Thursday, March 15, 2012

78. SEDDOK, L'EREDE DI SATANA (1960)

The title of this Italian film -- which has a decidedly German feel, though it's apparently set in France -- translates as "Seddok, Spawn of Satan," but it was released in America in 1963 under the title ATOM AGE VAMPIRE. The English-dubbed version of the film exists only in significantly abbreviated form, the better to originally serve on a double feature bill with Antonio Margheriti's BATTLE OF THE WORLDS [IL PIANETA DEGLI UOMINI SPENTI, 1961]. The copies now in general circulation tend to run 86 minutes or less -- quite a contrast to the Italian version, which runs 102m 40s in PAL (107m 3s at 24 frames per second), making it the longest Italian horror film of its period.

It's the story of Jeanette Moreneau (Suzanne Loret), a stripper at the El Hoggar club whose career causes problems with her lover Pierre Mornet (Sergio Fantoni), who wants her to quit. She refuses, he takes a job at sea to forget her, and in her tearful despair, she recklessly steers herself into a tragic automobile accident that leaves her disfigured. Her case comes to the attention of Dr. Albert Levin (Alberto Lupo) who, with his romantically devoted assistant Monique (Franca Parisi), lures her to his home for experimental treatments with his new miracle drug Derma 28, which temporarily restores her beauty. Driven insane with lust for his new Galatea, and having used the last drop of a miracle drug it takes ages to distill, Levin murders Monique to harvest the gland from which Derma 28 is distilled and exposes it to radiation prior to transplanting it, exposure to which triggers a surprising transformation in himself. He  finds the changed persona useful when his subsequent attacks on other women coincides with the escape of a gorilla from a local zoo. Meanwhile, Pierre returns from three months at sea assured of his love for Jeanette, just in time to save her.

A combination subtitled/dubbed DVD-R of the uncut version recently appeared at Cinemageddon, providing their users (and their friends) with the first-ever opportunity to evaluate this early entry in the Italian horror sweepstakes. (It opened in Italian theaters exactly one week after Mario Bava's LA MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO, better known as BLACK SUNDAY. It was a good month for actor Ivo Garrani, who appears in both, here playing a police inspector who's trying to stop smoking.) The longer version not only restores some near-nudity to Loret's opening striptease, but an entire subplot about a loony middle-aged woman informant (Rina Franchetti) who tells the police that the attacks are being perpetrated by a monster named Seddok ("the face of a beast, the claws of a vulture") who appeared to her in dreams she's had since childhood. There's also more police discussion about Seddok being "a personification of repressed sexual tension" and, most strangely of all, a lot of dialogue pertaining to cigarettes, how valuable and hard to find they are -- as if the story was originally written (or set) during wartime. I also noticed the uncommon presence of some appreciatively leering black men in the audience during Loret's striptease, which perfects the illusion of a postwar stripclub in France, but might have caused riots to break out in certain pre-Civil Rights American theaters.

Melodramatic in the extreme, SEDDOK was the only horror film co-written and directed by former journalist Anton Giulio Majano, and it's unique in the fever pitch of its sometimes unintentionally funny dialogue. (Here's a sample of Levin's bedside manner with Jeanette upon being shown her scars for the first time: "There's no doubt of it! Yes, she's disfigured forever! As if by a cancer that's beyond control -- like leprosy!") Obviously influenced by Franju's EYES WITHOUT A FACE (LES YEUX SANS VISAGE) and Victor Trivas' THE HEAD (DIE NACKTE UND DER SATAN, both 1959), it's not particularly good -- even at full length, it seems choppy and antsy, always cutting from one location to another, but it is atmospherically photographed by Aldo Giordani, moodily scored by Armando Trovajoli, and sports some innovative work in the special makeup effects department. Jeanette's first cure occurs before our eyes, achieved in the manner of timelapse photography, periodically exposing the film as the scarred makeup was built up on Loret's face, and then run in reverse. The initial traces of Lupo's transformation into Seddok was done à la Universal's Wolf Man, but then wonderfully cuts to a creepily animated head and upper torso -- so well-done, most viewers aren't aware it's the Italian equivalent of Dynamation. The end credits cite Ugo Amadoro for makeup, and Euclide Santoli for special effects, but must be mixed-up as Amadoro was the special effects man and Santoli the makeup artist.

Financed by a one-time producer named (or calling himself) Mario Fava, whose credit led to much speculation about the behind-the-scenes involvement of Mario Bava. Its simultaneous production with LA MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO makes this unlikely, but several members of the crew had worked with Bava before and surely learned from him. And the fact that this film pretends not to be Italian shows the filmmakers well aware of the commercial lessons learned by Bava and Riccardo Freda on I VAMPIRI (1957). On a purely trivial note, the English dialogue is extremely close to what was spoken in the Italian version; I was surprised to hear the phrase "vampiro atomico" spoken, such a commercial idea that it's incomprehensible why the Italians went with the imaginary name SEDDOK instead.

Viewed on DVD-R.

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