Raro Video // 1972 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // November 21st, 2012
It's the terror of silence on which they feed...the terror of loneliness.
A bruised, disoriented man is discovered near a river in some unnamed Eastern European country. He's taken to a hospital, where doctors and the police try to ascertain his identity. The man (Gianni Garko, The Psychic) responds to nothing. A woman (Agostina Belli, Bluebeard) comes to the hospital, claiming to recognize him from a newspaper article. She tells the doctor that she'd met the man recently, gives his name -- Nicholas -- and offers a bit of knowledge about his business. But when the man sees her, he begins screaming hysterically and tries to get away.
Nicholas flashes back on the events of the past few days. He was driving in the woods when what appeared to be a woman ran in front of his car, causing him to crash. He wandered a while before coming upon a house. Gorca (William Vanders, The Statue), the head of the house, offered to put Nicholas up for the night, warning him not to leave the house after dark.
What Nicholas doesn't know is that earlier, Gorca and his son, Jovan (Roberto Maldera, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave), have just finished burying another family member -- Gorca's brother. They believed that the brother had been cursed by a witch who roams the woods, and they're hoping that his death will prevent the curse from afflicting the rest of the family.
As the first night bleeds into the second, Nicholas's car remains broken, although Jovan attempts to fix it. The visitor tries to piece together exactly what is happening -- the strange sounds at the doors and windows, the odd clues measured out by the family members, the volatile behavior of Jovan, and a horrifying wait as Gorca goes to confront the witch, his family aware that if he's not returned by 6:00, he's failed.
While Nicholas finds himself distracted by Gorca's beautiful and increasingly affectionate daughter, there are horrors awaiting that he cannot even imagine.
A beautifully atmospheric adaptation of A.K. Tolstoy's The Family of the Vourdalak, Giorgio Ferroni's The Night of the Devils is a surprisingly effective horror story. While there are some fairly strong scenes of violence, Ferroni trades on mood and mystery to create suspense, keeping the audience very much in the dark as to what's actually going on. When the payoff comes, it's more frightening and disturbing than any number of gore-filled, slasher-style horrors.
To say that the goings on at this cottage in the woods are supernatural is a given, but those unfamiliar with Tolstoy's story -- or Mario Bava's Black Sabbath, which also used the Vourdalak story as the basis for one of its segments -- will find more than a few surprises here.
There's a classic feel to The Night of the Devils, its slow build and close-to-the-vest storytelling becoming increasingly creepy. We're given slightly more information than Nicholas, but not much -- just enough to create a sense of dread. Everything's off-kilter -- giggling children who might or might not be in danger, an unsettling liaison between Jovan and his uncle's widow, the ever-present witch luring more victims, and the sudden introduction of some heady violence.
Ferroni keeps things moving with a haunting visual style. Much of the action is confined to rooms in the cottage, creating a claustrophobic atmosphere. There's an otherworldly quality to the goings on -- although it's contemporary, the family lives in such a primitive way, at times the film feels like a period piece. Some very well executed plot twists make the film striking; it's the kind of movie that stays with you. A subtly intense chiller, The Night of the Devils deserves to be seen.
Raro turns out a terrific disc for this little-known title. The 2.35 widescreen letterboxed transfer is very good, with solid colors, clarity, and little print damage. There are two audio options, Italian and English, both Mono tracks; aside from some odd wavering early in the film, these are perfectly fine.
The disc contains a nice slate of supplements.
First up is an introduction by Chris Alexander of Fangoria. He refers to the film as "psychedelic," and talks a lot about the graphic sex and nudity, and the gore. I respect Alexander, and I've enjoyed his intros and liner notes for other releases like Horror Express, Murder Obsession and Plot of Fear, but I think he's a little off here. There's a fantasy sequence near the beginning in which Nicholas imagines things like worms crawling out of a skull, a woman's face being shot off, and some soft-core-ish, S&M antics involving a nude woman; the whole scene runs just over a minute and frankly, it doesn't contribute much to the film. Beyond this, while there are a few brief scenes in which the actresses' breasts are exposed, this is hardly a film of graphic sex and nudity, nor is it what I'd call 60s-style "psychedelic." If anything, the film has the feel of a very traditional and remarkably literate bit of storytelling, measured and deliberate as befits the source material.
The gorgeous score is from Giorgio Gaslini (Deep Red), and the disc features a recent half-hour interview with him (in Italian, with subtitles). We also get some biographical information about him in the illustrated booklet that accompanies the disc, as well as a print interview with Alexander. Alexander also provides an essay on the film and the director.
This is a very satisfying package for a very satisfying film.
An excellent, unheralded horror thriller gets a top-flight release from Raro. Subtly terrifying, exquisitely filmed and directed, this one is well worth seeking out.
Review content copyright © 2012 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Raro Video
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Italian)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Not Rated