08th Apr2019

‘Devil Hunter’ Blu-ray Review (88 Films)

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Al Cliver, Antônio do Cabo, Antonio Mayans, Bertrand Altmann, Gisela Hahn, Ursula Buchfellner, Werner Pochath | Written by Jess Franco, Julian Esteban | Directed by Jess Franco

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Its hard to believe, but growing up I thought Jess Franco was a horror-filmmaking god; even though I’d never seen a single one of his genre films. Why? Well because I was an avid subscriber of Dark Side Magazine and the way they wrote about Franco and his films with such reverence (and some irony it would seem looking back at it now), you would have thought he was up there with the horror greats. Yet while, now, I know differently – Franco was very much a journeyman filmmaker, cranking out films at a pace unheard of today – he still has a huge fanbase out there. You only have to look at just how many of his film are available on DVD and Blu-ray, even on the UK high street!

The latest to hit UK stores is Devil Hunter, a film I – honestly – always used to confuse with the David Warbeck-starrer The Last Hunter, for no other reason than the similar titles. However unlike that film, which was Antonio Margheriti’s take on a Vietnam war movie, Jess Franco’s Devil Hunter is another of his low-budget cannibal movie cash-ins; only this one also throws in devil-worshiping as part of the cannibal’s ritual sacrifices!

The basic plot, and believe me Franco can do a LOT with a basic plot – way beyond anything you might expect, is that an up-and-coming film starlet is kidnapped by a trio of crooks who plan to ransom her back to the film studio. The only problem is they decide to hide out on a remote island… An island that is home to a bunch of cannibals and their flesh-eating god! Into all this is thrust Peter Weston, played by Italian horror stalwart Al Cliver (Zombie Flesh Eaters), the man hired to either deliver the ransom and get back the girl; or rescue her and keep 10% of the ransom for himself.

I mentioned the fact Franco was something of a journeyman director in the opening and there’s no better example than his cannibal ouevre, which recycles a similar story across numerous films, including Devil Hunter, White Cannibal Queen and Cannibal Terror (which actually re-uses footage from White Cannibal Queen despite only being co-written by Franco). All of these films feature kidnapping, jungles, and cannibals in one way or another. Though to be fair, if you look at Franco’s output it would seem he had something of an obsession with people being kidnapped and held against their will anyway – probably due to his fascination with the Marquis de Sade.

But back to this Blu-ray. The first time Devil Hunter has appeared on a high-def format in the UK, 88 Films’ disc has a lot to offer Franco-philes. The print, despite Franco’s penchant for soft focus visuals looks good for the most part – offering the audience pin-sharp pubes, well-defined devil dong, and plenty of crystal clear longing looks at labia… Yes Franco’s obsession with the female nude has never appeared so focused. Or should that be in focus? There are some spots where the grain gets really excessive and, coupled with some soft-focus camera work at the same time, it means the image-quality suffers but not to the point a decrying this disc as terrible. I’d rather than some excessive grain where a print has been carefully restored than some DNR’d mess to hide said grain!

Then there’s the audio. I’ve not seen any mention that this UK Blu is a composite print remastered for this release but it would seem, upon viewing, that it might well be – around 73 minutes into the film, during the seventh chapter of the disc, the English audio switches to Italian (?) for a short sequence. It’s not too distracting as there’s no exposition going on, in fact there’s not much going on beyond people walking through the jungle. But then that’s 75% of this film anyway! The rest of the film is however in the usual badly-dubbed English. It’s not a major quibble but one that might irk fans who demand perfection from their Blus (and god knows some folks REALLY like to complain!)

A former video nasty, as this releases artwork proclaims, Devil Hunter is decidedly tame by today’s standards. Hell, it would’ve been tame by anyone’s standards apart from the BBFC! There’s some gore which is saved for the latter portion of the film, undoubtedly to keep the audience watching after the low-key drama of the middle third; gore that – aside from a very brief disemboweling – is incredibly amateur-hour (a still-breathing corpse anyone?). But still, it’s great to get this film on Blu-ray in its longest form in the UK. And for those who really dig their Jess Franco fear-flicks, and don’t have access to a multi-region Blu-ray player, this is without a doubt still worth picking up … despite its issues.

The 88 Films Blu-ray of Devil Hunter comes complete with a feature length documentary entitled Francophiles, which examines the career of Jess Franco, with contributions from film journalist John Martin; author and critic Rachael Nisbet; author and publisher Andy Black; Sitges Film Festival organiser Mike Hostench; former Fangoria editor and writer Tony Timpone; assistant editor of Starburst Magazine Martin Unsworth; Brunel University scholar Julian Petley (one of the most eloquent speakers on Italian horror ever IMHO); and more. Presented in very much a clinical/educational format, this is not your typical puff-piece, feeling instead very much like a lecture you find presented at the likes of the Fantastic Films Weekend back in the day. In other words, watch this and you’ll learn something!

Devil Hunter is out now on Blu-ray from 88 Films.

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