RATING: 3.5/5 A film that invented its own rating? V for Violence. Providing vomit bags at the theatre door? Positively the most horrifying film ever made? Maybe......!
This is a nasty little film to be sure. Exploitation, gore and fire. All the ingredients you need for a good ol' witch hunt!! Christ we're barely 1 minute into the film and Nuns are being raped. Heavy stuff!! German titled Hexen bis aufs Blut gequält translates in english to Witches Tortured till They Bleed! That's a great title, but a bit too honest.
So welcome to 1970's MARK OF THE DEVIL!
Based on 3 reported accounts of witchcraft we travel back to a town in scenic Austria where the local witch hunter is going all kinds of bananas accusing the towns women of practising witchcraft. Mostly as a result of their unwillingness to get carnal with him. Reggie Nalder plays Albino the witch hunter and he is truly terrifying to look at. Piercing eyes and a face that has some real and gnarly burn marks lends fantastically to his character. If Nightmare on Elm street were made in the early 70's I'd have no problem if he were cast as Freddy Kruger. He was later to play the vampire Barlow in Stephen King’s Salem's lot. Again a frightening portrayal. Albino and his hoard of assistants will find any reason to accuse and torture women for being "witches" and the local townsfolk seem pretty cool with that.
Before Count Cumberland arrives to take control of the churches witch program (AKA: torture & burning) his apprentice, Christian vin Meruh played by Udo Kier (Suspiria) tries his best to save a young bar wench from meeting a warm and crispy end at the hands of Albino. Udo Kier is just so damned handsome in his role as the young apprentice it's easy to see why he's gone on to a have a great career. From his 215 roles, Mark of the Devil was only his 3rd film. Fresh faced and hoping to prove his acting chops he really does look like a Prince Charming in this film. Olivia Katarin played the before mentioned bar wench and was at the time fresh from Oscar nominated foreign language film I EVEN MET HAPPY GYPSIES. Here she plays a strong woman who doesn't flinch in the face of a horrific fate.
Things get really interesting when Count Cumberland arrives and brings his own brand of heavy handed justice. Harsh judge Cumberland, played by popular actor Herbert Lom (Spartacus) is here to clean up this town and to also clean up for the church. While this film portrayed the various torture methods used at the time it's also commenting on the greed and crimes of the holy church and the method of taking money and property all in the name of purging heresy. Lom is great as Cumberland and any mention of his suspected impotence is quickly dealt with the harshest punishments, it’s also a great moment of humour that hides amongst a pretty dark story. Udo's Christain soon catches on the the hypocrisy and tries to intervene.... But to what end? Will our apprentice become the new master or will he himself be marked by the DEVIL???? While some of the torture scenes may seem over the top, they're historically pretty spot on and the early 70's effects really do look fantastic. If you’ve ever seen the cover of the old VHS or previous DVDs you'll be familiar with a woman having her tongue forcibly being removed. This even had me squirming on the couch. Chinese water torture, sitting above a burning fire, getting a good stretch on the rack while having your feet branded with hot pokers… it’s all in the great service of the holy catholic day spa!
A somewhat troubled production from the outset, director Micheal Armstrong was having creative problems with producer Adrian Hoven. 2 very different visions for this film surely must have been confusing for the cast and crew, who to add to confusion was a mix of many different languages making communication long and arduous. It must have been.. torture!!! Upon release, marketing of the film went to new lengths to ensure that seats were filled. There is nothing new about describing the tone of a film on a poster and Mark of the Devil really went all out with the “Positively the most horrifying film ever made” tag. Perhaps, but i wouldn’t think so. Also included was a vomit bag given to ticket holders, again, not sure that anyone needed to used it, but its a great gimmick! Look out for some on sale on Ebay! Finally uncut and featuring a great score from Michael Holm it’s time sit back and enjoy some of west germanys greatest gorefests!
PICTURE: 3/5 The newly restored film looks stunning in HD! Great colour and a sharpness that I still can't believed can be achieved from older film negatives from way back. CHECK OUT THOSE GOOSE BUMPS!!!
SOUND: 3/5 Again, the film sounds fresh and if you don't have screams echoing in your brain for days afterward you didn't have it turned up enough!
SPECIAL FEATURES 4/5 SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the feature, transferred from original film elements – available uncut in the for the first time!
Optional English and German audio
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Newly translated English subtitles for the German audio
Audio commentary by Michael Armstrong, moderated by Calum Waddell
Mark of the Times – exclusive feature-length documentary from High Rising Productions on the emergence of the ‘new wave’ of British horror directors that surfaced during the sixties and seventies, featuring contributions from Michael Armstrong, Norman J. Warren (Terror), David McGillivray (Frightmare), Professor Peter Hutchings (author of Hammer and Beyond) and famed film critic Kim Newman
Hallmark of the Devil – author and critic Michael Gingold looks back at Hallmark Releasing, the controversial and confrontational distributor that introduced Mark of the Devil to American cinemas
Interviews with composer Michael Holm and actors Udo Kier, Herbert Fux, Gaby Fuchs, Ingeborg Schöner and Herbert Lom
Mark of the Devil: Now and Then – a look at the film’s locations and how they appear today
Reversible Sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Adrian Smith and Anthony Nield, plus an interview with Reggie Nalder by David Del Valle, all illustrated with original stills and artwork
That Nun to the left of Olivia knows what your thinking....