Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Mark of the Devil (1970)
I can't say I've seen a lot of movies about the witch-hunts and the general stupidity of the medieval ages. Witchfinder General, Cry of the Banshee and of course, Jess Franco's underrated drama The Bloody Judge. So it wasn't until today I first saw Michael Armstrong's Mark of the Devil, a German production shot in
nice international cast of talents like Udo Kier, Herbert Lom and Reggie
Nalder. Michael Reeves signed up to direct it, which it's easy to imagine after
the success of Witchfinder General, but died before filming could start. His
assistant Armstrong took over and shot most of the stuff, with some
additional material directed by Adrian
Hoven. This could have resulted in a highly uneven film, but a good script and
excellent actors makes this one of the best witch-movies made! I'll go so far I
think it's on the same level of quality as Witchfinder General! Austria
The story is a bit complex to write down, but Reggie Nalder is Albino, the local witch-hunter and everything is great and awesome and he's very aware of what he's doing...until Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom) enters the town and takes over as the new judge and he's saying he's on a mission from god himself! His biggest fan is Count Christian (Udo Kier), who's his apprentice and student in the holy mission of finding disciples of Satan! All is well until the day Christian starts to suspect that Cumberland is doing this to just earn some extra money, rape women and use his power to get rid of enemies and when he witnesses how even the nasty Albino confronts Cumberland on this, the shit hits the fan!
Oh, it's a lot better story than what I've tried to explain to you. What I find most interesting is the complex characters. No one is really evil or really good, and even the baddies can change, or at least act human when facing danger. The danger is very realistic, so realistic I guess some people might think it's disappointing - but hey, I find it even better that way. More cynical. More real. This happens today to. The alternate ending, lost forever, had a supernatural twist to the story, which have destroyed the almost atheistic message the movie has. So I'm happy it wasn't used (and the director hated it), but it's a pity it's lost and destroyed.
In an exploitation movie like this some might think that the acting doesn't matter, but of course it does. Herbert Lom, who recently left us, delivers cold, dark performance. The work of a master. Udo Kier both looks good and acts well, but is a bit underwritten. He have some challenges as a character and struggles with giving him some more depth. Reggie Nalder is fantastic as always. This combined with amazing locations - and stunning cinematography - makes the movie a visual treat. It's both gritty and echoes of some Bavarian romance movie, and the dark nasty story makes this even more powerful: that such beauty can hold such terror.
Like all of these witch-movies the violence and gore has been widely exaggerated over the years, but it delivers some blood and minor gore - plus the required nudity of course. The effects is cheap and primitive but fits the style. The new German blu-ray includes six minutes of deleted and alternate scenes which is a joy to behold. Before the film was released it was slightly trimmed and here we get a change to see some gore and blood and glimpses of the shooting (some magnificent sideburns on the crew!), all to Michael Holm's beautiful score! Yeah, the score. The main theme is a bit similar to Riz Ortolani's theme to Cannibal Holocaust. Not that much, but I can hear something very familiar in the melody. I think it's just a coincidence and the score is brilliant to both movies.
The new German blu-ray looks stunning. It's a must have for collectors. It's a limited edition of 5000 copies, 3 disc release - one blu-ray (with some extras on it, including the extra footage), a DVD (also with the movie) and a bonus disc with interviews - sadly no subtitles. The video commentary track with Udo Kier and the gang looks fab, but still... no subs! There's also a commentary with director Michael Armstrong, I guess its lifted from an older releases and I will give it a listen some day.
So, what are you waiting for? Buy it!