Les démons (1973)

Prod Co : C.F.F.P (F), Interfilme (P) Dir : Clifford Brown (J.Franco) DP : Raul Artigot
Sc : J. Franco adapted from a novel by David Khunne Mus : Jean Bernard Raiteux Head of Prod : Victor Costa Prod : Robert de Nesle Ed : Gérard Kikoine Asst Ed : Olivier Assayas Phot : Mario Lippert
With : John Foster (= Cihangir Gaffari / Juge Justus Jeffries), Karin Field (Lady de Winter), Howard Vernon (Lord de Winter), Anne Libert (Kathleen), Britt Nichols (Margaret), Alberto Dalbes (Renfield), Luis Barboo (Caronte), Doris Thomas (Lother Superior), Viktor Feldmann (= Andres Monalès /Bryan), Caroline Rock (a guest)
Eastmancolor, Cinémascope, 114mns
A.T : Os demonios (P) Die Nonnen von Clichy (RFA) The Demons (USA/ Canada)
Le Demone (I) Les Demons du sexe (Second French exploitation)

“The stars hide from us the awful reality that surrounds us. They’re always there, the stars, comforting and sweet…”
(Lord de Winter)

Condemned to burn at the stake, a witch casts a spell upon the three persons who had her convicted : Judge Jeffries, his counselor William Renfries and Lady de Winter. Her daughters, Kathleen and Margaret, will be the instruments of her revenge. Shaken by these threats, Jeffries orders the two children of the supposed witch to be found. They’re located in a Blackmoor convent where they’re about to take their vows. Lady de Winter and Renfield discover that Kathleen, the youngest daughter, is no longer a virgin. She is brought to Jeffries’ castle where she’s subjected to questioning. Lady de Winter takes great pleasure in witnessing the torture of the young girl but Renfield, troubled by her beauty, takes pity on her. Lord de Winter, who’s actually the father of the two girls, bribes two guards and Kathleen escapes.Lady de Winter thinks that Renfield is responsible for the escape. She reports him to Jeffries who, incapable of believing that his right-hand man would betray his trust, orders Renfield to find the fugitive girl. During the night, the Devil enters the convent under the guise of a handsome young man. He materializes in Margaret’s cell and initiates her to satanism. Margaret perverts the Mother Superior which drives her to commit suicide. The young girl then flees the convent. Renfield finds Kathleen and having fallen in love with her, he asks her to run away with him to another country. The lovers are found before they can accomplish their plans. Renfield is tortured and locked up in the same dungeon as Kathleen. The girl intercedes with Jeffries and pleads with him to spare her lover. Jeffries breaks his vow of chastity and makes love to her in exchange of a written promise that he destroys the following morning. Dressed as a man, Margaret is intercepted by Lady de Winter’s escort. She is invited up to the castle to take part in the festivities. After the party, Lady de Winter retires in the company of Margaret. The young girl gives the Devil’s kiss to the corrupt noblewoman who dies. Assisted by Lord de Winter, Renfield escapes with the two sisters who are finally reunited. During a halt, Margaret, who has recognized Renfield as one of her mother’s killers, kisses him on the lips during his sleep and he turns into a skeleton. Kathleen is horrified by her sister’s powers and surrenders her to the crowd. Captured by Jeffries’ guards, she is subjected to the judgment of God, recognized as a witch and condemned to burn at the stake. Right before the fire is lit, Margaret asks the executioner for a last wish : a kiss of redemption. Feeling magnanimous, Jeffries accepts and turns into a skeleton in front of the horrified onlookers. Kathleen flees into the woods and reaches the cabin of an old blind woman who will introduce her to witchcraft…

Shot right after the delirious gothic Dracula / Frankenstein trilogy and probably inspired by the success of Ken Russell’s THE DEVILS, THE DEMONS is the second opus in a “Francoan” trilogy which could be termed “dramas of the inquisition”.

Despite giving a new life to some of the characters (Jeffries, Kathleen, Margaret) and sets of BLOODY JUDGE, this movie can’t be considered as a remake nor a sequel. A variation on the same theme may be a more appropriate expression to justify the affiliation between the two movies since BLOODY JUDGE is pure adventure based on historical facts while THE DEMONS is very much part of the fantasy genre with the presence of a sodomite devil and authentic witches who dispense death with a kiss. Traces of Antonio Marheriti’s 1964 LUNGHI CAPELLI DE LA MORTE/LONG HAIR OF DEATH can also be found in the plot.

Mutialated by censors who demanded cuts in almost every torture scene, THE DEMONS did shock sensitive souls by its anticlerical content and by the audacity of the lesbian scenes (the anulingus that Karin Field performs on Britt Nichols is still strong in every spectator’s memory…).

The judicious use of Cinemascope and a wealth of beautiful lighting compensate for the lack of precision of the directing which relies heavily on improvisation. If a certain anachronism can be found within the architecture or the costumes, it remains clear that the low budget didn’t allow Jess to be as careful with his directing as he probably would have wished. The responsible parties are to be found on the producers’ side !

Whatever may be the case, this movie that was cheaply shot in Portugal allowed for a historical reconstitution complete with extras and costumes within entirely beliavable sets in a way that didn’t impoverish the overall film. Other directors than Jess Franco probably wouldn’t have succeeded in seeing through such a low budget production to its fruitful end and the final result was so convincing that it rapidly sold the world over.

The score is another subject for contention. Its overall psychedelic aspect left more than one critic dumbfounded. It must be said that due to previous engagements, Jess Franco didn’t oversee the post-production and thus wasn’t in charge of the music which he openly deplored in later interviews.

It remains a mystery how such music – based on flute solos, saturated guitar sounds and percussions – could be assembled to accompany a historical movie where one would expect to find harpsichords and brass. Even though this eerie musical composition raised more than a few eyebrows back in the day, it seems even more revolutionary today. Despite the naysayers, J. B. Raiteux’s score adheres perfectly to the film imbuing it with a certain lightness and spontaneity, underlining the youthfulness which characterizes it without being overly grandiose or ridiculous.

Maybe time has come to rehabilitate THE DEMONS and finally recognize its avantgarde qualities ? A day must surely come when a cinematic portrayal of the psychedelic era is due and without a doubt, THE DEMONS would feature in a prominent place alongside other outings such as Cesare Canevari’s incredible MATALO.

The movie gains a lot by being viewed in its original cut and in English. This version contains the original voices of Howard Vernon and Yves Brainville whereas the mediocre quality of the French dubbing butchers the rather beautiful original dialogue.

The tenebrous John Foster had an ephemeral Spanish career under the name John Gaffari (Raul Artigot, cinematographer on THE DEMONS directed the actor in his 1972 movie, EL MONTE DE LAS BRUJAS). His real identity is Cihangir Gaffari. Being of iranian descent, he already had a substantial career in Turkey where he was specialised in westerns and cape and dagger movies.
Mrs Gurney, the witch burned at the stake in the opening scenes was none other than Luis Barboo’s wife.

As a final anecdote, between 6th and 10th  April 1994, the French TV channel CinéCinéfil aired a touching but quite tiresome interview with French director Olivier Assayas in which he explained that at the tender age of seventeen and while still in school, he had interned at a post-production company where he assisted Gérard Kikoïne who was in charge of the editing, the post synching in two languages and also the sound mixing of several Jess Franco movies :

“That was my first job in movies. (…) It was in the early seventies and we received bags and crates of movie reels that Jess Franco shot without relenting for two to three weeks each in Spain or Portugal. There were films like THE DEMONS which was a sort of cheap rip-off of THE DEVILS and also LA MALDICION DE FRANKENSTEIN. It was all mute since the actors each spoke in their native tongues. There were also scripts containing notes scribbled in different color among the print. (laughs)

I was the assistant to an editor, Gérard Kikoïne, who would go on to a great career (laughs) in the porn industry. I sat there, watching him, admiring the work… So he was the one who did the english and french versions of those movies with my honored assistance.

Everything was dubbed by other actors. Howard Vernon who had played in the films was the only one who synched his own dialogue into french, english and other languages since he spoke them all. I never met Jess Franco once, he just sent in the daily rushes. Julien Clerc’s Bass Player came in to help with the music.
Both versions were finished in three or four weeks, resulting in movies that the director never saw during this process. (laughs)”

This testimony, sincere as it may be, is also slightly annoying when one knows how Jess worked and in particular during this highly prolific time of his career.

About eighty percent of Assayas’ statement is true so it is necessary to put a few things straight : whatever the circumstances, Jess never once just sent in his daily rushes and let others take care of the editing process. As soon as principal photography was over, he’d lock himself inside an editing room for a few days to pre-edit the B/W rushes (B/W was cheapest back then), selecting the best shots and editing the scenes in the order of his choice.

The job of Gérard Kikoïne and his assistants, by no means insignificant, was to work on the final edit from the original negatives and according to the mute pre-edit that Jess Franco had done a few days prior. Consequently, it is as erroneous to state that Jess didn’t preoccupy himself with editing his own movies as to pretend that he never saw the end result since he was the first spectator of his daily rushes…