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STUDIO: Cheezy Flicks
RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes
• Vomit Bag
• Intermission Time
Only Udo Kier can put a stop to this bogus witch hunt!
Written and directed by Michael Armstrong, Starring Herbert Lom, Udo Kier, and Reggie Nalder.
Amidst the religious fervor of 18th century Austria, three witchfinders compete for the souls of a town. Two of them are using their Church-bestowed powers for personal gain and to satisfy their sadistic thirsts, the other is a lovestruck Udo Kier.
When patrons went to see Mark of the Devil in 1970, they were given a barf bag at the door. Ads for the film boasted that it was “the most horrifying film ever made” and that it’s the first film “rated V for violence.” The marketing campaign worked and the film grossed a ton of money – even more than the classic Witchfinder General. How does this nasty tale of torture and hypocrisy hold up decades later? Pretty good, man.
The place is Austria, the century is the 18th. Witchfinder Albino (who is not really an albino) is a nefarious perv who enjoys accusing people of witchcraft for his own sadistic pleasure and gain. The film begins with him tarring and feathering some poor sap in the town square. As the tar is being poured on the guy, Albino goes “How about some shampoo”, which I’m pretty sure they didn’t have in the 1700s but it’s still pretty funny. Albino makes the guy look like a real clown.
He’s not so easy on the female witches though. To them he does some pretty horrible shit. All this torture makes him thirsty, so he goes to a tavern. There he macks on a busty serving girl named Vanessa (Olivera Vuco), but Albino is super ugly – he looks like a werewolf stuck in mid-transformation – so she turns him down. This, of course, makes her a witch and Albino starts getting the tavern patrons all riled up to burn her.
In steps Udo Kier, who looks remarkably like David Cassidy at this age. Udo intervenes and humiliates Albino, winning Vanessa’s heart in the process. Udo’s there to let the town know that his mentor, Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom), will be arriving soon to take over witch finding duties by the order of the Church. He must think witch finding is some noble profession like teaching or blogging because he looks up to Cumberland like a saint. But when Lord Cumberland comes in, he agrees with Albino that Vanessa is a witch and orders her to be locked up. Then he accuses a young puppeteer of being a witch, just so the Church can take his land and riches. Amidst the accusatory religious fervor, Udo must rescue Vanessa and put an end to Cumberland’s bogus witch hunt.
The film’s graphic violence is tame by modern standards, but some of the torture scenes are pretty unpleasant. Mark of the Devil does have a lot going for it beyond the exploitative torture and nudity though. The actual Austrian castles and locations look fantastic and easily give the film an authentic aura not typically present in exploitation films. The torture devices, including the rack and thumbscrews, are also bona fide. The film does a good job of looking at religious hypocrisy as well. The most “holy” among us are also the ones who dish out the most horrible pain imaginable and it’s up to the Udo Kiers of the world to make things right.
Herbert Lom plays a real good scumbag. He sits there eating chicken and sipping tea while sentencing people to have their tongue pulled out. Cumberland is allegedly impotent, so of course he tries to rape a woman. It’s wicked stuff. Udo Kier is fantastic too. He was one dashing s.o.b. back then, I’m tellin’ ya.
Mark of the Devil is worth seeing and definitely deserves its notoriety. Aside from the infamous torture scenes, it plays out nicely as a drama about corruption, hypocrisy, and the voyeuristic aspects of violence. It’s based on a dark time in human history and even though it’s exploiting that, at least it’s not sugarcoating. If you can get over the poor dubbing, you’ll have a good time.
Just don’t buy this DVD version.
This DVD version was released by Cheezy Films and it sucks. Blue Underground released it in 2004 in wicked nice collector’s edition loaded with special features. This version has nothing, but it does come with a barf bag, which is cute. I’ve heard that Cheezy Films releases garbage DVDs that might as well be bootlegs. After checking out this DVD I’d have to agree.
Buy the Blue Underground version, not this one.
(The rating below reflects my feelings on the movie, not this crappy disc)
Rating: Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Out of a Possible 5 Stars