MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970)
posted 00/00/2008

Directed by:
Michael Armstrong

Starring:
Herbert Lom ... Lord Cumberland
Udo Kier ... Count Christian von Meruh
Olivera Katarina ... Vanessa Benedikt
Reggie Nalder ... Albino

Country: West Germany
Runtime: 96 min
Original title: Hexen bis aufs Blut gequält
   
   
 

This is a German movie from the early seventies that deals with the witch-hunt that occurred in Europe between the 14th and 17th century. The three cases are supposedly based on true accounts. I have seen maybe one or two witch-hunt movies and they were ok. This one is unique, in it’s own way, and very well-crafted. Don’t let the DVD cover or the outrageous claims of graphic torture fool you into thinking this movie is spineless. Let me tell you that the torture scenes are fun but the story and characters really deliver.

In a small German town the local witch-finder, Albino, (yes that’s his name) thinks he is above the law and could get away with almost anything, abusing his power. Vanessa, played by the beautiful Olivera Vuco, tends the town pub serving wine, meats and cheeses, and bread. That’s all they ate back then, at least in pubs. I didn’t see soups or pies and more disturbingly, beer. There is no beer. If you find beer somewhere being drunk in this movie let me know.

Count Christian is a witch-finder apprentice to Lord Cumberland, played by the prolific Herbert Lom. Christian has just arrived in town and instantly gets the hots for Vanessa. Albino also has the hots for her. Both men soon become enemies not so much because of Vanessa but because Christian’s morals clash with Albino’s lack of; and his abuse of power. Albino denounces Vanessa as a witch and she is whipped, poked (not with what your thinking) with a pointy metal stick and incarcerated.

Among the prisoners we get to meet there is a young woman accused of fornication with Satan and being pregnant with his child. Then there is a young man who’s property is being taken away and given to the church. I don’t remember how this makes him a witch or in league with the dark one. Finally, there's a young wife with two children who’s husband is killed for presenting a puppet show to children.

Some of the tortures in the film are: torture rack, having the soles of your feet branded, and tied down and sitting bare ass on a seat with erect nails. There’s a very enjoyable pulling out of the tongue from it’ s roots; one of my favorites. And what witch trail would be complete without beheadings and burning at the stake.

Christian starts to loose faith in his mentor and finally quits on him after seeing him strangle to death Albino for provoking him and calling him impotent. Now Christian sees that most of the people locked-up in the castle are not witches. He frees Vanessa and helps her escape undetected. She incites a mob in town to kill Lord Cumberland and off they go! The mob storms the castle, the prisoners escape and Cumberland flees like a coward. Heck, I would flee too if a lynch mob was after me. Somehow, someway a group of people turn on Christian and kill him. The final scene is Vanessa by his side. I don’t mind the hero dying but why couldn’t Cumberland explode or be burned or something.

I liked this movie a lot. Like I mentioned earlier, the story is solid and the acting is good. The settings are almost fairytale like. Every character is fleshed out and the plot is strong. I was surprised so much by the rich story and everything aforementioned that I almost overlooked the torture and death scenes. I said almost.

- Jorge Antonio Lopez

 

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