England at the time of the Inquisition, and accusing women of witchcraft is rife across the land, no matter if there is any truth to that or not. One elderly woman is tried by methods of torture - seeing if she has stigmata under her tongue, pricking her with a needle to see if she bleeds, pouring boiling water on her to see if it evaporates - and it is decided she is guilty so is put to death at the stake. But as the flames lick about her, she begins to cackle, claiming all those who have done this to her will be cursed...
Director Jess Franco had made excursions into witchcraft horror before, inspired by Michael Reeves' cult classic Witchfinder General, and so was the case here except that it was Ken Russell's controversial The Devils that provided the impetus for a further foray into the subject. Russell was concerned with highlighting religious hypocrisy, and there were signs Franco wanted to do the same here, except that there were stronger signs he wanted to film a lot of writhing, naked female bodies as well, so understandably the effect was rather different.
Like The Devils, the action centres around a nunnery, where the Mother Superior (Doris Thomas) is concerned that two sisters in her charge may be consorting with Satanic powers after catching sight of one of them enthusiastically masturbating when she thought she was alone in her cell. Although it's not made entirely clear until later on, these two sisters, Kathleen (Anne Libert) and Margaret (Britt Nichols) were placed in this convent at a young age because they are daughters of the witch we saw executed at the beginning of the story.
So have they inherited their mother's witchy ways? Could be, rendering the plot's exposure of the double standards of the authorities somewhat confused, though actually justifying the actions taken against the tortured characters is not something that Franco endorses. He does revel in the bad behaviour to a notable degree, however, so that once Kathleen's self-pleasuring becomes common knowledge, it affects everyone in strange ways, with Margaret seducing the Mother Superior, leading her to such guilt that she takes drastic action to cleanse her soul.
But the real baddies are the noblemen and women, specifically Lady De Winter (Karin Field), who crusades against witchcraft mainly because of the feelings of power it gives her, and her cohort Lord Justice Jeffries (Cihangir Gaffari), who does the same. Needless to say these self-described moralists are the biggest perverts around, taking every opportunity to indulge in victimisation of the innocent, especially if they can get a sexual kick out of it; that much is apparent enough in Franco's themes. But also all too apparent is that we're meant to get a kick out of seeing the sex scenes as well, and there are a lot of them as the relationships between the characters grow ever more embroiled with each other, to the point where you're trying to work out who is doing what to whom for what reason. As it winds down, genuine witchcraft rears its head, with a kiss that turns victims into skeletons, silly but no more so that anything before it, no matter how sincerely it was meant. Acid rock soundtrack by Jean-Bernard Raiteux.
Legendary director of predominantly sex-and-horror-based material, Spanish-born Jesus Franco had as many as 200 directing credits to his name. Trained initially as a musician before studying film at the Sorbonne in Paris, Franco began directing in the late 50s. By using the same actors, sets and locations on many films, Franco has maintained an astonishing workrate, and while the quality of his work has sometimes suffered because of this, films such as Virgin Amongst the Living dead, Eugenie, Succubus and She Killed in Ecstasy remain distinctive slices of 60s/70s art-trash.
Most of his films have been released in multiple versions with wildly differing titles, while Franco himself has directed under a bewildering number of pseudonyms. Actors who have regularly appeared in his films include Klaus Kinski, Christopher Lee and wife Lina Romay; fans should also look out for his name on the credits of Orson Welles' Chimes of Midnight, on which he worked as assistant director.