The movie opens very promisingly, with an owl… then things get nuts real fast. A team of knights are led by a Gilliam-looking toadie to a cave full of witches – innocent-looking, but supposedly cursed by the cross-shaped mark under their feet. All-out massacre ensues, beheadings from Knight-POV, the camera inside their helmets with cross-shaped viewports, as a Philip Glass tune plays. After stumbling across Soavi last SHOCKtober with The Sect, I was right to check out his other work, though are all his movies about basement-dwelling satanic cults?

Soavi worked with Gilliam on Baron Munchausen the year before this:

Flash-forward a few hundred years, it’s the first day for church librarian Tomas Arana (a cook on the Red October the following year). He’s almost hit by stuff falling off an art restoration scaffold (shades of Don’t Look Now), later makes out with the artist Barbara Cupisti (Argento’s Opera), then finds an ancient parchment and imagines it could be the secret to a lost science that could turn him into a god – not bad for a first day! Genius codebreaker Tomas figures out that the ancient runes are just mirror-writing, sneaks into the church at night and unleashes demons. These crazy demonic effects scenes are where Soavi’s movies really excel, laying all other late-80’s movie demons to waste, and with his crazed angles and quick, precise camera moves, it feels like Sam Raimi must’ve been a fan.

Back to the plot, Tomas is now obviously possessed and creeping on 13-year-old Asia Argento, daughter of the churchwarden, who sneaks out to discos at night. Her dad Roberto Corbiletto (Fellini’s Voice of the Moon the next year) has also lost his mind, suicides by jackhammer on the cursed cornerstone in front of horrified priest Hugh Quarshie (Nightbreed), his blood setting an ancient rube goldberg into motion, locking everyone including a wedding-photo party and a class of kids inside the church.

Asia wearing Eastern Europe:

I can’t tell what old bishop Feodor Chaliapin (Inferno) is up to – he understands what’s happening, but doesn’t appear to be helping. Meanwhile, innocents are being abducted by caped demons or eaten by giant lizards, a woman cheerfully beheads her husband, and another escapes into subway tunnels only to get mooshed by a train.

Enraged Corbiletto:

Father Corbiletto is alive again, I guess, and has gone fully mental, kills the schoolteacher in a rage – none of the kids seem to notice, since they are in the pews bonding over Nietzsche quotes (seriously). The restoration artist is raped by a goat-devil. Fortunately, Asia remembers the opening scene from a millennium before she was born, and tells Priest Hugh that if he pulls the murder-dildo from the skull of the church architect in a basement crypt, the whole church will collapse, killing everyone and ending the curse. As the bodies of the damned rise in a giant mud-dripping mass, he triggers the ancient self-destruct sequence as Asia escapes.

The good content you crave:

The dubbing is appalling, but the music (by Glass, Keith Emerson, and Goblin) is very good – demons whisper from the soundtrack, a welcome relief from the screaming strings of the netflix movies. Filmed in Hungary, since it was hard to find any churches willing to let them shoot all this satanic shit. Originally posited as Demons 3, then rewritten when Soavi came aboard – Cannibal Ferox auteur Umberto Lenzi would finally crank out a third Demons a couple years later.

It’s unwise to watch more than two Italian horrors per SHOCKtober, but this caught my eye at Videodrome, and it’s been years since anything caught my eye at Videodrome since we haven’t lived close enough, so I rented it to celebrate being able to spontaneously pick movies off shelves again, rather than relying on my premeditated lists. Surprise: it’s really good. Almost seems like a parody of previous Italian horrors – “woman in a strange new house discovers gateway to hell in her basement” is the plot of half these things, and this one adds a Rosemary’s Baby element, with supernatural cultists enlisting the unwilling woman in their rituals.

If you see something suspicious in an Italian horror, always put your eyeball reeeeeal close to it:

Starts off shaky, with a mad prophet stumbling in from the desert, meeting some hippies, mis-quoting a Rolling Stones lyric to each other, making me wonder if the song was translated into Italian and back – then when night falls there’s a hippie slaughter, and I realize after Race With The Devil, I’ve accidentally programmed a satanist double-feature. In Germany years later, a balding dude follows a woman home and kills her, “why did you disobey?,” then on the subway a pickpocket pulls a human heart out of the balding dude’s jacket, and this is already crazier with more visual imagination than the other satanist movie.

A straight plot summary seems wrong for such a mad movie, but I’ll try, Kelly Curtis hits an old man with her car (Herbert Lom, Walken’s doctor in The Dead Zone), takes him home where his insects impregnate her with the devil, then he dies after a rabbit knocks over his meds, leaving behind a sentient death-shroud. Kelly is attacked by the reanimated body of her knife-murdered friend. A hot doctor helps her out, investigates the subterranean cult beneath her house, somehow ends up dying in an auto explosion, and the mom apparently survives the same fire, saved by her devil-baby. Whatever nonsense is happening, the camera is always up for filming it in bold color, with roving movements or in extreme close-up. There is bird tossing, voicemail from a dead man, a metal coffin unsealed with a can opener, a stork attack, a face transplant, and a basement with a skylight.

A couple of families go on an RV vacation and discover that everyone out in the country is a satanist. When I spotted a dog and a couple of motorbikes, I predicted a dead dog and a motorbike chase, but only got the lesser of these two events. This was dad’s only SHOCKtober participation, and he declared it the worst movie he’s ever seen (maybe not, but it ain’t too good).

Peter Fonda and Warren Oates costar the year after, respectively, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry and Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia, either of which would probably have been a smarter movie pick, since this one wasn’t particularly SHOCKtoberey (the Devil does not appear, just some snakes and ritual sacrifices). Our heroes, along with their lovely wives (Loretta “Hot Lips” Swit and Lara Parker of Dark Shadows), finally outrun the satanists, celebrate with drinks, and are caught by even more satanists. At least there’s some fabulously 1970’s upholstery. Writers Frost and Bishop also worked on Chain Gang Women and The Thing With Two Heads, and Starrett previously appeared as an actor in Hells Angels on Wheels, Angels from Hell, and Hell’s Bloody Devils.

Another film with a dense, confused audience-surrogate character: pilot Rex (Leon Greene, a Holmes in The Seven Percent Solution), who meets his old buddy Christopher Lee (same year as Dracula Has Risen From The Grave), then goes searching for their missing friend Simon. They find that he has joined a posh group of satanists (Britain was too polite for all this – the satanists reel in horror when their leader kills a goat), and try to rescue him through frequent use of crosses. Rex falls for satanist Tanith (Nike Arrighi: Day for Night, The Perfume of the Lady in Black) so they attempt to rescue her too, pursued by the Victor Garber-looking cult leader Mocata (Charles Gray, another Holmes in The Seven Percent Solution). Satanic possession and kidnapping follow, then evil is defeated in a very Christian ending.

Lee uses the interrotron on Simon:

Giant spider terrifies little girl:

My third Poe/Corman/Price movie of the month, and not counting the ending of Pit and the Pendulum when he psychotically turns into his Inquisition-torturer father, it’s the first time Price has gotten to be truly evil. He is all kinds of evil here, a Satanist who lets almost everyone in the nearby village die of plague then has the survivors shot, who cheers when his party guests are murdered, and entertains himself by letting a girl choose whether her father or her lover will be killed.

So much death in this one that it’s hard to keep track of whether the young lovers survive – maybe they don’t? Eventually the Red Death (Price vs. himself) creeps into the castle, bathing all the revelers in blood, then joins a rainbow of other Deaths outside. Kind of a celebration of sadism (complete with another Inquisition-torturer ancestor) in widescreen with colorful costumes and sets (and a giant clock with a battle axe pendulum), stabbings and swordfights and a murderous falcon. And a dwarf setting a man in a gorilla suit on fire.

Jane Asher is appalled by Price’s murderous falcon:

Jane Asher is appalled by Satan-loving Hazel Court:

The peasant girl Price keeps by his side is Jane Asher (Deep End) – she’s our audience surrogate whose main job is to look appalled. The attention paid to Jane pisses off Price’s main girl Hazel Court (Lenore in The Raven), who tries to hold onto him through satanic ritual. The firestarting dwarf’s wife is upsettingly played by a seven-year-old dubbed by a grown woman. And Price’s horrible friend Alfredo is Patrick Magee (the victim-turned-torturer in A Clockwork Orange).

Magee, foreshadowing that he’s soon gonna be set on fire:

Lance Henriksen is sent by a corporate board of sinister white men to date and impregnate Barbara, who is afraid of her own eight year old daughter Katy, who caused an explosion to win Atlanta a basketball game. But first: bald children, wicked clouds, John Huston in an Obi-Wan robe and an unhappy-looking Franco “Django” Nero, who I found out from the closing credits was supposed to be Jesus Christ and whose opening narration sounds an awful lot like Star Wars with the names replaced by Bible characters. This all sounds nuts, and it is – a lost classic of cheesy/weirdo horror cinema revived by Drafthouse Films.

Unhappy Jesus:

After the bonkers intro it’s back to the family scene, which is playing out like We Need To Talk About Katy. Soon Katy shoots her mom (Joanne Nail of Switchblade Sisters and Full Moon High), who is then confined to a wheelchair and hires Shelley Winters (of Bloody Mama and Tentacles) as a housekeeper who might be working for God/Huston. Shelley affects nothing in the household besides bugging everyone by singing “mammy’s little baby loves shortnin’ bread” and saying things like “A great philosopher said that our characters are our fates. And some scientists now believe that planets somehow understand this.”

Shelley introduces herself and her finches:

Huston (the same year he made Wise Blood) is God, who works in mysterious ways, allows Katy to kill the Atlanta cop (The Big Heat and Experiment In Terror star Glenn Ford) investigating her mom’s shooting, then after many scenes standing on Atlanta roofs frowning at the sky (and after playing Pong on a projection screen with Katy) he finally kills her and Lance with a flock of pigeons.

Playin’ Pong with God:

Huston looks surprised at what he’s done:

Have I mentioned that Katy’s Satan-Falcon kills a cop by messing with the street lights?

Or that between Pong and the pigeons, there’s a Lady From Shanghai funhouse scene?

Lance was just off The Omen 2, which this movie is ripping off. We’ve also got Sam Peckinpah (who I just saw in Invasion of the Body Snatchers) playing Barbara’s ex, and the leader of Lance’s white-man cabal is Mel Ferrer (of two unrelated films both called Eaten Alive). Director Paradisi had bit roles in some Fellini films, also made a movie called Spaghetti House, and cowriter Ovidio Assontis also produced Pirahna 2: The Spawning, as his IMDB bio mentions proudly. And have I mentioned this was shot in Atlanta?

“Strange about the cat – Joan seemed so curiously affected when you killed it.”
“That was coincidence, I think.”

Another in the great tradition of Hollywood movies starting with great actors playing interesting characters in cool locations, then throwing a bland romantic couple into the middle of it. They’re not as bad as your usual bland romantic couple, these two. David Manners was Harker in Dracula and a main dude in The Mummy with Karloff, and Jacqueline Wells had just costarred in a Tarzan movie.

Lugosi is a Hungarian psychiatrist, a prisoner of war for 15 years, free again and visiting his old friend Karloff, a great Austrian architect. Lugosi plans to confront Karloff and demand back his wife and daughter, whom he suspects Karloff has stolen from him – but he brings along the couple, having just survived a car crash. Jacqueline stumbles in all dazed and woozy, and they give her a narcotic and tell her to sleep (“SLEEEEEP”), excellent medical advice.

“Are we not both the living dead?” Lugosi (whose character name sounds too much like Fetus) has “an intense and all-consuming horror of cats,” which I suspect will come up again later in the movie. Lugosi’s daughter turns out to be alive, 18 years old and sleeping with Karloff. Karloff is also a satanist, keeping Lugosi’s wife’s body suspended in his basement. So they sit down for a game of chess – winner gets to keep the body. It’s a ludicrous movie, and closes with a meta-joke about its own melodramatic craziness.

The beginning and end of Ulmer’s major-studio Hollywood career – he had a major hit but fell in love with the wrong girl and spent the rest of his life on the specialty and b-movie circuits. Before this, he’d done set design for Fritz Lang (Die Nibelungen, M, Metropolis, Spies) and production and art design for Murnau (Tabu, Last Laugh, Sunrise, 4 Devils) – so the expressionist look to The Black Cat wasn’t just Hollywood ripping off a hot trend, but a 20-year vet of great German cinema importing his own style.

Found a good article by “The Nitrate Diva” about the WWI references and emotional resonance within the film. The story was “suggested” by the Edgar Allen Poe story which was more faithfully adapted by Stuart Gordon recently.