Saturday, 13 December 2008

Satan’s Slave (1976)

Nothing is more fun that a good piece of satansploitation cinema, and Norman J. Warren’s Satan’s Slave certainly delivers the goods a far as entertainment is concerned.

Catherine Yorke, who has been having some strange premonitions, sets off for the countryside with her parents to spend some time with her uncle and his son. The uncle is a bit mysterious, and in fact she was only vaguely aware of his existence. His son isn’t just mysterious, he’s downright creepy, and we in the audience know because of the opening scenes that he’s prone to extreme violence when thwarted. Catherine doesn’t know any of this of this however. Her week in the English countryside, in her uncle’s magnificent old manor house, gets off to a disastrous start with a car crash. Catherine’ parents are killed, and Catherine finds herself being cared for dear old Uncle Alexander.

Uncle Alexander is a doctor, but he also has several hobbies, including black magic and necromancy. He hopes to restore life to a long-dead witch possessed of extraordinary powers, which will make his coven all-powerful. To do this he needs a direct descendent of the witch Camilla, which young Catherine just happens to be.

Norman J. Warren’s career was somewhat mixed and remarkably varies (embracing everything from softcore porn to science fiction to spy movies) and he’s not really regarded as being in the top rank of British horror directors. While Satan’s Slave is not quite in the classic mould of British horror classics of this period, like The Wicker Man or Blood on Satan’s Claw, it’s actually a pretty little horror chiller. It has the features you’d expect from a 1976 gothic horror flick - quite a bit of gore, plentiful nudity, and lots of black masses and satanic rituals. lIke Eye of the Devil and The Wicker Man it deals with occult practices in a contemporary setting, and like those films it has a rather bleak tone.

Michael Gough is in sparkling form, overacting outrageously and delightfully as Uncle Alexander. Martin Potter is skin-crawlingly weird and disturbing as Akexander’s son Stephen. The other cast members are adequate.

It’s a well-paced and well-crafted movie with some nicely sinister atmosphere and some nifty plot twists. It’s really a much more competent film than I was expecting given Norman J. Warren’s less than stellar reputation. It also looks reasonably slick. It’s available in Region 1 from BCI in a Grindhouse Experience double bill with another Norman J. Warren feature, The Terror, and I believe it’s available in Region 2 as part of a boxed set. Needless to say it’s not available in Region 4 at all. I bought the R version. The transfer has a few minor scratches but on the whole it’s pretty good. If you’re a fan of 70s British horror it’s definitely worth tracking down - it’s tremendous fun.

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