Strikingly atmospheric locations and sumptuous interiors packed with Medieval detail are a major asset of this Witchfinder General like study of zealous witch hunter Count Cumberland (Herbert Lom). Buxom wenches, a fair amount of graphic violence and gore, Reggie Nalder, Udo Kier, real torture instruments, and some stabs at organised religion and abuse of government power are among the supporting elements.
Nalder plays the ugly (what else!?) local witch finder Albino, Herbert Lom is his government-imposed usurper bringing along a positively angelic looking Udo Kier as Count Christian (nach) von Meruh the conscientious official assistant to do God's work. Tensions rise as Nadler feels sidelined (his witch finding giving him many opportunities to abuse his position) by Lom. Lom does his best to guide the young and impressionable Kier through the vagaries of witch spotting and Kier listens attentively despite the moral qualms he obviously has. However, it isn't long before Lom's objectivity fails him and he too slips ever deeper into abusing his government-endorsed power. When Lom turns his professional attention to a local barmaid Vanessa (Olivera Vuco) whom Kier has befriended, the hitherto faithful Christian realises what is really happening and rebels.
Well-known but not often seen, Mark of the Devil stands up well along side the likes of Witchfinder General and Black Sunday. The direction is intelligent and whilst it doesn't shy away from the grim details of its subject matter, it doesn't function as exploitation. The violence is horrific rather then entertaining - as it should be. The performances are broadly fine and all the more impressive when one learns of the difficulties experienced during production (see DVD review below). The locations and costumes add much to the otherwise modest production and many of the torture devices are the real deal - used from a torture museum where some of the scenes in the film were actually filmed. Fans of the genre should seek this film out. Fans of the film should definitely get hold of the Anchor Bay DVD. Originally released in the US with a delightful vomit bag, there was also a sequel directed by producer Adrian Hoven two years later. 7/10
Rob Dyer (April 2004)
Region 2, UK DVD (Anchor Bay)
This UK DVD by the impressive Anchor Bay is a good example of the lengths the label will go to to add value. Central to this is a terrific director's commentary. In fact, it's actually part commentary part interview with genre enthusiast Jonathan Sothcott. Michael Armstrong has a clear recollection of the production, its logistical difficulties. The best example of which was having to shoot the entire film silently and dub everything and everyone in post production after the sound equipment en route from England somehow found its way to Munich instead of Austria. Armstrong isn't shy either about being frank about his difficult relationship with co-writer, producer and actor Adrian Hoven. Clearly there was no love lost between the two, and Armstrong makes a point of pointing out the scenes that Hoven actually inserted (in post production) and in which he had no part. His ire is understandable, as in every case they undermine Armstrong's own, largely excellent work.
The transfer is good but not excellent. Colours are very bright but some scenes remain overly dark throughout and this does impinge upon the viewing sometimes. Still, image quality is, of course, far better than all previous video releases.
There's the usual picture gallery, but the added value here is increased with some examples of different promotional artwork from several countries including Germany, Turkey and America. The images can be manually stepped through but the zoom facility is disabled. There's also a trailer, biographies and liner notes. DVD rating: 8/10
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