I dunno about you guys, but I'm suddenly feeling the initial vibes of another theme to focus our critical lens upon here at the Wop, and demonology and witchcraft-themed flicks have always been favorites of mine (obviously), so unless there are any objections, it's unanimous. Tonight's review, the last horror film out of iconic Hammer Studios for over thirty years, is a very good one, indeed. Permeating director Peter Sykes' frame with a sense of dread and real evil is the regal Christopher Lee, who treats the role of an excommunicated priest-turned-cult-leader with great relish and aplomb, as always, with the likes of Richard Widmark, Denholm Eliott, and a budding Nastassja Kinski along to help realize Christopher Wicking's strong screenplay, adapted from occult specialist Dennis (The Devil Rides Out, et al) Wheatley's novel.
"As you can very well see, I derive a significant amount of pleasure from the worship of Astaroth."
After being excommunicated from the Church for heresy, Father Michael (Christopher Lee) spends the next decades scheming to bring about the physical rebirth of Astaroth using the body of the teenage daughter of a man named Henry Beddows (Denholm Elliott) as the animate vessel through a gruesome matricidal ritual. Beddows recants on his pact with 'ol Scratch by enlisting a popular occult novelist named Verney (Richard Widmark) to protect his child from the former priest and his demonic disciples. Verney deftly stashes Catherine (Nastassja Kinski), who's lived a sheltered existence thus far, as a nun in Germany, at his London flat, with his associates Anna (Honor Blackman) and David (Anthony Valentine) helping to conceal her until he can further research Beddows' predicament. Verney states that ninety-eight percent of so-called Satanists are just sexual deviates seeking out new kinky thrills, but the remaining two percent are very definitely cause for great concern.
"Hold my inverted cross, boys, I'm goin' all the way like The Raspberries!"
Varney soon learns that it's the dreaded other two percent that he's foolishly gotten involved with, as Father Michael oversees the birth of a horrible, misshapen baby demon out of it's mother's abdomen during a wild Satanic orgy, while Catherine eagerly cops to being a willing disciple of Michael's, displaying a gold pendant of Astaroth upon an inverted cross she was given as a present for her upcoming eighteenth birthday, the desired date for the arrival of the crown prince of Hell. As Varney grills a Bishop for historical background on Father Michael, and browses the very pages of The Grimoire of Astaroth that Father Michael had, twenty-six years earlier, Catherine, under the influence of the sinister ex-priest, shanks a watchful Anna in the neck with a steel comb and escapes to her awaiting sect. Will the author save the girl from the impending forces of darkness? Or will evil triumph in it's climactic battle against good for the ages? Score yourselves a copy and see how it all turns out...
"What's the big idea, peltin' Robert Tessier with tomatoes?!!?"
Despite the silly, floppy, rubber devil-baby (say that six times fast, why don't ya), I'm of the belief that the less in tune critics that wrongfully panned this one back in 1976 were probably shocked by the film's somber tone and heavy erotic vibes, having been lulled by the familiarity of the studio's track record; relying heavily upon burlesque thrills and corny chills to a fault. What they had here was in fact, a legitimate horror movie, an effective companion piece to Hammer's own earlier occultish effort, The Devil Rides Out (1968). Though star Richard Widmark called it the one mistake of his acting career, and even Christopher Lee (who does not provide his own ass in the production, for the record) found at least one sequence to be quite obscene, I found it well worthy of three Wops on the rating scale, and recommend that you hunt down a copy and see for yourselves what I mean.
...and to the Devil's daughter...I dunno, maybe a bikini wax?