OF THE DEVIL
DVD. Cheezy Flicks.
of the interesting things about Witchfinder
General is the number of films that it inspired,
either as official semi-sequels or shameless imitations –
Blood on Satan’s Claw, Cry of the
Banshee, The Bloody Judge, The
Demons… and Mark of the Devil,
which proved to be the most successful of the lot thanks in part
to a shamelessly crass US promotional campaign that included free
vomit bags and proclaimed the film to be rated ‘V for violence’.
This suggestion of excessive content was seemingly confirmed when
the British censors banned the film outright (even now, the UK
edition remains cut).
Starting life as a sleazy softcore sex and horror effort from
producer Adrian Hoven (who would show his lack of ability in Mark
of the Devil Pt 2), the film took on a new sense of credibility
when writer-director Michael Armstrong – a contemporary
and friend of Witchfinder general director Michael Reeves –
took over the project and crafted it into a cynically brutal tale
of witch-hunting, hypocrisy and brutality. Udo Kier stars as Christian,
witchfinder in training who is assistant to Lord Cumberland (Herbert
Lom), a newly arrived judge who at first seems set to end the
brutal and random witch hunting of Albino (Reggie Nalder), but
eventually proves to be just as corrupt. As Christian loses his
faith in his master and the very idea of witch finding, he rebels,
only to find himself torn between the rebelling locals and his
of the Devil became notorious for the graphic nature
of the torture scenes, and these remain pretty shocking even now
– with authentic tools used, it certainly captures the sheer
horror of witch trial tortures in a way that no other film has
managed. But it fails to match the quality of Witchfinder
General, thanks to the problems in having a pan-European
cast (all dubbed into English) and the battles between Hoven and
Armstrong, which saw the producer going out of his way to sabotage
the film, reshooting and subsequently re-editing the film. The
ending - or more accurately, the ending no-one has seen - is the
stuff of legend, due to what it missing – this version of
the movie comes to a very sudden halt, although to be honest,
the planned supernatural element probably would’ve been
even more damaging.
Despite the faults though, this remains a powerful movie –
Lom is a commanding presence, and Nalder is suitably sleazy. Kier,
admittedly, has little to do in a fairly thankless role.
The film also boasts a lush, epic and entirely inappropriate musical
score – the opening theme was recently reused on Hobo
with a Shotgun, though its inclusion there fails
to match the shock impact of this romantic music accompanying
scenes of rape and murder.
Forty plus years after production, Mark of the Devil
still feels fresh – and despite the clumsiness of the construction,
still packs quite a punch. It’s essential viewing, though
perhaps not in this dubious bootleg edition.
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