Review by Carson Hearne
Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Written by: Michael Armstrong and Adrian Hoven
Directed by: Michael Armstrong
Starring: Herbert Lom, Olivera Vuco, Udo Kier, Reggie Nalder, and Herbert Fux
Upon seeing any promotional material for this film, one may expect this to be a disgusting, torture porn exploitation flick that takes things way too far. While there is torture and other horrible acts, this film actually handles itself as more of a drama than a horror film. Surprisingly, Mark of the Devil holds up due to it’s dark undertones and historical commentary on religious retribution. One may be surprised to find out that this was originally written as an Jess Franco-esque Dracula film. What comes out in the end is a very artistic and enjoyable film that is it’s own style.
1700 A.D., Austria, after a town’s witchfinder (Reggie Nalder) has become out of hand, forcing himself upon women and then claiming them as witches, Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom) and his apprentice (Udo Kier) come to restore order. After falling in love with a young woman (Olivera Vuco) who’s accused of witchcraft, the apprentice begins to question his master’s practices while witnessing countless accounts of murder, rape, and injustice.
The fact that this film is so entertaining and well made says a lot. Especially since there were many problems during the production of this film of the producer and director constantly being at each other’s throats; until Michael Armstrong was ultimately thrown off the project. Adrian Hoven had a grudge with Armstrong from the beginning, since he was granted the director’s chair and he drastically changed Hoven’s original script. Armstrong was only interested in making a great historical piece that pays homage to Vincent Price’s film Witchfinder General. Adrian Hoven original envisioned a hokey little trash film that he was upset never was carried out.
With that being said, you would expect this film to be an absolute disaster of mixing styles and ideas. But, after Armstrong was kicked off the project, Hoven had realized that he had to keep continuity and made the decision to keep Armstrong’s style and general idea of the film (other than the ending which was originally a surreal, dark demise). Everything about this film just works so well. The cinematography is so stylistic and intense. The score is triumphant as well as deeply disturbing; it’s also a score that you would expect to be in a big budget historical film.
The acting all across the board is very professional and each performance is memorable for different reasons. Even small side characters stick out in your head long afterwards. It feels like these people spent a long time to become their characters and they all do a great job making you hate and love them. Udo Kier, who has been in almost 200 films, is very entertaining on screen even though this was his first color film. The production design for Mark of the Devil is top notch and really feels more documentary like than fictional in some scenes.
There’s really not much I can pick out about Mark of the Devil that I didn’t enjoy. Some parts are very badly dubbed and the kids are horrible at acting sad. But, other than those things there really isn’t much else that I don’t like. Some scenes feel like something out of a nightmare and some scenes are really intense. Mark of the Devil is a very smart film that shouldn’t really be considered a pure exploitation film, and contains an underlying message that is still generally relevant.