Friday, November 30, 2012


This Dennis Wheatley adaptation from Hammer Films, placed in the trusty hands of novelist Richard Matheson, comes tantalizingly close to being one of Terence Fisher's most memorable pictures but I'm not sure it quite makes it. There is something off-kilter about it, almost experimentally so, as there is with much of Fisher's 1960s work; it begins with an unexpected sudden rush of forward movement, almost before we get our bearings in the story, and it ends with a folding back of time itself, which helps to undo some of the things done. Christopher Lee excels in his finest heroic role as Nicholas, the Duc de Richlieu, and he's well balanced in this contest between Good and Evil by a somewhat overripe, satyr-faced Charles Gray (pictured) as Mocata, the leader of a coven determined to sacrifice the girl Tanith (Nik√© Arrighi), whom the Duc and his friends have rescued.  Patrick Mower, cast as Simon, the younger male heroic lead, would later play a virtual reprise of his role here -- a young man of means who is seduced by social acquaintances into black magic and devil worship -- opposite Peter Cushing in Robert Hartford-Davis' INCENSE FOR THE DAMNED (aka BLOOD SUCKERS), made a couple of years later.

There is a great deal to commend the film, but it appears it barely had sufficient budget to realize its story. It leaves much of its necessary opulence and spectacle to the imagination. Sometimes these deficiencies are cleverly masked -- note how when Simon asks the Duc if he might borrow a car, Lee wearily tells him, "Take any one of them." (With a line like that, we don't need to see them.) Yet the whole finale rests on the film's ability to impress us with the frightening imagery impinging on our heroes outside the sanctity of a chalk circle and, on this level, it fails pitifully to deliver. (A recent UK Blu-ray release has actually taken steps to digitally modify these scenes, without including the original untouched film in the set, angering the movie's fanbase.) French actress Arrighi -- an unusual, memorable presence who subsequently played ever diminishing roles in WOMEN IN LOVE, SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY, DAY FOR NIGHT (and COUNTESS DRACULA) -- appears to have been dubbed throughout by actress Fenella Fielding. Composer James Bernard lends an ethereal quality to her appearance with a theme that sounds suspiciously like a finger circling the rim of a wine glass.

Viewed on Turner Classic Movies HD.

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