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Devil's Plaything, The

POPcinema // R // November 8, 2005
List Price: $12.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted November 2, 2005 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

Better known in horror movie circles as Veil Of Blood, Joseph Sarno's 1974 vampire sex film comes to North American DVD for the first time under the alternate British title of The Devil's Plaything.

We first learn of a sinister female vampire named Baroness Varga who was executed in the mountains of Germany where she was found guilty of drinking the blood of nubile young women. Before she breathed her last, however, she claimed that she'd come back and live again off of the blood of the local women folk.

Fast forward to the modern day (well, the modern day of 1974, at least), and two pretty young girls are heading up to the hill country to check out a creaky old castle that their recently deceased aunt has left to them in her will. When they arrive, the find that a young couple named Peter and Julie has had some car trouble and they too are hoping to hole up in the old castle for the night until they can get things sorted out in the morning.

What the four young people soon learn is that the castle is not at all what it seems – and it is soon made apparent to them that the housekeeper who they thought to be able to trust is in fact the high priestess of a cult dedicated to resurrecting the spirit of Baroness Varga. She and her servants hold all manner of arcane Satanic and sexual rituals that further their cause, and it just so happens that these unfortunates have shown up on a night that they could very much use some fresh blood for their ceremonies.

It should be noted that this release is the R-rated version of the film and as such, it goes to reason that it is trimmed. The good news is that included inside the packaging is a coupon that you can redeem for an uncut version of the film on DVD (as long as you're over eighteen) by sending in the barcode, the order form, and $3.00 to cover shipping and handling.

Light on plot but high on gothic atmosphere and bongo music, The Devil's Plaything doesn't reinvent the wheel but it does manage to stir up some mood and a few of the steamier scenes are definitely hot stuff. The dubbing doesn't help the film or do it any favors but the same can be said about a lot of European horror movies of the same period – it's really no worse than average on this film. Fans of Jean Rollin or some of Jess Franco's material should appreciate the way that this movie unfolds as there are a few similarities to their work in here, even when you subtract the copious amount of lesbian vampires crammed into the movie.

The DVD

Video:

The 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer shows its age but looks decent for the most part. There's some heavy grain in a few scenes and some mild print damage is obvious in a few shots, especially in the first few minutes of the film, but the colors look pretty decent and the black levels stay strong and constant. Some of the fine detail gets lost a bit in the shadowy lighting but the flesh-tones look lifelike and natural. Mpeg compression artifacts are a non-issue, though there is some mild line shimmering present in a few spots.

Sound:

The English language Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack is somewhat on the flat side but at least you can hear everyone reasonably well. The dialogue comes throughout without any problems and though there are a couple of spots where the performers sound slightly muffled, overall the levels are okay and there's never more than minute hiss present in the background of the mix. No alternate language tracks or subtitles are provided.

Extras:

Extras wise, there's a keen little documentary on here entitled Joe Sarno – A Touch Of Horror that takes a look at his more macabre output. This is a six and a half minute long discussion with Sarno who talks about the history of the feature, the sets, the locations (the main castle belonged to a relative of the film's German producer) and the performers involved in making the feature. He also talks about the sexual side of vampires and how it made for a good movie.

In addition to that, there are trailers for other Retro-Shock-O-Rama releases available from EI Cinema (though no trailer for the feature itself, sadly), and an insert containing some interesting liner notes from Sarno biographer Michael Bowen.

Final Thoughts:

While it's annoying that the uncut version isn't on this release, at least EI has made it available through mail order. As far as the movie goes, cuts aside, The Devil's Plaything is a reasonably atmospheric and sexy seventies vampire outting with plenty of cult appeal and lots of lovely naked ladies. The movie looks and sounds decent enough and the short Sarno documentary is a nice touch. Considering that the uncut version is made available to those who purchase this release (even if it's a minor inconvenience), it comes recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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