Mark Of The Devil (1970) (Blu-ray/DVD Review)

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Mark Of The Devil (1970) (Blu-ray/DVD Review)
Directed By: Michael Armstrong
Starring: Herbert Lom, Udo Kier, Olivera Katarina
Rated: UR/Region A/Widescreen/1080p/Number of Discs 2
Available from Arrow Video

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Once proclaimed as “positively the most horrifying film ever made”, Mark of the Devil arrives in a director-approved edition featuring a new restoration of the feature. A bloody and brutal critique of religious corruption, Mark of the Devil sees horror icon Udo Kier (Flesh for Frankenstein, Suspiria) play a witchfinder’s apprentice whose faith in his master (Herbert Lom) becomes severely tested when they settle in an Austrian village. Presided over by the sadistic Albino (a memorably nasty turn from Reggie Nalder), the film presents its morality not so much in shades of grey as shades of black. Written and directed by Michael Armstrong, who would later pen Eskimo Nell, The Black Panther and House of the Long Shadows, this classic shocker has lost none of its power over the years.

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I first saw Mark of the Devil way back in the later part of 2011. I don’t know why, but I didn’t love it that much back then. Maybe it was one of those odd things where I was having a bad day and I watched it and just couldn’t get into it or maybe I couldn’t appreciate a good Witch hunt in 2011 like I can now in 2015. Either way, after re-watching the film, I actually dig it a whole lot more now. I think our creepy Withfinder named Albino is hilarious as he tries to find women to sleep with and then turns them in as witches when they turn him down. Lord Cumberland, the head man in charge, is also hilarious in his own way as he cast these people out and to death. It is also pretty interesting when we pay attention and see why he does these things most the time, especially when it comes to hot women. Udo Kier also does his job well and really stand out in the film, as he plays Christian, who is probably the only sane, or at least sanest, guy in the church. Then we have all the over the top violence and torture that still sticks out a bit today, but I can only imagine what it was like back when this thing first came out. I can see why it drove those fine folks over at the BBC crazy. And even with all the craziness and torture this movie has to offer, I think at the end of the day, it might actually be the strong story that makes it as watchable today as it is. We have all the odd looking townspeople in the world running around town and calling people playing with puppets devil worshipers, but if you don’t have a strong story to back it all up, the plot would be too thin and things would get way too silly. I’m happy that isn’t the case here, even if things do from time to time still get a little silly. At least it is a good silly.

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Of course we wouldn’t have much of a story if Olivera Katarina’s character, Vanessa, didn’t turn down our Witchfinder and then charm Udo Kier. It is a wishy-washy of a forbidden love story, but oddly enough, it is still a love story. Fear not, however, this isn’t a corny sort of thing by any means. This is a situation where she still finds time to only wear things that compliment her breast, while the good church still takes the time to have people burned and mutilated. There is a really good story that stands against extreme old ways of the church here. We see the extreme and we see people finally go against the extreme. Of course it isn’t done in a crisp and clean fashion you’d hand an academy award to. Instead it is done in a sleazy and bloody way and I think that is what makes it what it is and what makes it as interesting as it turns out to be. There may somewhere deep within in this thing be moral to the story, but you sure won’t want to show it to your kids to help show them the ways of the world, unless you are one really cool parent and if so, kudos to you! Mark Of The Devil feels like the most grindhouse endorsing Hammer film you’ve ever saw, which of course, it isn’t a Hammer film, but it feels like one you could see under that banner, only less classy and more extreme. I’d fully recommend anyone checking it out, just be sure your not having a bad day like I must have been way back in the day when I watched this and didn’t see just how good it was.

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Extras

– High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the feature, transferred from original film elements
– Optional English and German audio
– Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
– Newly translated English subtitles for the German audio
– Audio commentary by Michael Armstrong, moderated by Calum Waddell
– Mark of the Times – exclusive feature-length documentary from High Rising Productions on the emergence of the ‘new wave’ of British horror directors that surfaced during the sixties and seventies
– Hallmark of the Devil – author and critic Michael Gingold looks back at Hallmark Releasing, the controversial and confrontational distributor that introduced Mark of the Devil to American cinemas
– Interviews with composer Michael Holm and actors Udo Kier, Herbert Fux, Gaby Fuchs, Ingeborg Schoner and Herbert Lom
– Mark of the Devil: Now and Then – a look at the film’s locations and how they appear today
– Outtakes
– Gallery
– Reversible Sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
– Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Adrian Smith and Anthony Nield, plus an interview with Reggie Nalder by David Del Valle, all illustrated with original stills and artwork

Quality of the Transfer: 89%

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I totally used the screen grabs from 10Bullets because I don’t have a Blu-ray drive