During his adolescence, Judge Dennis Prince feared he bore the mark of the Devil. His father convinced him that the mole on his buttocks was no cause for alarm, even if it did resemble Jane Fonda.
Our review of Mark of the Devil (Yack Pack), published December 21st, 2012, is also available.
From the infamous bag:
This VOMIT BAG and the PRICE of one ADMISSION will
enable YOU to SEE the first film rated V for violence.
Yet from the U.S. one-sheet and advertisements:
All ages admitted / Parental escorts encouraged.
Consider yourselves lucky, heathens, that you have opportunity to here witness the capture, conviction, and confessions of accused witches, especially every last moment of the historically-accurate torture sessions which extracted the truth from these disciples of the Devil.
That's right, this is the much-talked-about, much-maligned, and much -ensored Mark of the Devil, presented here in its complete, uncut and uncensored glory. Can you stand to watch the unbridled brutality? Can you bear the tortured screams of pain? Can you endure the display of bodies being branded, broken, and burned alive…all for the glory of God and the Church?
Stomach distress bags at the ready…
Facts of the Case
"It would be sinful not to fight violence with violence. The Devil is in all of you!"
In a small 18th Century European hamlet, the feared local witch hunter, Albino (Reggie Nalder, 'Salem's Lot), dutifully snares and disposes of conjuring wenches and wicked warlocks. With his seemingly limitless power to effect intimidation by threat of execution, he has begun to run amuck, using the threat of accusation to garner for himself all manner of sexual services. Assisted by his mealy Advokat (Johannes Buzalski), Albino regularly rapes pretty young females (nuns, even) and murders their valiant male compatriots. This all changes, however, when young Count Christian von Meruh (Udo Kier, Flesh for Frankenstein) and the attending Executioner (Herbert Fux) arrive bearing a proclamation. This paves the way for the much exalted Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom, 1962's Phantom of the Opera ), the only chosen witch finder with absolute authority from the country's reigning Prince. Albino initially resists this change, then attempts to ally himself with Christian, promising all the buxom females he desires. Upon being flatly rejected, Albino makes it a point to accuse and imprison the local bar wench, Vanessa (Olivera Vuco), for whom Christian has shown a sudden liking. Surely Lord Cumberland, upon his arrival, will sort this matter and properly punish Albino. Christian bears a staunch loyalty, admiration and awe for the Lord, clearly serving as the pupil to Cumberland who, by decree of the Church, ferrets out and executes confessed witches. His esteem for the master witch finder takes a severe blow when Cumberland agrees that Vanessa is likely a witch. Further, Christian becomes further aware that all is not well with his mentor when Cumberland sentences young Baron Daume (Michael Maien) to torture and eventual death unless he agrees to surrender his inherited land and riches to the Church. With his thoughts and emotions in a swirl, Christian must work fast to save the Baron, free Vanessa, and confront the hypocritical Cumberland.
So, is it truly so shocking that it will literally sicken you to the point of vomiting? Probably not, but that's not to say that this much-talked-about cult classic doesn't pack something of a punch with its graphic scenes of torture. Cinema sadists are sure to find plenty to applaud in the various depictions of lashings, brandings, burnings, and other such confession-motivating methods. Just a few minutes into the picture we're offered a flaming text crawl indicating the events we're about to see were inspired by historical documentation of three actual witch trials. Well, it seems highly suspect that we're witnessing accurate reenactments—but, as director Michael Armstrong shares in the accompanying commentary track, the torture devices employed are authentic. Not only are they authentic, they're downright despicable. Here you'll see the Rack, the Chair of Spikes, the Thumbscrew, and the Bridle and Tongs (demonstrating the wicked tongue-ripping sequence that was used for the film's key art design). During each of the torture sequences—and there are many—the camera lingers and languishes over each spectacle, letting us look on as thumbs painfully pop, witches burn slowly over a pyre, and a bare-bottomed baron literally has a fire lit under his seat. By today's effects standards, much of this lacks the sort of roadside-accident realism to which we've become accustomed, but that doesn't diminish the inherent cringe effect such painful displays evoke.
So, is there any story or acting on hand that's worth noting? Interestingly enough, and secondary to the torture and nudity at hand (yes, there are several scenes of wagging wonderbags), this West German production (originally titled Hexen bis aufs Blut gequält) has much more going for it beyond its exploitative medieval mutilations and titillating titty shows. The film does well, through its reasonable plot, at exposing the utter hypocrisy of the supposed religious leaders who, in their drunkenness with power to deal torture and death in the name of God, actually emerge as the most wicked among us. Lord Cumberland, initially presented as a thorough and tireless witch finder, has some serious troubles of his own; namely, he's rumored to be afflicted with a perpetually flaccid phallus. The mere mention of it by any who oppose him (and a couple folks do here) is enough to send him into a vindictive and violent tirade that condemns and kills. He's a neurotic fellow. He empowers his executioner to extract confessions of witchcraft and heresy from those who may be consorting with the Evil One—but more likely, these folks simply represent reminders of his insufferable impotence. In the role, Herbert Lom stomps and stalks around with overbearing aplomb. Through a perpetual scowl, he maintains a cool and decisive demeanor as he hands down his dreadful accusations and instructs commencement of the most barbaric punishments imaginable. (As the film's most nefarious act is about to take place, he coldly tells Christian, who is turning away, "We must never weaken in doing God's work. For those who turn against our Savior, no punishment is sufficient.")
For Udo Kier, this was the first major picture of his budding acting career. Four years before he would search for the perfect nasum, Kier played the faithful follower of preeminent Lord Cumberland. Truly, Kier is striking to behold; his noble brow, cleft chin, pursed lips and piercing blue eyes making him look like an Adonis among his on-screen peers. He's generally enjoyable to watch here even though he spends much of his time staring off into the distance, apparently torn by an inner battle over his professed loyalty to Cumberland and his reasonable nature telling him his admiration is misplaced. Unfortunately, Kier's voice is overdubbed (all actor's voices are in this picture) and we're robbed of the opportunity to enjoy the thick German accent that made his performance as Dr. Frankenstein all the more enjoyable.
Reggie Nalder looks as wicked as ever; the severe burn scars around his mouth lending that characteristic vileness we've come to expect from him. (I've yet to learn the actual cause of those scars, and have recently read he was quite a handsome fellow prior to the mishap.) Herbert Fux is rather solid as the Executioneer, dark and deliberate in doling out his prescribed manner of justice. Humorously, he bears something of a resemblance to NBA center Vlade Divac. The rest of the cast also manage their roles well and are genuinely consistent in their performances.
What's inconsistent, however, is the bedeviled musical score. To call Michael Holm's score strange is definitely an understatement. The majority of the film is set to a very whimsical and slightly romantic theme that conjures up thoughts of "Burt Bacharach Does Brutality." It, along with the often uneven dubbing of the actors' voices, is what condemns the film to bear the accusation of being just another piece of drive-in tripe. A shame, really, considering the respectable performances previously mentioned.
In this new DVD, Blue Underground tempts us with a stunning new digital transfer struck from recently discovered source elements. Framed at 1.78:1 and anamorphically enhanced, this is the best I've ever seen the film. Compared to the long out-of-print Anchor Bay release from 1998, this new disc is significantly bolder and better rendered in its color saturation, black levels, and detail. There is some inherent damage evident during the opening titles, but that subsides rather quickly. The audio is offered in a suitable Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track, never offering much of a wide soundstage yet maintaining a clarity of effects, score, and dialogue throughout.
In regards to extras, this disc delivers admirably. First up is an enjoyable and enlightening audio commentary by director Michael Armstrong. Next is a series of short featurettes containing interviews with Udo Kier, Herbert Fux, Gaby Fuchs, and Ingeborg Schöner, the young waif whose tortured visage has been featured prolifically in the film's key art, on one-sheets, and even on the vomit bag. But where is the bag? The only thing holding this disc back from earning truly high marks is the absence of some sort of replica of the celebrated "stomach distress bag." Nevertheless, there are a few more bonus features, including still shots of a much-talked-about alternate ending as well as additional production and promotional material stills.
The biggest question on film buffs' lips about this new release is whether it's truly uncut, and how it compares to Anchor Bay's former release, which also was purported to be uncut and uncensored. By direct comparison of running times, the new Blue Underground disc delivers a full 63 seconds of additional footage. From my best efforts to detect the differences, I believe I've found a few extra seconds in the opening and closing credits, a slightly lengthened foot-branding sequence, and a bit more footage of a topless tart. Clearly there must be extra frames floating about here and there to account for over a minute of difference between the two releases, but when it comes to the controversial torture sequences, nothing remarkably different seems apparent. (Incidentally, in the UK this film has long been the subject of censorship, with as much four-and-a-half minutes having been excised from previous video releases.)
The Rebuttal Witnesses
"Oh I enjoy a good witch burning every once in awhile. It's better than a boring sermon."
Well, Mark of the Devil is certainly deserving of its reputation as a true "video nasty" that salaciously lingers over the sadistic sequences of torture, earning it a rightful branding of being exploitative cinema. Clearly producer Adrian Hoven had sought to create a film that would use shock and appalling content to lure moviegoers into theaters for a look. And credit the folks at Hallmark Releasing Corp. for dreaming up the stateside campaign of handing out the barf bags, further piquing audiences' curiosity. No, it's not one of the best films you'll see, and many folks who have long desired to get a look at it disdainfully proclaim that it doesn't live up to all the hype that has been built around it for the past 35 years. This, again, is the fault of the uneven dubbing and the misplaced musical score. I only wish that Blue Underground could have found a non-dubbed print (if such a thing exists), allowing us to hear the actual accents and likely broken English of some of the actors, thereby giving us a better sense of the story's time and setting.
If you've long wanted to satisfy your curiosity about this "most horrifying film ever made," here's your opportunity. Mark of the Devil isn't the greatest film, and some may claim it to be one of the wors;, yet whatever your own judgment, it certainly has achieved a high level of notoriety and, in my opinion, belongs in the library of any genre fan. However, take my word for it—this is not a film for "all ages." Criminy, what were those people thinking?
Despite its truly harsh and violent content, not to mention its wantonly voyeuristic propensity to rubberneck at the sight of torture, Mark of the Devil does capture some element of the darkest days of Mankind. As it is a film loosely based on some degree of historical content, all involved are found not guilty. Sorry, but there will be no burnings today. Disperse and go about your business.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
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