Mark of the Devil
Blue Underground DVD
Review by C. Demetrius Morgan
This Review has been viewed times.
It is the 18th century and the Austrian Inquisition is hunting witches. Not only that they are torturing hapless victims in gruesome dungeons of torment with the explicit purpose of extracting confessions. The facts are meaningless. None are safe. Neither innocent barmaid or righteous Lord and Lady, not even the convictions or faith of a young apprentice witch hunter in the face of the brutal truth that the Church cares more about acquiring the wealth and land of the accused than saving their immortal souls.
Region 0 (NTSC) DVD
Anamorphic (16:9) Widescreen Presentation
Audio Commentary Track with Director Michael Armstrong
Fear and Loathing in Austria - Interview with Star Udo Kier
The Devil's Torturer - Interview with Star Howard Fux
Burn Gaby Burn! - Interview with Star Gaby Fuchs
The Devil's Assaulted - Interview with Star Ingeborg Shoner
Poster & Still Galleries
Listed Running Time: 96 minutes
MPAA Rating: NR. (Suggested for MATURE audiences only.)
Cast: Udo Kier, Herbert Lom, Olivera Vuco, Reggie Nalder, Herbert Fux, Gaby Fuchs, Michael Maien, et al.
Director: Michael Armstrong.
AKA: Hexen bis aufs Blut gequält
First a bit of background: I‘d put off buying the Anchor Bay DVD to replace my old AB VHS tape so long that it went out of print. So when I saw this version sitting on the shelves I figured I’d better grab it quick. I never really gave it much more thought than that. Then I popped the disc into my player. The extras probably wont win any awards but I have to admit to enjoying them. More companies should follow Blue Underground’s lead in taking the time to do more than just burn and rush mediocre quality DVDs onto store shelves. Because, for my money, Blue Underground titles get a longer look and more consideration than do most other companies on the shelf. Save perhaps for Anchor Bay.
That bit of bias warning out of the way the video quality is excellent so if you don‘t already own this movie this is definitely the DVD to get! Though I’d suggest reading on a bit to be sure this is the sort of movie you want in your video collection…
The year was 1972, a otherwise quiet year in the U.S. that would see two amazing things happen: 1) The birth of your reviewer (on Mother’s Day no less!) and 2) a German film import would be released to U.S. theatres whose notoriety lay in the claim of being one of the most terrifyingly horrific films ever made. They even passed out “barf bags” to the audience and promoted the movie as being “rated V” for extreme violence! Nor was this merely a carnival barkers gimmick to get movie patrons to see some tame bit of euro sleaze or a bland retitled Z-grade flick. This movie has been heavily cut and even outright banned in some countries!
Too, as with any good horror movie, there is a back story about the "behind the scenes" filming full of rumor and innuendo that is equally grisly and full of phantom menace. Proof that it’s not just relatively modern films like Poltergeist or The Amityville Horror that elicit rumors of curses! For instance rumors persist that Michael Armstrong had been called in to literally take over the director’s chair right out from under the original director, who has envisioned quite a different movie. One which some sources say was even more provocative! How might Mark of the Devil been different?
For starters there was originally a entirely different ending shot, of which only a few still remain. These stills are actually on the DVD. However some sources indicate that the degree of sex and violence was also meant to be far more pronounced. Interestingly enough Hoven returned to this very same witch-hunter theme a few years later with Mark of the Devil 2 (Hexen geschändet und zu Tode gequält) a- coincidently?- even more grisly feature that was released to theatres in 1973. As with most sequels this movie remains little known and has never really received wide distribution in the home video market. Then again many unrelated films have been unofficially marketed as sequels to Mark of the Devil so it’s none too surprising that Hoven‘s entry could become overlooked. For instance Alucarda was once distributed as “Mark of the Devil 3” and Tombs of the Blind dead was similarly marketed as “Mark of the Devil 4” as was Horror Rises from the Tomb. Sadly only a handful of films ever actually become cult classics. Mark of the Devil came along at the right time to generate just enough controversy to gain it cult status. Not at all bad for a movie that is a rather a morbid drama exploring an equally morbid time in history.
Speaking of history we have to imagine what things might have been like when this movie hit theatres back in the seventies. Computers with their CGI special affects were still decades away, nudity wasn't exactly common place I features so it's presence here must have added to the shock value, and there was no video market. There wasn't even cable, much less satellite television! Which means this wasn't some shot on the quick exploitation cheapie. Even so the sick sadistic depravity captured on vintage seventies celluloid is actually rather tame by modern standards. Which may be more of an indictment of recent movie trends than anything else.
The Setting: 18th century Austria. The action takes place in a stereotypical medieval movie village; meaning there's the requisite tavern, anonymous buildings, a castle, and a dungeon full of torture devices. Lots of torture devices.
The Story: Christian is a judge in training. Witness to the many depravities of those in charge of rooting out the heresy of witchcraft, deprivations which too easily become justified under the umbrella clause of "the end justifies the means", eventually Christian becomes torn between his own moral outrage and the law he has been training to enforce. That's when the feces really hit’s the spinning wheel.
However this movie is really about the brutality of the inquisition and it’s demented torturers. How far do the torturers of the inquisition go? Witness and tremble as the supple bare feet of maidens are brutally branded by sizzling hot irons! Prepare to shudder as the blood-curdling screams of nubile young woman become savagely silenced by a tong ripping her tongue out by the root! Question whether this is truly God’s work or merely an excuse for a few sleazy corrupt politicos hiding behind religious fanaticism to revel in debauched depravity. But be warned, watch this movie at your own peril.
Cast & Characters: Starring Herbert Lom (King Solomon's Mines, Curse of the Pink Panther, Bram Stoker's Count Dracula) as Count Cumberland, the head judge who spurs the inquisitors and their torturer lapdogs on with demands for confessions; Udo Keir (Johnny Mnemonic, Megiddo: The Omega Code 2, Andy Warhol's Dracula) as Christian von Meruh, the innocent faced young judge in training; Herbert Fux (The Three Musketeers, Astérix et Obélix contre César, The Erotic Adventures of Hansel and Gretel), as the detested Executioner; Reggie Nalder (The Devil and Max Devlin, Dracula's Dog, Mark of the Devil II), as the sinister looking Albino, a lascivious Witch-Hunter who sets about his bloody job with orgasmic glee; and Gaby Fuchs (Werewolf vs. the Vampire Women, Grimm's Fairy Tales for Adults, Around the World with Fanny Hill) as Jeni von Bergenstein, the poor torture victim whose tongue gets viciously ripped out by the root for daring to accuse a Bishop of rape. Very dark characters.
The Devil‘s Mark: It's hard to tell just who the real bad guys are in this flick, much like in real life.
Moral: I‘m not sure this movie has any beyond: Bad things happen to good people while even worse things happen to really bad people.
Suggested Game Uses
Let me make it perfectly clear about one thing: This is not so much a horror movie as it is a period drama exploring the darker depths of humanities mistreatment of their fellow man. This movie serve as potential inspiration for a game of intrigue and drama with a small core group of players with established characters. While some may find the torture scenes to be laughable and quite tame by modern gore movie standards this movie will likely be quite disturbing for some, so keep that in mind before inviting everyone over to watch it. Otherwise this movie can be useful, especially to a Game Master needing to establish the mood for a dungeon rescue from a torture chamber, but it can also be quite painful to watch. Which makes it potentially useful as a visual aide.
So how might this movie be used as a game aide? First, as a visual guide to aide Game Masters develop particularly nasty NPCs. (Pay especial attention to the character of Albino.) Second, as a reminder that sometimes the line between hero and antagonist is a thin one. Third, to show that sometimes even the would be hero can‘t save himself from the angry mob no matter what his skills or how deft his charisma, sometimes skills are worthless. Fourth, and most usefully, to cue up torture scenes to present the players a visual of what sort of debauched encounter their characters may be witness to.
Believe it or not I first saw this movie when it aired on a local independent station many years ago before satellite television when Halloween time meant everyone from the networks to stations out in the boonies with fuzzy signals you had to hold onto the antenna to tune in would be pulling out all the stops to air gratuitous horror movies. Granted I actually only watched portions near the very beginning of this movie as I was planning on watching something else, but the bar scene with the acne scarred witch-hunter sticking the bar maid with what at the time looked to me like an switchblade ice pick to “test” her to determine whether or not she was a witch has always stuck with me. It’s one of those visceral memories. As for the movie I was planning to watch? Don’t even remember what it was.
Sadly, like so many things you see in passing on television, I never really knew what the movie was. So it should come as no great shock to learn it took me quite a few years to finally track the movie down. But I did. That’s how I ended up with my treasured Anchor Bay version on VHS.
So when I tell you that the Blue Underground DVD is a must buy based on picture quality and the extras understand that I mean it is my opinion this DVD is worth adding to your permanent video collection, not just renting, if you haven‘t already done so.
Why? First, unlike many period films, this one actually holds up rather well despite having been filmed in the seventies. Few films can say that. Second, of all the “witch-hunter” movies made in the wake of the Witchfinder General this ranks in the top 10. Perhaps even the top 5. I don’t think most would go so far to say that about Cry of the Banshee, which is a “witch-hunter” movie also filmed in 1970 starring Vincent Price. And that’s the man whose performance can probably be directly credited with starting this entire with-hunter trend!
To sum up: This movie is the sort of flick you will either loathe with a passion or find marginally to mildly interesting, especially if you are doing a study on pathological behavior, otherwise it sadly has very little to recommend it to the average vanilla movie renter. In fact I‘d go so far as to say those easily offended, soccer moms, and college kids should all probably steer clear of this title. Mark of the Devil is not at all the sort of thing that you could call fun much less entertaining. This is NOT a “family” or “date” movie.
Video Quality: Superb. Seriously, considering this is a 30+ year old film the video quality is just amazing.
DVD Rating: 9 out of 10 golden apples. (Nice extras. Excellent video quality.)
Movie Rating: Mediocre drama that rates 6 out of 10 exsanguinated hearts for scenes of blood and torture.
Perspective: Mark of the Devil was inspired by the 1968 movie The Conqueror Worm (UK title: Witchfinder General) about England’s infamous 17th century Witch-Finder General, Matthew Hopkins, as played by Vincent Price. However Mark of the Devil moves the action to Austria circa the 18th century and pulls no punches in portraying the sick depravity and wanton excesses of the monstrous inquisitors who reveled in torturing their fellow human beings. Which perhaps explains why it was once banned in Australia and Norway.
Originally released to European cinemas in 1970 this tale of religious persecution and torturous treachery is also a movie dealing with religious issues skirting the edges of possession, and well before the release of the Exorcist. Too, the film’s portrayal of sadistic excess paved the way for filmmakers to indulge in explorations of the darker side of human nature in such sadomasochistic horror fests as The Devil’s, Flavia the Heretic, Paul Nachy’s Inquisition, Amando De Ossorio's Blind Dead trilogy, Demon Witch Child, Devils’ Posessed, and even cult classics like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. While The Conqueror Worm may have established the character of this emergent sub-genre, it was Mark of the Devil that lifted that bar and released the genres gory, and much imitated, demons of salacious candor.
Negatives: I didn‘t really find the cover art very aesthetically appealing. Had this been my first encounter with the title I probably would have passed it up. Yes, I am a victim of packaging and admit it. I have bought bad movies because they have good cover art and passed over classic horror titles because, when looking over the movies on the shelf at a glance, the cover art has just not appealed to me. This is not good since a title does not always click when you are in a hurry so bad cover art, or in this case a quickie photoshop job, really doesn’t do the product justice. When are marketing departments going to learn this simple fact?
Positives: Great video quality. Very nice assortment of extras. Fair price.
Availability: I picked my copy up at Best Buy for around $14.99 sans tax. That’s actually a dollar cheaper than what I paid for The Bloody Judge, also acquired from the same aforementioned store. The release covered in this review is from Blue Underground, a company that so far seems to be pretty consistent in putting out superior quality discs. But don’t fret if you can’t find a copy in your area. Previously a 97 minute “uncut” wide screen version was released by Anchor Bay on VHS and DVD, with versions available in both Regions 1 & 2. There was also a Redemption Films version available, though that release is listed as having been heavily censored by BBFC.
Just be wary as the Anchor Bay version is OOP and some unscrupulous vendors may try to rip you off by using this fact to charge more than the title is actually worth. Shop smart! Especially considering the fact this title was once available on VHS from Anchor Bay, T-Z video, Polygram Home Video (Denmark), and an outfit called Pro-Active Entertainment, thus making this title far from a rarity. Too, this movie was even briefly available on VHS from Something Weird Video. Though it can sometimes be hard to find, but that has more to do with the fact this is one of those films that’s just not for everyone, thus making it more of an obscurity than anything else. It's also likely more people have rented this title than bought it simply because most chain stores only stock titles they project will sell regularly to mainstream audiences. This is far from mainstream fare.
Even so don’t be fooled by those Flea Market or eBay sellers sitting on old warehouse stock trying to make their month’s rent off honest video enthusiasts. After all the DVD reviewed here only cost $14.99!
Not scary so much as it is macabre this movie isn't easy to encapsulate, and is even harder to discuss without giving too much away. For instance the Albino character goes about his inhuman mission with a gusto that makes him seem all the creepier while Christian, a character narrowly filling the role of protagonist, has a air of innocent naiveté that the realities of his "on the job training" threaten to crush despite his best efforts to fit into the mold of his position. Thus while the title marks this flick as the sort of movie you'd expect to have recommended as Halloween fare it really isn’t a Halloween movie. There are no werewolves, vampires, goblins, ghouls, or zombies. For that matter there aren't really any witches, or are there? That's question is the crux of the movie. Dare you watch it to find out the answer?
A PDF version of this review can be found here.
Happy New Year!
Copyright © 2004, 2005 C. Demetrius Morgan