Salvation Films // 1973 // 93 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // October 3rd, 2008
A lover can only be brought back to life if she's given the hearts and eyes of young virgins.
Witchcraft, Satanism, and bondage are all fantastic ways to sell a movie. European horror movies from the '70s are rife with the stuff but, the trouble with these promises, as anyone who has been taken in already knows, comes when viewers see just how shoddy these films actually are in spite of all that great subject matter. Salvation Films has been scraping the barrel of sleazy European horror for years, and have previously released Black Magic Rites under the title The Reincarnation of Isabelle. Can a new title fool customers one more time?
Hundreds of years ago, a man was restrained while he watched his lover burned at the stake for witchery. His threat that she will live again overtakes his life and he spends the next several centuries refining the method to reincarnate his precious Isabella. His obsession turns him into a monster, walking the Earth in search of virgins to kidnap for his attempts to raise his lover from the grave.
Coherent storytelling isn't often the hallmark of '70s Italian horror films, and Black Magic Rites doesn't do much to break that stereotype, but it does a little better than most. It falters in other ways, but director Renato Polselli (Delirium) keeps this story of witchcraft and reanimation simple and concise. Without getting involved in any excess plotting, Polselli jumps right into the action, giving us the entire premise at the very beginning. A girl who has been lured into a really cheap-looking shrine is bound and stripped while cultists in red suits perform mockeries of Catholic rites over her. The last thing she sees is a mummified woman with a hole in her chest. Were she alive to see it, she would realize that she has become an unwilling organ donor. We aren't told specifically that the corpse needs virgin hearts to live, but the removal of the girl's from her chest combined with the gaping whole in the mummy where her heart should be does a pretty good job of cluing us in.
Without any rigmarole, Polselli jumps from here into present times, at an exclusive girls' school where you can't throw a rock without hitting a virgin. Understandably, this heart-hoarding freak is thrilled when he realizes this and immediately gets to business luring the girls into his lair. The mystery of what's happening to the girls with the extended Satanic torture sequences make up the entirety of Black Magic Rites. Polselli keeps the story grounded by including as little of it as possible. He gives a skeleton of a premise and lets the actors run wild with it. Much of this genre tries far too hard to connect the plot together, which often digs them into deeper holes of confusion. In a case of addition by subtraction, Black Magic Rites elects to explain nothing, alleviating any confusion by keeping the story as obscured as possible. This leaves us free to enjoy what this film is really about: virgins in chains...and there are a lot of them. From the first scene to the last, this is the only constant and, even in the rare moments of extended dialogue, Polselli is sure to cut back to the dark shrine, just in case we've forgotten that virgins are being tortured. There's a little bit of budding romances and backbiting among the girls, but we get to know them only so long as they're necessary for the next torture sequence.
The film does take a big misstep in one of its few attempts to explain things, however. While most of the film is dedicated to the witchcraft angle, at one point they attempt to explain how the man became a monster. Instead of continuing the witchery bit, they try to explain him as Dracula. It comes out of left field and makes absolutely no sense, but it may be simply a fault of the translation. They forget about it almost as soon as they say it and, while it's jarring to hear, it has no real bearing on the film, plus directly afterward is another bondage scene to help us forget about the inanity.
The bondage scenes themselves are focused much more on the sadistic than the erotic. Though the two are combined occasionally, they tend to separate the torture from the sex which, in itself, isn't very erotic either. The actresses are cute, but I can't speak much good about their skills. The customarily bad dubbing certainly doesn't help, but the performances are as flat and lifeless as the script, with or without the dubbing. The direction and editing are hyper-fast, frustratingly so, with an overdose of montages flashing back and forth in time and place. A heavy use of psychedelia, including a headache-inducing spinning rainbow behind the opening credits, further disorients the viewer; to what point, I do not know. I guess it looked cool on whatever they had taken when they made the decision to include it.
This new release of Black Magic Rites from Salvation Films is identical to their original release of The Reincarnation of Isabelle in every way except the title, the cover, and the switch to a standard case from their old snapper. The letterboxed transfer is filthy and is weighed down further by a number of transfer errors. The colors do have some saturation to them, but the print is too damaged to enjoy the bright colors that Polselli employs. The Italian dub is clear through it's single channel and the only extras are a trailer and a production still gallery.
Black Magic Rites may be stupid, but it's a bizarre and laughable ride. This is one of the sleaziest films Redemption has released and rife with sex and Satanism, so it can't be all bad.
Even with that stuff, it's still totally guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Salvation Films
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Italian)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1973
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Photo gallery