When the history of home video is written, few will deny the impact and import of DVD. Unlike VHS, which became a product of scientifically dimishing returns (technically and aesthetically), the promise of preservation has lead many studios and distributors to take advantage of the one and done dynamic. Indeed, many believe that once they place a title on the format, they no longer have to worry about keeping the fans happy. They've more or less done their job. And while the question of added content (or the lack thereof) constantly countermands such a position, the truth is that many obscure or outright unnecessary releases benefit greatly from a collection of complementary material. Take Satan's Slave, for example. Already available in severely edited, full screen versions, this mid '70s shocker is held in high regard by devotees of its cast and its creator - director Norman J. Warren (Terror, Inseminoid). Up until now, these shoddy presentations were all you could experience. Scorpion Releasing has found an uncut widescreen print, and is offering it complete with a slew of enticing extras. If you are going to devote a disc to an otherwise mid-range title from four decades past, this is the way to do it...sort of.
Initially, we see someone in an oversized goat mask sacrificing a naked girl in front of a collection of hooded figures. Then, a cad named Stephan Yorke (Martin Potter) attacks his girlfriend with a pair of scissors. The outcome is not pleasant. Then, it's a typical trip to the country for Catherine Yorke (Candace Glendenning) and her parents. While on the way to visit eccentric Uncle Alexander (Michael Gough), there is a car crash and the young girl is the only survivor. Suddenly, she finds herself in her weird relative's home, complete with the murderous Stephan and the loyal assistant Frances (Barbara Kellerman). After experience a series of haunting hallucinations, our heroine discovers the truth. She will be used as part of a ritual to avenge the death of family witch, Camilla...and as Catherine is about to turn 20, the timing is perfect.
Satan's Slave is the hackneyed horror equivalent of The Pixies. No, not in quality (Black Francis and the gang are geniuses, and we did use the word 'hackneyed'), nor is it on par with their lasting legacy as artists. Instead, this Norman J. Warren film predated the post-punk icons with its 'quietLOUD' approach to horror. In other words, like the seminal rock combo, Slave spends inordinately large amounts of time doing very little, only to suddenly speed up and start spreading the dread. There are sequences of inconsolable dullness here. There are also amazing moments of bloody goodness. So, depending on how you like your ersatz Hammer fright fests, complete with comely lasses wearing next to nothing, you will either enjoy the schizo sentiments expressed by this effort, or feel it's much ado about boredom. Indeed, if you can get past the endless conversations, lack of real suspense, the flawed feeling of familiarity and the dearth of any or all plot twists toward the end (the movie gives itself away pre-credits), then - by all means - saddle up and strap in. It won't be a bumpy ride, just a relatively calm kiddy-style rollercoaster trek.
It has to be said that, back when it was first released, something like Satan's Slave would have caused a scandal. It was, in fact, heavily edited before making its way around the world. The scissor sequence was cut, as was a latter attack on a nude girl. Here, we get to see everything, and it does have an impact. Just think, as Tobe Hopper was hiding the gorier bits of his chainsaw massacre in Texas, Warren was playing Lucio Fulci with someone's eyeball. It's not up to today's level of torture Hostel-ity, but the blood here saves it from being a total waste. Along with several solid performances (Gough and Ms. Glendenning 'get' this movie and make the most of it) and a wealth of (often wasted) atmosphere, the film does have a lot going for it. Unfortunately, the script is silly, doing the standard "sacrifice for Satan" routine - or in this case, the resurrection of a witch - and doing it rather unexceptionally. We know that Catherine is going to be the target, know that her cousin Stephan is a creep and that Uncle Alexander has something sinister going on underneath his wry moustache...and getting to said reveals is rote and unexciting.
On the other hand, the DVD presentation will prepare you for such a situation. Katarina, who makes for a fetching horror hostess, provides lots of interesting background in her bookend material. Watching the intro may spoil the entire movie for you, but since the twists are as obvious as our guide's cleavage, the info doesn't really ruin much. Similarly, her wrap up features fun facts and some considered thoughts, not always available when someone sits down and plays Vampira (or Elvira, or Svengoolie, or Zachary...). The added content boosts the otherwise ordinary narrative. We get a few era specific making-ofs, as well as features focusing on the music and the various players as they appear today. When put together, they argument for the aforementioned assessment - that is, how home video can transform a tired entry into something significant. Now, there is no one who will argue that Satan's Slave is a lost classic, no matter who is playing the victim/victimizer. On the other hand, a digital presentation such as this can reconfigure our appreciate to the point where recommendations, not rejections become the norm.
First, the good news. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen image preserves Warren's original AOR. Letterboxing definitely makes a difference here, as does the uncut nature of the print. However, the visual elements have seen better days. The colors are on the dark side and there are flaws and scratches in abundance. They never reach the level of unwatchability, but the various dust and dirt elements will bother format purists. Given the rarity of this version, all can be easily forgiven.
Mono is mono, no matter how you Dolby Digitalize it, wrap it up, and deliver it. While relatively clean, the mix is mired in muddled aural combinations and an occasional bit of distortion. Similarly, conversations are easy to understand, until the music wanders in to make things complicated. No one is expecting a pristine remaster. In fact, the sonic situation here fits the movie's Me Decade roots rather well.
First off, the film is indeed offered uncut. This is a rarity among various Satan's Slave/ Evil Heritage (an aka) releases. It is also presented, as stated before, in its original aspect ratio. We are given the option of watching the film with or without our hostess' input, and there is a collection of trailers and deleted scenes (neither really mandatory to your viewing enjoyment). Warren also offers up an interesting short film (Fragments) while the distributor packs on a Behind the Scenes from the early '70s, a discussion of the music with composer John Scott, and a brand new documentary detailing the movie's making from many who were involved. Together, it makes a case for Scorpion Releasing's desire to make this film available to fright fans everywhere.
Sometimes, a movie begs for better treatment on the digital format. There are hundreds of classic and cult favorites just waiting for something beyond the barest of bones. On the other hand, companies like Scorpion Releasing deserve credit for understanding the commercial possibilities of their product. Instead of putting Satan's Slave out in a typical (and tired) DVD package, they've plumped things up with a delightful hostess and a nice collection of added content. Earning a Recommended rating as a result, this is one film that, while not frightening you, will definitely redeem your curiosity. This is not a forgotten gem. Instead, it's an interesting example of a particular time in terror bolstered by a nice supply of supplements.
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