Friday, 19 June 2015

MARK OF THE DEVIL - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Arrow Video Restores Deliciously Vile 70s Witchfinding Torture Shocker to its Original Glory on a sumptuous Blu-Ray equivalent to Criterion Collection standards

Mark of the Devil (1970)
Dir. Michael Armstrong
Starring: Udo Kier, Herbert Lom, Reggie Nalder,
Olivera Katarina aka Olivera Vuco, Herbert Fux, Gaby Fuchs

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Translated from Hexen bis aufs Blut gequält into the Queen's English from German, the exquisitely Teutonic appellation of this classic 1970 shocker is Witches Tortured Until They Bleed.

Our ultra-Catholic friends in Italy affixed an equally tantalizing monicker: La Tortura Delle Vergini, or, in lingua inglese, The Torture of Virgins.

We, of course, know and love the picture as the far more genteel Mark of the Devil, but ultimately, whichever way one comes to appreciate this infamously vile shot-in-Bavaria German-UK co-production, it's guaranteed to bring joy to all eyes bearing witness to it. Well, "all" eyes with a clear path to that tainted chunk o' brain matter which can truly appreciate this sickeningly effective answer to Michael Reeves' 1968 cult masterpiece Witchfinder General -- those lucky souls will be the true beneficiaries of the delights found within the fully restored Arrow Video edition of it.

Though it might not have the borderline art-house credibility of Witchfinder General, Mark of the Devil is, in its own right, a fine addition to all the magnificently entertaining Euro-Trash witch torture exploitation items from the 60s and 70s. Not only is the torture of the highest standards, but the movie is damn compelling from a story standpoint.

Count Christian von Meruh (a character with a name like this could only be played by Udo Kier), a handsome young apprentice witch finder, accompanies his learned experienced mentor, the dastardly Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom) to clean up the corruption in a small town, not so much to stop torture and executions, but to make sure the proper guilty parties are rooted out. The Count falls for the comely barmaid Vanessa (played by the famous Serbian acting and singing sensation known alternately as Olivera Katarina and Olivera Vuco).

Unfortunately, the vicious local witchfinder, the Albino (the brilliant Reggie Nalder whose grotesque appearance was a result of massive burns to his face), has designs upon her (as he does with most women in the town) and when she refuses to put out, she's accused of witchcraft (as are most of the gals who don't put out). A family of innocent travelling puppeteers are also singled out as witches, especially the gorgeous blonde daughter (Gaby Fuchs, German star of numerous horror and sex films).

A whole whack of sickening tortures and executions are carried out until the handsome Count realizes the insidiously corrupt nature of the whole affair and leads a revolt against the witchfinders.

Due to considerable friction twixt director Michael Armstrong and producer Adrian Hoven (who also acts in the film), a considerable portion of the movie includes added sequences directed by the latter. In spite of this, the film has a relatively smooth mise-en-scene and ultimately works as a genuinely fine addition to this sub-genre of 70s exploitation. The performances, especially by Kier, Lom and Nalder are top of the line and the movie, even in its longer unexpurgated form, moves along at a speedy clip.

Though ultimately an exploitation film meant to capitalize on the success of the aforementioned Witchfinder General, Mark of the Devil holds its own very nicely and due to its superb locations and attention to certain historical details, it feels as disgustingly representative of this horrendous period of history as one could/would want.

Have I mentioned yet that the movie opens with nuns being raped? I thought not.

Look, there's just no getting around how foul this picture is, but aficionados of vile Euro-Trash will find themselves in a constant state of orgasm.

One cannot deny such pleasures to anyone.

Can one?

THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***½ (film) & ***** (Blu-Ray/DVD)

Mark of the Devil is available on a sumptuous Arrow Video Blu-Ray. In addition to the restoration of the full version and superb transfer from existing elements, the added treat are the bountiful extras. Arrow continues to be the gold standard for genre films in the home entertainment market and this particular package is on par with any fully loaded Criterion Collection release. Extras include a wonderful commentary track with Michael Armstrong, expertly moderated by Calum Waddell. Exclusive to this package is Mark of the Times a one-hour documentary on the British new wave of genre directors during the 60s and 70s. Hallmark of the Devil is an amazing little 12-minute doc about Hallmark Releasing (of Hallmark greeting cards fame) and their vile brilliant marketing campaign which ensured a huge return when the film played theatrically in the USA. There are a whack of great interviews with composer Michael Holm, actors Udo Kier, Herbert Fux, Gaby Fuchs, Ingeborg Schöner and even an audio only chat with Herbert Lom. A very entertaining short entitled Mark of the Devil: Now and Then takes us on a then-and-now tour of the film's locations. Additionally, one will find the usual bevy of outtakes, picture galleries, trailers and Arrow's impeccably high standards in package design and supplements with reversible sleeve and a lovely booklet featuring wonderful articles including David Del Valle's interview with the immortal Reggie Nalder.

This one is a keeper, folks