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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Mark of the Devil (Arrow Blu-ray/DVD Combo)

Mark of the Devil was a forbidden movie to me as a kid. By the time I became interested in the VHS box at Long Valley Video, my father had been telling me that there were some movies I was simply not allowed to rent. Funhouse was one. Last House on the Left another. Dear old dad was an avid movie watcher, Sci-Fi lover and monster kid at heart, however every fiend has his limits and for my dad it was slasher films or films with sadistic murder. He didn't find any entertainment in the likes of Fred Kruger, and he certainly didn't want me watching girls piss their pants in the middle of the woods. He also didn't want me to enjoy some good ol' fashion witch confessional torture. As a kid you learn about the Salem witch trials, and it sounds like a horror story when you think that the witches are the arm of Satan. As you grow up you realize that Salem was some kind of strange hysterical land grab and that innocent people were maimed at the hands of the greedy. Then you learn that witches are actually just people who like to get naked, worship the moon and the earth and draw circles. It's a religion. A positive religion. No Satan here.   As a kid I thought Mark of the Devil must be some great film about hunting evil, destroying Satan (remember... Doc T was raised a Presbyterian) and doing good. Mark of the Devil sounded like the perfect monster movie to me, and so I wanted it... and was categorically denied it until I turned 16 and just rented the damn thing myself.

Arrow Video has given me a chance to reconnect with Mark of the Devil, older and fully aware of the subtext of the film. Now I own a DVD of this release, and it isn't half bad,but this Blu-ray is something to be cherished in terms of color palette and beautiful contrast. Perfect film grain. This torture movie s a pleasure on the eyes. It outshines the previous DVD release and is light years beyond the wellworn VHS tape I watched at 16. I'm a proud fan of this movie today. Hell, I even have one of those barf bags they gave out to patrons (imitation or recreation to be sure).

Mark of the Devil has a solid extra package with a commentary track by director Michael Armstrong, outtakes, trailers and plenty of interviews with cast members including cult fan favorite Udo Kier. The real meat and potatoes of the extras are the look back at Hallmark releasing with Michael Gingold of Fangoria and the history of British horror in the 70's. I read Fango regularly to this day. I think that Gingold cares about horror and truly loves it. On several occasions I had the chance to enjoy his company at 35mm screening, and I'm glad to hear him speak about the history of Hallmark Releasing on this disc. Listen to the man; you'll learn something. As for the British horror history lesson, it's a limited doc at 40 mins but offers a nice summary of Brit horror from the 60's and 70's. It's nice to see so many of these titles being treated so well. Peter Walker immediately comes to mind.

As for the film itself, the opening features a beautiful tar and feathering complete with H.G. Lewis style gore that mounts through the entire picture. As many of you know I have an affinity for movie blood color and prefer my gore in the key of Crayola red. Mark of the Devil does not disappoint. Thing of this as a true torture by numbers film; a Grand Guignol of the witchfinder variety, not to be confused with The Conqueror Worm starring Vincent Price. The backdrop is the perfect village in the middle of nowhere Europe with a unique location that carried the audience outside of the world of Hammer and Amicus (that often used the same sets over and over per the featurette attached here to). When's the last time you saw a live bunny used as a marionette... on MARIONETTE WIRES!?This is witchhunter-sploitation at its finest and imaginative or at least thoughtful.

Herbert Lom is the creepiest villain in many movies from the 70's and this is no different. Poor Udo Kier is always the victim of the worst dubbing. I enjoy his performance here and in most movies, but you have to firmly suspend a bit of laughter with the obnoxious voice overs. You can try to avoid this using the German language track, but I've always watched it in English. Speaking of voice overs, the narration provided just after the opening sequence of the film is a well placed Mondo and exploitation trick used to given historical context for a release that may be more gravy than of grave. In this instance it almost comes off as the beginning of the TV show Dragnet. With a fiery background and scrolling text no less! Perhaps the most wonderful discovery, watching this movie with fresh eyes, was that composer Michael Holm's score bears a vague resemblance to the theme from Cannibal Holocaust. I love them both.

By the end of Mark of the Devil you truly feel like you just waited on line for the witchunter ride at Disney or Epcot. This movie may as well be the Carousel of Progress of the 70's exploitation from Britain.  Mark of the Devil is available this month on Blu-ray/DVD combo, and, as part of the new Arrow initiative, you can watch it on a Region A player! While Arrow had released many of a movie without region lock in the past, in the last couple years they were forced to lock the movies Region B due to rights issues and release restrictions. The new Arrow US has started making these releases available to those of you in the states. This is a great way to start collecting if you haven't had a region free player.

Order Mark of the Devil now from DiabolikDVD. Get ready for plenty of Arrow. Get ready for the third wave British invasion (or is this the forth?)

http://www.diabolikdvd.com/category/Cult-Favorites/Mark-of-the-Devil-(Arrow-US)-(DVD-[sl]-Blu~Ray-Combo).html

As the good man says, "Strip him down so the women can enjoy it"! Clearly the best line in the movie.

From DiabolikDVD and Arrow:

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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Full slate of extras and features:
  • 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

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