Thursday, February 25, 2016

Hexen geschändet und zu Tode gequält (1973)

... aka: Le streghe nere (The Black Witch)
... aka: Mark of the Devil 2: Witches
... aka: Mark of the Devil Part II
... aka: Torture
... aka: Witches
... aka: Witches Violated and Tortured to Death

Directed by:
Adrian Hoven

Likely prompted by the success of the then-controversial Vincent Price vehicle WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968), a slew of witch hunt / witch torture movies followed. One of those was MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970), a West German production starring the likes of Herbert Lom, Reggie Nalder and a young Udo Kier. Thanks to a memorable ad campaign, which claimed it was "Rated V for Violence" and banned in numerous countries, plus a notorious handing-out-barf-bags-to-theater-patrons gimmick, the film became a huge success. Hoping to cash in on the notoriety of that film was Hexen geschändet und zu Tode gequält ("Witches Violated and Tortured to Death"). It brought back Nalder in a similar role, was also filmed in Austria, was directed by the original Mark's producer, co-writer and (reputedly self-imposed) co-star and co-director and was re-titled as a sequel for numerous markets. For its American theatrical release in 1974, posters used the tagline "Exorcism Be Damned!" in an attempt to cash in on the previous year's hit The Exorcist... never mind the fact there is no exorcism to see here. To whip up additional controversy, the trailers proudly (and erroneously) proclaimed that it was "Banned in 19 countries!" Other alternate titles included The Black Witch, Torture and, simply, Witches.

When Count von Salmenau (an unbilled Hoven) stumbles upon some witch hunters trying to drown a woman suspected of witchcraft in an icy lake, a fight ensues and several people end up dead. Among those killed is the Count himself when Natas (Nalder) throws a dagger into his back. Now widowed and with a small son to raise, Countess Elisabeth (Erika Blanc) vows revenge against the religious hypocrites responsible. Unfortunately for her, after she barges into court to spill the beans she finds herself on their personal hit list. Led by sanctimonious, completely self-serving Balthazar von Ross (Anton Diffring), who whips out bible verses when they're convenient, the witch hunters set about gathering evidence that will incriminate the Countess as a witch so they can do away with both her and her young son Alexander (played by the director's real-life son, Percy Hoven), who they've dubbed "the devil's bastard." The noblemen first get their hands on the Salmenau's kitchen maid Marta, who is accused of making a "potion to rip men's trousers off" and is rolled across stones and stretched out on a rack until she's dead.

At a local convent, a sect of bald nuns also become involved. The insane, lesbian Abbess (Ellen Umlauf) aids in the witch hunt because she believes Elisabeth is a whore and sinner and doesn't like their family. A shy, friendly young nun named Clementine (Astrid Kilian) is forced to strip and gets whipped with a cat o' nine tails for even associating with the family. Then the Abbess hands her the whip and orders the naive nun to "Beat me!" while she screams "Yes! Yes! Yes! Harder! Harder! Don't stop!" Clementine continues to play with Alexander despite the Abbess' demands, which eventually gets her into hot water when she takes an injured Alexander to see Pompanne ("Rosy-Rosy" / Rosemarie Heinikel), a large-breasted "herb woman" who uses "the devil's mud" and other such outlawed plants in her treatments. The witch hunters barge in on them and drag them back to their dungeon for all of the expected scenes involving rape and torture.

The "torture master" (uncredited Joachim Hackethal) wastes no time twisting the wild woman's head around and then rapes Clementine while drooling all over her. She becomes pregnant because of the assault and is slated to die by being burned at the stake. Elisabeth shows up demanding they release her son and is almost raped herself by Balthazar, whose idea of pillow talk involves referring to her as "the devil's prostitute." Getting desperate, Elisabeth then goes to the governor in hopes that he'll pardon her son if she'll sleep with him. Instead, she's arrested, taken to the torture chamber, shaved down ("... especially the erogenous zone.") and stretched out on a rack. The corrupt religious leaders and witch hunters are actually mostly interested in getting her massive estate. The film ends on the day when Clementine, Elisabeth, Alexander and Father Melchior (Dietrich Kerky), a priest who falsifies documents in hopes of pardoning the innocent nun, are slated to be executed. A few will live (bet you can guess who), a few will die (there's a decapitation and a burning at the stake)... and, strangely enough, not all of the assholes you really want to see get it bad actually get what they have coming.

For the most part, this is pretty dreary and overly-familiar stuff, with much less gore and nudity than one might expect, but the production passably evokes the time and place, there are a couple of interesting tortures (the best being some fiery iron shoes being placed over one poor man's feet) and having talented actors such as Blanc (gorgeous as always here), Diffring and Nalder on board at least keeps the whole thing watchable. The supporting cast includes Jean-Pierre Zola as Blanc's uncle and Johannes Buzalski, reprising his role as a corrupt advocate from the first film.

Despite having a reputation as being vastly inferior to its predecessor (which was no great shakes itself), in actuality this is really just a slight notch below. Unlike the original, which has received numerous high-quality DVD releases over the years, this follow-up has completely fallen between the cracks. There's not only not an official DVD release, but the lone disc I'm aware of is a horrible bootleg VHS transfer. To my knowledge, all of the prints floating around have also been cut (judging by lobby cards that surfaced there was originally much more nudity) and some feature completely different soundtracks. The US VHS box also claims this is 97 minutes long but it's actually a little over 86 minutes.

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