Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Monday, November 4, 2013

L'amante del demonio (1972)

... aka: Amante del demonio, La
... aka: Ceremonia Satanica
... aka: Demon Lover, The
... aka: Devil's Lover, The
... aka: Lucifera: Demon Lover

Directed by:
Paolo Lombardo

Of all the dumbest "I'm just asking to be killed" set-ups I've seen in my day, this one registers pretty low on the ole totem pole. In modern times, three young women in miniskirts go to visit an old castle because - get this - they heard a rumor that it belonged to the devil and want to see if that's true or not. And not only that, but once they get there they insist upon spending the night. These girls are just asking for it, no? The only person around seems to be a strange butler (an unbilled John Benedy). He serves them dinner, and there's strangely an extra place setting at the table for an unaccounted for fourth guest the butler claims isn't coming. Each girl is put into a separate bedroom and, as a thunderstorm rages outside, one of them - Helga (Rosalba Neri) - moseys on out to the corridor with a candelabra. She finds a painting on the wall in her likeness, starts complaining about her skin burning, hears strange noises, screaming and then laughter coming from a hole in the ground and then promptly passes out. What follows is a lengthy dream sequence which lasts until the last few minutes and tells what happened to Helga in her previous life as we're then swept back to the 16th Century for a little cut rate Satanic soap opera.

The 16th Century Helga is set to be married to the strapping nice guy Hans (Ferdinando Poggi, who's billed on the poster but not in this film's credits), but a bosomy blonde barmaid named Magda (Maria Teresa "Pietrangeli" / Pingitore), who's also in love with him, becomes intent on destroying the union. Helmut (Robert Woods), who's in love with Magda, decides to help her out, but for a price: sex. Meanwhile, a mysterious figure in a black cloak and red hood is lurking around. He sees Helga's wedding gown, thus "contaminating" it and cursing her, leading Helga to seek the aid of a backwoods sorceress. The evil old woman has Helga gather up two of her virginal gal pals, Eva and Wilma, and tells them to go to a mountaintop. When they arrive, Helga looks to the sky and utters something to someone named "Selena;" which promptly scares her friends away. The witch then leads Eva and Wilma into the woods, where two masked men grab them and drag them into a cave. Suddenly, the two actresses become two other actresses and a bunch of dirty people in rags strip them naked for a rape / orgy in scenes clearly grafted on later. A blonde, caped woman (who we never again see after this one brief scene) then enters, bears her fangs and drinks their blood.

Helga's friends show up as silent, pale-faced vampires trying to nibble her neck, but it may all just be a nightmare. Our heroine also learns the identity of the man with the red hood. He's Gunther (Edmund Purdom) and he's intent on seducing her over to the dark side because he's actually Satan. Meanwhile, the scorned, jealous barmaid tries to convince Helmut to murder Helga. He refuses so she also goes to the old crone. The witch gives her a special necklace that will cause a heart attack to whoever wears it but before she has a chance to give it to Magda, Gunther shows up to murder her. Helga - now not quite herself and in an aloof, trance-like state - goes through with the wedding ceremony, but Gunther shows up a special gold dagger and an ultimatum; it's either him or Hans.

By 70s Italian Gothic / period horror standards, this is not only disappointing, it's downright pathetic! There's some, but not a whole lot of, nudity and the bloodshed in incredibly mild. Even stabbings, axe blows and tongues being cut out don't register more than small trickles of blood. Worst of all, the costumes and sparsely-decorated sets both look extremely cheap. I'm talking small town community theater cheap. And just so the filmmakers don't have to worry about pesky things like props and art direction, the majority of the action is filmed in fields, on dirt roads and in forests. Hell, even the background scenery in this one isn't any good. As far as the photography's concerned, we have yet another problem depending on what version you watch. Some prints appear to be OK, but on others (including the one I watched), there's a serious screw up involving the print, and I'm not just talking about the flickers, missing frames, jumps, abrupt cutaways and grain which are all here in abundance. The entire film was shot during the day, and clearly many of the scenes taking place at night were meant to be tinted at a later point. On one of the well-circulated prints, all of the scenes are in broad daylight. That not only makes lines of dialogue like "It's so dark!" unintentionally comic but it also makes the overall cheapness of this production even more glaringly obvious than it otherwise would have been. Still, night scenes or no, this is still one of the least atmospheric Italian genre films of its time.

All that said, I didn't have a huge issue sitting through this. Despite the ultra low-budget, unconvincing period detail and other issues, worse scripts have been filmed. I liked how the story was framed and set-up and it's all mildly entertaining if your expectations are low. Neri is so smoking hot she could command attention on that alone, but she should also be given credit for her skills as an actress; evident even in a low grade production such as this one (which she almost single-handedly manages to hold together). This film (finally on DVD from Mya Communications in 2009) is recommended mostly for her fans... Well, after they've already seen just about everything else she's ever been in!

Also in the cast are spaghetti western star Spartaco Conversi, Maria Teresa Vianello (The Horrible Dr. Hichcock) and Laura De Benedittis (Dr. Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks).

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