MARK OF THE DEVIL. (1970) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©


MARK OF THE DEVIL. (1970) DIRECTED BY MICHAEL ARMSTRONG. PRODUCED BY ADRIAN HOVEN. SCREENPLAY WRITTEN BY MICHAEL ARMSTRONG AND ADRIAN HOVEN.
STARRING HERBERT LOM, REGGIE NALDER, OLIVERA VUCA, GABY FUCHS, UDO KIER, INGEBORG SCHONER, ADRIAN HOVEN AND HERBERT FUX.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

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:
 
http://www.michaelarmstrong.co.uk
http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

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:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

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

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

THE HAUNTED PALACE. (1963) A VINCENT PRICE/ROGER CORMAN FILM REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Vincent-Price-Blu-ray-Collection

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THE HAUNTED PALACE. (1963) BASED ON THE POEM BY EDGAR ALLAN POE AND ON THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD BY H.P. LOVECRAFT.

DIRECTED AND PRODUCED BY ROGER CORMAN.

STARRING VINCENT PRICE, DEBRA PAGET, LON CHANEY JR., FRANK MAXWELL, LEO GORDON AND CATHIE MERCHANT.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘And travellers now within that valley,

Through the red-litten windows, see

Vast forms that move fantastically

To a discordant melody;

While, like a rapid ghastly river,

Through the pale door,

A hideous throng rush out forever,

And laugh- but smile no more.’

This is such a lush luxurious film, sort of the cinematic equivalent of a really fancy box of chocolates. The same can be said of all of the films in American International Pictures/Roger Corman’s Poe cycle: THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, TALES OF TERROR, THE PREMATURE BURIAL, THE TOMB OF LIGEIA, THE RAVEN and THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH. All of these star Vincent Price in the lead role, except for THE PREMATURE BURIAL, in which Ray Milland is on leading man duty.

This film is book-ended by part of a Poe poem, which allows it to be included in the Poe cycle of films, but it’s mainly based on the Lovecraft story, THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD.

I much prefer Poe to Lovecraft; the tentacles thing espoused by the latter isn’t really for me. I love a nice psychological horror story or haunted house tale, and my preferred ‘monsters’ are the Universal ones, lol. Still, there’s much to praise in this visually sumptuous first major filming of a Lovecraft work, even if you can’t help noticing the odd plot-hole.

Vincent Price plays the titular Charles Dexter Ward who, together with his lovely wife Ann, arrives at the spooky New England harbour village of Arkham in order to take possession of the family residence, the titular Haunted Palace, abandoned for a century or more.

The villagers are all horrified because Ward is the spitting image of his evil ancestor, Joseph Curwen, who was burned at the stake exactly one hundred and ten years earlier for being the male equivalent of a witch.

Curwen was a much more interesting individual than his insipid descendant Ward. In the  mid-1700s, he lured the virginal young women of Arkham to his house and tried to mate them with ancient deities spawned in his vast underground dungeon. Kick-ass, huh…? His ultimate goal was the resurgence of a master race of Old Gods, ‘such as Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth.’

Unfortunately, these dubious ‘matings’ gave rise to several generations of hideous mutant or mutated eyeless monstrosities, some of whom are still alive and kicking and hidden in the locked rooms of the villagers of Arkham by the villagers themselves, whose progeny they are.

Some of the less dangerous, but no less physically shocking, mutants are brought out in force to scare the Wards away from Arkham, but Charles Dexter Ward has a destiny to fulfil, even if he doesn’t quite know it yet, and he opts to stay in his newly-acquired residence. There’s no law against a man living on his own property, is there? Of course there isn’t, more’s the pity for the poor doomed villagers…

To the horror of his loving wife Ann, Ward becomes possessed with the evil spirit of Joseph Curwen, through a magnificent portrait of the latter which hangs in the palace. Determined to carry out Curwen’s unfinished work of creating the master race of ancient gods through the mating of local young beauties with his basement ‘experiments,’ Ward/Curwen gathers around him his undead assistants of old, Simon Orne (Lon Chaney Jr., aka the Wolfman) and Jabez Hutchinson. Now he can pick up where he left off…

He seems to waste a lot of his newly-recovered time in trying to revive his long-dead mistress Hester Tillinghast, and also in revenging himself against the villagers who are direct descendants of the ones who burned Joseph Curwen to death over a century ago.

His two helpers beg him not to waste his time in petty vengeance, but Curwen feels that, after being dead for a hundred and ten years, he’s entitled to a little fun. Well, okay, fine, Master, but will there still be time to create a master race by forcibly mating your terrified wife Ann to the ungodly thing you’ve got hidden in your basement prison? If there is, there is, lol. We’ll have to see…

The movie, as well as being the first of Lovecraft’s works to be filmed, marks the first screen appearance of Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, a sort of mythical Book of the Dead which contains spells for conjuring up those ancient deities we mentioned earlier.

It’s the sort of really cool book which, if it really existed, you’d need permission from the Vatican to consult it, and you could only consult it by accompanying a grim-faced, disapproving elderly clerk in rusty black togs through several locked doors, the keys to which he keeps about his person.

In a huge, book-lined room, he’d take the book out of a locked safe, blow the dust off it and place it reverently on a table, and then he’d watch you like a hawk while you leafed nervously through its yellowed pages, looking for the bits you want to read. Oh, and you’re only allowed to consult the specific pages you’ve requested to see and no more. Can’t you just picture it…?

Vincent Price is perfectly at home in his two roles. Joseph has fancier, frillier togs and a sneerier, more menacing tone of voice than his nineteenth century counterpart, but Vincent Price is well able to chop and change between the two characters.

The sets are gorgeous, the costumes exquisite and the fog rolling in from the sea good and plentiful. The mutants are disturbing, the silhouette of the palace awe-inspiring and Lon Chaney Jr. as cuddly and loveable as ever he was in his Universal Wolfman films of the 1940s.

(I’m sure he thought he was being terribly frightening in that role, lol, but I’ve only ever thought of him as cuddly and loveable, with his cute little furry face and matching clodhoppers…!) 

I heartily recommend this Poe-Lovecraft mash-up. The critics had a lot to say about it- and not all good, either- but that doesn’t mean that it’s not both enjoyable and entertaining. Never mind the critics. What do they know? We’ll make up our own minds. Can I get an answering harrumph…?

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

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:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor