Brimstone burns? Appellate Judge Tom Becker recommends a little touch of Satan's Salve.
It's Catherine's birthday. You're invited to her torture party.
"Bring to me the vessel of reversal!"
Facts of the Case
Two girls, a guy, and a Satanic cult place.
I'm really impressed with the direction Scorpion's going with its Katarina's Nightmare Theater line. The company has always been a good resource for obscure films, and the company often releases them with worthwhile supplements—Legacy, Girly, and Goodbye, Gemini might not be "must-see" movies, but Scorpion's discs contained commentaries, featurettes, and other extra material that's notably missing on most niche releases.
With KNT, the company has focused on horror films. The downside is that, while some of the films are new to the format (such as The Carpenter and The Devil Within Her), others such as Final Exam, The Devil's Men, and The House on Sorority Row, have seen previous—often recent—releases.
But Scorpion has remained competitive by continuing to add cool supplements and when possible, offering "uncut" or "never before seen" versions of its films. The KNT release of The House on Sorority Row might have been that film's fourth DVD release, but it was also the best; Double Exposure and The Pyx featured an interview and commentary with the films' stars (Michael Callan and Karen Black, respectively); Humongous gave us an uncut version, a watered-down approved for U.S. viewing, and a great commentary.
So now we've got Katarina's Nightmare Theater: Satan's Slave, a little-known British horror film directed by Norman J. Warren, who's given the world such essential cinematic travesties as Inseminoid and Bloody New Year.
The disc offers the UNCUT version of the film; from what I've read, this is a fairly big deal, as Satan's Slave (or as it's alternately and really more appropriately called, Evil Heritage) was hacked up for its U.S. release. The letterboxed transfer looks pretty good, though it's far from a pristine image; still, it's perfectly watchable, occasional nicks and scratches notwithstanding. Audio is a serviceable mono track that's overall clear.
Scorpion offers a near-great package of supplements. There's no commentary, but that's OK with me. I've noticed more and more that while the occasional must-listen commentaries are out there, what we mostly get is a director or writer or producer or actor monotoning over the visuals with insights like: "It was really cold that day," or "She was such a pro to work with," or "Watch this shot." I'm finding mini-docs and featurettes far more rewarding, plus you don't have to sit through the film twice to catch them.
So, on Satan's Slave, we have:
• "All You Need Is Blood"—Given that Satan's Slave is a low-budget British horror movie from the '70s, it's a little surprising to find a "vintage" featurette, but here we have one, with the director, writers, and actors enthusing about the as-yet uncompleted film. In fairness, from a content standpoint, it's not any more engrossing than the sort of "making of" you'd find on any random, Direct-to-DVD Lionsgate product, but there's something cool about the home-movie (as opposed to home-video) feel of the footage, and the youthful enthusiasm of the participants is engaging. This runs 13 minutes.
• "Creating Satan"—Since the Big Guy himself never turns up here, this retrospective's title is a bit misleading, but otherwise, I can't complain. This half-hour featurette is the inverse of "All You Need Is Blood," offering a fun look-back 30-some years hence with the director, writers, and various cast and crew members, including lead actor Martin Potter, who looks phenomenal for his age. Watching this right after watching "All You Need Is Blood" is actually a tad poignant.
• "Devilish Music"—Composer John Scott—whose score, I have to admit, I found to be a bit mundane—recalls working on the film in this 12-minute interview.
• "Fragment"—This short film by director Warren—listed as "Fragments" on the DVD case and on-screen menu—runs about 10 minutes, is in black and white, doesn't have synch sound, and has a student project feel to it. It's an interesting supplement, though, the kind of thing I wish more studios would include.
• Deleted Scenes—These are in black and white, with Warren explaining what they're about. Like most deleted scenes, they neither add to nor detract from the finished product.
We also get trailers for this film as well as other KNT releases, plus the option to watch host Katarina Leigh Waters' intros and outros.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The major flaw in this otherwise splendid package is the movie. Satan's Slave is a slow-paced, nonsensical pile of Brit-horror that punctuates its non-story with heaping but random helpings of nudity and gore.
Our story concerns the lovely Catherine (Candace Glendenning, The Flesh and Blood Show), who's traveling with her parents to visit a long-lost uncle. Just as they pull up to the house, Dad has some sort of brain fart and crashes the car into a tree. Since he was only going about 3 miles per hour, this shouldn't be too big a deal, but when Catherine exits the vehicle, it blows up.
So, the now-orphaned Catherine is taken in by Uncle Alexander (Michael Gough, Trog) and his son, Stephen (Martin Potter, Fellini Satyricon). Also buzzing about is Frances (Barbara Kellerman, The Monster Club), who is Stephen's lover, or something.
Catherine is given to having premonitions—so she says—and during a trip to the garden, has a vision of a (naked) woman being tied to a tree and tortured by guys dressed up like pilgrims. Since this presumably happened in the past—or at Colonial Williamsburg during a particularly festive spring break party—it shouldn't actually count as a premonition, but logic isn't really the strong suit here.
In any event, this leads to a curious and profoundly icky development when Stephen visits Catherine's room late at night to check on her and the two end up in flagrante delicto, which is Latin for "shagging." Like hillbillies with tony accents, the cousins decide they're made for each other—as opposed to being made from each other—and plan to run away to London. The good news is that this unexpected dose of forbidden love has chased away all those blues Catherine was experiencing from seeing her parents roasted alive…the day before.
Naturally (or unnaturally), there are a few problems here. We already know that Stephen's bad news, since the second scene in the film consists of him torturing some woman he's evidently picked up at a bar or someplace. And we know there are Satanists about, since the first scene in the film consists of a ritual sacrifice of a naked lady (plus, it's called Satan's Slave, not Happy Incestuous Couple from the UK). And, of course, there's Frances…
Disjointed and tedious, the film feels as though it were written by committee—a committee of people who never met. Ideas are introduced—like Catherine's premonitions and Stephen's sadistic tendencies—but never really explored. There's no consistency to the characters, particularly Frances: one minute, she's a strong-willed, predatory woman fiercely holding on to the disturbed Stephen, then the next minute, she's a victim with some sort of blackmailable secret that's keeping her a prisoner in the house.
There's a long-winded explanation late in the game about a black-arts ceremony to reanimate someone; this is actually a major plot point, but it comes out of nowhere, and it's presented in such a convoluted and hokey way that it feels intrusive.
It seems like the only reason this film exists is to present scenes of naked women being abused; there's even a weird lesbian love scene that's part of a dream sequence. Frankly, the exploitation scenes, which would normally be a big plus, just feel out of place and distasteful, particularly the aforementioned early one involving Stephen, the random girl, and an unpleasant-looking pair of scissors.
Overall, Satan's Slave is just a tediously lurid and frustrating exercise that wastes the talents of Gough and Potter, and isn't even redeemed by its considerable sleaze.
Katarina's Nightmare Theater is exceeding expectations; Scorpion is turning out some pretty neat discs for films that most people have barely heard of, and here and there, the films are actually pretty good.
This really is a tough one. The film is wretched without being a lot of fun, but the disc is great. My scores are all over the place.
I'll do it this way: die-hard fans of Brit horror will want to check this out if only in the interest of completism.
But props to Scorpion for some fine and fun work.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Scorpion Releasing
Review content copyright © 2012 Tom Becker; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.