In this film, rather than dying of a kidney complaint whilst incarcerated in the Tower of London, as history books recall, Jeffreys was instead bewitched by a possessed Britt Nichols and transformed into a plastic skeleton after a lingering kiss as she smouldered at the stake! Here, the English countryside has magically transformed itself into a picturesque Portuguese landscape and all the characters parade around a distinctly Spanish-looking castle fortress wearing costumes that don't look in the least bit historically accurate. (Professor David Starkey would be having kittens!)
History lessons according to the Gospel of Franco could have been so much more fun!
No one comes to a Jess Franco film looking for historical verisimilitude, of course — although, in that case, why even mention real historical events and figures in the first place? What this film is really all about, as everyone will have guessed, is buttoned-up nuns pleasuring themselves (nuns! in Protestant England? whatever happened to the dissolution of the monasteries?); very hot euro starlets indulging in the sapphic delights; screaming village wenches being sadistically tortured while stark naked, and groovy lounge-funk soundtracks. All of these we get in great plenitude in this mad offering from Spain's premiere sleaze master; and nothing beats watching costumed characters who are meant to be living in a, admittedly, highly unlikely, version of the late 1600s while the soundtrack consistently undermines any historical pretence by setting everything to a series of funky little cues with heavy, Goblinesque electric base lines and wigged-out fuzz guitar!
This policy of totally doing away with any meaningful historical timeline and scoring events to 'modern' music cues can sometimes work beautifully (Sofia Coppola used modern pop music to great effect in the recent "Marie Antoinette"), but the intellectual playfulness doesn't come off particularly successfully here, so we're left simply to admire the luscious scenery, imposing architecture, and — of course — the numerous tawdry Sadian sex scenes.
The cast of characters consists of two orphaned sisters, Kathleen and Margaret (played by the gorgeous Anne Libert and Britt Nichols), who find themselves sequestered in a convent presided over by buxom Mother Superior, Mother Rosalinda (Doris Thomas) after their mother is condemned as a witch and burned at the stake. But this not before she has placed a curse on all her accusers: Lady De Winter (Karin Field), Lord Justice Jeffries (Cihangir Gaffari) and his right-hand man, Thomas Renfield (Alberto Dalbes). Lady De Winter is not satisfied that the two lovely daughters aren't also sorcerers like their mother, and figures the best test for witchery is to cop an exploratory, investigative feel between the legs! Unfortunately for Kathleen, she proves to be not quite as chaste as is demanded by convent life and is promptly packed off to De Winter's dungeon torture chamber, where her jailors torment her with various implements in order to extract a confession.
Meanwhile, the spirit of the sisters' witch mother takes possession of Margaret's soul, and while the innocent Kathleen languishes upon the rack in her prison, her sister sets about causing all manner of sexual mayhem in the convent, eventually leading to the suicide of Mother Rosalinda - who throws herself from the parapet of a cloister out of sexual torment after having been tempted into a bout of frenzied lesbianism by the frisky possessed blonde bombshell. Kathleen meanwhile falls in love with Renfield, one of her accusers, and when the cultured and urbane astronomer husband of Lady De Winter (Howard Vernon) secretly releases her, disgusted at his wife's perversion ands jealousy, it is Renfield who comes under immediate suspicion; an inconvenience since Renfield, in fact, is secretly working for the supporters of William of Orange (as is Lord De Winter), whose forces are already massing ready for imminent invasion. Meanwhile, Margaret infiltrates the De Winter household seeking to fulfil her mother's curse ...
The plot gets ridiculously complicated considering the main purpose of the film is surely to provide the sex and torture "thrills" one usually looks for in a Franco flick, but the conflicted interests created by the convoluted, meandering plot developments and the completely antithetical mix of historical epic and Gothic horror genres, does generate some potentially interesting conflict between some of the characters; and the idea of an inquisitor becoming the lover of one of his torture victims does engender some complex ideas which the essentially trite and melodramatic nature of the material unfortunately never allows to be explored sufficiently. "The Demons" is a mess of cheap exploitation and self-reflexive, post modern experimental ideas, with each tendency pulling against the interests of the other and leading to a highly irregular work. But no one turns to Franco for the ordinary or commonplace, in which case this film can be read as one of his most interesting failures.
The English language version presented here does seem shorn of some of the more outrageous sex and sadism (in particular a notorious nipple torture sequence carried out with a pair of red-hot tongs) but otherwise features enough naked writhing to keep most euro sleaze addicts happy. The crackly soundtrack does have a peculiar tendency to drop into French every now and again though, and there are no English subtitles included for these (very) brief episodes! The transfer is adequate and presented in its full widescreen anamorphic glory.