Saturday, December 05, 2009

Black Magic Rites – review

dvdDirector: Renato Polselli

Release date: 1973

Contains spoilers

Some films have more names than is good for them. This was on my Amazon wish list as “Black Magic Rites” – when it appeared as a cover disc on DVD (and Blu-Ray) World magazine with an absolutely groovy cover – but it is also available as “The Reincarnation of Isabella”, or perhaps you prefer the title “Rites, Black Magic and Secret Orgies in the Fourteenth Century” or maybe “The Ghastly Orgies of Count Dracula”.

Yes this has a lot of titles (that was just a sample). It is also one of the stranger offerings from Italian horror/sexploitation of the 1970s. Indeed the word psychedelic springs to mind as the singularly best descriptor for the film.

Rita Calderoni as IsabellaThe film begins with a shot of the vampire witch (and I’ll be discussing that later) Isabella (Rita Calderoni), she is strapped to a St Andrew’s cross. We get the sound of chanting and then the titles role over a quasi-kaleidoscope of colours whilst a psychedelic sound track, which is complemented by orgasmic gasps, plays on. When the opening credits draw to a close we see we are in a cavern, with an altar and a young woman (in contemporary dress) who seems terrified.

sacrificed so that Isabella might liveThere are Satanists in the cavern with funny coloured faces, and can I just say… Dudes, if your cult suggests that wearing red leotards is a good thing, just say no. That aside, they offer to sacrifice the girl to Isabella, who is chained to a rock, grey of face and has a hole ripped into her chest. As they prepare for sacrifice – a preparation that demands some bizarre camera angles and cuts on the director’s part – we see girls around the nearby village, all of whom seem affected by the rite. They take out the girl’s heart.

Satanists really do have heart... and leotardsWe see the Satanists squeeze the heart into goblets and drink and we see a girl, Raquel I think, by a water trough in the village. She is attacked by bats, grabbed by an assailant, who we do not clearly see, and bitten on the neck. Her heart is also removed. The next day the village girls all talk about the murder of Raquel – thus I assume that the girl at the water trough is Raquel rather than the one in the cavern. The V word is used.

the reception in the castleIndeed one young lady, Christa (Christa Barrymore) tells her friend Lenda that another girl, Viveca, does not believe in vampires only in bloodthirsty maniacs. Implying, of course, that she does believe in vampires. We also hear that the (cursed) castle has been bought by Jack Nelson (Mickey Hargitay), the step father of Laureen (Rita Calderoni) – who, herself, looks suspiciously like Isabella. She is engaged to Richard (William Darni) and a reception is being held that evening (or day time as day and night swap and change with impressive speed in this film).

hammering the stake homeOkay – long story short or, at least, what I have pieced together because the film is not that forward about revealing its plot. In the fourteenth Century Isabella was killed as a vampire witch by the inquisition. She had a stake pounded through her chest and was then burnt alive. This did not impress her love – Count Dracula (Mickey Hargitay) who vowed revenge and became the first vampire. Now note she was called a vampire but he became the first vampire. Was she a witch, was she a vampire? Who knows, it is all confused. Anyway, Count Dracula is Jack Nelson and Laureen is a vessel into which he hopes to have Isabella’s spirit come to life in, through the sacrifice of seven virgins – getting their hearts and taking their eyes.

Raul Lovechhio as the SatanistLaureen is also told that she actually is Isabella, unstuck in time. The Van Helsing type is the occultist (Raul Lovechhio) who is a reincarnation of someone from the incident who knows the details of his past life, but all the others involved seem to be reincarnations of people at the burning as well. The cavern seems to be in the past – but people from the present can be dragged there and yet it might also be in the present, who knows... it is all very confusing because it isn’t explained in any form of coherent way.

Stefania Fassio as SteffyNow I want to get to vampire lore and, in doing so I will discuss what happens to Christa and, also, look at the character Steffy (Stefania Fassio). Steffy seems to be the comedy character, designed to appear somewhat mentally retarded and involved in a bedroom farce aspect of the film. This ties in with our lore because it seems that vampires need blood not contaminated by human semen. There are some bizarre logical conclusions to that statement but, the upshot is, the Satanist vampires only bite girls who are virgins. Steffy becomes safe as her friend seems to have her raped by a man with a rather exaggerated facial tick, that then becomes a three way bedroom farce – not funny and not useful film wise.

Christa is bittenAs for Christa, she is in a dressing room when she is attacked by a vampire. The attack is more sexual than violent and involves a lot of fondling but, when over, it appears to have been illusionary – during the attack she was in a state of undress but suddenly she is fully dressed – and yet has blood at her neck. This leads to her enticing her friend Lenda out of the party and into the catacombs that lead to the cavern, were she attacks/seduces her friend. Lenda ends up in the cavern, and at the mercy of the Satanists, whilst Christa is found dead and naked in the castle (by Steffy).

Christa buried aliveWe then see Christa’s coffin. The priest (Gabriele Bentivoglio) declares she belongs to Satan and will not bless her and one man suggests they impale her. Instead she is taken to the graveyard but interior shots of the coffin show she is breathing. As she is buried she awakens and starts screaming and banging to be let out but is ignored. It is, given the rest of the film, a rather impressive scene. Eventually the coffin seems to be opened and she has a bat flying round her, she rises (strange camera angles again abound) and a bat is in the coffin. Later we see her bounding round the cavern, one of those serving Isabella.

Isabella post executionYes it is very strange and very confusing. Lingering shots of people’s faces replace acting in many parts of the films. Often they just look anguished. There is a reluctance to let the viewer in on the story. This is sexploitative, psychedelic and surreal and for those looking for bizarre Italian horror from the early 70s it probably has a lot to offer. For those looking for a good story, it doesn’t. 2.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Anonymous said...


Was this DVD of BLACK MAGIC RITES given away free with the latest issue (#79) or with last month's issue please?


Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hello Anonymous - it was issue 79

Gabriel said...

Hey Andy thanks for leading me to this review. I still want to see it, even though it doesn't make sense and the cultists have Greatest American Hero outfits on.

Call me a Eurhorror completist :)

you're right the cover is cool, and I can't help but notice the resemblance to Ingrid Pitt in the woman...

Taliesin_ttlg said...

No problemo... I'd want it too, if I didn't have it - despite it being... confusing...