Saturday, August 04, 2007

Devils of Darkness – review


Director: Lance Comfort

Release Date: 1965*
as noted on DVD, imdb lists 1968

Contains spoilers

This little known British film has just been given the DVD treatment and, as I sat down to watch it I was rather excited. Here was a British vampire horror, from the 60s and I’d not seen it. Perhaps it was going to be a little gem. Then I realised, after a few minutes, that I had seen it before and forgotten all about it. This sentiment will underscore the review I’m afraid. This is ultimately forgettable.

atmospheric graveyardThe film begins well enough with an atmospheric graveyard and a man, in red cloak, carrying a candle and holding a vigil at the grave of Count Sinistre (Hubert Noël). We cut to a gypsy encampment and a gypsy bride, Tania (Carole Gray), dances a wild dance. The wedding ceremony will involve the mingling of her and her groom’s blood. Back at the cemetery the grave cracks open and a bat’s shadow is seen. Tania screams and falls, attacked by the bat, and dies.

Tania is awoken from deathThe gypsies bury her but as they are leaving, with only a solitary man left to fill the grave, we notice a really crap bat hanging from a tree. Winds pick up and the gravedigger falls. A hand reaches down and opens the coffin. A flash of talisman (we’ll get to this in a minute) and Tania is awoken as the bride of Sinistre, to follow, serve and obey him forever.

the talismanNow the talisman… Well, just take a look at the screenshot. Crappy, gaudy looking thing. The talisman proves to be the central prop of the film. They could have done a little better with it. This seems to be a theme through certain vampire movies, awful looking jewellery that no self respecting creature of the night would be seen dead wearing. Oh hum…

William Sylvester as PaulA group of tourists are in a village and they shouldn’t be, we discover, when we hear Bouvier (Gerard Heinz), the hotel manager, and Inspector Malin (Peter Illing) talking. The inspector wants them gone before that night's All Souls ceremony. The tourists are Paul (William Sylvester), Anne (Rona Anderson), Dave (Rod McLennan) and Keith (Geoffrey Kenion). They’ve met up with British antiques dealer Madeleine (Diana Decker). Keith and Dave are going caving and, even though she’s leaving, Madeleine suggests Paul and Anne watch the ceremony.

Carole Gray as taniaWe’ve seen Keith stumble upon a coffin in the caves and a hand appear. Paul and Anne are heading to the ceremony, despite Anne’s feeling of foreboding, when she is accosted by a gypsy woman who tells her to go back, looks at her palm and then tells her she is doomed. There is a commotion and Keith’s body has been found, Dave is completely missing (and barely mentioned again). The man and woman with his body are Sinistre and Tania.

Paul goes to the morgue and is given the run around by the inspector – though he has noticed punctures on his friend’s neck. Meanwhile Sinistre has taken Anne for a walk when she notices that he has no reflection in the lake. She tries to scream but he grabs her. In a struggle she pulls off his talisman. By the time Paul gets there she has vanished but he finds the talisman.

Anne and KeithHer body turns up drowned, suicide says the Inspector. Paul, unhappy with this, wants the bodies back in England to be autopsied. We see a scene with the bodies in coffins and Sinistre saying that he and Tania will go, in the coffins, to England in order to retrieve his talisman. They take the undead Anne out and burn her, punishment for daring to ‘defile the talisman’. When Paul arrives in England he discovers that the coffins were stolen on route and his fears that something is afoot seem confirmed…

Karin with SinistreNow, in England it all becomes a bit of a mystery movie, except we know the solution. A love interest is added in the form of Karin (Tracy Reed), whom Sinistre uses as bait for Paul – which seemed a little odd as the trap was set up before Paul met her and his feelings for her seemed to develop in one night. It also puts a woman scorned aspect into the plot as Sinistre decides he wants her as a bride and Tania’s nose is pushed out of joint.

The film mingles Satanism, voodoo and vampirism but it just doesn’t work. We have a full satanic cult and because of this I was reminded in part of Kiss of the Vampire but don’t let that fool you. The earlier Hammer film was vastly superior, with better atmosphere, story, characters and acting.

Hubert Noël as SinistreIt is within character and acting that this really falls down. The characters are two dimensional, uninteresting and we get very little cause to care for them. Sinistre is about as imposing as a toy poodle. The acting is wooden, with all too British accents that seem affected. There has been mockery of Noël’s French accent, unfairly as he was French and it was his real accent.

painting bleeds when cutThere are some interesting moments, such as a painting of Karin being slit and bleeding, but it just wasn’t enough to get my attention I’m afraid. A moment with a voodoo doll of Karin seemed stuck in as it was expected in a black magic movie but had no story impact and just seemed strange (and not in a good way).

branded by the crossVampire lore wise, we discover that Sinistre was buried alive due to his evil ways (which we assume is how he came to be a vampire) and most of his power emanates from the talisman. At one point he mentions a deadline for getting it back but that is quickly forgotten. Karin is bitten and then is burnt by a cross, though her reflection seems in place. Sunlight is deadly. It was nice to see the vampire wearing a modern suit during a time in the history of cinematic vampires when dinner jackets still seemed to be all the rage for your standard vampire costume.

All in all a poor, and forgettable effort. Stick with Hammer, the films were vastly superior. 1.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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