I’m not a religious person. Not in the slightest bit. If you’re a religious person that’s cool but religion just isn’t for me. In fact, religion kind of creeps me out. So whenever I watch a movie that heavily deals with religion it’s likely to give me the chills. That’s exactly what happened with Mark of the Devil.
Mark of the Devil takes place in a small village in Austria during the 18th century. Allegedly it’s based off true stories. How true those stories are, I don’t know but I’m choosing to believe they’re pretty accurate because that makes the movie seem that much crazier. Albino (Reggie Nalder), the local witch hunter, has the entire village at his mercy. No one wants to cross Albino for fear that he will call them out as a witch. If he does, that’s pretty much it for you. There is no trial, no real chance for you to state your case and prove your innocence. It’s basically Albino’s word against yours and Albino’s word always win. Unfortunately this means you will be tortured to death.
Count Christian von Meruh (Udo Kier) shows up to town one day and immediately takes the power away from Albino. Christian is the apprentice to Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom), the most famous witch hunter there is. The arrival of Christian means Cumberland is soon to follow and he plans to turn things around. Cumberland does things a little more by the “book.” He holds trials of sorts and won’t execute anyone unless they have a confession. The trick is that he has people tortured until they confess and then he kills them. He’s really no different than Albino, but he likes to create a paper trail to cover himself.
From the start you can tell that Christian is good at heart. Yes, he does some bad things. Arrests some innocent people and partakes in the torturing to a degree, but he honestly believes he is doing the work of the church. He looks up to Lord Cumberland and sees him as a good, honest man. At one point he sees Albino beating a girl named Vanessa (Olivera Katarina) and claiming she’s a witch. In all reality Vanessa is no witch, she just refused to have sex with Albino. Christian breaks this up and sets Vanessa free and proceeds to beat Albino. When Cumberland claims Vanessa is a witch though and locks her up, Christian let’s it’s go because he believes Cumberland to be honest.
Eventually Christian comes around. He realizes that Cumberland and Albino are one in the same. Neither is really doing the work of God but rather using religion and scare tactics to control the villagers and gain power and money. It’s not long before he sees the dark side of the church and decides he won’t take it anymore.
Mark of the Devil certainly deals quite heavily in religion. Whether it’s pro or anti religion is up to the viewer. I kind of think it’s a little bit of both. What’s scary is that even though this movie takes place so long ago, there’s still people today that use church and religion the same way. Sure, people aren’t being tortured these days like they were in Mark of the Devil, but plenty of people use religion as a scare tactic to gain power and control. And that’s pretty insane.
Mark of the Devil is quite violent, even shockingly so at times. Yeah, some of the effects may look a little cheesy these days, but for the most part it all holds up really well. There are a few torture scenes that really made me squirm. I’m especially not fond of people being stretched. The sound of the stretching and the poor girls screams are almost piercing. You can feel her pain, it’s brutal. The worst however, is the Chinese water torture, which seems silly on the surface, but man when you see someone going through that you can understand why it drives them to madness. Just imagine that for a moment. A drop of water repeatedly hitting you over and over and over and over in the same exact spot for who knows how long. It’s unbelievable that this stuff has happened in real life.
Nalder’s portrayal of Albino is such a slimy, creep of a person. He really makes a good villain and he’s the complete opposite of Kier’s Christian. Everything about Albino just seems to filthy and sinister. Christian on the other hand is a wonder boy. It’s almost distracting but Udo Kier is just so pretty, especially when compared to everyone else in the film. A lot of the film feels dirty and gross but then you see Kier and he’s just pretty. There’s literally no other way to describe Udo Kier in this movie other than to say that he is pretty.
Mark of the Devil made me miss zooms. Movies these days don’t zoom in enough. Cinematographer Ernst W. Kalinke was not shy about it, however. There are so many zooms in the movie and each one is fantastic. The best is in the scene where Albino is beating Vanessa. Christian walks in and we zoom in on his face a bit. Then Albino’s face. Then a zoom on Vanessa’s face. Then we zoom in on each one once again but this time the zoom gets closer. The cuts between Albino and Christian are great. The juxtaposition between those two is clearly highlighted in this scene and it’s all thanks to the wonderful zooms. A YouTube video of all the zooms from Mark of the Devil would be fantastic. Someone should get on that.
I loved all of Mark of the Devil until I got to the ending. The ending isn’t necessarily bad and I understand why it ends the way it does but I didn’t like it. It just didn’t feel satisfying as whole, although parts of it did. It didn’t ruin my overall enjoyment of the film but it did leave a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.
Mark of the Devil is currently available on a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack from Arrow Films and it is another stellar Arrow release. Like most Arrow releases this is pretty loaded in terms of special features. The standout special feature is probably a documentary called Mark of the Times. This documentary is about the new wave of British directors that rose to prominence in the 60’s and 70’s. It’s fascinating and packed with information.
My personal favorite however, is Hallmark of the Devil. In this feature Michael Gingold from Fangoria discusses Hallmark Releasing and the unique marketing approach they took for most of their films. For example, American audiences that saw Mark of the Devil in theaters were given a barf bag. This was done of course to promote how extreme and graphic the movie was. Old gimmicks like this were usually an exaggeration, but this one is pretty spot on. Mark of the Devil is indeed very graphic.
While Mark of the Devil isn’t likely to be the most graphic or extreme movie you’ve ever seen, I’d wager it stills ranks up there even by today’s standards. Every bit of violence and on-screen torture is impactful. The movie just feels filthy and that’s very much appropriate. It may not be scary in the traditional sense, but it’s disturbing and creeped me out. As far as witch hunting tales go, you can’t really do much better than Mark of the Devil.
Mark of the Devil is now available on Blu-ray from Arrow Films.