Monday, July 1, 2019

Devils of Death


Horror films have always used the colour red to inflame the senses, but even smart ceremonial robes can't ignite DEVILS OF DARKNESS.

THE only claim to fame for Lance Comfort's DEVILS OF DARKNESS is that it was the first British horror film to feature vampirism in a modern setting. Yet this Planet MARK OF THE VAMPIRE imitation is a painfully dull affair, as stone-cold Paul Baxter (William Sylvester) encounters a Brittany-based Satanic cult headed by suave, self-styled "Leader of the Living Dead" Count Sinistre (Hubert Noel). The vacation takes a turn for the worse when Keith and Dave (Geoffrey Kenion and Rod McLennan) succumb to a cavern housing a group of coffins, and Keith's sister Anne (Rona Anderson) is found dead in a lake. Returning to England with a talisman that Sinistre has conveniently dropped, Baxter enlists the aid of scientist friend Dr Kelsey (Eddie Byrne) in exploring black magic. But when Kelsey adds to the body count, it transpires that the only other survivor from the French trip - antique shop owner Madeleine (Diana Decker) - is helping Sinistre to get a foothold in this country, as The Count focuses his attentions on red-head model and shop assistant Karen (Tracy Reed).

The opening French section is littered with 'ALLO 'ALLO style accents, but starts promisingly in an eight-minute pre-titles sequence where Sinistre - in bat form - takes gypsy Tania (Carole Gray) as his bride (there is also a sumptuous Hammeresque shot of Tania's coffin, her head wreathed in roses). Unfortunately, when the picture shifts to Blighty, even Madeleine's impromptu beatnik parties are staged and stodgy; but fangless Sinistre seems at home under his artist guise living in Chelsea (unlike DRACULA A.D. 1972, at least Noel actually mingles with society). Not only is everything pedestrian, there are no star turns (even seasoned performer Sylvester would have to wait three years to achieve his particular screen immortality, as Dr Floyd in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY).

"Fanaticism bordering on insanity;" Christopher Lee controls the THEATRE OF DEATH from Pennea Productions, a film originally released in the United States as BLOOD FIEND.

Playwright Samuel Gallu's THEATRE OF DEATH is another contemporary vampire tale with French connections which aims at Hammer acolytes. Svengali-like Philippe Darvas (Christopher Lee) is the director of the Theatre de Mort in the Paris backstreets, carrying on the Grand Guignol theme of sensationalist entertainment. As police surgeon Charles Marquis (Julian Glover) protects his former patient and Theatre employee Dani Gireaux (Lelia Goldoni) from a spate of murders, Darvas' protegee Nicole Chapelle (a pasty Jenny Till) is revealed as the killer, a haemotagiac whose thirst was initiated when feeding on her brother's blood as her Romanian family fled the Nazis in the Alps. With Lee killed off-screen at the half-way mark, he takes most of the interest with him; what remains is a drawn-out mystery thriller with too many red herrings and a late, out of leftfield sting. This reveal is at least different, and grounds the picture more successfully than the usual supernatural trappings in Comfort's film.