AKA: Hexen bis aufs Blut gequält
Dir: Michael Armstrong, Adrian Hoven (uncredited)
Starring: Herbert Lom, Udo Kier, Olivera Katalina, Reggie Nalder, Herbert Fux
Mark of The Devil comes to Arrow Blu Ray in the usual fine style that we have come to expect from the company. Packing a great transfer and some fine extras it is a perfect chance to revisit one of the most controversial films of its era. Advertised in the USA as “guaranteed to make you sick” cinema goers were treated to Mark of The Devil sick bags as they sat down to watch Michael Armstrong’s torture heavy film. As amusing as this is, it did distract from the fact that despite its exploitation trappings, the film was a disturbing examination of religious extremism and the politics of the church. For all its graphic torture scenes Mark of The Devil emerges as a smart and incredibly fearless picture that is as relevant today as it was in 1970.
Genre regular Udo Kier is Kristian is an apprentice Witch Hunter in the service of Herbert Lom’s Lord Cumberland. A relatively just man in violent times Kristian rescues the beautiful Vanessa from the local Witch Finder (Nalder) who has designs on the buxom beauty. Spurned by her advances he accuses her of being a witch until Kristian and his men step in and stop it. Kristian becomes enchanted by Vanessa and he finds himself intrigued by her more pagan views of the world. But when Cumberland arrives and the trials start things become complicated for the young witch finder as he is forced to confront the reality that the witch hunts have nothing to do with eradicating evil and are really about making the church richer and more powerful.
Violent, complex and unflinching, Mark of The Devil is an incredibly potent film. Its critique of the Christian church is incredibly cutting and it never shy’s away from confronting the issues head on. It is at times a very political film that examines the manipulative nature of modern religions whilst hinting that the destruction of older pagan ideals was detrimental to society. Hebert Lom’s Cumberland is a quintessential politician, presenting himself as the social and moral benchmark whilst behind the scenes he is manipulative and dangerous man pulling the strings of all those around him. In fact the film is peppered with visual references to puppets, driving home its point about political and religious control.
Whilst it has been over shadowed a little by Michael Reeves’ equally outstanding Witchfinder General (1968) Mark of The Devil stands as something of a companion piece to that film. Both approach the subject matter with a historical eye and are arguably not horror films in the strictest sense of the word. But where Reeve’s film is now an acknowledged classic, Mark of The Devil has the reputation of being a sleazy, violent exploitation film. To some extent this is a fair criticism as director Michael Armstrong is wholly unafraid to linger on the slow, unpleasant torture of those accused of consorting with The Devil. There is also no escaping the garish and gloatingly manipulative marketing campaign used by Hallmark on its original release. However, for all its horror, the film retains an integrity and intelligence that lifts it far above the simple minded gore films that would begin to flood the market as the 1970’s progressed.
The 1080p transfer here is exceptional. Arrow have once again proven themselves to be masters at breathing new life into old classics. High definition helps to elevate the films European look rather than detracting from it and the film looks truly fantastic. This is also the completely uncut version of the film meaning that it is something of a definitive release.
The extras here are substantial too. I am not one for audio commentaries but I have it on good authority that this one by Director Michael Armstrong is very insightful. In fact, considering the films troubled production history the Blu- ray comes with a lot of differing and interesting insight from many of those concerned. Mark of The Time is an excellent little documentary tracing the history of many of the ‘New Wave’ British directors that emerged during the 1970’s. From Hammer, through Witchfinder General, The Wicker Man and of course Mark of The Devil itself it is an intriguing look back at the era from many of those involved. Hallmark of the Devil is a nice look back at the history and the some- what dubious advertising techniques of the notorious Hallmark releasing group by Fangoria’s Michael Gingold.
A little more bizarre is a ‘then and now’ comparison of the films Austrian locations. It’s a touch unnecessary; especially as nothing much seems to have changed over the years, but still rather amusing in its way. The disc also boasts out takes and interviews with many of those involved including the genre legend Udo Kier, who simply doesn’t seem to age like normal people! He offers some interesting insight to the films production problems and director Michael Armstrong’s visions for the film.
This is a must by for fans of the film and a great place for new initiates to start. With a top notch transfer and a hefty amount of extras this is Arrow at their finest and a must for horror and exploitation fans.