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Satan's Blood

Mondo Macabro // Unrated // February 28, 2006 // Region 0
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted March 12, 2006 | E-mail the Author
Satan's Blood (Escalafrio, or "Chiller," 1977), a post-Franco Spanish horror film, is a real curiosity. Parts of the film live up to its Euro-trash classification, to say nothing of its "S"-for-sex rating in Spain, with its sometimes ludicrous if explicit mix of sex (especially) and gore. It's the kind of film that would certainly earn an NC-17 in today's more conservative climate, and many would regard the film as borderline porn. Most of it, however, is actually quite moody and effective, though it requires its protagonists to behave so stupidly that you may be screaming at the screen not in horror, but frustration, by the final reel. As usual, Mondo Macabro has treated the movie with the same kind of reverence Criterion reserves for Bergman and Tarkovsky.

The story is simple: Bored lovers Andy (Jose Guillen, who looks like a Spanish Jacques Perrin) and Annie (Angel Aranda, a Hispanic Catherine Hicks) are driving around town (after seeing Star Wars) when a couple in another car pulls alongside. Bruno (Jose Maria Guillen) claims to remember Andy from their university days, though Andy can't place him. In any event Bruno and his girlfriend, Mary (Mariana Karr), invite Annie and Andy back to their place for some wine and cheese.

After a protracted drive far out into the country the foursome, accompanied by Annie's German shepherd Blackie, arrive at Bruno and Mary's remote mansion where the latter couple's strange behavior seems to gradually pull Andy and Annie into the dark world of satanic rituals.*

The bulk of the film follows Andy and Annie (Andres and Ana in the Spanish version) as they react to Bruno and Mary's increasingly odd and disturbing behavior, and their squirming efforts to get away. Much of this is creepy and effective, partly because the story's many unsettling yet subtly-done images: a sinister-looking doll that comes alive during a dream sequence, Mary's penchant for raw meat which she slurps up like an animal, etc.

At its best, the film treads the same precarious waters Stanley Kubrick navigated somewhat unsuccessfully in Eyes Wide Shut (1999), with Andy and Annie as much turned on as repelled by the erotic/religious depravity of their mysterious companions. The film walks a very fine line between the disturbing and the silly - do devil-worshippers really "oil up" before group sex? - but some of it is fairly creepy.

The down side is that any mystery about what's going on evaporates with the picture's insanely gratuitous and misleading opening: a satanic orgy of fondled breasts, simulated rape, horny devil-worshipers, and bloody violence - all within the first two minutes of screen-time. None of it has anything to do with the rest of the movie - it plays instead like a crassly commercial decision of the producer to get as much soft-core sex right up front as possible.

Another problem is Annie and Andy's outrageous gullibility and their refusal to simply get-the-Hell-out. They make all the wrong decisions, and one lame excuse after another prevents them from simply walking away. "Let me take a shower first," Andy actually says at one point - I'll bet Spanish moviegoers were probably throwing their popcorn and Chuckles at the screen by then.

Video & Audio

Satan's Blood (also known as Don't Panic) is presented in an excellent 16:9 transfer cropped to 1.77:1, approximating the original 1.85:1 theatrical release (in glorious "Dinavision" and Eastman Color). The image is sharp with accurate color, and Spanish titles are used. The film defaults to a mono English-dubbed track but the viewer can also select the original Spanish track with optional English subtitles. The English track, incidentally, is far cleaner than the Spanish one, which has its share of crackles and pops, though it's okay.

Extra Features

As has become the norm for Mondo Macabro releases, Satan's Blood is fairly packed with supplements. About the Film is a very informative essay by Pete Tombs about this particular sub-genre of Spanish horror, and how the abolition of censorship laws resulted in an anything-goes atmosphere in Spain's genre films for several years.

An Alternate Opening, which can be programmed to play as part of the feature presentation, offers a brief lecture that attempts, weakly, to justify the mayhem to come. An exhaustive Stills Galleries (sic) put most such features to shame, with lots of interesting images.

Finally, The Devil's Disciples: Gavin Baddeley on 20th Century Satanism is a surprisingly articulate mini-documentary on the subject, featuring the author of Lucifer Rising and Goth Chic and Dissecting Marilyn Manson, who's also an ordained Reverend in The Church of Satan. This runs 24 minutes and is also 16:9 though obviously sourced from PAL.

Parting Thoughts

Satan's Blood is a very mixed bag of writhing naked bodies, blood and gore, stupid protagonists, and little glimmers of smart suspense and atmospheric horror. It's not good but by no means a disaster either and comes recommended for adventurous genre fans.

* Every time I review a film about devil-worshipers, I receive lots of emails from readers arguing that satanic should be capitalized. I have no idea what drives the passion over this particular word but, as I point out here, I reference The Associated Press Style Book on such matters and, according to them, "Satan but lowercase devil and satanic." So let it be written, so let it be done.

Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf - The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune and Taschen's forthcoming Cinema Nippon. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.

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