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Brotherhood of Satan, The

Columbia/Tri-Star // PG // August 13, 2003
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted August 11, 2002 | E-mail the Author
Devil worshipping cults have become such a benign part of society, its still hard to believe the popularity they had in the late 60's and 70's horror. We now know that most of these Satanic cults that popped up in the "free love" era were nothing more than hippies, beatniks, swingers, and Sammy Davis Jr. trying to get laid and using some old Pagan facade to instigate it. But, at the time, there was a palpable fear in the US that our everyday common neighborhoods and elite social groups were being over-run with Devil worshipping cultists. But, then we wised up. By the 80's we knew better. We knew that the Devil did not spend his time trying to get mom and pop in middle America and turn Tupperware parties and backyard barbecues into orgies for the Dark Lord. We knew in the 80's the Devil was, in fact, actually working his dark magic under the guise of our more popular spandex and leather clad, hairsprayed and heavily makeuped members of heavy metal bands.

Anyway, two years before The Exorcist brought the 'Devil movie' to the peak of its popularity, 1971's The Brotherhood of Satan hit the screens. More precisely, probably the drive-in screens... The story concerns the small backwoods burg of Hillsborough, where for the past five days no one has been able to leave without meeting some fatal accident, outside communication is severed, children are disappearing and their parents found dead. Vacationing widower, Ben, his daughter KT, and new girlfriend Nicky get trapped in Hillsborough and meet the puzzled, somewhat panicking, residents, including the local priest, sheriff, and doctor. Meanwhile, somewhere in the town, a group of old people, three robe wearing wraiths, and their leader are conducing witchy pagan ceremonies in anticipation of some great event about to happen. This lot of occult octogenarians turn on each other pretty quickly, tearing one member apart faster than a monkey on a cupcake because in her past she had her kid baptized. The priest does his research and determines a cult is performing some ritual with the children, they need one more and KT has disappeared. So its up the sheriff, the priest, and a rabbi... oops, I mean Ben, to try and stop them.

The biggest names in this harmless, funky little b-picture are classic good ol' boy actors Strother Martin as the doctor (really just a cameo) and, as the sherrif, b-film producer/actor, perpetual redneck cowpoke L. Q. Jones (aka. Justus McQueen) , who is best known as the director of the low budget, sci fi classic A Boy and His Dog. He's sort of the Sam Elliot prototype; the last thing I recall seeing him in was Scorsese's Casino where he was the Texas bigwig commissioner uncle(?) of Joe Bob Briggs dumbass casino manager. The Brotherhood of Satan was produced by Jones, who must have an affinity for the genre since the titles of the previous two films he produced were The Devils Bedroom and The Witchmaker. The film was directed by Bernard Mcveety, whose imdb resume reads like a classic tv guide since he has done episodes of Gunsmoke, Wild Wild West, Hawaii 5-0, Planet of the Apes, Incredible Hulk, Waltons, Rockford Files, Eight is Enough, Charlie's Angels, Dukes of Hazard, Buck Rogers, Knight Rider, Voyagers, The A-Team, Misfits of Science, to name a few, with his most notable film being the 70's kid classic Napoleon and Samantha.

The Brotherhood of Satan doesn't deliver anything quite as unsettling as Max Von Sydow grimacing and huffing, "The power of Christ compels you." while little Linda Blair writhes around and hisses. It also doesn't deliver a great finale like a dissolving goat-Borgnine in The Devils Rain, or a laughably wooden MST3k worthy acting like The Touch of Satan, or a good cast like To the Devil a Daughter. But, it is a fair b-movie, certainly a sight better than some of the films in the genre. It is saved by some neat sequences with great trippy direction and cinematography that could come out of no other era than the late 60's/early 70's. Particularly there is a great dream sequence, and some cliched but nostalgic uses of fog, spooky dolls, howling dogs, a neat subdued beheading, and the same old devil movie stuff like the robed cultists chanting some "Hail Satan!... Evil Rules!" mumbo jumbo. Its big twist ending would probably make Rod Serling happy. Also, it came out way before Children of the Corn hit bookshelves and theater screens, yet it has some very similar moments, imagery, and plotting.

Even though its just a b-movie, it has some stumbles that keep it from being a great b-movie. One of the pitfalls of a devil worship horror film has always been the sect leader. For some reason these guys were always cast with the most impossibly bad, scene chewing, drama theater reject, over-actors that the producers could find. Here we get a similar case where our cult leader begs so much to say "I am Maniacal" with every line reading and facial expression that he goes from laughable to annoying the more screen time he gets. The plot is full of pretty big holes, like why a small town doesn't notice its old people are evil, or how laid back the sheriff and crew are when such strange things are going on (Mayberry meets Mestopholes). The film reaches its climax faster than a virgin on prom night. Its low budget is a mixed affair, on one hand helping such scenes, like some of the deaths (showing two parents oddly convulsing instead of gore, and a beheading done in silhouette with quick, expert cuts), and hampering other parts (like the bulk of the good guys scenes being sequestered in the sheriffs office location). But, I'm more of a gore/nudity lover when it comes to my exploitation, and The Brotherhood of Satan with its PG 'should be PG-13' rating isn't really catering to that crowd.

The DVD: Columbia.

Picture: Widescreen. Anamorphic. Looks really good for an old b-movie. Psychedelic colors come through fine. The contrast is good. Any loss of sharpness, grain, or wear and tear is due to the films era/budget, and it surprisingly is fairly spot and dirt free. At least, I expected it to look worse. On the transfer side, it does suffer from quite a bit of edge enhancement, but the b-film fan should still be pretty pleased with this anamorphic print.

Sound: English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono with optional English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, and Thai subtitles. Well, its not the caliber of film to show off your sound system with. At times the soundtrack, fx noise, and dialogue all fight for space in the center channels and muffle together a little. For me its one of the fond points of older films. I don't mind even the occasional pop, reminds me of the era. Anyway, the sound here is fine, audible, with the occasional flaw here and there thats just a product of its budget and age.

Extras: 28 Chapters--- Trailers for Creature Features, Hollow Man, and The Craft.

Conclusion: Not the best example of the genre. Not the worst either, but I'd say it isn't going to make any converts to the old drive-in devil film. Some neat direction just manages to deliver the goods. The transfer is darn fine for an old b-movie, but it is also a bit pricey for a barebones b-picture, so for that reason it gets a recommended just for the fans out there and a rental for everyone else.

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