After being reduced to a quivering pile of happy-goo by the previous entry in my three-pronged Satanpalooza, Satan's Blood, I needed something a bit less frenetic to allow me to regain my strength and again be able to function in the world of normal human beings. In my weakened state I knew I could not withstand another bazooka-blast of blasphemy on a level with that inhumanly awesome Spanish horror, so it was with unsteady hands that I loaded the next volume in my Satanic triple feature: the 1976 British devil-worship rarity, Satan's Slave. I could only hope that, true to their cultural stereotype, the English would be a bit more reserved and proper than their brothers across the channel and to the South.
Directed by Norman J. Warren (who also helmed the mmmmmemorable Alien homage Inseminoid), Satan's Slave starts off in almost exactly the same way Satan's Blood did: in the middle of a Black Mass! Warren's high priest of Satan is less interested in rape than oration, however, as he intones Doomsday prayers in a deep sonorous voice that is only slightly muffled by his amazing full-head goat mask (with patented Devil-Lite Eye Bulbs!). Once again a nubile young sacrifice is led to the altar, this time willingly, ready to accept the dark spirits the Priest is invoking into her earthly form.
For Warren this is another opportunity to assault the crotch of his female thespian, as the High Priest probes between her legs with a black-bladed sword! It's not a giant transparent Inseminoid cock, but I guess it'll have to do. (And Norman, see somebody about this fascination of yours. Really, people are starting to notice.) The invocation goes wrong, as invocations will, and the girl dies a horrible screaming death just before the opening credits roll.
Next we find ourselves in a swingin' bachelor pad, where intense aristocratic Stephen Yorke (Martin Potter, who played Lord Carlisle in the previously-reviewed de Sade adaptation Cruel Passion) is plying a young Anglobabe with drinks and inviting her to stay as long as she'd like. She agrees but soon has cause to regret it, as Stephen half-smothers her, gags and ties her, cuts off her clothes and teases her naked flesh with a pair of scissors! (At one point he even makes as if to snip off a nipple, a very tense and unpleasant scene.) She manages to escape her bonds and flee down the stairs, but is stopped just short of freedom when Stephen slams the front door on her head and then stabs her repeatedly in an all-out psycho-frenzy!
Seriously, Norman: GET HELP.
Still reeling from that double-barreled opening, we are allowed to take a breather as we zip over to London to find a gorgeous young lady extracting herself from her lover's bed and getting dressed. The girl is Catherine Yorke (the heart-breakingly beautiful Candace Glendenning, also featured in The Flesh and Blood Show and the Vicar's "happy dreams"), and she's got to meet her parents for a cross country trip to visit her estranged Uncle Alexander, whom her father hasn't seen since they were boys. Since she'll be at her uncle's house on her 20th birthday--a fact you just know is going to become significant--her boyfriend (played by the wonderfully-named Michael Craze) gives her a family heirloom bracelet as a gift and a sign of his honorable intentions. After teasing her about hearing voices ("They're premonitions!" Catherine corrects him, again significantly), he kisses her goodbye and she's off to meet the folks.
On the road trip down we get a little more exposition about the family, with more mysterious hints as to the cause of the estrangement. We learn Uncle Alexander is very wealthy doctor and a widower, and we get some cool Charlie Brown jazz traveling music as the Yorkes make their leisurely way north. Tragedy is in the offing, though--as they approach the palatial estate, Dad has some sort of seizure causing him to crash the car into a tree in Uncle Alex's front yard. Catherine runs to get help, only to have the car explode as soon as she's cleared the blast radius! Suddenly orphaned, Catherine collapses in the arms of her uncle.
As Catherine recuperates from the shock of seeing her parents go up in a fiery cataclysm, we discover that psycho Stephen is her cousin, and is involved in some kind of power-struggle sexual affair with his dad's secretary Frances. Uncle Alexander (played with Ian McKellan dignity and a kickin' fake 'stache by the excellent Michael Gough) is kind but domineering, dictating all facets of her care and barely giving her a choice as to whether she'll stay at his estate or not. (She does.)
They bury Catherine's parents in the family plot, giving Catherine a chance to have a vision of a nude witch being whipped and branded near a graveyard oak! Not long afterwards she discovers an ancient grave with the name "Camilla Yorke" etched in the weather-worn stone. Coincidence? I think not.
We get a few scenes of Frances and Stephen having intense psycho-lovers' spats, and a mysterious figure steals Catherine's bracelet in order to cast a hex on her boyfriend back in London. The cursed BF goes through all sorts of mental anguish in an elevator before walking off his apartment building's rooftop to splatter most graphically on the concrete below! Catherine has a disturbing dream involving nudity, snakes, and several unknown women, and before you know it she's fallen into Stephen's arms and started testing the boundaries of familial love. (Again, whether this is incest or not depends on your local laws.)
LOT more time than it takes to tell it, we learn that Uncle Alex is the Satanic High Priest, and has been planning for years to resurrect his powerful ancestress Camilla Yorke in order to profit from her power. He'd tried once before with his wife--presumably in the pre-credits ceremony, but we all know how THAT worked out. Worse, the then-7-year-old Stephen witnessed the ceremony, leading to his subsequent mental problems and general stabby behavior. (We get a WILD montage here of Stephen's previous killings that's pretty entertaining in a sick way.) Since Catherine is a direct descendant of Camilla, Unc figures he'll have better luck with her if they hold the mass on the night she turns twenty--the same age as Camilla when she died. See, I knew something like that would come up!
Though it all sounds pretty wild and frenetic, actually the movie is pretty slow-paced, sometimes nearly grinding to a halt before some surprising piece of perversity or gore pops up to keep you from nodding off. The final struggle and ceremony, for instance, features some appealingly creepy coven members and an unexpectedly brutal eye gouge that almost make up for the repetition and drowsiness that comes before. But the downbeat ending is more confusing than awesome, and might leave a more critical viewer wondering what the point of all that was meant to be.
Still, Candace Glendenning is stunning and worth watching eat a bowl of cereal, and those few wild set-pieces and Michael Gough's good performance raise Satan's Slave out of the "skip it" pile. Also, the version I watched was ATROCIOUSLY panned-and-scanned (sometimes all you see of two conversing characters are the tips of their noses on either side of the frame), and I couldn't help feeling that had I watched it in widescreen I might have had a much more satisfying experience with it. (I know, Karswell, beggars and choosers!)
So I give Satan's Slave 2 thumbs, worth watching at least once, especially if you're a fan of movies about cults, movies about witchcraft, or movies featuring Candace Glendenning. And if you're not--well, I just don't know what to say to you.
Tune in tomorrow for the final review in the Vicar's Satanpalooza! Has he saved the best for last?