So besides possessing a little girl in Georgetown and stalking the Earth as a young boy named Damien, what else was the Devil up to in the 1970s? Well, apparently, he made personal appearances at a mysterious asylum and rejected homosexuals from joining his minions!! Or at least that's what viewers are led to believe after witnessing the latest Double Feature DVD from Something Weird Video, coupling William Girdler's Louisville nightmare ASYLUM OF SATAN and Joe Wiezycki's Florida-based SATAN'S CHILDREN.
Soap opera regular Carla Borelli is Lucina Martin, a concert pianist who is mysteriously whisked away to an isolated sanitarium run by Dr. Specter (Louisville TV horror host Charles Kissinger) and his girl Friday Maxine (umm..Kissinger!). Her attempts to leave fail and as various patients are methodically murdered in bizarre fashions (snakes in a pool, a fall from an elevator shaft), Lucina also begins to lose her grip on reality, floating through otherworldly nightmares that may or may not be reality. Her boyfriend, Chris (somebody call the fashion police on Nick Jolley!), attempts to track her down, but will he find her in time before she becomes the next victim of the ASYLUM OF SATAN?
Granted, there is very little mystery or horror in ASYLUM OF SATAN. The fact that Maxine is really Specter in drag is obvious from the get-go and the attempts at shocks and chills fail miserably because of their simple lack of logic. Why are the patients being killed? Why was Lucina whisked away? Is the asylum part of an alternate universe? And what's with the ending? Besides making no sense whatsoever, ASYLUM is a pretty enjoyable ride. Borelli is a lovely heroine, there are some noteworthy makeup effects (the scarred demon in a rocking chair is a highlight), and the mansion location posing as the asylum is quite eerie and atmospheric. But Girdler can hardly be called an overlooked genius (like, say, S.F. Brownrigg). The cinematography is never more than pedestrian and often times recalls a period TV movie, and the performances are little more than adequate. Still, ASYLUM OF SATAN is mildly more interesting than any of Girdler's later horror films (GRIZZLY, ABBY) because of its low-budget origins. There's just something charming about its dislocated plotline and awkward structure, a certain intangible element that has endeared Girdler's films to the hearts of a select group of fans who have developed into a strong cult of Girdler fanatics.
SWV's transfer for ASYLUM OF SATAN is presented in full-frame and looks accurate. The print is acceptable for a film of this vintage (the original negative has apparently been lost to the ages), but is frequently grainy. The color isn't very detailed and looks washed out in certain sequences, but the dark sequences of the film (of which there are many) are considerably brighter than previous VHS versions. Mono mix is pretty good, crank it up to appreciate the groovy Nick Jolley theme!
After spending some rather mediocre time in Louisville, let's move on to Florida, where a crew of former TV filmmakers present a sordid little exploitation quickie that has developed a second life 30 years after its making. Leaving very little proof it even played in theaters circa 1974 (all trailers and promotional materials seem to have disappeared), the only surviving print of SATAN'S CHILDREN was released to video by Something Weird and became a mini-cult classic. Jam-packed with homophobic elements and thoroughly entertaining even when nothing is happening, this is a diamond in the rough well worth seeing at least once.
Bobby (Gary Oldman look-alike Stephen White) is an effeminate teenager whose home life is his own personal hell. His stepfather is an overbearing workaholic and his stepsister Janis is a voluptuous tease who provokes his libido at every turn. When Janis plans to expose Bobby's hidden stash of weed, he flees from the house and into the streets of the city, where he is picked up by a beefy biker who offers his home as shelter. Before Bobby can settle in, he's stripped, hog-tied, and gangraped in a car by the biker and his gang of horny rough trade pals! Left stranded in a field, he is discovered by a group of Satanists playing ball (!!) and nursed back to healthy by Sherry, who is charge of the cult while full-time leader Simon is away. When Sherry hangs three cultists for opposing her orders, Simon returns and buries her up to her neck in the sand for the ants to feast on. Bobby finally stops whining about how his ass hurts, escapes from the ranch (?), and wreaks his own personal vengeance. Will Satan accept him now?
SATAN'S CHILDREN is, at a glance, very similar to a gay porn film circa 1974 without the graphic sex. The sleazy atmosphere of the film and its locations (mainly a suburban home, an isolated farmhouse, and the big city), not to mention most of the limp camerawork, the washed-out print, and the tinny sound recording, could be mistaken for a number of 8mm gay loops produced by Colt and Bullet in the 1970s. It doesn't help matters that several of the male cast members resemble popular gay porn stars of the time: "Bobby" is a dead ringer for one of the Christy Twins (HEAVY EQUIPMENT), "Simon" is a sleazier variant of Paul Barresi. On the other side of the spectrum, Monica, the lesbian cultist, resembles Georgina Spelvin!! However, contrary to these condemning factors, the film was not shot by homosexuals or even pornographers. This leaves an even worse taste in the mouth, confirming that SATAN'S CHILDREN is just nastily homophobic. Gay men are viewed as either leering old pedophiles or butch rapists; lesbians continue to harass women after their initial advances are rebuffed. Monica is rejected by Satan, who makes her vomit blood, and Bobby is cast aside as a weak victim of society who cannot become a member of the sect. Only after committing a series of heinous crimes is he fit to become a Satanist. Quite an odd message from a low-budget exploitation film that barely registered at the box office even in its home state. But I think we still know which side of the rainbow Bobby prefers by the way he saunters back to the ranch for the finale.
OK, enough social commentary: is SATAN'S CHILDREN any good as a film? I said it about ASYLUM OF SATAN and I'll say it about this one: it has its charms. It's not technically well-made and the acting is all pretty horrendous (only Joyce Malloy as Janis and Robert C. Ray II as Simon register a performance), but the obvious low budget works in its favor (listen to the Moog score and you'll see what I mean). Somehow this feels like how a Satanic cult would behave in real life, and the fact that they seem closer to the Manson Family than the Church of Satan doesn't hurt things, either. Bobby's sudden turn into a psychopath isn't easily forgotten and is quite effectively lit and shot. Plus, think about it: you're seeing a movie that maybe a handful of people saw in the theater and yet somehow survived to make it to DVD! That gives it some kind of special appeal, and the kitschy 70s trappings of SATAN'S CHILDREN make it an interesting time capsule piece, commemorating a time when it was cool to be non-PC.
The transfer for SATAN'S CHILDREN is as good as it can be considering that the print used may be the only one is existence. Blacks are greenish during fade-outs and fade-ins, colors are not detailed and are instead washed-out, giving the film an even better feel of the 70s. The mono sound isn't bad.
Fasten your seatbelts: if you didn't dig the films (what's wrong with you?), the extras will leave you smiling! The centerpiece of the disc is an audio commentary by William Girdler historian Patty Breen and Majestic International Pictures' Jeffrey C. Hogue on ASYLUM OF SATAN. While Hogue chimes in every now and then, Breen is the star of this commentary. Having conducted painstaking research on her subject and revealing behind-the-scenes details on every single aspect of the film (she even points out why a cat passing by the camera doesn't have a tail!), Breen should be heard on every Girdler disc made available. Not surprisingly, the commentary is a lot more entertaining to listen to than the film is to watch a second time and listeners will likely find them revisiting the commentary sooner than expected; Breen spouts off so much information it's hard to take it all in the first viewing! Seven minutes of behind-the-scenes footage of ASYLUM OF SATAN primarily shows outtakes of the ritualistic climax and a dream sequence featuring Carla Borelli, but it's still interesting to see how Girdler commanded a set on a low-budget film like this one.
Every trailer on this disc is a must-see film. Up first is ASYLUM OF SATAN. This seems to actually be three separate short trailers edited together to make one complete preview; the editing is very well-done and the preview sells the film much better than you would expect. DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT is the masterpiece of SF Brownrigg's Texas horror quartet. The trailer is missing the opening scream from Rosie Holotik, but does feature Junior's dream sequence from LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT under the "It's only a movie..." ballyhoo. Every character from the film is introduced (except for "Jennifer" and "Sam"), usually in outtakes from the film. Highly recommended. DR. TARR'S TORTURE DUNGEON is a Mexican horror film based on a Poe short story directed by Jose Montezuma, the man who brought you the brilliant ALUCARDA. Packed with surreal visuals, outlandish costume and set design, and some truly startling setpieces, this looks like another film influenced by Montezuma's own Panic Theatre. Looks pretty wild! HORROR HIGH is another Texas horror flick; director Larry Stouffer (who worked with Brownrigg on KEEP MY GRAVE OPEN) delivered this very atmospheric and creepy late-night favorite of a teenage boy who changes into a monster to seek revenge on the teachers and students who make fun of him. Plus it has scream queen fave Rosie Holotik in one of her only three film appearances!! HOUSE OF MISSING GIRLS has no IMDB listing and I couldn't identify the gorgeous lead actress Anna Gayle (a mix between Cristina Galbo and Marie Liljedahl), but she's exposed enough in the trailer that the film looks very promising. It looks European, and I wonder what the original title is. HOUSE OF THE DAMNED is a black-and-white film from 1963 that looks like a haunted house ghost story, but instead features Richard Kiel (EEGAH!, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME), a legless man, and various other circus freaks. Looks very startling and terrifying! It doesn't look like it's had a video release. THE HOUSE THAT VANISHED is aka SCREAM...AND DIE! from Jose Larraz, director of VAMPYRES. The trailer has music from KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS and being from Hallmark, also uses the "It's only a movie...." ballyhoo once again. MANSION OF THE DOOMED looks like a pretty disturbing film. A doctor removes the eyes from unwilling donors to provide sight for his blind daughter. Kind of like a sick 70s version of EYES WITHOUT A FACE. Scenes of eyeless people screaming and grabbing at each other are pretty unnerving; Gloria Grahame (BLOOD AND LACE) is always worth seeing, too. THE MURDER CLINIC was released as part of the "Orgy of the Living Dead" triple bill as REVENGE OF THE LIVING DEAD; it's not a living dead film, though, it's another variation on EYES WITHOUT A FACE. It seems to be a krimi film, as a hooded killer stalks women with a straight razor, and has plenty of atmosphere and dread. Wish this film was more readily available.
After you're done viewing the trailers over and over again (they're that good!), you might want to visit THE SOUL SNATCHER, a condensed version of the 1965 feature of the same name. Do yourself a favor: don't. OK, I take that back. Besides having an irresistible classical music score (love those 60s NYC films!) and regular NYC nudie narrator Dan Hughes providing play-by-play narration, there is the lovely Darlene Bennett painting nude portraits while a fan blows up her skirt. Other than that one scene with Darlene, you can probably watch this in fast-forward and not miss a thing. It's the standard Dr. Faustus story, except it's in color, stars a woman, and has some nudity thrown in for good measure. And it all could be a dream...? It's about a million yawns worth of viewing, so proceed at your own risk. Sorry, Darlene, even you couldn't save this one for me. If THE SOUL SNATCHER leaves you disappointed, pop on over to watch "Satan's Dance," an interesting novelty dance short subject. Lorraine Lane, a burlesque entertainer, performs a one-woman show with her right arm playing Satan, who dances and romances with her. I thought it was pretty entertaining; people just don't do this anymore!
If that wasn't enough, there are two more supplements worth checking out: the gallery on this disc isn't the usual exploitation art with radio spots, but instead highlights some rare-as-hell comic book cover art (including Terror Tales, Witches' Tales, Tales from the Tomb, and many more) backed by pretty catchy rock music by The Dead Elvi (who also contributed tunes to the MONSTERS CRASH THE PAJAMA PARTY disc). Tired of looking at your TV? First, get your head examined! What's the matter with you?! Then run right back to the disc and open up the booklet "Girdler, the Devil and Asylum of Satan", a lengthy, informative essay by Patty Breen. This woman continues to amaze me with her never-ending knowledge of the tres obscure Mr. William Girdler. Not only will this essay make you revisit ASYLUM OF SATAN (with or without commentary), but you'll also find yourself tracking down Girdler's other films, like THREE ON A MEATHOOK, THE ZEBRA KILLER (good luck with this one!), ABBY, GRIZZLY, and THE MANITOU.
With some viewers calling this Something Weird's best disc so far, I can't echo the sentiment, but this is still a very entertaining double feature disc that will invite reviewings sooner than expected. I've already slipped the DVD into my player three times and I can't explain it! Good job, Something Weird. When glancing through the many NYC and California exploitation flicks in your catalog, remember that the Southern pics are just as rewarding viewing experiences, as evidenced here.
information on William Girdler, visit
information on the making of SATAN'S
CHILDREN, visit http://www.big13.net
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