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MARK OF THE DEVIL
DVD. Cheezy Flicks.

Mark of the DevilOne 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 former colleagues.

Mark of the DevilMark 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.

DAVID FLINT

BUY IT NOW (USA)

 

 

 

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