Friday, July 4, 2008
DEVILS OF DARKNESS (1965, directed by Lance Comfort) is one of this films that feels awfully familiar to me. I feel like I've seen bits and pieces of this British gothic tale told many times before-and told much more effectively.
It all begins in a foggy graveyard where a gaggle of red-hooded cultists have gathered. One of the figures yanks off his hood and a tomb cracks open. Shivers! Suddenly we're at a Gypsy picnic in the woods - and a sexy Esmerelda lookalike enchants us (and a creepy gentleman friend) with her dirty gypsy dance. The gypsies (and theoretically tramps AND thieves) then toast to "Tania and Bruno" - the happy couple. They are about to perform a gypsy blood ceremony with a dirty knife when all of a sudden a bat flies out of a tomb causing Tania to collapse. Then the wind blows and we find out she's dead!!!
Her blood wedding day turns out to be the day of her funeral instead, and after she's buried, another gust of wind causes chaos. A hand opens her coffin and tells her to awaken - another creepy guy (who looks like Rosalind Russell as Auntie Mame) tells her that she has been chosen as HIS bride and she "will follow him till the end of time."
And then the credits roll...
Now I think we are in France at a vacation inn where a bunch of chatty Brits walk around the set yammering on about all sorts of nonsense. I gather that these five are Anne Forest, her male friend Paul Baxter, her brother Keith and his male friend David. The last of the bunch is the chattiest, a spunky redhead named Madeleine Braun. We learn that "the boys" Keith and David are off for a day of spelunking and probably gay sex, despite that it's All Souls Eve and they'll miss the quaint ghoul parade. Anne hopes they'll be back in time cause they "hate to miss out on anything!." Then we see Keith and David climbing through a "dark hole" and make their way through some "caves". Wink wink, nudge nudge.
It's soon time for the parade, which consists of people dressed like pilgrims carrying big candles. Madeleine decides that Anne and Paul need some "alone time" and takes a taxi back to wherever she came from. I guess she's not that into the parade either. Meanwhile, the boys are still crawling through the caves, grinning like idiots as they make their way through spider webs, dripping water and rats. Then they come upon a coffin, with a woman's hand sticking out of it - and a pair of dark hands grab Keith (or is it David?) from behind!!!
An old gypsy woman sneaks up on Ann and Paul and starts rambling on about "the evil eye, the devil of darkness, the mark of the black death" and all sorts of other stuff. Soon we learn that Keith is dead...and has a bite mark on his neck. They surmise that David is also dead in the cave, but we have no proof of this. We notice that Tania the dead gypsy is among the crowd. Spooky.
Later, Tania's nameless friend with a speech impediment (who I'll call Count Chocula) tries to comfort Anne about her brother's sudden death by taking her for a walk on a bridge. Honestly, I don't think she seems too upset. Shouldn't she be making funeral arrangements or calling other family members by now? She tells the Count that there's a strange fragrance in the air, then she notices that he has no reflection in the water below them. He then tries to strangle her, and she fights him by ripping open his shirt, causing a gold necklace to fall to the ground. On the necklace is a bat/snake emblem.
A French inspector (Clouseau?) shows up at the inn and is of no help to Paul - who seems to be the only person concerned about Anne and her dead brother (and his missing friend). Then Clouseau gets a call - Anne has been found dead in the lake, an apparent suicide. Still no sign of David.
Paul can't sleep, so the desk clerk comes to see him in his room. Count Chocula has made a visit to give Paul his condolences. Paul tells the Count that the people in this town are afraid of something...or someone. Duh. Paul discovers that the Count's walking stick with the same bat/snake emblem and has a knife hidden in it! Meanwhile, we learn that Paul has the gold necklace and is hiding it in his typewriter.
Chocula is holding a ritualistic ceremony in the woods, a chicken has been sacrificed. Everyone is there. Franken Berry, Boo Berry, Fruit Brute and possibly even Mrs. Butterworth. Anne's body is in a coffin and her brother Keith's is there too, only they took off his shirt. Hmmmm...hot. Anne screams (I guess she's not dead - yet) and they drag her into the woods. No mrntion of poor David. I guess he's the epitome of what you would call an "expendable character".
Madeleine (remember her?) comes by the inn to see Paul. Not fazed one bit that two (or three, counting David) of her friends are now dead. A newspaper headline announces that 2 coffins have disappeared on route from France to England! I guess it was a slow news day in the EU.
Next we're back in the UK, as Paul visits Dr. Kelsey, the Mr. Wizard of England. Kelsey is giving injections to rabbits as he blabbers on about extraterrestrials, black magic, the evil eye, which craft and some talisman. Meanwhile, we learn that Madeleine runs an antique shoppe called The Odd Spot. Paul gives her a call but she's too self-absorbed to give a shit. We learn she has hired a sexy new girl named Karen Steele.
Scotland Yard has sent 2 inspectors to see Paul. He co-operates, but doesn't give them all the facts. Dr. Kelsey warns Paul about the bat/snake talisman, but it's too late because Kelsey's lab animals (including two bats, a snake and a monkey!) begin to freak out as strong winds blow open their cages.
Back at Madeleine's, she's throwing a fabulous cocktail for all her beatnik friends. Everyone is smoking and dancing to jazz. Paul comes by to talk, but she foists Karen on him because she's too busy playing a deranged Mame Dennis. (Second MAME reference so far!) Chocula shows up too. What's a party without him?
When Paul gets back home, his pad has been ransacked, but nothing's stolen. Not even the talisman. (Which is still hodden - much like David) The inspectors arrive and inform him that Dr. Kelsey is dead from a snake bite. Paul decides he needs to continue Kelsey's research. Meanwhile, Karen starts posing as a model for Chocula's painting. The Count introduces his wife (Tania) to Karen as "Daniella". Tania seems visibly jealous. The count tells her all he wants is the talisman. Meanwhile, Paul tries to get a book from the library called "Talisman: The Power of Magic," but they tell him that the one copy they have is "restricted" and he needs to come back tomorrow. Right.
The next morning Paul calls on Karen to check on her, but she's still asleep. Some old lady tells Paul that she's not even there. Okay. Back at the library, guess what? The book has been stolen - and it was the only copy in England! Turns out Tania has it, and she opens it to a page revealing that our count is the legendary "Count Sinistre"! When Paul returns home, he is greeted by a voodoo doll, when he pulls out a pin Karen feels it. When Sinistre kisses her, she first tries to stab him, but then she gives in. Oh Karen...oh David!
Paul visits Madeleine again and begins to interrogate her about Karen, and she is as uncooperative as usual. She's sure Karen will show up eventually. Maybe with David??? Next Paul shows the talisman to the inspectors and tells them that all the murder victims had bite marks! They tell him that he's a suspect. Meanwhile, the guys in the red robes now have Dr. Kelsey in a coffin. Talk about obsession! They love stealing coffins as much as I love talking about David!
So, Tania is now burning the rare book. Damn girl, you can get a fortune for that on eBay! She then confronts
Sinistre about his lust for Karen and he SLAPS her! He tells her that he just wants his damn talisman back.
We've heard that before. We now see that Karen is under his power and has bite marks on her neck to prove it! Tania, meanwhile, finds one page from the book that did not burn - the page about Count Sinistre!
Back at Madeleine's, the painting of Karen appears and it's signed with the bat/snake emblem! Paul tells Madeleine that he gave the talisman to the police and she flips out! Tania then pays Paul a visit while he sleeps, and grabs a knife. Only she doesn't cut him, but slashes the painting of Karen...and it bleeds!!! Tania starts to write a note in the blood..."The O..." What can it mean? The Oscars? The OC? The Osmonds??? Or mabye it was a misshaped D...for David!
Paul brings the page to the police and they surmise that "The O" means "The Odd Spot" - Madeleine's shoppe! They race to the shoppe, but madcap Maddy has disappeared and headlines blare that Dr. Kelsey grave has been robbed!!! Meanwhile , Karen wakes up at the inn and tries on a crucifix and it burns her skin!!! Luckily Madeleine's beatnik friends are there to help her when she collapses. There's another wild party complete with a snake dancer and lesbians smoking cigars while tribal music plays. I'd wish we'd get a glimpse of David among the party goers. But alas, still missing. Madeleine is preparing Karen for her "big dat" with the count. An old drunk is ejected from the party after he spills red wine on the white carpet. Who can blame them? It's nice to know that even Satanists are tidy. It warms my heart.
Count Sinistre enters the room full of red-hodded people. They all climb down the stairs down in the caverns beneath the inn. Will they find David while they are down there? Or baby Jessica? No, just a Satantic ritual with Karen in a white gown. Is she a virigin? A bride? Or did her red hair clash with the red robe? Oh no - it looks like she's gonna be sacrificed! Not quite, because Scotland Yard is closing in on them. It's the cops vs. the cultists - ands they all freak out when Tania reveals Karen's crucifix burn scar.
The cops arrive, everything explodes and the caves begin to collapse. Any sign of David? Nope. The count and Karen escape through a graveyard but the sight of a cross-shaped tombstone in the sunlight causes him to melt in the sun and turn into a skeleton.
The End. The moral: "When you monkey around with black magic - who knows what you are up against." Moral #2 - If you go spelunking with another supporting character, don't expect to be seen or mentioned ever again. Oddly enough, Rod McLennan, the actors who played David later appeared on stage in England with Jack Klugman in THE ODD COUPLE! Odd Couple...Odd Spot...odd movie...How odd!
6 out of 10 "Huhs?".