Monday, January 07, 2008

Night of the Devils – review

Director: Giorgio Ferroni

Release date: 1972

Contains spoilers

Some of you may recall the Mario Bava film Black Sabbath, in which one of the stories was based on the Alexis Tolstoy story The Family of the Vourdalak. Some 9 years later Giorgio Ferroni took that story, set it in a contemporary time frame and made a feature length film of it.

Unfortunately this is always going to be subject to comparison with Bava’s film and it does fall short. Firstly the Bava version was a lot shorter and seems snappier because of it. This film can drag a little in places. Next, Bava had Karloff in the lead role and enough said really. Finally, of course, Bava was one of the master filmmakers of his time and there is no way this could compete with Bava’s direction and wondrous lighting and atmosphere. That said it doesn’t do a half bad job, in its own right.

The film begins with a man, Nicola (Gianni Garko), obviously injured and stumbling through the countryside. He passes out. Suddenly we are hit with flashes of horrific (mainly) and erotic images and then we realise that he is in hospital and undergoing an EEG. He is non-responsive to questions, they are not even sure whether he can speak and surmise that he might have amnesia.

An inspector calls and has arranged to have his photo circulated. The doctor tells the inspector that though the man seems passive, when night falls he becomes restless and agitated. A girl, we later discover she is called Sdenka (Agostina Belli), calls at the hospital that night. She claims she knows Nicola; in fact he stayed with her a week earlier. He never seemed odd, though he was fairly obsessed with work – work being arranging a lumber shipment. When she is taken to see him he reacts violently and is placed in a straight jacket and sedated. She vanishes, leaving an empty purse behind.

We then go into the story that occurred. Strangely this seems to be portrayed as his memories though we see certain aspects he simply couldn’t know about – but there you go. He was driving through the countryside and took a shortcut when a woman appeared on the road. Swerving to avoid her he crashed, breaking down in the process. He cannot find the woman and starts walking through the woods.

He is watched by a man, Jovan (Roberto Maldera), who goes back to digging the grave he was working on. Also digging the grave is his father Gorca (Bill Vanders) and the rest of the adult family, Sdenka, Elena (Teresa Gimpera) and Vlado (Luis Suárez), watch as mourners. The grave is for Gorca’s brother (and Elena’s husband) and it becomes clear the family killed him. As well as burying the corpse they bury a statue and crutch.

Having come across an abandoned house at first, Nicola finally finds the family’s cottage. It appears that no one is home until he spots two kids, Irina (Cinzia De Carolis) and Mira (Sabrina Tamborra), in a window. They pointedly ignore him until the family return. Nicola is offered shelter for the night and Jovan promises to try to fix his car in the morning. The house is like a veritable prison with all doors and windows barred shut. In the night we see the woman – referred to as a witch (Maria Monti) – spooking around and digging at the uncle’s grave – on which she spills blood (though that doesn’t appear to be plot significant).

The next day Gorca insists that he will rid the region of the evil curse and steps off into the woods with the warning that if he is not back by 6 PM the family will assume the worst. We see Gorca looking for the witch, sharpening a stake. As the clock moves towards 6 Jovan starts to sharpen a stake of his own but Gorca returns right on the stroke of 6. At the urging of the women he does not kill his father – much to Nicola’s relief.

The story then follows the core plot, as given in Black Sabbath, fairly accurately. Obviously Gorca has been turned despite bringing the witch's hand as proof of her death – and a point here that it was an awfully fake looking prop and not nearly as iconic as Karloff holding a severed head aloft in the corresponding scene. Despite the horror occurring around them love blossoms between Sdenka and Nicola.

The Vourdalak seems to mix witch and vampire myth. We hear the original referred to as a witch but that is about as far as it goes. They can travel in day time, we saw the witch in the woods, but they tend to come out at night. They specifically feed on those they love, for companionship in their deathly misery, and through this we get a wonderfully disturbing attack by the undead little girl. During this attack we see that they tend towards biting the neck.

They can be killed only be piercing the heart. Whilst the effects aren’t brilliant this does lead to a fairly up close staking scene. Other than that they take injury well. We see one lose fingers and continue to laugh and mock their victim. During this scene we have the vampire children watching and laughing in a most disturbing manner.

When they are dead they corrupt. Whilst the effects are again a little amateurish the idea was marvellous as, before the face starts to slowly bubble and sink in on itself, they bleed profusely from the eyes as though releasing the poison blood within their system.

The acting is okay, but we have been spoilt by the performance offered by Karloff in the earlier film and nothing in this can match that, I’m afraid. The direction can seem languorous, almost dreamlike at times, fitting as this seems to be in the memories of Nicola. The film does have a marvellous twist at the end.

The Family of the Vourdalak is a marvellous story and this does do it justice, as does the Bava version. Part of me would, very much, like to see a modern remake with modern, high quality effects… that said I doubt a modern studio could be bothered developing the atmosphere that these two films added in to the mix. Well worth a watch, but difficult to find. 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


LoBo said...

Hm, interesting. Another take on the same story as in Black Sabbath, The Wurdalak.

I see there is a Blu-ray coming out pretty soon:

Since i enjoyed that film and segment so, seems like the perfect opportunity for me to watch this film in 1080p with lossless audio. I will go and pre-order it now,

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Lobo, thanks for the blu-ray information :)

There is, if you are into graphic novels, a graphic novelisation of the story. details are here.