Mark of the Devil is a film infamous for its scenes of bloody torture and depravity. This should be good then!
An eighteenth century Austrian town is a hotbed of catholic corruption and satanic paranoia, held in thrall by a sadistic Witchfinder (Reggie Nalder), a man with the morals of a Mallard Duck and the looks of old leather stretched over razorblades; imagine the Child Catcher fucked up on scripture and power. Into this shit-hole rides our hero, Udo Kier (yes, Udo Kier playing a hero), a young and idealistic adjutant paving the way for his master the Witchfinder General (Herbert Lom). Kier swiftly falls for a buxom wench, Nalder succumbs to the green eyed monster, Lom is as corrupt as Ferdinand Marcos and bloody, screamy shenanigans ensue.
Mark of the Devil is a euro-Witchfinder General with none of the subtlety. What it does have is gore by the bucket-load - at least by 1970's standards. The film starts with the rape of a nun and then continues through severed fingers, tar and feathering, women being burnt alive, whipping, finger crushing, stretching on a rack, branding, a chair with a spiked seat, Chinese water torture, a beheading, and of course the infamous tongue versus pliers scene. They really must have read Hammer of Witches for research! Nasty stuff, and this is where this film differs from the other rural-horrors of the period. There is little of the tension, atmosphere and background of Witchfinder General or The Blood on Satan's Claw, instead Mark of the Devil is a fine witchploitation film with some obvious commentary about corruption, the abuse of power, and the hypocrisy of the righteous. Of course these themes are as relevant today as they were in the 1970's and the 1700's. The tavern keeper in particular reminded me of the members of the United Kingdom's UKIP party: just after two women have been burnt alive and a man was had his fingers chopped off and then tarred and feathered and chased through the town, he remarks to Kier's character "It's good to see some real authority around here. The idea of justice in this town is like a joke". Bring back National Service is what I say! The ending, while great for having a rampaging mob armed with pitchforks (no burning torches though), is let down a little by the ham-fisted religious symbolism.
The photography is pretty good with some Franco worthy zoom shots, the editing though can be poor with some very hard cuts between scenes and camera positions. The dialogue is fantastic, take the following charge made against a young woman for example: "...has killed an embryo, and then boiled the cadaver together with snakes and toads into a witches brew. Made a sign over the devilish broth and then hid it in the earth under the porch of the convent that gave her welcome, so that lucifer's wooden leg could step over the threshold and the nuns who serve god in the convent may receive large pus-infected swellings on the arms as a sign of the devil". How awesome is that! The score however is just bad.
As far as the Arrow disc is concerned; the restoration is top notch apart from the noticeably grubby title sequence and the soundtrack which drops out to "recorded in a shoebox" standard on a few occasions; I'm assuming that these were previously cut scenes spliced in from different sources.
For the curious here's the cuts that the British censors required when this film was released in the UK in 1971:
- Reel 1 - Drastically shorten the scene of women being burnt at the stake, removing all shots in which they appear to be in contact with the flames.#
- Reel 1 - Remove all shots of Albino piercing Vanessa's back with a sharp instrument, together with the sound of her cries.
- Reel 2 - Remove all shots and sounds of Albino lashing Vanessa and sounds of her cries.
- Reel 2 - Remove the shot of Deidre's bruised and bleeding hands when she is brought in by Albino.
- Reel 3 - Remove the entire scene in which Deidre is seen and heard on the rack, and all shots of her hands being placed in the thumbscrews.
- Reel 3 - Remove the whole of the second scene in which Deidre is seen and heard on the rack, with all shots and sounds of her feet being burned and shots of her feet afterwards.
- Reel 3 - Remove the entire episode in which a young couple are seen making love in a bedroom and afterwards Albino and his henchmen break down the door, try to rape the girl, and stab the man.
- Reel 3 - Remove all shots and sounds of the Baron being set upon a bed of spikes and flogged.
- Reel 3 - Remove entire scene in which Deidre is tortured and her tongue is torn out, and all shots of her bleeding face and mouth afterwards.
- Reel 4 - Drastically reduce the shots of the burning of Deidre. The scene should start after she has been hauled up when the man sets the torch to the faggots, and there should be no shots of her apparently in contact with the flames.
- Reel 4 - Remove all shots and sounds of the Baron being tortured by thumbscrews or by having a fire lit under him.
- Reel 4 - Remove all shots of the puppetmaster being stabbed in the stomach with a stiletto.
- Reel 4 - Remove the incident in which a man is stabbed in the eye and shots of him holding his bleeding eye afterwards.
- Reel 4 - Remove all shots and sounds of the rape of the puppetmaster's wife by Cumberland, stopping the scene as he chases her into the bedroom.
- Reel 4 - Reel 5 - Remove all shots of the Baron when he is bound and screaming. Remove the flash shot of the Baron's head being severed and the shot of his body twitching afterwards.
- Reel 4 - Remove the shot showing a dead man with a severed arm and bleeding stump.
- Reel 4 - Remove all shots showing the spiked belt which is placed around Christian's waist, leaving only the suggestion that he is hung up and brutally killed in an unknown way.
Mark of the Devil may be a second-tier rural horror, but it's a top-notch witchploitsation movie!