Night of the Sorcerers (V)

I was first introduced to the films of Spanish director Amando de Ossorio way back in 1995, by a sales clerk at my local Media Play. I was special ordering a difficult-to-locate VHS edition of Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste from a Canadian distributor and the sales clerk seemed impressed with my order.

“Hey, dude,” he said, leaning forward conspiratorially, “have you ever seen the ‘Blind Dead’ series?” His unbridled enthusiasm convinced me to order VHS copies of the first two films in de Ossorio’s “Blind Dead” series, Tombs of the Blind Dead and Return of the Blind Dead, along with my much-coveted copy of Bad Taste.

When the films finally arrived I was thoroughly amused by Jackson’s grungy and gory debut feature, but I wasn’t nearly as impressed with de Ossorio’s cinematic efforts. The Blind Dead series (1973-1975), with its frail Templar Knights and overly moody atmospherics, has always been kind of a joke to me. Not one of the films in the series is scary in the least, and the glacial pacing always left me longing for the more exciting films of Freddie Francis or Mario Bava, who were also directing horror films during de Ossorio’s heyday.

De Ossorio’s Night of the Sorcerers (1973) is unaffiliated with his Blind Dead series, and over the years it’s gained a fair amount of notoriety among cult film fans for its sexual violence and unmitigated kink.

The film begins with a white woman being captured in the jungles of Africa by a bunch of natives, some of whom appear to be wearing cotton henleys from J.C. Penney. She is tied to a tree and methodically whipped (a slightly gratuitous 27 times), as a piece of clothing falls from her underwear-free body after every 7th or 8th lashing, until the final strike results in her pants falling off, rendering her completely nude.

The satisfied native puts down his whip and awkwardly rapes her as his supportive fellow natives pound their drums and dance. She is carried to an altar and beheaded, but her decapitated head spins around and growls, sporting some pretty sweet fangs. Turns out she’s not dead after all. As the result of a voodoo curse she’s been transformed into a vampire who now has to tie her head to her neck with a pretty ribbon. A bunch of men in khaki show up and shoot all the natives dead.

Fast forward several years. A handful of male and female journalists head into the same African jungle to take photographs and get nude for no apparent reason. In between bouts of heavy petting and spontaneous baths, the women are lured into the jungle by the vampiric woman from the beginning of the movie, who is now sporting a fantastic leopard skin bikini and running in super scary slo-mo like Jack Nicholson in Wolf. One by one the women are lured from camp, whipped, and beheaded, only to arise the next night in a sexy new jungle ensemble and heavy-duty fangs, running through the trees in slo-mo alongside their new voodoo sorority sisters. And that’s pretty much the movie.

Night of the Sorcerers isn’t de Ossorio’s worst effort, but it’s hindered by more day-for-night shots than Old Yeller, and entire chunks of the film are mired in mind-numbingly boring dialogue. I don’t want to be a de Ossorio hater….I mean, the dude has definitely got his share of articulate fans, but other directors working other the same financial conditions during the same time period have managed to churn out far better films.

Whereas de Ossorio is primarily a director known for providing a rich, dire atmosphere, Night of the Sorcerers doesn’t have any genuinely eerie or dread-inducing moments. Even those titillated by early 70s grindhouse kink will find that the two whipping scenes, a respectable amount of sublime nudity, and an occasional flicker of cheap gore can’t lift the movie above its supremely dull script and head-bangingly slow pace. The recent DVD rerelease from Deimos includes a trailer, still gallery, and alternate “clothed” footage that was used in Spain in place of the nude scenes. The print looks good, but the fact that it’s full screen and not letterboxed is a disappointment. Recommended for de Ossorio diehards or curious connoisseurs of early 70s Spanish horror.

Official Score