Mark of the Devil (1970)

markofthedevilWitch hunting is a topic made in exploitation heaven. Not only do you have the opportunity for extended sequences of mutilation. (usually female, per grindhouse orders) Cecil B. DeMille no doubt smiles down upon the films that engage in such hypocrisy, and it’s easy to see Michael Armstrong’s Mark of the Devil showing favor with him, with it being both horrible tortures and condemnation of horrible tortures. Yet for all its terrible, pioneering gore, what sticks are the film’s scenes of various witchfinders standing around debating the viability of the practice, which somehow manage to take the curse off the whole sleazy film.

Mark of the Devil 2Our time frame is the 18th century, our place somewhere in Europe. Count Christian von Meruh (the awesome Udo Kier) arrives in town to deal with allegations of witch activity and doesn’t like what he sees. Local inquisitor/illiterate turd Albino  has been blackmailing the women for their sexual favours, sending those who resist to be tortured and burned, a situation that chills the soul. He naturally appeals to the authority of his mentor, Count Cumberland , a man he sees with fairness and mercy, but that’s before he falls for Vanessa. She, despite being set up by Albino, sets up no pity in Cumberland, and thus the stage is set for a disillusionment of epic proportions, to say nothing of the burnings. And the stretchings. And the gougings.markofdevil1

The film is justly famous for its “realistic” gore, including a tongue pulling, immortalized on the cover art of Blue Underground’s DVD reissue, worthy of Herschell Gordon Lewis. Mark of the Devil remains frighteningly true to its convictions, down to a fittingly moking ending that shows the pervasiveness of how they see things and how doing the right thing won’t always keep you alive. Not bad for something that bills itself as “positively the most horrifying film ever made!”

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