Actors: Herbert Lom, Udo Kier, Olivera Katarina
Directors: Michael Armstrong
Format: Blu-ray, NTSC
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Arrow Video
Release Date: March 17, 2015
Run Time: 97 minutes
I’m not sure that I would place Mark of the Devil in the category of exploitation, though it certainly features a degree of violence and torture that remains horrifying even by today’s standards. At the same time, there is a certain level of respect given to the material which seems to suggest filmmaker Michael Armstrong (and uncredited Adrian Hoven) had no intention of exploiting, but instead shock the audience into a thoughtful look at the horrifying historical treatment of alleged witches during the 17th century (inaccurate as some details may be). Despite the bevy of attractive and nubile women being tortured with a variety of gruesome methods, Mark of the Devil uses the treatment of them to show the fear of female sexuality from within the Catholic Church.
A young Udo Kier heads up the cast as Count Christian von Meruh, apprentice to a Catholic witch hunter named Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom). He faithfully follows along with the despicable deeds with faith that it is God’s will to weed out the demonic forces within the beautiful women, typically ending in death by fire. This view is changed after Christian begins a relationship with an accused witch named Vanessa (Olivera Katarina), and witnesses Lord Cumberland become violent after being accused of impotence.
Despite being based on real atrocities carried out by the Catholic Church in the 17th century, it was the marketing and presentation of the film which lands it in the category of exploitation. Though one could argue that it was the more enticing and attractive women who would be most threatening to the puritanical sexuality of the Catholic Church, it does seem as though a degree of the film’s spectacle for the audience is reliant upon these women being exposed for the audience’s titillation. The other aspect of the film which lands easily in the field of exploitation is the violence.
While not as graphic by today’s standards, one can imagine how shocking some of these sequences were in the late 1960s. The creativity in the manner of torture used within the film keeps each sequence uniquely impactful, though few moments are as memorable as the tongue-removal scene. In an act that was more likely a marketing ploy than practical necessity, barf bags were given out to the theater patrons attending a showing of Mark of the Devil. This was a practice that William Castle had perfected a decade earlier, proving that getting audiences into the theater was often more significant than the content they viewed once tickets were bought.
Along with the remastered 1.66:1 aspect ratio presentation on high definition Blu-ray, Mark of the Devil is also given standard treatment on DVD. The special features are surprisingly plentiful, including several featurettes and interviews. “Mark of the Times” is a 47-minute documentary about the impact of Hammer horror and subsequent rise in British exploitation directors. “Hallmark of the Devil” is a brief featurette examining Hallmark Releasing, which was the company to distribute the film in the
with the help of some creative
marketing. Also included is a featurette returning to the locations used for
filming, a handful of outtakes, a gallery of production photos, and detailed
interviews from Udo Kier, composer Michael Holm, along with actors Herbert Fux,
Gaby Fuchs and Ingeborg Schoner. United
Entertainment Value: 6.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6/10
Historical Significance: 6.5/10
Special Features: 8.5/10