Monday, October 26, 2015

CODE RED'S LEGACY OF SATAN & BLOOD - BLU-RAY REVIEW


Originally released in 1974 by Bryanston Pictures, Code Red has decided to recreate this rarely-seen double bill with this Limited Edition Blu-ray, which was released through Screen Archives Entertainment earlier this year. 

Like so many ’70s horror pictures purporting to deal with Satanism or some sort of devil cult, Gerard Damiano’s LEGACY OF SATAN (1974) doesn’t have the usual nudity or even mild gore associated with a genre such as this, and despite many nice atmospheric touches and one of the most wacked-out, abrasive synth scores you’ll ever hear, it’s actually quite anemic, despite the inherent potential, but yet, in some strange way, it’s all quite compelling just the same. 


Beginning with the eponymous satanic ceremony, it is foretold that a “girl of pale complexion and tender years” will be chosen for a historical union in order to “strengthen the power of the master”.  Lots of mumbo-jumbo, blood-drinking and chanting (“Lord Rakeesh, come to us!”) keep the viewer entertained as big, garish credits unspool over the proceedings.  Maya (Lisa Cristian) and George (Paul Barry) play a New York couple, who, while hosting a dinner party at their house, discuss the philosophical complexities of good and evil (“you must also believe in the devil”) with their friend Arthur (James Proctor).  He is actually part of the aforementioned coven, and he is ordered by his leader Dr. Muldavo (John Francis) to invite Maya to a “costume party” at his out-of-the-way, castle-like mansion.  Further ceremonies and drugged-out hallucinations ensue, but when Muldavo’s assistant Aurelia becomes jealous of Maya, she helps George escape his shackles, and with the help of an EXCALIBUR-like sacrificial sword (it actually glows in the dark while a low-fi buzz is heard on the soundtrack to demonstrate its supposed power!), they try to defeat Muldavo.  


Produced a year before Damiano’s now legendary The DEVIL IN MISS JONES ([1973] a clever take on Sam Wood’s The DEVIL AND MISS JONES [1941], with Jean Arthur), LEGACY OF SATAN could be viewed as a minor precursor to what is arguably one of Damiano’s darkest and best films.  Running at a very brief 69 minutes, it’s rumored that LEGACY OF SATAN began as a hardcore film (sometime around 1972) and, at the insistence of its producer ‘Lou Parish’ (the infamous Louis “Butchie” Peraino, producer of Damiano’s DEEP THROAT [1972] and part of the Colombo crime family) decided to turn the film into a straight-up horror film.  Why the sudden change is anyone’s guess and it could just be a rumor, but the brief running time and simplistic set-up would certainly attest to this.  Anyway, what we’re left with, to quote the late Mighty Monarch of Exploitation, Mr. David F. Friedman, is “all sizzle and NO steak!” 


Although nudity and even gore is kept to a minimum, LEGACY OF SATAN seems almost childlike in its execution next to The DEVIL IN MISS JONES, but for those willing to give it a spin, it still has enough weirdness to keep it entertaining.  Early in the film, Maya is possessed from afar by Muldavo’s resident High Priestess (Deborah Holren), which results in a number of hallucinations (like crusty-faced killers and bleeding paintings) and a sudden, almost obsessive interest in blood.  At one point, she cuts her finger and gets her rather apprehensive husband to seductively lick it off in one of the many sexual tension-filled scenes.  Once at Muldavo’s mansion, Maya and George (wearing a diaphanous nightie and jester’s outfit, respectively) are drugged and begin hallucinating almost immediately as the film resorts to lots of distorted wide-angel photography and multi-coloured gel lighting as the already jarring synth score crescendos to a fever-pitch at almost ear-piercing levels.  Composed by Arlon Ober and Mel Zelniker, this is surely one of the more unique and, perhaps, ahead of its time scores; it may annoy the bejesus out of many, but it certainly adds plenty of weirdly effective atmosphere.  Unusual for such a no-budget production, the film also looks great (especially on this Blu-ray) thanks to João Fernandes’ slick and colourful photography.  Usually hiding behind under his nom-de-porn of ‘Harry Flecks’, Fernandes was a very prolific DP and a favourite of Damiano’s who used him on many of his best-known adult features, but he also lent his talents to many a low-budget feature such as William Witney’s DARKTOWN STRUTTERS (1975).  In the ’80s, he became Joseph Zito’s favourite cameraman, starting with BLOODRAGE (1981, a.k.a. NEVER PICK UP A STRANGER) right up until RED SCORPION (1988), but also found the time to work on Fritz Kiersch’s CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984) and numerous Cannon films.


Previously available from BCI/Eclipse as part of their “Blood Bath 2” 4-pack, LEGACY OF SATAN comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Code Red presented in it’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9.  Mastered from a “surviving C.R.I. 35mm” print, and as promised on the back of the Blu-ray, “due to the high volume of internet complaints, we did not use DNR and kept the grain intact”, so the transfer is quite sharp and very film-like; this will NEVER look any better than it does here!  


The second feature on this disc is one of Andy Milligan’s more elusive period efforts, the rather blandly titled BLOOD (1974), but despite that title, it’s anything but.  After moving from the fictitious European region of Mortavia, Dr. Lawrence Orlofski (Allan Berendt) returns to the U.S.A. with his wife Regina (Hope Stansbury), who “doesn’t like the daylight hours”.  Along with Orlofski’s servants Carrie (Patti Gaul), the legless Orlando (Michael Fischetti) and dim-witted Carlotta (Pichulina Hampi), this bunch of misfits promptly move in and immediately give Regina a life-saving injection as she deteriorates in the harsh New England sun.  It seems Lawrence Orlofski has some unfinished business with his father’s estate, which has been put in the hands of the unscrupulous Carl Root (John Wallowitch), who also threatens to reveal the family secret and Lawrence Orlofski’s real name: Talbot.


This throwback to the Universal horrors from the ’30s and ’40s is probably one of Milligan’s more accessible and polished efforts from his stable of horror films – the other being his British-lensed The MAN WITH TWO HEADS (1971).  His tongue is firmly planted in his cheek for most of the running time (the ending is a nice touch), but Milligan’s monsters are even more tortured than normal allowing him to pepper his script with his usual acerbic, and almost autobiographical, dialogue.  When Lawrence is questioned by Regina for his afternoon dalliance with Root’s assistant Prudence Towers (Pamela Adams), she quickly tells him to “Go to hell,” for which he replies, “I’m there already!”  Further bickering ensues between Carrie and Regina (“you are such a selfish woman”), which are all typical staples of most Milligan films.  When Carrie’s brother Johnny (David Bevans) arrives from overseas, he is first introduced as her possible boyfriend, but as they kiss, a much darker relationship reveals itself, which is soon cut short as Regina plants a giant meat cleaver in his skull.    


A general malaise permeates the entire film, and even though its no surprise Lawrence turns out to be a werewolf and Regina a vampire (the Daughter of Dracula, no less!), they are portrayed as frustrated and sickly.  In one of the film’s stranger subplots, the cultivation of carnivorous, highly poisonous plants provide Regina with a necessary serum to help keep her alive, but the plants themselves need constant doses of new blood.  These dubious experiments have also taken their toll on their devoted caretakers; Orlando has already lost both his legs to these monstrous plants, which are now growing beyond their control (“the climate seems to agree with them more”); Carrie’s leg is also badly infected with giant pustule-like sores; Regina, in complete desperation, resorts to eating live mice and even Lawrence suffers greatly after turning into a werewolf.  When a highly inquisitive real estate salesman arrives asking questions, he quickly becomes a meal for these mysterious plants as they slurp and munch away on his legs, but Lawrence is worried that these plants are quickly becoming “completely carnivorous”. 


Like GURU THE MAD MONK (1970), this film runs just over an hour in length (this Blu-ray contains the full 69-minute film as opposed to previous versions, which only ran 57 minutes) and moves rather briskly (at least for a Milligan film) right up to its entertaining conclusion.  Anyone even remotely interested in those early monster movies will certainly get a kick out of this very, very low-budget monster mash, even if the monsters themselves don’t have that much screen time.  Milligan’s usually erratic camerawork is a little more restrained this time around, with some decent compositions, which at times were even a little reminiscent of the colourful milieus of a low-rent Douglas Sirk.  Honestly!  Even some of Milligan’s meager costume design (once again hiding behind his usual pseudonym of Raffiné) is better than average, as opposed to some of the thrown-together stuff from his earlier and more widely-seen TORTURE DUNGEON (1970).  


Retaining the film’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9, BLOOD was mastered from a “longer 35mm print”, which contains occasional lines and scratches, but for the most part, it also looks pretty damn good despite the limitations of Milligan’s photography.  This “Bryanston Pictures Double Bill” was a pleasant and much welcome surprise from Code Red, so order your copy from Screen Archives here before it disappears.

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