Wednesday, 30 October 2013



When I say that I never really liked Michael Armstrong's 1970 sleaze and torture romp, that's not necessarily a snipe at the film itself. In truth I don't really like any of the films in that weird witchfinding subgenre: I think Mark Of The Devil is actually better than both Jess Franco's The Bloody Judge and Michael Reeves' Witchfinder General (and I know that not admiring the latter is an act of heresy punishable by being made to watch Al Adamson films back to back for a month), but there's still so much about it that's unsettling, unpleasant and frankly just plain weird. And it's not just that the film's VHS release back in the nineties was cut by a whopping four and a half minutes by the BBFC, whereas FrightFest's screening was the fully uncut version with all the gore and depravity intact.

Supposedly the film is based on three actual documented cases of religious zealots and/or deranged perverts victimising ordinary members of the community with charges of Satanism. Herbert Lom is the chief witchfinder brought in to a small Austrian town to deal with the rash of patently ludicrous allegations of witchcraft which are entirely bogus but leading to the needless deaths of innocent women. While his apprentice and pupil Udo Kier seeks a higher burden of proof, Lom would sooner condemn the blameless than make the Church look less than infallible. But Kier's new-found love has just been arrested on a charge of devil worship by the current witchfinder Reggie Nalder...

What's the message of the movie? Impotence turns you homicidal? The Church was/is a handy cover for sadistic maniacs and clueless idiots to abuse innocent people? Torture is bad? Torture is good? Torture makes for great entertainment? Frankly I think the film is having far too good a time putting the lipsmacking horrors on cheery display, horrors from which I had to look away a few times. The most famous of the grisly moneyshots us probably a woman's tongue being ripped out, but there's whippings, sexual violence, beheadings, Chinese water torture, The Rack.... Like the first hour of I Spit On Your Grave, the film seems to be enjoying the violence a little too much for any condemnation to be entirely plausible, and any movie that issues promotional vomit bags cannot be said to be taking the subject entirely seriously.

Matters aren't helped by a music score which is dominated by a syrupy love theme of the Cannibal Holocaust school (though predating that film's underscoring of raw visceral horror with dramatically inappropriate lift musak by a decade); however it's a piece that's needledropped in several times throughout the film and will stick in the mind for days afterwards. Nothing will shift it. So it's certainly not a film I like, but it's not a genre I particularly admire anyway; still, it's probably the best of its kind (maybe I do need to revisit Witchfinder General, though I doubt I'll ever go back to The Bloody Judge). And I'm certainly in no hurry to try and track down the same producer and co-writer's Mark Of The Devil Part 2.


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