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Mark of the Devil

It's not so much that the 18th-century witchcraft epic Mark of the Devil (1970) kicks off with the never-very-pleasant sight of nuns being raped, but the fact that the filmmakers have elected to score said defiling to a really groovy instrumental version of Evie Sands's original "Angel of the Morning" that really sounds the warning that this is a motion picture determined to scar the psyche in the best grindhouse tradition of I Spit on Your Grave, Fight for Your Life, or Thriller: A Cruel Picture. Before it's over, the viewer will be treated to graphic scenes of torture — fingers are smashed in vise grips; a tongue is ripped out at its root; Udo Kier falls pure-heartedly in love — while the country's most notorious witch-finder, Count Cumberland (Herbert Lom), attempts to rid a small village of sin. Though Cumberland is unyielding in meting out righteous punishment as a cover for bilking the populace of all their earthly possessions, his protégé, Christian (Kier), is still a man of faith. True, he may believe in their brutal cause so antithetical to the scripture they hold sacred, but this is a delusional product of indoctrination. Christian is still young enough to have the capacity to discern good from evil; he knows the village's former witch-finder Albino (Reggie Nalder) to be an amoral and sadistic letch abusing his power as a means of sexual gratification, and he has him flogged for needlessly torturing an insanely voluptuous serving-wench named Vanessa (Olivera Vuco). The problem is, Christian is also madly in love with Vanessa; thus, when Albino finally succeeds at ginning up charges that will surely have her stretched on the rack, his own sin of lust might be revealed at the very time he is awakening to the venal practices of his trusted mentor, Cumberland. Whatever is a witch-finder-in-training to do? The answer to that question may be what the plot hinges on, but that's not why people watch Mark of the Devil. Like a particularly gruesome Hammer production gone really wrong, this film, credited to director Michael Armstrong (though his co-writer and producer Adrian Hoven would officially finish the picture) indulges wantonly in extreme bloodletting without an ounce of self-parody or appreciable visual skill. It's The Crucible travestied in the crass, amateurish idiom of a Jess Franco picture. And while it may be a bit more coherent than a Franco film, it's also not nearly as much fun; this is the kind of movie that one feels wrong for watching. There are those for whom that qualifies as a full-fledged recommendation, and they're exactly the kind of people who will derive a measure of guilty pleasure from this twisted piece of work. Everyone else is advised to steer clear. Blue Underground presents Mark of the Devil in a nicely cleaned-up widescreen transfer (1.78:1) with monaural Dolby Digital audio. Extras include a collection of interviews with stars Kier (7 min.), Herbert Fux (13 min.), Gaby Fuchs (7 min.) and Ingeborg Shoner (7 min.), and a moderated, but awfully dry, feature-length commentary with director Michael Armstrong. There are also the theatrical trailer, three radio spots, and a poster and stills gallery. Keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks

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