Thursday, 5 April 2012

Night of the Devils

1972, Italy/Spain, Directed by Giorgio Ferroni
Colour, Running Time: 91 minutes
Review Source: Italian DVD, Region 2; Video: 2.35:1, Audio: Mono

This obscure Italian/Spanish film (titled at source as La Notte dei Diavoli) is based on the 'wurdulak' legend - a vampiric creature originating, I believe, from either European or Russian mythology, who returns from the grave to sacrifice loved ones, bringing them into the netherworld, in order to combat the loneliness of limbo death. In the film a man (driven insane, Lovecraft-style, and recalling the tale in flashback) crashes his car when he believed he sees an elderly woman crossing the vehicle's path, someone who is nowhere to be seen when he emerges from the damaged motor. Wandering off in search of help that can't initially be found he discovers a local man who, after an amiable discussion, offers to let him stay at his house for the night. There he finds a family in the midst of perpetual fear as each evening a recently deceased family member returns to the building to summon them. The dead person seeks company in its lonely ethereal world paradoxically by killing those loved during life, and our protagonist finds himself apparently unable to escape this increasingly threatening and supernaturally plagued environment.
Bearing strong similarities to the vampire legend, the myths of the wurdulak have largely been ignored in cinema (arguably a missed opportunity, as there is a tragic richness to the concept), with one notable exception: Mario Bava's classic Black Sabbath (I Tre Volti Della Paura), where it occupied one third of the anthology structure (with Boris Karloff). Very effectively and artistically shot was the Bava film, unsurprisingly for anyone who's seen any of his other work, and Night of the Devils, directed by the lesser known Ferroni, understandably has a lot to live up to. Ferroni did, however, a decade or so prior to this shoot the Gothic delight that was Mill of the Stone Women and could be considered already qualified with such territory. Proceeding in a slow and solemn fashion Night of the Devils may struggle to keep many shaky-cam-weaned teens awake, and perhaps a shake-up in this department would have been of benefit, but what it lacks in urgency it makes up for in sinister, supernatural ambience. The fact that it's also punctuated by occasional gore and a grisly disintegrating head effect is of no great disadvantage either! The grim house in which Nikolas becomes trapped is enshrouded by an air of doom as the whole family lives in terror of the regularly returning 'corpse', and his inability to escape builds on this fear of the otherworldly. Eventually (and I do mean eventually!) the tension really picks up and finally pays off to an extent, as the escape attempt comes under repeated attack from the increasing number of wurdulaks, giving Night of the Living Dead a run for its rotting flesh. This great climax really strengthens the preceding sombre and plodding nature, but there is a further bonus in the slightly ambiguous angle of the conclusion itself. The score is a mixed bag - the theme tune itself tends to irritate, thankfully only being used two or three times but enough to desire for a different choice, whilst elsewhere the incidental soundtrack is suitably spooky.

Unfortunately the film is virtually impossible to find (although of note, there is a soundtrack CD available in Italy) therefore a remastering job by the likes of Synapse, Arrow, Severin, Shameless, etc., would be most welcome - it deserves to be seen by a wider audience and the Euro-horror crowd (of which I am one) in particular should be appreciative of any such release. The English dub track isn't too bad considering the period (my disc also has an Italian track albeit without any subtitles - I lament my lack of understanding of the language!) though its original language with subs would be preferable, however the chance to see it at all is something to be savoured.

*Update* Raro Video US have since put this out on Blu-ray - you can read The Grim Cellar's updated view here

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