I absolutely love this film, but, if I tell you that vomit bags were issued to movie patrons during screenings of it in America, it might give you a teensy-weensy clue as to how violent and stomach-churning it can be at times. If you’re of a nervous or wobbly disposition, I strongly suggest you refrain from viewing it.

If, however, you’re like me and thoroughly enjoy a good witch-burning movie from the late sixties/early seventies, you’ll absolutely bloody love it. When a horror film starts with nuns being raped, you know it’s time to usher the kids up to bed, hunker down and open the wine. Some seriously adult stuff is about to go down…

The original screenplay was for a film entitled THE WITCH-HUNT OF DOCTOR DRACULA, the brainchild of producer Adrian Hoven, which (sadly?!) never got made. Instead, hot young British director Michael Armstrong was invited on board and he turned the film into pretty much the best witch-finding film ever made. It even out-witch-finder-ed Michael Reeves’s WITCHFINDER GENERAL from 1968 starring Vincent Price, and that’s a cracking film.

Although the finished product is a top-notch horror film, the production was troubled from the start. All the juicy, funny and even at times outrageous behind-the-scenes gossip can be found in Michael Armstrong’s gorgeous glossy screenplay book, MARK OF THE DEVIL, currently for sale from Michael’s own website and from his publishers, Paper Dragon Productions. I’ll pop links in at the end.

The film itself is unforgettable. Set in a village in seventeenth-century Austria, it begins with the local witchfinder, a hideous-looking villainous murderer called Albino, capturing the aforementioned nuns and one monk and sentencing them to death for allegedly practising witchcraft.

Without a shred of proof, a hint of a formal indictment or a ghost of a proper trial, I might add. But that’s just the way they did it back then. The nuns and monk die horribly, but that’s only the beginning of the viewer’s nightmarish trip back in time to witch-burning Europe.

Back in those days, you could accuse someone of witchcraft if they’d pissed you off even slightly or if you fancied taking their cow or pig for yourself. It seemed like all you had to do was point the finger and an angry mob would form behind you, baying for the ‘witch’s’ blood. Remember Homer in THE SIMPSONS? ‘I accuse Goody Flanders…!’

And these are only the locals. When the Church-and-state-appointed Witchfinder trundles into town in his carriage (which may have been used by a real witch-finder back in the day; filming was done in an Austrian castle which contained a genuine torture chamber and real, authentic instruments of torture), things are about to get a whole lot worse. Oh yes, they can get worse…!

The horrible local witchfinder Albino has accused a beautiful young barmaid called Vanessa Benedict of being a witch. Why? Because she won’t have sex with him and fights off his attempted rape of her, and who would blame her?

He’s a vicious, murdering thug who enjoys raping women and hurting people of either sex. He gets immense satisfaction out of pricking her with his infamous ‘witchfinder’s needle,’ looking for the so-called ‘Devil’s mark.’

Vanessa is brought before the ‘court’ of the new witchfinder in town, the stern Lord Cumberland, well played by Herbert Lom. Vanessa is thrown in jail to await the preparation of the formal indictment against her, much to the distress of Count Christian von Meru, Lord Cumberland’s young apprentice witchfinder.

The divinely handsome Christian (oh God, those beautiful eyes!)  is madly in love with the busty Vanessa and she with him, but Lord Cumberland advises Christian to put aside the temptations of the flesh and concentrate on ridding the world of the evils of witchcraft.

But Christian has extremely high ideals and morals, and when one fateful day he sees his adviser and mentor Lord Cumberland commit an act that no decent man of the cloth would ever so much as contemplate, he finds himself terribly torn, torn between his love of Mother Church and his love for Vanessa, a real human female who can fill his life with love, warmth and laughter. Which will he choose, and what will it cost him…?

The Austrian scenery- the mountains, the lakes, the rolling green hills- is stunning to look at (the hills are certainly alive), and I love the score as well. The film is most famous- or should that be notorious- for its torture scenes, and the reputation is warranted, I tells ya, warranted. Don’t you be telling me it’s not warranted. And if you tell me you think the film’s depiction of torture is too graphic, I’ll just say this: it all happened that way in real life, didn’t it…?

Poor beautiful Deirdre von Bergenstein and the young Baron Daumer experience the full benefits of Lord Cumberland’s dubious hospitality. What’s on the menu? Well, the thumbscrews, the rack, whipping, both on the body and on the soles of the feet, a special chair with nails sticking up out of it for the posterior and, for Deirdre, something so disgusting and terrible that vomit bags had to be issued alongside your cinema ticket back in the day. And some of them were actually used for that exact purpose, as well. By the way, I thought the water torture guy was getting off lightly at first, but, by the time we’d witnessed his total mental degeneration, I wasn’t so sure…

The film does an excellent job of showing us exactly why witch-finding was so popular back in those days. The Church benefited by confiscating the property and riches of any wealthy noblemen- or women- they accused of witchcraft.

The prisoners might escape with their lives if they signed their estates over to the Church, and if they refused to do so, they were burned as witches and the Church nicked their stuff anyway. Win-win, but not for the poor victims. Talk about a cast-iron, Church-and-state-sanctioned excuse for raping and pillaging. Disgusting.

I love Herbert Fux as Jeff Wilkins, the witchfinder’s heavy. He carries out the torture with such gusto! You don’t often get to see a man enjoying his job so much. Gaby Fuchs is wonderful too as the poor brutalised Deirdre, and Udo Kier and Olivera Vuco as Christian and Vanessa make an exceedingly good-looking couple. Does their story have a happy ending? You’ll have to watch this controversial cult classic to find out, folks. But keep those vomit bags handy, just in case…    
You can buy all of Michael’s screenplay books at the following links:


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:


black sunday




This Italian horror movie is the most magnificently gothic film you could ever watch. The scenery and settings are as eerily, dustily gothic as you could possibly wish for, and scream queen Barbara Steele is infinitely watchable as the two lead characters. (She plays a dual role here.) It made stars out of both Steele and Mario Bava, the Italian director.

Steele’s face and figure are exquisite, her hands beautiful, slender and expressive, but that face! The camera is right to focus on it for much of the movie. Close-up, she really is the most striking creature to ever draw breath. Surely no actress has ever played a gothic princess quite so perfectly.

Here, she does a brilliant job of portraying the poor doomed Princess Asa, sister of the ruler of Moldavia, a European kingdom in the seventeenth century, about 1630, to be exact. Her horrible brother, Prince Vajda, has condemned her and her manservant Javutich to death for supposedly being witches, vampires and cohorts of Satan (I accidentally typed ‘cohorts of Stan’ there by accident, which is much less menacing…!)

The first five minutes of the film show Asa’s agonising death. The scene is so controversial that the film was banned in England till 1968. It shocked the living daylights out of me when I saw it first, especially the bit with the enormous executioner-type guy wielding the heavy mallet…! Repeat viewings showed me clearly that the scene has lost none of its power to shock, just because sixty years have elapsed.

I won’t describe the death here; it’s just too gruesome. My sympathies are entirely with the poor persecuted Asa, who curses her brother and all his descendants, not just for three months (a joke from The Simpsons), but for all eternity.

Then the action moves to two hundred years later, in the same God-forsaken kingdom of Moldavia. Two doctors are on their way to a medical conference when their carriage breaks down outside the tomb of Princess Asa, the witch.

They are fascinated to see her face, still covered by the mask of Satan, and the older doctor, Choma Kruvajan, makes the mistake of allowing the blood from a cut on his hand to drip onto the witch’s face, an action which we just know will bring the vengeful witch back to life. Well, if it was good enough for Hammer’s Dracula…!

The handsome younger doctor, Andrej Gorobec, falls head-over-heels in love with Princess Katia of the House of Vajda, the descendant of Asa who also happens to be a dead ringer for the deceased witch.

Katia’s haunting beauty and the air of sadness that envelops her like a cloud of Chanel No.5 draw Andrej to her like a fly to an open jam pot. But is now a good time to be wooing a princess of the doomed House of Vajda, especially given that Asa and her servant Javutich are back and baying for blood…? On his own head be it, then…

The crypt and castle here are the best and most atmospheric I’ve ever seen in a gothic movie. The monochromatic black-and-white is eminently suitable to the fearful tone of the film. Dread and terror are in the air, and no-one is exempt, not Katia, not her brother Constantine and not her father Vajda or her new lover, Andrej. Beware the mask of Stan. There, you see? I’ve done it again. Beware the mask of Satan, I meant to say. It’s like the mask of Stan, only deadlier…


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

You can contact Sandra at:



hunchback esmeralda




‘Swift run the sands of life, except in the hour of pain.’

Lon Chaney’s performance in this film is positively staggeringly good. He throws himself into it to the extent that he doesn’t mind at all that his creation is repugnant to lay eyes on. That’s a good thing, as far as he’s concerned, and it’s damned realistic too.

He doesn’t mind his character looking hideous and he doesn’t mind enduring a bit of physical suffering to achieve the right look. I think he thought that the suffering was a good thing too, lol. If you suffered for your art, you were obviously getting it right. And he got it so right with his Hunchback.

The Hunchback is a tragic figure, certainly unappealing to look upon but never comic, even if he does start the movie being crowned the King of the Fools during the festival of the same name. We’re in Paris, France ‘ten years before Christopher Columbus discovered America,’ so I make that 1472 by my watch.

The Middle Ages were so unsanitary with their rats, their plagues and their open sewers with filthy sewerage flowing down the streets that it’s a wonder anyone ever lived through them at all. Downright disgusting, they were.

Louis the Eleventh was the King of France during this era and you can bet your bottom dollar that he didn’t have to walk through sewerage on his way to buy a carton of milk and a packet of fags. One law for the rich and another for the poor, that’s how it was back then.

There were dire mutterings behind the scene amongst the lower classes though, and talk of uprisings and of overthrowing the King and distributing the wealth a little more evenly. I’m a little sketchy on my French history so I don’t know what happened in France between 1472 and the French Revolution of 1789 (‘Off with their heads!’ and suchlike) but the peasants were frequently revolting anyway, and you couldn’t really blame them as conditions for the poor were so appalling.

Rickets, ticks in the straw, the plague every five bloody minutes, boils and sores, infestations of this or that, no proper toilet or washing facilities, absolutely no Internet access, etc., etc. I couldn’t be doing with any of that type of thing. Give me modern times any day.

Lon Chaney’s character is Quasimodo the Hunchback, an orphaned, disfigured pauper brought up by the Church within the confines of the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral, the other star of the film. Whaddya mean you don’t remember Quasimodo? Surely his face at least rings a bell? Ba-dum-tish, lol. Bad joke. Forgive me.

He’s the bell-ringer at the Cathedral, which job has rendered him half-deaf if not wholly deaf after years of enduring the tremendous noise at close range. He loves the bells though, and at one point we see him expressing his ‘wild joy’ at something that’s happened by ringing the bejeesus out of those bells till the whole city is quivering from the reverberations.

Quasimodo is ordered by the Archdeacon’s lecherous and distinctly unholy brother Jehan to kidnap Esmeralda, the beautiful Gypsy girl who can be seen dancing and twirling like a sexy dervish in the streets during the festival. The kidnapping goes awry and Quasimodo is sentenced to a terrible public lashing, ‘not by any means the first time a servant was punished in place of its master.’

The poor Hunchback falls hopelessly in love with Esmeralda when she is the only person to take pity on him after this whipping and bring him a drink to quench his awful thirst. But Esmeralda is head-over-heels in love with Phoebus de Chateaupers, a ringleted and twirly-moustachioed popinjay who goes by the title of the Captain of the Guards.

The wicked Jehan stabs Phoebus while he- Phoebus- is engaged in embracing the lovesick Esmeralda, then he legs it and lets Esmeralda take the blame. Poor Esmeralda is ‘put to the question’ by the men of the Court, by which of course I mean she was tortured by these master torturers until she ‘confessed’ to the crime she didn’t commit, that of stabbing her lover Phoebus. These were the times of the Inquisition and witch-burnings and people being accused of sorcery if they were found to be able to add two plus two together and get four. That’s right, those were the bad old days.

On foot of her forced ‘confession,’ Esmeralda is sentenced to be hanged. On her way to the gallows, she is seen by Quasimodo, who is horrified by the implications of what he’s observed. His beautiful kind-hearted angel Esmeralda, sentenced to death? He kidnaps her away from the Guards and hops it with her into the Church. Methinks it’s time for a little Sanctuary, lol.

Can a gypsy girl really receive justice when she’s only a poor lowborn female while her accusers are all male and more powerful than she? And on whom will she bestow her love, the dashing nincompoop Phoebus or her rescuer Quasimodo who, alas, is no more pleasing to look on than last night’s curry leftovers after the dog’s been at ’em…? Whatever she does, someone’s bound to get hurt.

There’s also the intriguing mystery of Esmeralda’s parentage. Who is the girl’s mother, and is there a chance of a reunion between mother and daughter before one of them dies? Esmeralda has never been more alone in the world than she is now. She could use some good news.

The Court of Miracles, so-called because ‘here the blind can see and the lame walk,’ is a very interesting place too. Here lives Esmeralda’s ‘adopted’ father, Clopin, the King of Thieves, with the other downtrodden peasants of Paris, and here it is also that a word from Esmeralda saves Gringoire the poet, a minor character, from being hanged for wandering into the wrong part of town. Will Clopin rally his own troops when he hears of Esmeralda’s intended fate? He jolly well ought to, anyway.

The siege of the Cathedral is the most exciting bit. Look at the way Quasimodo leaps in glee and triumph when he thinks he’s gotten one over on those who are trying to force an entrance! He’s positively alive with mischief and impish malice, like the bad fairy at the party or something.

Lon Chaney, who also stars in the superb film adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA in 1925, puts his heart and soul into the performance and into the mannerisms of the poor Hunchback.

There have been other Hunchbacks since his- the brilliant Charles Laughton, for example, and even Anthony Hopkins had a go at it- but his to me will always be the most poignant and the most moving. Lon Chaney, the Man With A Million Faces, has done it again, has pulled off another master-stroke with his bag of tricks. Hats off to you, Mr. Chaney. Hats off to you.


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

You can contact Sandra at: