Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Night of the Sorcerers – review


Directed by: Amando De Ossorio

Release Date: 1974*

Contains spoilers

*The imdb page for this film states that it was released in 1973 but the DVD clearly marks this as 1974. It is another film by De Ossorio and previously we have looked at Fangs of the Living Dead by him, which was incredibly rubbish, and the Blind Dead films, which had a glitch at film 3 but generally I really enjoyed.

This DVD release, by Diemos entertainment, is a great set with extensive liner notes, extras and what is claimed to be an uncut version of the film either dubbed or subtitled. The film comes in at 85 minutes and there is, allegedly, a 90 minute version but this does seem fairly complete. However do not expect high cinema, this is pure fantastique exploitation as the first scene amply illustrates.

The place is Bumbasa, the year 1910 and a group of natives perform a ritual. We see a European woman (I think played by Bárbara Rey) dragged to the clearing and tied between two trees. One of the native sorcerers starts to whip her until she is naked. screaming vampire headHe then approaches her and (mercifully briefly) appears to rape her. We see approaching colonial soldiers before we flip back to the ceremony. The woman is draped in leopard skin, placed on an altar and then beheaded. The worshippers paint their faces in her blood. The soldiers arrive and open fire, killing all the worshippers and then we see the woman’s decapitated head flip, reveal fangs and scream.

Okay, I don’t know how a decapitated head could scream (what with having no vocal chords) but, you know what, I don’t care. It is a shocking, exploitative opening that has not a single nuance of political correctness and sets the film up perfectly for what is to come.

Jack Taylor as Professor Jonathon GrantIn the present, trucks drive across the savannah. There is an expedition made up of Professor Jonathon Grant (shlock horror favourite Jack Taylor), their guide Rod Carter (Simón Andreu), his lover (and insanely jealous) Tanika (Kali Hansa), photographer Carol (Loli Tovar) and Liz (María Kosty) who just so happens to be the daughter of the financier of the expedition. Grant is documenting rare and disappearing species.

sorcerers risen from the graveOf course they decide to camp right near the scene of horror from the prologue. They are met by the fur trader Munga (José Thelman) who tries to warn them off and takes them to the clearing to show them the still present altar and explains why they should go. There are no animal noises and he says that the place was a voodoo ritual spot and the locals say the sorcerers return from the grave at night and it is guarded by devil leopards who are leopards by day and devil women who thirst for blood by night.

The expedition is unconvinced, believing he is trying to scare them away with such talk. That night Rod stands guard but is distracted by the sensual advances of Tanika. Thus he does not see Carol sneak out to get some night shots of the ritual area, as well as taking some voyeuristic shots of the lovers for reasons that seem to be there to build character depth but just allow for some nudey shots.

a vampire threatens CarolAnyhow, the dead have risen and the scene is reminiscent of that done in the Blind Dead films. The sorcerers are fairly desiccated, though not as much as the blind dead were, and slow moving. Carol sees them in action and is backing off when the vampire woman comes for her, complete with leopard skin bikini.

Carol is bittenYou might wonder if she is a vampire at this point, but I was convinced enough to go straight for review rather than ‘Vamp or Not?’ Carol receives the same treatment as we saw earlier with one exception, the vampire bites her post whipping rather than her being raped by the sorcerer. Was this indicative that the bite of the vampire is symbolic of penetration? I doubt it; I think Ossorio just thought it looked good and gory.

getting another victimThe next day Carol is missing and they can only find her camera, not noticing the two, rather fake looking, red eyed leopards in the trees. Munga warns them not to develop the film but they pay him no heed. However night falls and the vampires, the original one and Carol, are looking for more recruits and to stop those who might know of the secret of the sorcerers.

The vampire lore in this is very unusual and seems, at first glance, illogical. The vampire women are created by voodoo, something we saw in the slightly earlier Scream, Blacula, Scream - though the ritual in this case was certainly more gory. It is within the gore that this might seem illogical. We are used to decapitation as a means of despatching vampires but not creating them.

unusual way to kill a vampireHowever, when we see the death of a vampire, this verges on genius. The vampire women wear ribbons over their neck wounds. When the ribbon is pulled off one of them the wound is revealed and the vampire dies. This makes some form of perverse sense.

Simón Andreu as RodThere is another manner of vampire killing (and zombie killing for that matter) that makes much less sense. We see Rod, at one point, shooting at the sorcerers to no avail – that makes sense they are already dead. However he later throws his ammo into a fire and the resultant volley actually takes zombie sorcerers and vampires alike down, why this would be the case is neatly ignored.

Other than that we have little lore to mention. It does seem that any death at the hands of the vampires – including drowning in photography developing fluid – is enough to have the body come back as a zombie – though that may just be down to voodoo. The vampires might have a hypnotic power, Liz sees Carol as her mortal self rather than the leopard skin clad she-beast Carol has become, but that might have been down to the sleeping tablets Liz had taken.

The vampires seem to run in a super slow motion that might have been otherworldly and sinister if it wasn’t for the fact that it was clearly to get some slow motion booby wobble with the leopard skin bikinis – years before Baywatch.

Liz is a vampireIs it a good film? The plot is paper thin, the acting amateurish and some scenes were too dark due to the shooting process. Although, that said, when the shots weren’t too dark there was some great lighting and atmospherics. It hasn’t a shred of pc awareness and, you know what, it is great fun. It is leopard skin bikini vampiric fun from a master of exploitation horror.

I am sure, as a film, it will raise some disapproving eyebrows in certain quarters but as Mirek Lipinski says, in the liner notes, “it was almost as though you signed a no BS contract that recognised that you’d be seeing some of the worst and earthiest strains of humanity on screen, no apologies given or expected from the filmmakers. That’s the spirit in which (the Night of the Sorcerers) was presented and… …should be viewed.” 6 out of 10.

Incidentally Lipinski’s fantastique dedicated website is here. Plus Charles Forsyth's excellent site, dedicated to the film, is here.

The imdb page is here.

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