Demonic Viewings III
By Kristin Battestella
Now’s the time of year to get your demented on with this creepy quartet of devilish delights, occult macabre, witchy history, and a hint of classic sadism for good measure!
Devils of Darkness – The British accents, French flair, and uneven sounds may be tough or too slow for some to enjoy this 1965 vampires meets occult adventure, but those are the only quibbles here thanks to superior 1588 cemeteries, fog, red capes, coffins, bats, curses, and plenty of death. Then modern cars, swanky music, antiques, typewriters, and country manors are also sweet, and ritual All Soul’s Day re-enactments, sixties hair, pale skin, cat eye makeup, and cool fashions add to the fun. Witty puns and writer suspicions create a self-aware horror investigation as the witchcraft history and black magic mythos builds nicely– complete with a library research visit! Cave in action, suave but sinister strangers, and superstitious village folk expand the simmering, eerie atmosphere while howling winds and fiery rituals scare without resorting to the excessive bloodworks or unnecessary nudity that would become the standard within a decade. The audience doesn’t see any vampire bites – we only have talk of neck marks and terms like undead or living dead – but jealous vamp ladies accelerate the plot along with strategic sprinkles of bright red, cult talismans, the satanic, daylight fears, and nightly feedings. Obviously, Satanism and vampirism don’t have to go hand in hand or are often misunderstood combinations. However, this remains a well-paced and smartly put together blend of occult quality and vampire unique for classic horror fans.
Legacy of Satan – Talk of celestial alignments, blood, and flesh start this 1974 occultster written, edited, and directed by Gerard Damiano (Deep Throat, Devil in Miss Jones). Along with sexy unions, creepy ritual chanting, and jarring but effective up close camera work, eerie shadows, chained subjects and shiny red robes set the mood – so what if those giant crescent moon necklace pendants are ridiculously oversized and the rituals largely happen in a devoid, dark room. Woefully bad and obnoxious, siren-esque music contributes to the annoy crazy ladies, and the bad acting, lookalike people, and over the top evil prophecy double talk hamper what could have been interested God versus the Devil conversations or punishment and repression possibilities. The audience has no reason to care about the anonymous hokey players, and there might actually be more fun to be had here on mute. Some bright colors, cool clothes, and patterns of the era are appealing, but the lack of true nudity and skimpy sacrifices writhing about in kinky invisibility will be either too short or overlong depending on how saucy you like your horror. At under 70 minutes, the pace moves from one heady ritual scene to the next, but the overall tone is ironically tame and lacking despite a few bloody attacks and quality deaths. The action is confusing and this is all really quite nonsensical, yet I found it strangely badly watchable nonetheless.
Satan’s Slave – If you have a bad feeling about your upcoming family trip to the country, you aren’t supposed to go! Candace Glendenning’s (Tower of Evil) visions of past witch persecutions pepper this 1976 saucy with early and often rituals, nudity, and sexual violence – the seventies bush, lesbian ceremony suggestions, titillation whippings, and exploitation brandings won’t be for everyone, indeed. Toss in seemingly classy doctoring uncle Michael Gough (Batman Returns) along with the creepy houses, fiery car accidents, snakes, and cemeteries and the ancestral connections, sacrifices, and devilish devotions are complete. Spooky winds, a fine score, lovely exteriors, and wayward elevators add to the smooth deaths and blood despite a whiff of laughable film trickery. Though part of the print is dark and does jump as if missing footage has been restored – the widescreen edition on the Mill Creek Gorehouse set is missing the scissors assault scene but other once censored violence appears intact – shadows and lighting are well staged. Some exposition is surprising but the intercut revelation keeps up the juicy pace, and there will be penalties for talking, of course. The mystery as to who is doing the occultness or how deep the murderous tendencies and necromancy go build nicely with some eerie turns and a fun finish. So why is the only seventies tenderly sex scene the one between the more than kissing cousins? Ewww!
The Whip and the Body – The suave, scandalous, sadistic Christopher Lee has a kinky good time with the lovely Daliah Lavi (The Silencers) for this moody 1963 treat from director Mario Bava (Black Sunday). Superb music, lightning, howling winds, and all kinds of eerie sound effects accent the horses, waterfront locales, crypts, and secret passages while gothic Victorian waistcoats and hoopskirts feel medieval thanks to the Old World setting and decorum. Blue lighting and scary shadows draft a hazy, lucid atmosphere, and in camera movement and zooms create an uneasy, unsettled stage for the cast, relying on their fear and building ours as the not at rest spirits go bump in the night. The pace may be slow, laid back, or simplistic to modern audiences, but intriguing characters and family conflicts add to the murderous suspicion – surely, a ghost can’t be committing these crimes! While we only see unlaced dressings or bare backs, there is more than a whiff of naughty in the titular beatings, illicit beachfront romance, and twisted love of violence transcending the grave. Lee adds an alluring tone to these scares, and Lavi certainly does petrified well! Due to some unfortunate dubbing, it is weird to not hear Lee’s booming voice, and I wish there was some magical way to restore his recording. Luckily, the voiceovers don’t mismatch anyone’s lips too much, mostly. Contemporary viewers may find some of this dialogue and delivery amusing, but the script is fairly taut thanks to excellent haunts, a ghostly, simmering feeling, and a shocker or two. Some scenes here certainly gave me the wiggins, and I don’t know why this film was so obscure and rather tough to find before the recent blu-ray release. This one is definitely worth the look for gothic lovers and fans of the sophisticated style or classy cast and crew.