The Night of the Devils (1972)

*. The Night of the Devils comes to us courtesy of the same Tolstoy story (“The Family of the Vourdalak”) that served as the source for the second tale in Bava’s Black Sabbath, where the family patriarch was played by Boris Karloff. I think that may be the most interesting thing to note about it though.
*. I don’t mean that it’s a bad movie, only that it’s very much what you’d expect from a low-budget (were there any other kind?) Italian horror film of this period.
*. The director, Giorgio Ferroni, had been active in the 1930s and ’40s and this was one of the last movies he made. I don’t think he was averse to this kind of material, but you still have to wonder how it would make someone feel to end their career on such a note.
*. As with most of its kind, you feel an odd disjunction in nearly every aspect of the production. It’s a classic story, but presented in a lurid, exploitive manner (including full nudity and gouts of red paint). The score, by Giorgio Gaslini, is beautiful but soars above the material (in a way that reminded me of Riz Ortolani’s work on Cannibal Holocaust). The effects, by Carlo Rambaldi (who went on to work on Alien, E.T., and Close Encounters of the Third Kind) are crude but occasionally effective. The melting face actually looks pretty good. There are moments of real visual art, revealing an almost painterly eye, even when relating the most gruesome events.

*. Of course the most obvious disjunction is in the sound. That’s to be expected with a lot of European movies of this type. I’m not even talking about the poor dubbing here, but bizarre effects like the boiing! sound when the father picks up the statue in the witch’s lair, or the way one person climbing a flight of stairs is accompanied by what sound like at least two sets of footsteps, or the way a car pulling to a stop in a leafy forest clearing makes the sound of tires squealing on pavement. Our senses seem to inhabit different dimensions.

*. So the bottom line is that if you like this kind of thing, this is exactly the kind of thing you’re going to get. You get zooms. Lots of zooms. You get eyes peering through cracks. In the opening dream montage you even get a skull covered in maggots, a note of pure Fulci that comes out of nowhere.
*. Since I do like this kind of thing, I enjoyed it. The pair of kids are a real treat, going from adorable cherubs sitting in a window to giggling demons. The twist at the end is pretty good. The story itself is a tight little package, and works itself out in the familiar but effective manner of a folk tale. As I say, it doesn’t stand out from a lot of similar Italian genre work of the time, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

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