Originally hailing from Toronto, Canada, psychedelic occult rock band Blood Ceremony were formed sometime in 2006 by guitarist Sean Kennedy, who recruited vocalist / flautist / organist Alia O’Brien, bassist Chris Landon and drummer Andrew Haust.
The band’s name was apparently taken from the English translation of the Spanish horror movie about the Countess Elizabeth Báthory from 1973 titled “Ceremonia Sangrienta”. This is rather appropriate in two ways. Firstly the band’s music is firmly rooted in the early Seventies, the likes of which you may have found on the legendary Vertigo label (particularly early Black Sabbath) as well occult rockers Black Widow and the great Jethro Tull, the latter thanks to O’Brien’s flute work. Secondly the band’s lyrical stance is concerned with all manner of occult themes – witchcraft, magick, devil worship etc.
The group’s debut album “Blood Ceremony” was released in 2008 and was followed in 2011 by the record through which I originally discovered the band, their second album “Living With The Ancients”. By thistime bassist Landon had been replaced by current bass player Lucas Gadke.
A further line-up change occurred prior to the recording of album number three “The Eldritch Dark” (2013), with Michael Carrillo taking over the drum stool from Haust. That record, influenced in part by classic horror film “The Wicker Man”, had a much less overt Black Sabbath influence than the first two, and continued the improvement in the band’s sound and material.
Now, following lead single “Old Fires”, comes the group’s fourth album – and second with the line-up of Kennedy, O’Brien, Gadke and Carrillo – titled “Lord Of Misrule”. The album kicks off with a fabulous seven-minute-plus song “The Devil’s Widow” which contains all that is great about this band. Doom metal style guitar riffing, progressive twists and turns, folky flute playing to rival that of the aforementioned Jethro Tull and a nicely sinister vocal delivery from the frontwoman – not to mention that it’s really catchy too.
Chief songwriter Kennedy has done a marvellous job here, as there is not one duff track and the album feels like a natural progression from the last one. Gadke and Carrillo provide solid foundations, but it is the material and guitar playing of Kennedy and the multi-talented performances of O’Brien that really give this band their magical retro-inspired sound.
Personal highlights on the album include “Loreley”, the acoustic “Things Present, Things Past”, the brilliant “The Weird Of Finistere”, “Half Moon Street” and “The Devil’s Widow”. The band have stayed true to their early Seventies vibe and pagan sensibilities whilst also managing to broaden their sonic scope. A great album that really appeals to my love of Seventies progressive and folk rock, great songwriting and, of course, matters related to paganism and the occult. Fabulous stuff and highly recommended…
“Lord Of Misrule” tracklist:
1. The Devil’s Widow / 2. Loreley / 3. The Rogue’s Lot / 4. Lord Of Misrule / 5. Half Moon Street / 6. The Weird Of Finistere / 7. Flower Phantoms / 8. Old Fires / 9. Things Present, Things Past
“Thirty years ago a young girl was found murdered in a sleepy Cornish village, and her death was the trigger for a spree of other killings.
The rest of the children have now grown up, and are still living in the same Pagan village.
But they have become as disturbed, frenzied, and often as dangerous as their deceased parents.
They still follow age-old sacrificial rituals to bring peace and prosperity to their lives.
But are the adults, who witnessed horrors in their childhood, now corrupting the next generation?
Into their midst comes the lithesome and mysterious, Lulu, who is determined to save the village.
But death, mayhem and terror follow in her wake.
And on Millennium Eve, ‘The Wicca Woman’ comes to its terrifying ritualistic and sacrificial climax.
But is this only the horrific beginning of what is yet to come…?”
When I recently stumbled over English author David Pinner’s most recent novel “The Wicca Woman” I knew instantly that I had to read it. The reason for my enthusiasm is that it this was the sequel to his debut novel “Ritual”. Published in 1968, “Ritual” was the inspiration for the cult classic horror film – and a huge favourite of mine – “The Wicker Man” – which clearly influences Pinner in his choice of title for this new (published in 2014) book.
Now, I must confess that I have never read “Ritual”, but figured it must be pretty good to have been responsible, even indirectly, for such a fantastic movie.
Well, having now finished “The Wicca Woman”, I have to say that if the first book was anything like this then I am frankly amazed that “The Wicker Man” came to be such a revered film. I really struggled with this book.
Aside from a few continuity errors – a character named Jimmy gets referred to as Paul then as Jimmy again, a chair becomes a sofa mid-scene – I found the actual writing to be the biggest barrier to enjoying the book.
None of the characters are particularly well-developed, so you don’t get a real feel for their personalities, and they all speak in a practically identical way. There are so many sentences that begin with “Yes…” or “See…”, as well as many passages of speech being punctuated by “…well,…”. To make matters worse no one actually says anything, every character’s speech is “riposted” or pretty much anything other than “said”.
Added to that is the overly flowery text, seemingly following the mantra why use one word when a dozen will do, and the constant reminders of who people are – a journalist / writer is referred to as “the writer” more than once every time the character is involved.
Far too much background information is presented in the form of the various characters’ thoughts, as if they all go round constantly thinking back over all manner of things, and the number of times that a group of characters, be they a group of children or of adults, seem to be able to react to things by “chorusing” complicated sentences together beggars belief.
Ultimately this would have made an OK short story, but not nearly enough action takes place in between all the purple prose to keep the interest going and I found the climax of the tale to be something of a let down too. I always try to be as positive as I can when writing about things – books, music, films – but in this instance that’s proven to be a challenge. Disappointing…
Back in 1987 Swedish multi-instrumentalist and composer Christofer Johnsson formed death metal band Therion. Over the subsequent years that band moved away from death metal into the realms of symphonic metal, including choirs and orchestral instruments to their performances.
Lyrically the band have focussed on themes of ancient traditions, magic, the occult etc., with Swedish author Thomas Karlsson penning all of the group’s lyrics since the mid Nineties.
Both Johnsson and Karlsson are members of a left-hand path organisation called Dragon Rouge, led by Karlsson, which has existed since 1989.
In 2015 Johnsson unveiled an occult-based side project under the banner of the Luciferian Light Orchestra. The project’s self-titled debut album was released on 30 April 2015. This date was perhaps no coincidence as Walpurgis Night falls on 30 April each year. In Sweden this is traditionally a celebration of the coming of Spring but in wider Europe there are connections to witchcraft etc.
Details of the Luciferian Light Orchestra are deliberately thin on the ground. Johnsson revealed that, aside from himself (guitars, keyboards, backing vocals) and his girlfriend Mina Karadzic (backing vocals), a further twenty-two musicians were involved in the recording of the album. There were apparently four lead vocalists, five backing vocalists, five guitarists, five keyboardists, two drummers and one bassist which included a mix of current and previous members of Therion.
However, Johnsson decided to keep the specific identities and roles under wraps as he was keen that people concentrate on the music itself rather than the personnel. The lyrics are again penned by Karlsson and whilst on the one hand they are fairly typical occult rock lyrics there is also a depth and detail therein that reflects Karlsson’s knowledge of the subject matter.
Musically the album is steeped in a Seventies style vibe and is far more classic hard rock than one might expect given Johnsson’s background in death and symphonic metal. Opening track “Dr. Faust On Capri” sets out the project’s stall straight away. Catchy guitar riffs, Hammond organs, choral backing vocals in places, some fairly deep but perfectly understandable male vocals and all topped off with the a beautifully sweet female vocal.
The latter is especially effective on “Church Of Carmel” where the singer (possibly Mari Karhunen) sings “…take off your dress, join us in the Sabbath, become the Master’s mistress…”. I remarked to my wife that if all occult and / or satanic music was as melodic, catchy and, frankly, seductive as this then there would be a lot more people investigating that path!
“Taste The Blood Of The Altar Wine” talks of bowing “…before the black crucifix, hear the demons sing… for the Lord, the goat of Mendes, Baphomet…” and elsewhere you will hear references to the “…Lord of Topheth…” (a place in Jerusalem where followers of the early Canaanite religions sacrificed children to Moloch and Baal by burning them alive) in “Moloch”, as well as “…Astaroth…” (the Great Duke of Hell) alongside unnamed incubi and succubi in “Sex With Demons”
There are hints of the likes of classic Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin to be heard, particularly on tracks such as “Dante And Diabaulus” and “Venus In Flames” (which declares that “…we hail Sathanas, Venus, Lucifer…”). There are also parallels with other occult bands around at the moment, such as Blood Ceremony and Purson (not to mention the sadly missed The Devil’s Blood) in terms of the vintage vibe and female vocals.
Ignoring the lyrical direction this is a great, concise (just over thirty-eight minutes in length) album with some superb musicianship and very high quality vintage sounding hard rock songs. Add in the occult imagery and you have an irresistible package and one of the most instantly rewarding albums of the year. Excellent!
“Luciferian Light Orchestra” tracklist:
1. Dr. Faust On Capri / 2. Church Of Carmel / 3. Taste The Blood Of The Altar Wine / 4. A Black Mass In Paris / 5. Eater Of Souls / 6. Sex With Demons / 7. Venus In Flames / 8. Moloch / 9. Dante And Diabulus / 10. Three Demons
Time for a little something from the dark side today. Formed in 2010 by singer / guitarist Andrea “Burdo” Burdisso, guitarist Marco “Gale” Galeotti, bassist Riccardo “Paso” Pasini and drummer Andrea “Allo” Allodoli, Italian band Void Of Sleep describe their music as occult progressive metal.
A debut album, titled “Tales Between Reality And Madness” saw the light of day in 2013 and the group’s follow-up effort, “New World Order” has recently been released.
In theory, given the increasing amount of occult and extreme metal, not to mention progressive rock, that I’ve been listening to in recent years, this should be right up my street. So?…
The record follows in the steps of the promotional lyric video “Slaves Shall Serve” which has a procession of images providing an effective visual accompaniment to the song’s Luciferian theme. Although bearing the same title, this is a more 70s hard rock / doom sounding song than the Polish black metal act Behemoth’s ferocious track.
The album’s opener “The Devil’s Conjuration” has a nice sludgy doom metal feel topped off with vocals akin to Ghost, and picks up the pace a little towards the track’s climax.
“Hidden Revelations”, meanwhile, hints at influences from the likes of Opeth with its progressive metal guitar riffs and melancholic vocal passages.
The aforementioned “Slaves Shall Serve” is followed by “Ordo Ab Chao” (translation – order from chaos) which has plenty of light and shade even though the song is generally slow and heavy.
“Lords Of Chaos” is a forty-two second interlude and introduction to the title track which sees the band channelling Tool at their most reflective, and is one of the highlights of the album.
That just leaves the closing number “Ending Theme”. At a little over fourteen minutes this is by far the longest track on the record. It starts with some atmospheric and discordant guitar before the drums and vocals join the fray, and before you know it all those influences mentioned above are making their presence felt through your speakers.
Given those influences this is clearly not a hugely original album. What the band have done, however, is to take those influences and produce something fresh and interesting from them. The band members’ musical ability is not in question as they shine throughout.
Is it up my street then? It’s certainly in the neighbourhood. As a whole this is an album rich in texture. There is plenty of great guitar riffing to get your teeth into and harsh vocals to display aggression, whilst there are more memorable melodies and harmonies present than on your average album of this type. The sound gets more complex and challenging as the album moves into its second half, but flows beautifully as a whole piece of work. So overall this is impressive stuff…
“New World Order” tracklist:
1. The Devil’s Conjuration / 2. Hidden Revelations / 3. Slaves Shall Serve / 4. Ordo Ab Chao / 5. Lords Of Conspiracy / 6. New World Order / 7. Ending Theme (I Mourn / II Triumphant / III Void)
“The castle was moonlight-vast, all its ages fused together by the shadows, chimney stacks like the backs of hands turned black…
Hay-on-Wye : an eccentric medieval town known for its dozens of secondhand bookshops… and for having its own king. Now in the grip of recession, Hay is fighting for its future. Not the best time to open a bookshop, but Robin and Betty are desperate, and only Betty worries about the oppressive atmosphere of the shop they’re renting.
Merrily Watkins, diocesan exorcist for nearby Hereford, knows little about Hay until a body is found in the dark pool below a waterfall on the outskirts of the town and the police ask her to assist. The dead man’s peculiar interests will open a passage to the hidden heart of Hay and a secret history of magic and ritual murder.
And Merrily is alone and vulnerable as never before…”
The latest novel that I have read was written by British author Phil Rickman. The twelfth book in a series featuring the character of Merrily Watkins, a vicar based in the fictional Herefordshire village of Ledwardine.
Some years ago I had tried to get into “The Wine Of Angels” (published in 1998), the first in the series, and at that time couldn’t get into it. More recently, however, I picked up a copy of book ten “To Dream Of The Dead” (from 2008) in the local library and was instantly hooked, leading me to read book eleven “The Secrets Of Pain” as soon as it was released in 2011.
I think as I have got older and felt more of a connection with nature and an interest in the ways of our ancestors I have been able to identify more closely with some of the ideas in Rickman’s books. It doesn’t hurt that Merrily and her pagan-leaning archaeologist daughter inhabit a part of the country not too far from that in which I live, also close to the River Wye and England / Wales border.
“The Magus Of Hay” finds Merrily having to spend some time alone as boyfriend Lol Robinson is on tour and her daughter Jane is away on a dig. It’s at this time that police detective Francis Bliss gets in touch to get Merrily’s unique insight – as diocesan exorcist for Hereford – into the home of an old man whose body has been found in the river close to his home at Cusop Dingle.
The story is set entirely in and around the border town of Hay-On-Wye, with its many bookshops suffering from the effects of recession and the rise of the e-book, where a pagan couple, Robin and Betty Thorogood, have taken the decision to open a bookshop, devoted to pagan books, in a vacant shop.
While Merrily digs into the background of the dead man, Bliss finds that one of his colleagues, a young PC who lived near where the body was found, has gone missing.
Meanwhile Robin and Betty begin to find out that there is a hidden history to their new shop which man not be terribly positive.
I really enjoyed this book, and would say that it is certainly the best of the series that I have read so far (I will, in due course, be going back and reading books one to nine in this series). Rickman’s depictions of both character and locations are excellent. So much so, in fact, that I am looking forward to revisiting Hay itself as well as discovering Capel-y-ffin and some of the other places in the story.
With ingredients including ghosts, castles, stone circles, paganism, girls disappearing, magic, murder, Nazi occultism in World War II and a neo-nazi group going by the name of the Order Of The Sun In Shadow, and the addition of real-life characters including Richard Booth (the “King Of Hay”), author Beryl Bainbridge and artist Eric Gill, there is plenty to get your teeth into and to keep the old grey cells ticking over.
In my humble opinion this is a fabulous book, with a superbly plotted story. I very much look forward to book thirteen, to be titled “Friends Of The Dusk”, which is due later this year…
The latest Hammer Films production that I have watched was the 1976 occult horror film “To The Devil… A Daughter”, directed by Peter Sykes (“Demons Of The Mind”, “The Jesus Film”).
As with the earlier Hammer production “The Devil Rides Out” (which was released in 1968 and based on the 1934 novel of the same name) this movie is an adaptation of a novel by English author Dennis Wheatley (1897-1977). Wheatley wrote many occult and espionage books. The source novel in this case, also titled “To The Devil A Daughter”, was first published in 1953.
Public tastes had changed since the Hammer heyday of the late 1950s and 1960s, and in some ways the studio found themselves now trying to keep up with mainstream films that were showing more violence and sexuality than found in the celebrated gothic Hammer films. Although there would be success in the 1980s with the TV series “Hammer House Of Horror”, of which I have very fond memories, this movie would be the penultimate feature film from Hammer (“The Lady Vanishes” from 1979, which was unsuccessful at the box office, being the last) until the brand was relaunched in 2007.
The film itself opens as Father Michael Rayner (Christopher Lee – “The Wicker Man”, “The City Of The Dead”) is excommunicated by some Catholic officials, much to his displeasure as he remarks “it is not heresy, and I will not recant!”.
We then jump forward twenty years to a Bavarian island where Rayner is running a convent called the Children Of The Lord. A seventeen year old nun, Catherine Beddows (Nastassja Kinski – “Paris, Texas”, “Cat People”), who is also Rayner’s god-daughter, visits her father Henry (Denholm Elliott – “The Vault Of Horror”, “Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade”) in London each year for her birthday.
Beddows was formerly a member of Rayner’s cult and, aware of a fate that awaits Catherine now that she is turning eighteen, contacts occult author and expert John Verney (Richard Widmark – “Pickup On South Street”, “Panic In The Streets”) and asks him to look after her.
Verney enlists the help of his agent Anna Fountain (Honor Blackman – “Goldfinger”, “The Cat And The Canary”) and her boyfriend David Kennedy (Anthony Valentine – “Tower Of Evil”, “Callan”) in the hopes of keeping Catherine from the clutches of Rayner and his followers and their plans to turn her into an avatar for Astaroth in order to unleash Satan’s reign on Earth…
There were reputedly many problems with the production of this film. The script wasn’t finished when shooting began, the original ending was too close to that of one of Lee’s earlier Dracula movies so had to be rewritten and re-shot.
Lee himself was unhappy with parts of the finished film, Widmark remarked on the “mickey mouse production” and Wheatley was so fed up that the film bore so little resemblance to his book (not to mention the gratuitous sex, nudity and gore) that he declared that Hammer would never again be able to make a film from his work!
Lee gives an assured performance with plenty of evil intent evident in his character, whilst Kinski is also impressive in her role. Incidentally, perhaps surprisingly in view of the nudity and sexuality required of her character, Kinski had only just turned fifteen when the film was released in 1976!
It’s fair to say, I think, that this film isn’t a patch on “The Devil Rides Out” and isn’t what one would normally expect from a Hammer film. Equally it doesn’t match up to the likes of “The Omen” or “Rosemary’s Baby”, similarly occult-themed films from the mid 70s. Nonetheless, I did find this to be an enjoyable movie. Granted, that may be partly due to my interest in the left-hand path but largely because I didn’t find this to be the car crash that many seem to view it as…
During 1982, in California, four men – singer / rhythm guitarist Blackie Lawless, guitarist Randy Piper, bassist Rik Fox and drummer Tony Richards – formed a heavy metal band named W.A.S.P.
By the time that the group had signed a deal with Capitol Records and were ready to record their self-titled debut album Fox had departed, Lawless had switched to bass and guitarist Chris Holmes had joined.
The album “W.A.S.P.” was released in 1984 but did not feature their infamous debut single “Animal (Fuck Like A Beast)”, as the label were concerned that it would have a negative effect on sales. The single was released in Europe, and would only be included on the album when it was reissued in 1998. Oh, and if you thought the song title was bad, just check out the tasteful sleeve for the live version from 1988!
By now the band had a reputation for shocking live shows which often featured semi-naked models tied to torture racks and the throwing of raw meat into the audience.
An appearance in 1984 movie “The Dungeonmaster” followed, before Richards was replaced on the drum stool by Steve Riley for second album “The Last Command” in 1985.
Following the tour to promote “The Last Command” Piper departed and Lawless reverted to rhythm guitar, with bass duties being taken up by new man Johnny Rod in time for 1986 album “Inside The Electric Circus”.
When fourth album “The Headless Children” saw the light of day in 1989 drummer Riley had had a number of successors and it was Frankie Banali who featured on the record alongside Lawless, Holmes and Rod. By now, the lyrical themes that Lawless was writing about had moved on from the explicitly sexual and he was addressing social issues and politics.
Holmes left the band in the summer of 1989 (following his marriage to Lita Ford) and at that point Lawless effectively disbanded the group and began work on what was to be his first solo album. By the time that the resulting record, “The Crimson Idol”, was finished Lawless had decided to release it under the W.A.S.P. banner.
A concept album, 1992’s “The Crimson Idol” told the story of the rise and decline of a character named Jonathan Steel, a rock star (naturally enough), and featured Lawless and Banali along with guitarist Bob Kulick and additional contributions from drummer Stet Howland.
“Still Not Black Enough”, released in 1995, was also originally intended as a Lawless solo album, again featuring himself, Banali and Kulick (plus Howland on a couple of tracks). Again, it became a W.A.S.P. release.
By 1997 Holmes had returned and he, Lawless, Howland and bassist Mike Duda were the latest incarnation of W.A.S.P. If that year’s album, charmingly titled “Kill Fuck Die”, was an attempt at a glorious comeback, the results were mixed. On the record itself it was a return to sex and death lyrically but with an industrial twist to their sound which didn’t really work. On the accompanying tour the stage show apparently included simulations of sex with nuns and chopping up animals.
“Helldorado” (1999) and “Unholy Terror” (2001) followed before Holmes once more left the band. “Dying For The World” (2002) saw the introduction of new guitarist Darrell Roberts and Banali on drums once more.
The record was, according to Lawless, inspired by letters received from veterans of the Gulf War. He stated that “our motivation for this record was prefaced by letters sent to us from the tank divisions during the Gulf War, where the troops would actually go into battle blaring ‘Fuck Like A Beast’ and ‘Wild Child.’ After the events on 9/11, we felt we would give them a fresh batch; in essence, we’ve literally made an album to go kill people by”. Hmmm.
The concept album “The Neon God” came out in 2004 in two parts, and told the story of “the tragedy and consequences of one boy’s search for acceptance and purpose in his existence” and “of an abused and orphaned boy who finds that he has the ability to read and manipulate people. By utilizing his gifts, he is able to build a following whose devotion and allegiance create a loyalty so intense that he is poised to become a dark Messiah for the 21st century”. A little more cerebral than “Dying For The World” then!
Part one “The Rise” was issued in April and part two “The Demise” followed in Spetember. Both featured Lawless, Duda and Roberts with a mixture of drum parts from both Howland and Banali.
All change once more for 2007’s “Dominator” with just Lawless and Duda remaining and being joined by guitarist Doug Blair and drummer Mike Dupke.
Lawless, Duda, Blair and Dupke remained together for biblically themed “Babylon” (2009) and this year’s brand new album “Golgotha” – although Dupke did leave the band not long before the new record was released.
Blackie Lawless was raised in a fundamentalist Baptist family and was active in church until his teens, when he rebelled and became interested in the occult. This clearly had an impact on his band’s earlier work and imagery, and his familiarity with the Bible can be found in the apocalyptic and religious themes in some of the material too.
However, in recent years Lawless has said that he has returned to Christianity. For this reason he will no longer perform the song “Animal (Fuck Like A Beast)”, though “On Your Knees” still gets a regular airing and that’s doesn’t strike me as exactly innocent. Still, each to their own.
Still, let’s look at “Golgotha”. Lyrically, “Last Runaway”, “Fallen Under”, “Eyes Of My Maker”, “Hero Of The World” and “Golgotha” all have a Christian slant to them, with the latter being the most overt. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, after all Christian metal band Stryper did OK, and is a continuation of themes explored on the band’s past couple of albums too. However, when held up against the group’s earlier classic work? Not so sure.
Opener “Scream”, which sounds like classic W.A.S.P. mixed with some guitar chords from The Cult circa the late 80s, is a great track to open with. Uptempo, catchy, instantly recognisable as W.A.S.P. and featuring a great guitar solo too.
“Last Runaway” and “Shotgun” keep up the good work, the latter having a little of The Who vibe. Big ballad “Miss You”, meanwhile is reminiscent of the band’s ballads of old, but just nowhere near as good – and it’s nearly eight minutes long!
Things pick up again with “Fallen Under” but don’t really get back on track until the excellent “Slaves Of The New Order”. The next two tracks float on by without too much to write home about and then we’re into the final epic “Golgotha” (the third seven minute plus track of the album’s nine cuts). Despite the constant name-checking of Jesus getting a bit repetitive the song still manages to capture Lawless and his band sounding suitably grandiose and the track makes for a fitting finale to this album.
A mixed bag then, better overall than most W.A.S.P. albums since the low point of “Kill Fuck Die”, but still not up there with the classic 1984-1992 period. That said, Lawless may not have the visual shape that he used to but his voice seems, on this evidence, to still be in pretty good shape and musically his band are in fine form.
Not a brilliant heavy metal record then, but a decent one and one worth giving a spin…
1. Scream / 2. Last Runaway / 3. Shotgun / 4. Miss You / 5. Fallen Under / 6. Slaves Of The New World Order / 7. Eyes Of My Maker / 8. Hero Of The World / 9. Golgotha
Yesterday I watched a horror film directed by Vernon Sewell (“The Blood Beast Terror”, “Ghost Ship”). Originally released way back in 1968, “Curse Of The Crimson Altar” was also known as “The Crimson Cult” in the US.
The film opens with the words “…and drugs of this group can produce the most complex hallucinations, and under their influence it is possible by hypnosis to induce the subject to perform actions he would not normally commit” displayed across the screen – words it claims an extract from the “Medical Journal”.
The opening scene of the actual film finds a variety of characters in a room, some bathed in green light and others in full technicolour. There is a hooded man holding a goat, a half-naked woman whipping a similarly disrobed blonde woman strapped down to an altar, a man with antlers on his head, a priest, a man in a suit and a woman with interesting makeup and an ornate headdress who we learn is Lavinia, the Black Witch (Barbara Steele – “The Mask Of Satan”, “Piranha”).
The suited man, Peter Manning (Denys Peek – “Object Z”, “The Limbo Line”), is instructed to sign his name in a book proffered by Lavinia in order to join her world of darkness, after which he is instructed to stab the blonde woman to death.
We are then introduced to Robert Manning (Mark Eden – “Coronation Street”, “The Detective”), Peter’s antique dealer brother, who has received a package from Peter containing a silver candlestick from the 1600s and a spring-loaded bodkin dagger, along with a note indicating that he is ill and staying at the Craxted Lodge home of a Mr. Morley in Greymarsh. When Robert telephones Mr. Morley, however, he is told that no Peter Manning has ever visited.
Concerned, Robert decides to travel to Craxted Lodge to speak to Morley in person. Stopping for petrol en route he learns that there is a celebration taking place in Greymarsh for Witches Night.
Sure enough, when he arrives there is a party in full swing – hosted by Morley’s niece Eve (Virginia Wetherell – “A Clockwork Orange”, “Dracula”).
Swing being the operative word as there is plenty of female flesh on display – some being painted, some having champagne poured all over it, and some simply gyrating – very “swinging sixties” I imagine!
Upstairs Robert finds Morley (Christopher Lee – “The Wicker Man”, “Taste The Blood Of Dracula”) who reaffirms that he hasn’t seen or heard from a Peter Manning – despite Peter’s note having been written on Morley’s headed notepaper. Determined to investigate further Robert enquires about local hotels, only to be offered a room in the Lodge by Morley.
Having accepted Robert is shown around by Eve. As they talk they remark that the house looks like something from a horror film, and Robert jokes that Boris Karloff will pop up next.
And so he does. Morley is visited by local Professor Marsh (Boris Karloff – “The Mummy”, “The Bride Of Frankenstein”) and the three men share a bottle of brandy together – Robert’s lack of proper appreciation for which leads to Marsh’s intense disapproval – and Marsh, said to be one of the world’s leading experts on witchcraft, explains to Robert about the history behind Witches Night, when Lavinia (an ancestor of Morley’s) was accused of witchcraft and burned to death, during which she put a curse on all the descendants of her accusers.
During the nights Robert experiences strange and nightmarish dreams in which he sees his brother, together with the other characters seen in the opening sequence, plus a masked jury, and is himself instructed by sign the book.
Although spooked by these dreams Robert’s investigations lead him to get closer to Eve, but the appearance in Morley’s home of a candlestick and bodkin dagger – both identical to those sent to him by Peter – and Marsh’s invitation for Robert to examine his own personal collection of instruments of torture mean that he cannot be sure who, if anyone, can be trusted…
The movie moves gradually towards a suitably dramatic and fiery conclusion when we discover that not everyone that we have suspected of being involved actually were. Luckily one of the characters present is able to verbally fill in some of the blanks that weren’t really explained during the film and make sense of that opening statement – which felt a bit clumsy and like a bit of a cop-out to be honest.
Compared to many similar films from the likes of Hammer Films etc. I thought that this one is somewhat more sexually explicit than most, with the aforementioned nudity during the party scenes and various exposed breasts, not to mention the outfit clinging to the character known as “girl in car chase” (Nova St. Claire – “Doomwatch”)!. That said, by today’s standards it really is rather tame!
Not one of Lee’s best films, but “Curse Of The Crimson Altar” is still definitely worth watching…
I’ve just watched a horror movie, originating from West Germany in 1970, written and directed by Michael Armstrong (“The Haunted House Of Horror”), titled “Mark Of The Devil”.
In an unnamed European village the local witch hunter Albino (Reggie Nalder – “Dracula Sucks”, “Fellini’s Casanova”) lords over the local population, with a nasty zeal. He is able to accuse of witchcraft and sentence to death anyone that he sees fit without fear of reprisal.
Count Christian von Meruh (Udo Kier – “Suspiria”, “Blood For Dracula”) arrives in the town to announce the imminent arrival of his mentor, the Royal-approved witch hunter Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom – “Return Of The Pink Panther”, “The Dead Zone”) to take over from Albino.
Christian demands that Albino hand over all the paperwork for previous witch trials as evidence. There is no such paperwork, so when Albino notices Christian’s attraction to local girl Vanessa Benedikt (Olivera Katarina – “Goya”, “Kiss Kiss Kill Kill”) he accuses her of witchcraft.
When Lord Cumberland begins to hear the cases brought before him Christian has no choice but to accept the charge against Vanessa, as he believes Cumberland’s mantra that God will prove the innocence of anyone accused who is not guilty.
As the story develops Christian witnesses a girl claiming to have been raped by a priest dismissed as a blasphemer and later a family of puppeteers who are clearly innocent for all to see accused and imprisoned, leading Christian to begin to question the quest that Cumberland and he have been engaged upon…
Given the tag line “positively the most horrifying film ever made” and publicised as being “the film first rated “V” for violence”, this film followed directly in the footsteps the 1968 movie “Witchfinder General” which was based on the real-life character Matthew Hopkins and his reign of terror in the eastern counties of England during the 1640s.
Although it can be seen as relatively tame by today’s torture porn standards, “Mark Of The Devil” uses some quite extreme violence – physical and sexual – for its time. There are scenes of rape, a bare-breasted woman being tortured whilst stretched on the rack, numerous wounds inflicted by a variety of blades and even a tongue being ripped out, so this is not a movie for the squeamish.
Underneath all that, however, the film examines the motivations that may have been behind some of the accusations of consorting with the devil that were levelled in that era – sexual, the appropriation of belongings, etc. – as well as the less than Christian attitudes and deeds of those claiming to be doing the Lord’s work.
Not as essential as the aforementioned “Witchfinder General”, this is nonetheless a very effective film at depicting the pain and suffering encountered during the horrific witch trials that did take place, and so is recommended for that reason…
Forty six years ago today, on 8 August 1969, the actress Sharon Tate was brutally murdered at 10050 Cielo Drive, the rented home she shared with her film-maker husband Roman Polanski, by members of the Manson Family – followers of criminal guru Charles Manson.
Over the coming days I’m going to look at the films that Tate starred in before her untimely death, starting with “Eye Of The Devil”, her first starring role filmed in 1965 and released in the UK during the summer of 1966.
Directed by J. Lee Thompson (“The Guns Of Navarone”, “Conquest Of The PLanet Of The Apes”) the movie was based on a novel by Philip Loraine titled “Day Of The Arrow”.
Philippe de Montfauçon (David Niven – “Murder By Death”, “The Pink Panther”) is a wealthy vineyard owner who becomes concerned when he learns that his crops have failed for the third consecutive year.
He heads off to the family estate at Montfauçon Castle in Belenac to rectify matters, but tells his wife Catherine (Deborah Kerr – “From Here To Eternity”, “The Sundowners”) that he does not want her or their children to go with him, something that Catherine is none too pleased about.
Arriving in Belnac, Philippe is greeted by the village priest, Father Dominic (Donald Pleasence – “The Eagle Had Landed”, “From Beyond The Grave”), who makes vague references to a duty which he says that he was sure Philippe would not refuse when the time came.
Still at their home, Catherine is disturbed when the couple’s young son Jacques (Robert Duncan – “Rasputin : The Mad Monk”) has a sleepwalking episode during which he talks of going to see his father, leading her to decide that she needs to take the children out to the estate.
When Catherine gets to the castle she is unsettled by a pair of mysterious siblings. Christian de Caray (David Hemmings – “Blow-Up”, “Barbarella”) who likes to wander around the castle grounds shooting birds with his bow and arrow and his sister Odile de Caray (Tate) who has a hypnotic effect on those around her.
When Catherine sees the siblings sneaking into the castle with a dove that Christian had killed and follows them to witness some kind of pagan ritual taking place. Spying hooded figures in the woods has Catherine further spooked and fearful for the safety of her husband…
Tate apparently met with the High Priest and High Priestess of Alexandrian Wicca in the UK to prepare for her role.
Although she and Hemmings both have relatively minor roles in terms of speaking parts, their presence is essential to the feel of the film and Tate, in particular, is quite spellbinding – beautiful and also projecting an ethereal quality that, for me, really made the film much more effective that it might otherwise have been.
Also known as “13”, this is certainly an interesting film with clear parallels with “The Wicker Man”, especially in terms of how it treats paganism and pagan rites and the narrative about sacrifice with regard to failed crops, and the isolated and insular community involved. Whilst it isn’t in the same league as its more famous counterpart this particular film is still well worthy of watching.