Prior to the death of its dictatorial leader, General Francisco Franco, Spain had some of the harshest censorship laws in the world, let alone Europe. Anything remotely resembling nudity, sadism or horror was immediately removed. With the powerful politician's passing, the nation decided to make an attempt at rescuing and restarting the arts. A new ratings code was developed, with movies now allowed to show what they wanted. In exchange, they were required to wear an "S" as part of their preparation for public consumption. Such a stamp meant that the story being shown was steeped in sex, sadism and violence. One of the first films to flaunt its "S" was Escalofrio (Satan's Blood). A weird, warped tale reminiscent of Rosemary's Baby and the haunting Hammer films, it mixed killing with carnality to deliver an uneven set of shivers. Now available on DVD from Mondo Macabro, fans of such mid-70s international movie macabre can see if Satan's Blood lives up to its new ranking, or is a letdown, no matter the mark.
It's the weekend and young couple Andreas and Ana are bored. They decide to head off into town for some fun, and take the family dog Blackie along for the ride. While en route, they are stopped by another couple in a car. The man, Bruno, swears he and Andreas went to school together, and he insists the pair join he and his mate, Berta for wine and cheese. They end up traveling hours outside of town to an estate set far back in the countryside. After an uncomfortable evening of drinks and conversation, the quartet decides to delve into a little black magic and use the in-house Ouija board to contact the dead. It does not turn out well, as horrible secrets are revealed. Though they want to leave, Andreas and Ana are forced to spend the night when a sudden storm blows up. Over the course of the evening, Blackie goes missing, Ana is attacked and the couple discover Bruno and Berta kneeling before a Satanic symbol scrawled on the floor. It's not long before a blood orgy occurs.
The next morning, no one remembers anything. Andreas and Ana want to leave, but their car is missing. When Bruno and Berta return, vehicle in tow, the couple try to escape but can't. Suddenly, there are gunshots. Bodies start piling up and a local doctor thinks Andreas is guilty of some terrible crime. As the strange circumstances continue, we begin to see a pattern. Bruno and Berta obviously serve a dark, sinister Lord and Andreas and Ana are meant to be some manner of set-up soul sacrifice. Will the couple find a way to leave this haunted house of horrors, or will they be part of the ritual that calls for Satan's Blood.
Though it stumbles when it should soar, and fails to fulfill the promise of its previous 70 minutes in a muddled misfire of an ending, Satan's Blood is a rather effective exercise in terror. Recalling the best of Italian giallo - namely Dario Argento and his love for evil ambulatory dolls - and effortlessly finding a way to mix sex with Satanism, director Carlos Puerto takes a standard old dark house scenario and fleshes it out with skin, sin and something incredibly sinister. Trying to understand the narrative may take a PhD in advanced coincidences, or perhaps a strong inner faith in disbelief suspension, but there is no denying that, at several moments in this film, the director dishes up some effective fear. As our "normal" couple, Andreas and Ana slowly realize the trap they are in, the dread is definitive and the terror telling. That it all kind of flops around and falls apart at the very end is not so much a concern as a caveat. If you go into this movie expecting a pure entertainment spectacle with a strong narrative throughout, you'll be disappointed. But if you accept the film on its own troubling terms, if you give it a chance to work its wonders on you, the reward will be wicked indeed.
In many ways, Satan's Blood plays more like a sex film with scares than the other way around. The entire second act is taken up with an extended scene between the foursome. Oiled up and in a trance, the couples copulate in any and all manners possible. Full frontal is a norm for the woman (guys only give butt - sorry gals) and the sequence if filmed with full softcore shimmer. In addition, Berta is topless more times than she's dressed, and Andreas and Ana have a late night bath that is all shower jets and waist level loving. With the new freedom of an "S" rating at their disposal, Puerto and his co-producer Juan Piquer Simon decide to go all out and tempt the wanton waters as soon and as scandalously as possible. When a picture of Christ catches fire during the orgy, you can just tell they were out to court controversy. Indeed, one of the many nice things about the film is how it fills in its setting with all manner of telltale symbols. Bruno and Berta's home is loaded with all manner of ancient religious artifacts, from straight Christian iconography to outlandish pagan runes. We only glimpse them in snippets between the scenes of sex and violence, but they add an aura of unease throughout the entire film.
So does the acting. In essence, what Puerto is setting up is a classic tale of victims and their possessors. Bruno and Berta are supposed to be mindless drones, back from the dead (both tried suicide before and "supposedly" failed) and serving their Satanic master. Yet they come across at first like unwelcome party guests, the kind of people that keep on insisting even as you are arguing to leave. Once we learn of their murderous plot, we can see the zombie like focus for what it is. Since Andreas and Ana come across as nice and normal (for the most part), the contrast creates tension, and said anxiety produces fear. All four performers are very good, making maximum macabre out of minimal ideas. And once the movie kicks it into high gear, mostly during our guest's attempt to leave, the dichotomy is even more dynamic. The film does play like a far flashier version of the old Hammer horrors, where big old estates held long lost and deadly secrets. Thankfully, the Spanish decide to amplify the best bits - namely the blood and breasts - while minimizing the lamentably lame elements of such subtle scare fare.
Still, the film is not a complete success. It does take a while to get going, as our hero and heroine spend a typical musical montage taking in the sights of the city (including, apparently, a showing of Star Wars). Also, there are several moments during the set up where our host and hostess just seem to shout "weird and evil", and yet our far-too-polite couple want to hang around and not be rude. Then there is the ending. It's hard to put a finger on just what is wrong with the last five minutes of the movie, but let's just say - in order to avoid spoilers - that the entire first part of the film seems pointless, one big and long involved joke meant to get our couple out of their house. It fails to tie into the opening ritual scene (where a mad monk gets freaky with a female sacrifice) and explains nothing about the purpose or plan. Since we are dealing with Satanists, it's possible that it's not supposed to make sense. As long as it looks evil, who cares, right? Well, Satan's Blood has spent so much time on its introduction and its fright nights that to wrap it up with a shocker shrug is unfair. Had the movie found a better way to tie up its ends (or even tried to tie them up, for that matter) this would be a lost classic, the kind of foreign horror movie that resonates with even the most discerning macabre fan. As it stands, 2/3rds of this film is fine. The last bits almost blow it all to Hell.
As this is the unrated version of the film supposedly struck from pristine negatives, you'd expect Satan's Blood to look sensational...and it does, for the most part. The colors are slightly faded, and the look is very flat and lifeless - par for the course for most foreign fright films. Yet the 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen image is filled with detail and nicely correct contrasts. There is some filmic noise, especially during the orgy scene, but overall, the picture is excellent for such a rare film.
Offered in the original Spanish (with appropriate and easy to read subtitles) or a pretty decent Dolby Digital Stereo English dub, the sonic side of Satan's Blood is excellent. Dialogue is easily discernible and the ambiance of fear and foulness is palpable. The musical score is kind of creepy, and the use of effects is limited to occasional obvious moments of shock. Overall, the tech specs on this release are very good indeed.
In order to give the movie some manner of moral purpose when it was released, a "scholarly" introduction was filmed in which a learned man explains that Satan exists in the world (as a natural reaction to good) and, as such, he should be explained and his faithful examined. This alternate opening is offered here as part of the bonus features, and it is fun to watch. In addition, we are treated to some text-based discussions of the film and its importance, a stills gallery and a collection of Mondo Macabro trailers. The best added content however is a 30 minute documentary featuring Church of Satan member Gavin Baddley. Entitled The Devil's Disciples: A History of 20th Century Satanism, it is a very insightful and entertaining look at important figures in the history of this offshoot religion. Baddeley - occasionally reading off something near his side - discusses Alistair Crowley, Anton Levay and other important moments in the Devil's history. His comments about the movies made about the mangoat, including a complete denouncement of The Exorcist, are priceless, and the overall tone is informal and informative. While more about this movie itself would have been preferred, this is still a good collection of supplemental materials.
Though it can be incredibly corny at times, and pushes the limits of logic well over into the 'ill' side of situations, Satan's Blood is still a fun, effective little shocker - and those who like gratuity with their gore will be more than pleased with the level of lewdness here. Since it is really nothing more than a scattershot attempt at scares, a rating of Recommended is warranted. Fans of foreign frights will really dig the head of dread developed here. Others will enjoy the subtle scares mixed with sudden shocks formula. Indeed many modern macabre lovers will probably be pleased with the amount of mood and atmosphere evident in this film. Not everything is explained, and there are moments when you wish director Puerto would stop all the oily orgy business and just provide some context (who are those odd men hanging around the estate, sneaking in and out like thieves - and rapists, and murderers - in the night). Still, as an example of Euro-terror, Satan's Blood is fairly effective.
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