A Witchfinder’s loyal apprentice finds himself conflicted when his mentor and fellow inquisitors take things too far, accusing the innocent.
As far as witchsploitation films go, Mark of the Devil is still revered as one of the greatest, no doubt due to its graphic portrayal of the torture and execution of those accused by the church of heresy. Considering the year this came out it’s pretty groundbreaking stuff, and even by today’s standards much of what is contained in the film is likely to make even the most stoic of viewers wince at times. Made as an attempt to cash in on the also excellent Vincent Price vehicle Witchfinder General, Mark of the Devil amps up the violence a thousand fold. You will witness victims being burned alive, tortured, maimed, a woman gets stretched on the rack and the bottom of her foot branded, one has her tongue torn out “by the root”, a group of nuns are raped … there is little left to the imagination – and rightly so. The atrocities committed by the Catholic Church during this dark time should not be glossed over nor allowed to fall from memory.
Mark of the Devil was in fact a bigger success upon release than even Witchfinder General, no doubt partially due to the use of box-office gimmickry like passing out custom-made sick bags to the audience as well as the lofty claims regarding the film’s horrific content emblazoned on the poster and ads supporting its release. At the time much criticism was leveled at the film citing that it was too exploitative for a film representing historical subject matter.
Next to Ken Russel’s brilliant The Devils, Mark of the Devil might just be to date the best celluloid portrayal of Catholicism’s more unsavory practices. This is of course due in no small part to the amazing cast involved with the production; Udo Kier (House on Straw Hill, Flesh For Frankenstein) is brilliant as always as the conflicted apprentice struggling with his own morality, Herbert Lom (Spartacus, 99 Women) equally so as Kier’s less-than-honorable mentor. Genre fans will be delighted in both the inclusion and performance of the always excellent Reggie Nalder (The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, Salem’s lot) who plays the overzealous Albino, whipping and raping his way through the Lord’s work. And let’s not forget the titty-licious Olivera Katarina as the barmaid falsely accused of witchery and subsequently abused, molested and tortured as her ample busom jiggles about mercilessly.
Magnificent cast aside, Mark of the Devil has some truly intense visuals that would give even modern-day films a run for their money. The witch burnings in particular are eerily convincing as the poor lasses are slowly lowered down on ladders face-first to have the flames lap at their tender flesh. Much of the gore involved with the torment and disfigurement of the victims of the Church’s wrath are done in quick edits, showing just enough for it to be convincing and not so long as to expose the limitations of the effects themselves. Without a doubt, the real horrors here lie with the atrocities being committed moreso than with buckets of gore.
The aforementioned titties of Ms. Katarina aside, there’s also a nice slice of cheesecake provided by the lovely Ingeborg Schöner, with her golden tresses and “please rape me” innocence. It goes without saying that Mark of the Devil
definitely doesn’t shy away from the naked ladyflesh as there is plenty to ogle as the accused are interrogated in a variety of sadistic ways. Whether one should feel bad about jacking off while watching bound women be mutilated I’ll leave up to individual soul-searching.
Part of what makes Mark of the Devil
such an imposing and exceptional looking film is its location; the opulent Austrian countryside gives a beautiful contrast to the horrors being committed in addition to part of the production having been filmed in a castle where actual questioning took place. Even the torture tools used are authentic, having been put to use tearing and slicing confessions from the innocent. Seeing these actual implements employed in the film gives an unsettling feeling to say the least.
Mark of the Devil is essential viewing for horror and exploitation fans alike. There is absolutely NO excuse to have missed this brilliant piece of filmmaking, and any such transgression should be remedied ASAP.
Official COSDS Nunspank Rating:
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Duane co-founded The Church of Splatter-Day Saints in 2005. When not immersed in film he's enjoying good whiskey, smoking meat in the backyard or thinking about sluts. He makes a damn fine habanero fire sauce.