Sunday, 24 July 2016

THE LEIGH SPENCE MOMENT: THE BLOODY JUDGE

1. "This is no time for the faint-hearted"

24/07/2016


To acknowledge how I pop up every so often, and that I never call myself "L.J.", my, well, moments here now have a more appropriate name.

A while ago, an aunt's research found my mother's side of the family is related to Judge George Jeffreys, the notorious "Hanging Judge" at the Bloody Assizes in 1685, at which the death sentence for treason was given out to hundreds of people after the Monmouth Rebellion, intended to overthrow King James II, was quashed. 

With Jeffreys followed the letter of the law, and with James II not about to be merciful, Jeffreys gained the ruthless, gruesome reputation that inspired stories by Bram Stoker, through to Dorothy L. Sayers. Jeffreys was Lord Chief Justice from 1683, Lord Chanellor from 1685, and from 1688, after James II had fled the country, allowing William of Orange to assume the throne, Jeffreys became the source of another good family anecdote - an ancestor that was imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Last week, I took delivery of "The Bloody Judge," a 1970 film directed by the Spanish shlock master Jesus Franco, and starring Christopher Lee, a perfect choice for looking resplendent in long robes, dispensing capital punishment. They also made an ultra-faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker's "Dracula" novel, also released in 1970, but Lee's performance in the Hammer "Dracula" films are far more entertaining. (It should also be pointed out that Richee & Layla gave me, for my birthday last year, a book collection titled "The Hammer Vault" - with great timing, Lee died the following day.)

So, we have genre-defining horror film actor, playing the most ruthless of my ancestors, in a film by the director of "Vampyros Lesbos" and "Sadomania: The Hell of Passion". Much like oil and water, you can mix it all together, but it will separate itself out again. 

The Bloody Assizes is preceded by the executing and imprisonment of "witches" - "you will be examined for sorcery" - and while the Assizes are shown as a bewildering procession of people sentenced in a matter of seconds, the punishment of the female body is shown for much longer, perhaps with Jesus Franco as the judge. However, Christopher Lee is masterful in his scenes, acting as the supremely confident, passionate judge of the brutal system he presides over, although we never see the Jekyll to balance out the Hyde.

"The Bloody Judge" was meant to be a horror film with a historical background, which became reversed, with a whole load of unnecessary erotica thrown into the second half, inevitably slowing the story down. The more horrid scenes were entered without Lee's knowledge, who wanted a historically accurate film, and it appears he went to his death without seeing it. 

Perhaps, watching Vincent Price in "Witchfinder General" might be a better option, following with hope there could be another Judge Jeffreys film - or, at the very least, an episode of "Horrible Histories."

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