1965, UK, Directed by Lance Comfort
Colour, Running Time: 88 minutes
Review Source: DVD, R1, Fox; Video: Anamorphic 1.85:1, Audio: DD Mono
(Note, review also over at the new Grim Cellar) Prologue: we get a glimpse into the past of some foreign land where a vampire (parading by the name of Count Sinstre!) curses the local gypsy community with his malevolent presence. Choosing one of the more nubile specimens to be his bride (presumably this being nothing to do with the titillating dance she performed just moments prior) he swiftly drains the life from her, to the horror of her genuine newly acquired husband, before granting her shell with undead re-animation so that her now pitiful existence is entirely focussed on serving him from that point on. Jumping forward to the sixties, a few friends are enjoying either general tourism or potholing trips in a French village. Whilst tunnelling underground a couple of them discover two coffins, one of which is empty, the other revealing an emerging hand! Of course not only does the adventurer quickly disappear but also so does the female friend of Paul, one of the men staying at the hotel. In the place of his abducted friend, Paul finds a bat-shaped talisman lying on the floor, unbeknownst to him this being an important part of a ritual that the aforementioned vampire is soon to hold whilst accompanied by his growing posse of hexed followers. Back in England the sceptical Paul attempts to find out more about people who believe in supernatural forces such as witches and the like. What he doesn’t realise is that Sinsitre is also in town, looking for the stolen amulet as well as a little revenge to appease his discontent. Paul befriends an elegant and solipsistic woman at a party before even she is lured in by Sinistre’s hypnotic advances, though this time for sacrificial purposes…
Decidedly anaemic in terms of sex and violence and living in the shadow of Hammer‘s output of the time, Devils of Darkness is a reasonably efficient albeit ploddingly paced take on the vampire theme, entwining ideas of what was then increasingly popular satanic worship practices. The film tends to (leisurely) explore fears of devil-worship through a desire (represented by the thoughts/actions of the main character) to find sense in a practice increasingly at odds with a scientifically propelled new world. William Sylvester makes a decent mark as said central character Paul, a man whose rational mind is thrown off course by the barrage of strangeness that comes his way - you may remember Sylvester for his prominent role as Dr Floyd in Kubrick’s 2001. On the other hand I can’t make up my mind whether the campy Frenchman Hubert Noël is an asset to the film as Sinistre. I get the impression the production team were taking Hammer’s lead by introducing hints of sex and bright red blood at various intervals - Paul’s new London girlfriend is quite a sleek and voluptuous thing, baring as much flesh as the producers dared (which is not that much, believe me), and it’s no wonder Sinstre’s wife gets a tad jealous when she sees his new ‘acquisition’! Making fine use of the Eastman process, this colourfully shot film (transferred well for DVD) is talky and lacklustre is many respects, but does adequately demonstrate a couple of the fears of the time with some thought. Perhaps a more lively approach could have embedded this slightly deeper into the annals of cinema history, although at the hands of tired director Lance Comfort this would never be - this film was the end of his cinematic career and pretty much the end of his life (he died just a year later).