters, and we discover that their mother was burned at the stake for sorcery before the two girls were spirited away to the convent. So, is religious paranoia and the effects of power to blame here – or are there really malevolent forces at work?

At first it appears that religious mania causes Sister Kathleen to begin to act in a wanton way (cue much nude writhing about in her cell) – but after her arrest and subsequent torture, her remaining, and ‘more pious’ sister is herself visited by an apparition of their deceased mother and engaged as an agent of vengeance, but not before Satan himself appears, in one of the campest forms Old Nick can possibly have taken yet! From here on it the film is variously one of gratuitous nudity (pubephobics beware) mild lesbianism, torture, scenes of pursuit and escape, and of course black magic…

I thought the initial idea for the film was actually quite a good one: although there’s only so much you can get out of the whole nunsploitation genre in terms of original storylines, having two sisters ambiguously facing either their own demons or something external had potential. And this film does have something, in terms of atmosphere and visuals. However, Franco bites off far more than he can chew with this one, and leaves several elements of the storyline tantalisingly incomplete whilst pitching lots of scenes in the film more as stand-alone tableaux – titilating, certainly, but not cogent. The result of this tactic is a certain disjointedness which goes above and beyond the usual dreaminess of his films.

That said, this film is entertaining to say the least, with some (in)decent performances by the two sisters, and Karin Field is great. The dubbed script informs us that the action takes place in England, but it patently doesn’t, and the credits reveal it was all filmed on location in Spain and Portugal – classic Jess euronunsploitation (!) if ever I saw it. All good fun, but not as good as his other better-known nun fun, Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun.

This film has only recently been rediscovered and released by Redemption after it spent many years banned by the BBFC but – a word on the print! Having watched the foreign trailers on this disc we discovered that this is in fact a cut version: by how much I don’t know, but several of the scenes in the version we watched are longer in the trailers. There’s also an irritating hiccup whereby the dubbed English occasionally turns into dubbed French for a few moments at a time. It’s not that you can’t guess what they might be saying, but it’s fairly annoying anyway…oh, Mr. Wingrove, – didn’t you bloody watch it before you put it on sale?

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