If two things go together like chocolate and peanut butter, it’s Satan and horror movies. Satan, by himself, is the ultimate adversary and boogeyman so it just makes sense that the genre falls back on the devil from time to time. Seemed like in the 70’s you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a movie that featured the devil or those dedicated to him in some way. I’ve never been able to get to the bottom of why that is, either, but that’s okay with me. I was raised Catholic and nothing freaked my Mom out quite like Satan. So naturally in my formative years, as I discovered both rebellion and horror, I gravitated toward these kinds of movies.
The devil has been haunting the genre and society as a whole since the earliest days of mankind. Satan exists in nearly every spiritual system of belief in one form or another. Some of these systems use the archetype to scare the congregation into submission while others use him as a symbol of balance, the other side of the coin when talking about man’s dual nature. Still, others use Satan as a sort of raison d’etre when it comes to exressing their individuality. Authors like Goethe realized his potential as a dastardly antagonist and it wasn’t long after the birth of film that writers and directors thought, “You know what this picture needs? The devil!” This consideration resulted in a Swedish silent called Haxan, released in 1922 and then released again here in North America under the title, Witchcraft Through The Ages in 1968 featuring a crazy-ass jazz score with Jean-Luc Ponty and a narrated track by William S. Burroughs. The film is supposed to be a documentary, an exploration of the Malleus Maleficarum (Witch Hammer, cool) a sort of guide book used by the Spanish Inquisition outlining the best ways to root out witches in communities. Director, Benjamin Christensen is featured prominently throughout as The Devil, wearing an elaborate and menacing costume, urging decent women and the holiest of holy to submit to evil. It’s quite something. The Criterion Collection issued a release that features both Haxan and Witchcraft Through The Ages and it’s exactly the kind of high quality release you expect from them.
The Devil didn’t really come of age in film until the late 60’s, if you ask me. The United States, unconditionally a christian state, was fertile ground for religious paranoia in the closing years of the 60’s. The counter culture was gaining ground in the suburbs and along with a new sexuality and liberal drug use (and the expanded consciousness that comes with it) came a wave of alternative spirituality. Anton LaVey founded The Church of Satan in San Francisco in 1966 and freaked out just about everyone in the world. The metric volume of balls it must have taken to establish satanism as a recognized spiritual lifestyle is staggering, but aside from representing the greatest fear of Straight America as well as personifying the new body of indulgence that would define the 70’s it did great things for the horror genre.
There are three core satanic flicks in Hollywood. Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist and Richard Donner’s The Omen. Each has its merits and each has been discussed and examined to such a degree that there’s just not much point in going into them. My mother was absolutely convinced that in a world responsible for Euro-trash like Cannibal Holocaust, The Exorcist was the ultimate taboo and that it held a genuinely evil power. Even the edited TV versions of the movie were forbidden. Come to think of it, my wife isn’t much of a fan, either. I haven’t seen it in years because of her Exorcist induced freakouts. So let’s cast these aside. You’ve probably seen at least two of them already. Here are some you may not have seen.
I Drink You Blood, 1970
Director: David E. Durston
The Manson Family freaked a lot of people out. Vietnam was pretty fucking horrifying but the fact that it was in a remote part of the world in comparison to our country made it easy for many people to keep at arm’s length. But the Tate/La Bianca murders happened here, to people you’d heard about and for motives that no one could understand. Add acid to the mix and you have the makings of one hell of a horror movie. A nomadic bunch of acid eating hippies roll into a small town and for no reason other than the fact that they’re hippies, they start terrorizing the locals. The mere fact alone that they’re hippies makes it believable that they always dropping acid and are satanists. I mean the prior is easy to accept, but the latter? Sure, why not? Truth be told, there isn’t a whole lot of satanism in the movie just a lot of posturing, the claim that “Satain is an acid head, man” and the beautiful Lynn Lowry. I Drink Your Blood acts as a sort of prototype for Wes Craven’s genre-defining, Last House On The Left.
The Masque of the Red Death, 1964
Director: Roger Corman
’64 was too early to cash in on the evil hippies vibe but it does fall smack dab in the middle of that golden Roger Corman/Vincent Price cycle of Edgar Allen Poe adaptations. The film, starring one of my greatest heroes, Vincent Price, pits Price as a medieval noble with a hangup on the devil only to have his dedication to his dark master doom him in the final act. It’s hokey and Price chews on the scenery like the ghoulish master that he was but set aside the notion that you’re watching the work of Poe. Corman’s Poe “adaptations” are some of the best movies that he and Price ever made together and among their individual filmographies, but they’re barely Poe. The Devil does show up, though, in the middle of the finale’s Renn Faire style bachannal and it’s a doozy.
The Devil’s Rain, 1975
Director: David Fuest
David Fuest is probably best known for the iconic Vincent Price Dr. Phibes vehicles and The Devil’s Rain is notable for only a couple of things because, in actuality, it’s a fucking boring picture with a few shining moments of delirious brilliance. Fans of psychotronic pictures will find a treasure trove of goofy actors. Ernest Brognine plays a vengeful satanist who terrorizes William Shatner and if that’s not enough to hook you, John Travolta is in this, too, in one of his first parts. Church of Satan founder, Anton LaVey, is credited as a technical advisor, too. It’s supposed to be another terrifying story about those wacky San Francsicites and the corrupting influence they unleashed into the suburbs, but most of the movie takes place on leftover sets from old westerns.
Devil Dog: Hound Of Hell, 1978
Director: Curtis Harrington
I caught this one on a local UHF station back when I was a little kid and it scared the shit out of me. I wish I could tell you why. First Blood’s Richard Crenna plays the head of a family who buys a new dog that happens to harbor an evil power. The power of Satan! This made for TV movie features lots of evil shenanegans and close ups of the dead eyes of a dog that will’s the family to mostly draw elaborate pictures of the devil while other people meet some very Damien-ish ends. It’s all pretty silly and results in a trip to Ecuador where some indians draw pictures on Crenna’s hand that forces the evil out of the dog.