Sometimes your enjoyment of a cult movie depends very much on just how high (or how low) your expectations are. That’s very much the case with MYA DVD’s recent DVD release of Lucifera Demonlover. It applies both to the movie itself, and to the actual DVD.
You don’t expect to be able to judge cult movies by the same standards you’d apply to Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, and you also don’t approach cult movies expecting them all to measure up to the standards of the very best. This 1972 Italian gothic horror film (originally released as L'amante del demonio) is definitely not in the same class as a masterpiece of the genre like Bava’s Black Sunday. This is a minor film, and was never intended to be anything else. If you accept it on those terms, it has a certain appeal, and is quite enjoyable. Most of the reviews I’ve read have been very negative, and I can’t help wondering what the reviewers expected.
On to the plot. Three Swinging 60s girls (OK it’s 1972 so it’s not quite the Swinging 60s but I’m sure you get my drift) decide it might be fun to visit a gothic castle that is reputed to belong to the Devil himself. When the caretaker lets them in they decide it might be even more fun to stay overnight, so they can dispose of those silly old legends. Helga (Rosalba Neri) is clearly the leader of the pack, and the other girls go along with her plan. Just as Helga is about to bed down for the night she notices a disturbing painting - a woman who looks just like her, burning. As she’s about to go to sleep she suddenly finds herself in the 16th century.
Is this a dream? A memory from a past life? An illusion created by the castle, or possibly by Satan himself? Or her own fantasy? The movie doesn’t answer this question, and I think the ambiguity works more effectively than a detailed and possibly rather implausible explanation would have done.
She’s a girl about to get married, but one of the other village girls (who is in fact one of her pals from her modern real life) is fairly annoyed because she believes Helga has indulged in a bit of boyfriend-stealing. Which causes the friend to consult a local witch on the subject of curses to be used against boyfriend-stealers.
Helga has other problems. As she’s trying on her wedding dress she sees a man watching her through an open window. And of course if any man but your husband-to-be sees you in your wedding dress before the wedding your marriage will be cursed. So Helga also requires the services of the witch, for the purposes of curse-breaking.
While her friend is plotting with her new boyfriend, looking for more ways to revenge herself on Helga, Helga herself has an encounter with the Mysterious Stranger who had been watching her through the window. He tells her that her womanly passions are much too strong to be satisfied by a mere mortal lover. As he speaks to her she feels the stirrings of those womanly passions, and realises that he is right, and wonders how she could ever have believed that a mortal man could satisfy her desires. He promises her that he can satisfy her cravings. There will of course be a price, but by this time she is so desperate to have her cravings satisfied that she’ll pay any price.
The director of Lucifera Demonlover, Paolo Lombardo (who also wrote the script) doesn’t have the spectacular visual style of a Bava or an Argento, but he knows how to tell a fairly lightweight story economically and efficiently. The sets and the costumes are pretty reasonable. Edmund Purdom is good as the Mysterious Stranger, and Rosalba Neri added a touch of class to any movie she appeared in. There’s nowhere near as much sex and nudity as the lurid plot might suggest, but Rosalba Neri still manages to smoulder.
It’s a fun little gothic horror flick with a framing story that works quite well. It’s not going to scare you out of your seat, but it’s entertaining.
The MYA DVD has been much criticised, and it does have a suspiciously VHS look to it. MYA is obviously a shoe-string operation and their strategy seems to be to cut their costs to the bone while pursuing a fairly adventurous releasing policy. In the present economic climate it’s probably a fairly sensible strategy and they are releasing movies that just haven’t been available anywhere on DVD before. I’m inclined to cut them some slack, and while the picture quality on this one isn’t great it’s perfectly watchable. Just don’t expect Blue Underground quality.
If you’re a fan of this type of eurocult movie I think it’s worth picking up.