Kino Lorber // 1973 // 98 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // September 6th, 2012
Vampires need blood that's not contaminated with human semen.
The sex/occult movie was a popular item in the '70s. Unlike some genres and subgenres, these were not country-of-origin specific; Americans made them (Simon, King of Witches), the British made them (Virgin Witch), the Spanish made them (Satan's Blood)...
...and, naturally, the Italians made them.
What's notable about these films is...well, really, not a whole lot. Unlike the '70s-era Hammer films, which focused on horror story-telling with sex and nudity thrown in to enhance the plot, sex/occult movies existed mainly as soft-core exploitation with a horror storyline to justify the films' existence. Rarely scary or thought-provoking, these films tend to meander about between nude scenes and often feature terrible things happening to half-dressed women. To keep the audience engaged between sex scenes, these films often added "trippy" effects, like multi-colored lights flashing for no apparent reason.
Black Magic Rites is actually an extreme example of the sex/occult sub-times-five-genre. It features Mickey Hargitay, famous bodybuilder, famous ex-husband of Jayne Mansfield, and briefly famous Eurosploitation star. Hargitay starred in such lurid films as Bloody Pit of Horror and Delirio Caldo, the latter of which was directed by Renato Polselli, who also did the duties on Black Magic Rites -- alternately known as Rites, Black Magic, and Secret Orgies in the Fourteenth Century, an appropriately cumbersome title for this thoroughly incomprehensible film. Black Magic Rites features a bevy of interchangeable, topless young women having awful things done to their persons in a moldy old castle.
But unlike most, Black Magic Rites doesn't have a solid throughline -- or any discernible throughline. It pings around through a series of bizarre scenes that seem to have been thought up on the spot, filmed, and then tossed into the finished product without a lot of concern for cohesion.
Five hundred years ago (give or take), the lovely Isabella (Rita Calderoni, End of the Game) was burned for being a witch. Isabella must have had some kind of constitution: First, they ram a stake through her heart, and they still have to burn her up to kill her. Admittedly, there's something a little fascinating in the sight of a half-naked woman with a rubber stick jutting out between her breasts standing on a hibachi and screaming, but it's a fleeting thrill with little follow-up.
Anyway, Isabella's husband witnesses this mess, and naturally, he's none too happy. Flash forward to the swingin' '70s, and a man named Jack Nelson (Hargitay) has purchased a castle -- and Jack is a dead ringer for Isabella's aggrieved hubby. The castle's in a bad neighborhood: young local girls (virgins, they) are being murdered...by vampires! Or, they're being kidnapped by cultists and sacrificed in front of an Isabella totem. Since the cultists all wear scarlet onesies and carry goblets filled with dry ice (or something that makes smoke come out of them), we know they're serious sorts.
Anyway, Jack is giving an engagement party for his niece, Laureen, who's a dead-ringer for the dead Isabella (and, appropriately, is also played by Calderoni). Half the castle is occupied by an occultist, who's none too happy to see Jack, as well as by some creepy looking, Igor-type guy.
Anyway, it seems that the whole she-bang here is to resurrect Isabella, who's been elevated to goddess status (or something). Her body, unaffected by flames and centuries of being dead, hangs over the altar in the dungeon, complete with gaping chest hole. For the reanimation to take, the cultists need the hearts and the eyes of virgins.
And between the nubile locals and Laureen's apparently chaste nubile friends, there's virgins a'plenty at the castle now.
I actually have no idea what this thing's really about; all I know is that every 30 or so seconds, you'll see a breast. Since the characters are barely defined, it's hard to know who's who, and the breasts all pretty much look alike; there was no effort to cast, say, a woman with a square nipple or someone with a prominent mole to help keep the breast scorecards straight. In one nonsequitor of a scene, a bunch of half-naked women are chained to crosses and ladders and things. They're all screaming and moaning and writhing. Then, they're forced to drink a dry-ice potion that turns them into lesbians. Really. I'm not making this up.
Plus, we keep randomly flashing back to Isabella's rubber-staked-chest-and-barbecue act.
So, no, this isn't exactly a date movie. It's really a raunchy stoner movie, if anything.
Multi-color lights flicker on and off constantly and reflect off the characters' faces, making the whole thing look like it was shot in a Christmas tree store. Some scenes are shot reflected off a goblet, so everyone looks distorted and upside down. There's lots of quick cutting and useless imagery. The score wafts between pseudo religious knock-off and porn. There's an explanation at the end, but it might have helped if Polselli had given us some kind of heads up at the beginning so audiences didn't have to sit for 98 minutes scratching their heads as random women have abuses heaped on them.
This puppy's been released a bunch of times, but Black Magic Rites (Blu-ray) marks its initiation on Hi-Def. While the 1.78:1/1080p image contains its share of nicks and speckles, it also offers great colors and clarity. The PCM mono track is fine. The only supplements are trailers for this and some Mario Bava and Jean Rollin films. I really wish there'd been someone on hand -- interview? liner notes? -- to give some background on this thing...
A confusing mess of a movie that seems to revel in its own weirdness, Black Magic Rites is a relic without a lot of relevance. Eurotrash completists will likely want to check this out, but be warned: there's just no a lot of "there" there.
Review content copyright © 2012 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* PCM 2.0 Mono (Italian)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 1973
MPAA Rating: Not Rated