Saturday, 9 April 2016

Devils of Darkness (1965)

The mid-Sixties saw a dip in horror movie quality - after the Hammer/Corman boom that began in the late Fifties the genre started to look a little tired. But the films kept coming, sometimes in more subtle forms - The Innocents, The Haunting, The Witches, and a few others with the definite article in the title - and sometimes as variations on familiar themes.

Devils of Darkness is classed as a British film, though like many of its ilk it has an American star, the craggy William Sylvester, and much of it supposedly takes place on the continent. It concerns a group of tourists who visit a French village that we know, thanks to the pre-title sequence, is the domain of a vampire, Count Sinistre. No, really, that's what he's called. Anyway, the village is the home of a secret vampire cult, and only the gypsies try to warn the visitors to beware, and so forth. Two people die in odd circumstances and the authorities are unhelpful, because they're in on it.

The cult itself is a Dennis Wheatley affair, all red nylon robes and clich├ęd ritual, This might have been fun, but unfortunately the count is played by Hubert Noel, an obscure French actor. In marked contrast to Christopher Lee, Noel does not seem imposing or sexy when pouncing on female cast members. I have a sneaking suspicion that director Lance Comfort avoided having Noel do much traditional vampire stuff precisely because he lacked presence. Instead he is demoted to the role of boring cult leader.

Noel's weak performance unbalances the film - it becomes a kind of Agatha Christie with vampires, as Sylvester's character tries to unravel the mystery while Sinistre tries to recover the talisman of a golden bat that he carelessly dropped. No really, he's that useless. Other ingredients include a Swinging Chelsea party where the look and the music remind you that in 1965 the Beatles et al were way too radical for mainstream entertainment. So it's short hair and bebop all the way. Instead of a sense of immediacy the contemporary setting consigns DoD to the slightly laughable and boring past, while Hammer's period Gothic approach continues to work well.

That said, there are a few good bits. At one point Sinistre's gypsy-vampire bride slashes a portrait of the leading lady and blood trickles out. And there's also a remarkable finale which definitely foreshadows the climactic Black Mass scene of The Devil Rides Out. Visually it's not bad, and Tracy Reed as Karen is impressive - a statuesque redhead, she spends a lot of time barefoot so as not to tower over Noel. Overall, though, Devils of Darkness is not as much fun as it should be.

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