How did I come up with the idea for this post “Satan’s Unsung”? It was easy, first I started working on “Seven From The Seventies: Part 2” and then I totally lost my steam after four films. Luckily each movie I had mentioned had Satan in it so I retitled the post and viola! I love it when a plan comes together in such a way that it cuts my work nearly in half while simultaneously exposing the type of non follow-through that has kept me from getting anywhere in life! Hail, Satan!
THE MEPHISTO WALTZ (1971)
ROSEMARY’S BABY opened the door for many a cinematic occult tale and the seldom-mentioned body-switcher movie THE MEPHISTO WALTZ is in my opinion, one of the better ones. Sure, it’s a bit overstuffed and convoluted, but there’s more than enough swirly seventies strangeness to keep you on your hooves. Fans of NIGHT GALLERY-type distorted images and kooky camera angles take special note.
Truth is, MEPHISTO sports one quick visual, a dog wearing a mask of a human face, which I have always found highly effective. It’s nearly as alarming as the costumed indiscretion in THE SHINING, it foresees the banjo-bum/doggie hybrid from INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and holy Haddonfield, sources say the mask itself is the same WILLIAM SHATNER design that was later used in a flick called HALLOWEEN. A little streamlining would have gone a long way and ALAN ALDA is woefully miscast but that lone bizarre image and the presences of JAQUELINE BISSET (THE DEEP), BARBARA PARKINS (VALLEY OF THE DOLLS) and PAMELYN FERDIN (THE TOOLBOX MURDERS) render most of MEPHISTO’s lapses in judgment benign. (No offense, Mr. ALDA, you rule in CRIMES AND MISDEMEANERS!)
THE BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN (1971)
BROTHERHOOD has a shockingly low rating on IMDb which leads me to believe that people are insane. In some ways I think it may be the most consistently creepy (and I mean creepy in every sense of the word) movie that I’ve ever seen. Perhaps some are put off by its long stretches of inactive silence, but I find those periods only add to the overall tide of weirdness. Avoid the pan and scan version like the plague, this has to be seen in all of its widescreen glory. I also suggest throwing literal mindedness out the window. If you allow this baby to be as surreal as it needs to be, it’s a bonanza of visual and audio strangeness. Dolls and statues come to life, fog roams the countryside like a living force and there is a tea party gutted straight out of a demonic version of ALICE IN WONDERLAND.
This PG anomaly involves children being kidnapped by elderly Satanists with the plan of switching bodies for a free extra ride on the Ferris wheel of life. The premise is intrinsically disturbing if not terribly original and for someone who is easily scared by old people like myself, it really inspires the cringes. In fact I’m starting to believe that in a lot of these seventies flicks the fear of Satan really just masks a post sixties exasperation that that the “old ways” can never be fully scraped off our shoes. Call me nutzo, but sans the light doses of psychedelia the overall mise-en-scene here reminds me of an amalgamation of vintage JOHN CARPENTER and as always, the dropping of the JC name stands as my highest praise. If you can stomach some good old-fashioned ambiguity this is a gloriously eccentric quiet storm of freakiness that demands reappraisal.
THE EVIL (1978)
Who doesn’t love a haunted house movie? The problem is some reach for subtlety and grab uneventful and long winded instead. THE EVIL seems to know that it doesn’t have the mastery required to go the suggestive route so it pulls out all the stops and puts on a real show. This is a haunted house movie where things go down and they go down in your face (utilizing mostly practical effects, thankfully.) It flirts with silliness and plays with many a cliché but you can’t accuse it of not delivering. RICHARD CRENNA is a psychologist who along with his wife and a merry band of victims in waiting decide to restore an old house with a troubled past. Slasher tropes are utilized to separate and dispense of the group one by one and folks are pulled around and pushed about by unseen forces as if auditioning for PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3.
THE EVIL was filmed in a real castle in Montezuma, New Mexico and, per usual, the utilizing of an actual space with authentic history pays off. Frankly the location alone is more than enough to recommend this movie. THE EVIL is more frivolous fun than under the skin unsettling, but it’s not completely brain dead either. Unlike many a haunted house flick it comes off as generally interested in the supernatural. An eleventh hour, from left field, appearance of hokey VICTOR BUONO as Satan himself may leave an unnecessary campy taste in some mouths but I refuse to throw stones at something so unexpected and idiosyncratic (not to mention, PHANTASM-y!) THE EVIL has just recently and finally been released on DVD, and if you’re fond of the seventies and have a soft spot for haunted house movies then this is a must see that, despite its hoary nature, still throws some original curves.
THE REDEEMER: SON OF SATAN (1978)
THE REDEEMER: SON OF SATAN doesn’t have Satan in it, but if the title is to be believed then it does feature his kid (this one also goes by CLASS REUNION MASSACRE.) I’m guessing Satan’s son is the little boy who walks out of a lake who takes a bus to a church and then possesses a priest who contacts six people to come to a fake class reunion where he kills them one by one for being sinners while brandishing puppets and wearing a variety of disguises. I’m not sure why Satan is suddenly against sinning or why having a job and a sex life are considered worse sins than torturing and murdering people, but I guess we all have different interpretations of the Bible. I kind of wish somebody had an interpretation that wasn’t really mean but what do I know? I eat shellfish. Maybe they’re saying something here about how religion can be used to hide the devil’s work but that still doesn’t explain why the priest has extra thumbs.
I’m not sure if I like this movie as much as I’m fascinated by its baffling morality and penchant for talking out of both sides of its mouth. It’s all kind of shoddily done but I’d be fibbing (a sin) if I didn’t admit that it gave me some heebie jeebies. The goofy masks, the mocking voice, the mean spiritedness of the kills, all kind of make me want to take a Silkwood shower and thus I find it successful. It’s ridiculous and yet the grim, claustrophobic mood kind of works in a weird way. Plus, considering it was released before HALLOWEEN ya gotta give it props for its intuition on the direction horror would be heading. It may be the bottom of the barrel that we’re scraping here but slasher fans who relish the twisted in spirit and don’t mind a little gritty residue may find this hobbled together oddity a guilty (and perplexing) trash treasure.