Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Satan’s Black Wedding – review

dvd set

Director: Nick Millard

Release Date: 1975

Contains spoilers

This film is a bit of a mystery wrapped in an enigma. It should be horrible, stalted dialogue and acting as wooden as a pine furniture showroom and yet… There is just something about it. It manages to generate both an atmosphere and a sense of disturbance that it should simply fail to produce. It also, for a Canadian/US production, produces a sense of gothic that is perhaps more common in European cinema of that era and a sense of the fantastique that could almost be described as owing to Jean Rollin.

Father DakenThe film starts off well with the opening credits above a truly disturbing painting. A piano plays over the top, occasionally becoming discordant – although that might have more to do with the print I watched and poor sound transfer. Be that as it may, this simple piano forms the majority of the soundtrack and the discordance adds greatly to the atmosphere. We then see a woman, Nina (Zarrah Whitting), walking, almost trance like, down a path – note the night time being washed in blue rather than being either too dark or obviously filmed during the day. She enters a crypt (of a deconsecrated church we later discover) and goes to a coffin. Inside is a vampire. Note the crap fangs that somehow work… damn it, they shouldn’t but they do.

Nina's suicideWe then see the woman led down as the vampire recites a ritual. She gets a razor and slashes at the wrist. The scene is truly disturbing. This is not a slash and die. It is multiple slashes, blood everywhere and very nasty. The blood is all too red but that works too, it is stark, unreal and yet disturbingly real at the same time. We are only a few minutes into what amounts to a 60 minute flick and somehow it is already something more than it should be.

Greg Braddock as MarkA funeral for Nina. Mark (Greg Braddock), her actor brother, has returned for it. He is approached by the priest and we see he is the vampire. Note that it is daylight. Whilst these vampires prefer the night they can handle the daylight. He speaks to Mark and seems cordial enough. There is no real sense of mystery with the film, more a question of when is the badness going to happen. Daken, the priest, has a faux upper crust accent that is sinister.

Lt. ScottMark is staying at his sister’s. He enters her bedroom and it is still covered in blood. The walls are smeared as well as the bed sheet. “Something far more terrible than suicide” suggests a man, who introduces himself as Lt Scott, homicide. He is convinced it is murder. There was not a drop of blood in her body and her 3rd finger, left hand was missing. We see the priest look over Nina’s coffin – he is pleased with you, the priest suggests – referring to Satan. Now Nina must kill her family – she has fangs.

The family consists of Aunt Lillian, who Mark visits. However, before this Mark persuades his girlfriend not to come, finds the finger and is told by the Lt. that there have been several murders, with draining, over recent years. This includes the slaughter of a whole family. The children had ripped cloth from their attacker's clothes and it was 200 years old. Mark goes to see Lilian who mentions Nina’s manuscript and the fact that she was researching a church, that was the scene of Satanism, for the book. Estella, the maid, wishes to leave. Something tried to get into the house the night before.

the attack on EstellaMark reads the manuscript and we discover, through it, that the nuns from the church, who became Satanists, cut of the 3rd finger, left hand to show they honoured Satan – as it was the finger where they wore the rings that symbolised being brides of Christ. In the meantime Nina goes to Lilian’s house. She, first of all, attacks Estella. The attack is bloody and brutal and goes on for some time. She leaves the woman injured and goes to her main target.

Lilian is deadThere is a fairly atmospheric moment where she stands in the doorway, bathed in shadow, before she attacks. Again the attack is brutal and the resultant corpse bloodied (although bite marks are missing). Meanwhile Estella has crawled downstairs and struggles to Daken, imploring help. He does not reveal his fangs until she gets to him and it is a sinister scene.

I won’t go further into the plot, except to say that it is geared around the church, where Satan was summoned. Daken is the original priest and he intends to marry Mark and Nina in a unholy wedlock, in order that they will conceive the anti-Christ.

Zarrah Whitting as NinaAs I say, the acting is so wooden that I believe Ikea want to buy the rights to make furniture from the film. Yet somehow it doesn’t matter. Some of the exposition pieces are wearisome, to say the least, and it is here where the film shows it is not quite up to Rollin’s standards as he would probably have more silence and less dialogue.

Yet the story is interesting, despite this, and the standard gothic trappings are there but strangely original. There is a portrait of Nina, that now has fangs when before it didn’t – tapping into the generic, Euro-Gothic need to include a portrait. It almost appears as though Nina can become the painting.

nice gore levels occasionallyThe blood levels are high and there is some nice gore occasionally, despite the fact that it is clear that there was little budget. In truth I do not know how to rate the film fairly as it is so much better than it should be allowed to be. There is some excellent use of lighting and some of the direction seems staid whilst at other times it verges on genius. This film vacillates between truly awful and truly brilliant. The ending is abrupt and wonderfully stark.

5 out of 10 seems the safest way to go, balancing the good and bad bits into an average score.

The imdb page is here.

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