Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Devil’s Mistress – review

Director: Orville Wanzer

Release date: 1966

Contains spoilers

The Western Horror, and more specifically the Western Vampire Movie, are a fairly rare breed – although there are some excellent examples. The Devil’s Mistress is not the best example of the sub-genre but it almost makes itself essential by its obscurity.

A note, that the version I saw was from rare film store Trash Palace and the print has a huge amount of colour fade and fuzziness to it, however the film is obscure and this may be the only state you’d get to see it in.

Will and Joe
The film starts with riders and, as we watch them, we hear a voice over. The quotes are from Deuteronomy, possibly slightly amended. The first quote is 32:17 “They sacrificed unto the devil and not to God” and the second is 32:24 “They shall be burned with hunger, and devoured with passion and bitter destruction: I will also send the poison of the serpent and the mouth of the beast upon them”. The quote seems to become quite literal within the film.

Forrest Westmoreland as Charlie
The four riders camp. They are the apparent leader Will (Oren Williams), young and naive Franky (Robert Gregory) and the rather bad desperados Charlie (Forrest Westmoreland) and Joe (Douglas Warren). What the four have done is not made clear but obliquely we can suppose there has been a robbery (they talk about shares), someone has been killed (*he had to do it* is mentioned) and they fear they are being pursued. The campfire talk between Charlie (who giggles evilly) and Joe is about finding a squaw, raping and murdering her. Franky is a bit lost in the conversation and Will distances himself from the two men. They do decide it won’t actually happen, as they are in Apache territory, they need to keep moving and hopefully they will pass through unhindered.

Jeroboam and Liah
The next day, low on food with a four-day ride ahead of them, they spot a cabin out in the middle of nowhere. Will is cautious but the other three want to explore. The place seems deserted but suddenly a man, Jeroboam (Arthur Resley), appears in the doorway. Guns are pointed at him but he disarms them with a friendly manner and the news that his woman, Athaliah (Joan Stapleton), known as Liah, was preparing food and it being offered to the riders. Will is sceptical.

stuffing faces
We see three of the four sharing a meal of stew and bread. Will is not there, Liah serves and Jeroboam does not eat. Charlie and Joe eat like animals but Franky, at least, seems to have table manners. Jeroboam explains that they left Salem to escape religious persecution. He also explains that Liah is mute. Eventually Will comes in and is offered food but he is sceptical. Where did the food comes from, what is in the stew and where are the vegetable gardens that would be needed for sufficiency in the wilderness? He gets the riders to leave and Franky and he do ride off. Charlie and Joe decide there must by money hidden, call Jeroboam out of the cabin and shoot him dead, fail to find anything and so set to rape Liah.

sealed with a kiss
They catch the others up, with Liah in tow, and say they threw Jeroboam’s corpse into the bone dry well. Later that night Charlie starts to kiss Liah. Suddenly her hands grip to him and she kisses him back. We see her sat, licking her lips and him stagger. The next day he feels like he has no energy and falls behind in the ride. He eventually slumps in the saddle, falls and dies. Liah, it seems, is an energy vampire. As they ride on the others will fall to her (only one more in terms of energy vampirism). Meanwhile she is always looking back at a silhouetted figure only she can see.

going for the neck
Her other vampiric attack not only involves her kissing but also her putting her mouth to the neck and sucking. The figure following is Jeroboam, his beard shaved and bedecked in a splendid cloak. The cloak may well make a viewer think of Dracula but Jeroboam seems to be more the devil himself. Liah seems to have powers over animals – making use of a rattlesnake, sat conveniently where some herbs are growing, and a horse. The rattlesnake fulfils the “poison of the serpent” and her sucking of energy through a kiss I would say is the “mouth of the beast”. There is a moment of sacrifice also, but that is the climax of the movie so I won’t spoil further.

It isn’t the best acted of films – but there are quite a few dialogue moments between the cowboys and these feel natural enough. Of course, the colour fading was a shame, but the muted yellowy/brown actually suited the film to some degree. It isn’t necessarily the zippiest of films, despite its short 65-minute running time, and yet there was something compelling about the film. Perhaps more necessary for its obscurity than its content, however there is something nice about making her an energy vampire. 5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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