Mark of the Devil/Review
From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
When the classic Witchfinder General was a hit, there was a slight trend in exploitation history to make Witch Hunt films, although only a few would actually remain favorites to this day including this great film Produced by Adrian Hoven, a name familiar to Jess Franco fans. The trend would prove to be one of a higher budget to produce something with a strong effect, as proven by Franco's film The Bloody Judge being one of his biggest budgeted, although some would give it a try. This is the obvious choice for No. 2 in the Witch Hunt Film genre, with Franco's being a very close third, and something that remains a cult classic to this day, being an example of Dramatic historical based film making in The Late 60's that also fitted very well with the Exploitation fever of the time.
Although the Starring lineup featured Herbert Lom, the real star of the show along the Dramtic lead of then-rising star Udo Kier is the under-rated Reggie Nalder, having a unique and effective face for Horror featuring a scarred mouth from burns, who was perfect as Albino, the Witch Hunter that was about to be over-ruled by Lord Cumerland, played by Lom to a good effect, although too laid back to be over shadowed by the rest of the cast despite a couple of stand out scenes. Kier is great as the Lord's understudy Christian who forgot a major rule not to treat him like an idol, as Cumberland's missteps and greed for The Church provide a major breakdown in belief in serving The Lord while having an interest in Vanessa, a favorite barmaid of the town wrongly accused of as a witch by the jealous Albino, who tried to use force on her before being turned down. Power plays figure throughout this film; Albino forces his Executioner (Herbert Fux, in a classic weasel-like performance fitting of this role) to forge "Statements" of admittance by so-called Witches to please the new Lord's rules, Cumberland tortures a Baron with a rich inheritance from his father to get the monies for his church, Cumberland also forcing Albino out of the picture and later strangleing him to death after being called impotent, and the ending appearance of Albino's right-hand man appearing to be a successor of Cumberland in the last act that leads to the hanging of Christian and Vanessa's tragic discovery.
The torture scenes are well-created, using actual devices of the era, and at the time were among the strongest of the Late 60's, leading to some clever Exploitation companies to write classic lines such as "Rated V for Violence" and create the now classic Barf Bag which cheapened the film in it's original run, as today it remains a very Dramatic and bold film even if the effects are mainly now great examples of special effects in a time now gone. What makes them effective, besides the Dramatics from the actors, are the stories surrounding them, especially the torture scenes involving the "Fallen Catholics" accused of witchery that start the show of violence as well as that of Gaby Fuchs, the films' legendary Damsel in Distress. The other classic torture scenes involve Hoven and Schöner as a couple who teach at a children's school who also get wrongly accused as Witches for having puppets in a show about one's wanting to fly and to be like nobody else while not hearing the full story, while Hoven's son also gets a cameo as one of the students - While an obvious add on from the Producer, it's a very good choice in this case considering the acting abilities of those involved.
The Drama of the Witch Hunts is well played in this film, although some may offer some words about the melodic theme music that some may say dates the film right away (Although this viewer likes it fine). The posters of the film remain some of the best of the era, with one featuring Fux's character in his stand out scene, while Hallmark, the legendary Exploitation film company connected to AIP, made Exploitation history with the now-legendary Barf Bag (seen in the press kit section). Mark of the Devil remains a great moment in both Exploitation film history for it's legendary advertising and 60's European film history for just being a great film with classic actors, and a breakthrough appearance by Kier.
Reviewed By Screen 13