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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Mark of the Witch / Devil Times Five
Mark of the Witch / Devil Times Five
Code Red // R // May 26, 2009
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Kurt Dahlke | posted July 10, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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Mark of the Witch / Devil Times Five:

Mark of the Witch:
If this 1969 movie can be truly considered an example of grindhouse fare, maybe the experience wasn't all it was cracked up to be. An independent Texas-made supernatural feature, Mark sports one brief topless scene, a really cute witch and a whole lot of talking. Truthfully, it's a hard movie to stay awake through, which maybe means it is a grindhouse feature, perfect for those homeless gents just looking for a non-discriminating, semi-warm place out of the elements, where they can catch a few winks on the cheap.

We open with an extremely loquacious 17th century witch about to meet her fate on the gallows. She takes a full three minutes to roundly curse her tormentors before doing the vertical shimmy. Cut to the creepiest, horrifying minutes of the movie as credits roll over scenes of a small town college campus. The reason for the horror is a modern witch's rune recited sans accompaniment in unnerving, elfin singsong. Setting the bar high for authenticity, this rune sadly segues into a few overaged late-'60s college hipsters collecting books for a seminar on the paranormal, taught by a guy who looks exactly like the dude who hung that witch! The prof has the bright idea to conduct a beer-bash/ séance with his students (and why wasn't I able to find a college this awesome?) with predictable results. Perky coed quickly becomes vessel for revenge-minded witchy-poo and red-blooded male viewers begin praying for a topless ritual or two.

Fans of obscure regional horror will be intrigued, but otherwise this rather tepid affair - even with excised 'R' rated footage back in place - will mostly deliver sweet dreams to modern viewers. It's a case of all talk, little action, as everyone stands around yakking about the implications of this occult mess. As a sign of how low the budget is, even the witch herself is more content to bend ears than twist necks, though murders do occur. One standpoint may find that Mark of the Witch's sole charm consists of Anitra Walsh's performance. As possessed Jill, the gamine beauty switches from sweet chastity to soulless, superior nut crunching (with a little stop or two for lusty legerdemain) with aplomb. Not only is Walsh gorgeous, she's a far more versatile actress than one might expect in such a movie. A trippy, downbeat ending offers the only other proof that Mark of the Witch has horrific subversion on the mind, otherwise it's a verbose trek to dullsville.

Devil Times Five:
From the more 'intellectual' side of 'grindhouse,' Devil Times Five looks more like a made-for-TV movie (with a little nudity thrown in) than an exploitive gore and sleaze festival. It doesn't help that the movie features the likes of Sorrell Booke (Boss Hogg to you Dukes of Hazzard fans) and Shelley Morrison (Rosario to you Will and Grace fans) as a couple, no less. Nonetheless, despite one atmospheric (if not totally ridiculous) murder scene, Devil Times Five - originally titled People Toys - is tepid, static, and (until a murder-crazed ending) mostly thrill-free. Conversely, it's also bizarre, campy, and so of-its-time that Devil Times Five should hold much appeal for fans of wretched '70s horror cinema.

Coincidentally, but not without significance is the fact that this movie numbers among its crew of writers, producers and others the surnames Blowitz, Loose and Wank. With help this crew crafts a fractured fairy tale wherein two groups intersect with tragic results. Group one consists of employees and wives of harsh magnate Papa Doc, a self-made man and hard worker whom no-one likes, but to whom all owe their livelihood. Group two consists of a bunch of sociopathic kids who have been freed from their shackles by a ridiculous van accident. At Papa Doc's vacation home, uneasy R&R meets the ABCs of crazy, as the psycho kids first ingratiate themselves to Doc's guests, then start offing them at will.

Pretty much everything about Devil Times Five is characterized by bland weirdness. Booke as Harvey Beckman, and other Papa Doc employees, are made to be in thrall to the imposing man. It's an interesting but under-explored subplot that exists, it seems, solely to outline marital tensions, tensions that mostly lead to cheesy scenes of sub-soft-core sex and bare breasts. Weirder still are the psycho kids themselves, including a militant black boy, a creepy 'nun' and an even creepier Leif Garrett in an early movie role. But if a clan of murderous kids isn't enough for you, you can enjoy the sexual abuse of Papa Doc's mentally handicapped handyman too. OK, so maybe Devil Times Five is actually loaded with grindhouse love.

So why is it so confounding? Ineptitude, mostly. Bright lighting, unimaginative framing and a relative dearth of tension saps much transgressive power Devil Times Five has. Pretty much all of the action, from dialog to murder scenes, is framed in dull medium shots - more boring than a locally produced used car commercial. A heck of a lot (except that one weird murder) takes place in flatly lit rooms that appear to be in a low-rent ski chalet, and frankly, there aren't any scares or uneasy feelings beyond wondering about the bizarre presence that is Sister Hannah (Gail Smale). Devil Times Five looks good and weird on paper, and has much to appeal to fans of sleazy and sucky '70s cinema, but as grindhouse horrors go it's in an odd class by itself.

The DVD

Video:
Mark of the Witch comes in a 1.78:1 widescreen ratio, just off a bit from its OAR of 1.66:1. This image is a might bit sharper than Devil Times Five, with colors just a tad more saturated. Authoring is free of defect, though the original print shows a bit of age and damage. This comes in a different (closer to correct) aspect ratio than the previous Image Entertainment release. Devil Times Five appears in a 1.33:1 full-frame ratio and looks darn swell for a film of this era and level of obscurity. The image, while somewhat soft, has fine levels of detail and has been authored to DVD without any glaring problems. Colors are on the bland, washed-out side, which somehow seems fitting for the TV-movie vibe created. Film damage, scratches and reel-change markers are the only things to really complain about. Using the aspect ratio of the original negatives sounds like the only difference between this and Code Red's earlier release of this title.

Sound:
Both movies come in (I think) Dolby 2.0 Stereo Audio, both show their age, and both need to be turned up a bit. Devil Times Five resembles a bowl of Rice Crispies, with lots of snap, crackle and pop, while Mark of the Witch fares a little better.

Extras:
Extras are limited to a Trailer for Mark of the Witch and six other Trailers for various and sundry old exploitation movies.

Final Thoughts:
For a grindhouse exploitation double bill, Mark of the Witch and Devil Times Five bring the bland and boring in stylish yet non-threatening ways. Mark features a good witchy performance from a super cutie, and a whole bunch of talking, but is mostly of interest for fans of vintage regional (in this case Texas) independent horror. Devil Times Five takes taboo killer kids and turns them into weird simulacra from a possible '70s sitcom. While there's little in the way of actual horror or exploitation here, horror fans who need to see (or possess) everything could do worse than give this single disc release a Rent It.

- Kurt Dahlke

~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com

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