Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary defines incomprehensible as not capable of being comprehended or understood; beyond the reach of the human intellect; inconceivable. A better adjective to describe BLACK MAGIC RITES I can not fathom. Baffling, bewildering and obscure, Renato Polselli’s follow up to DELIRIUM requires multiply viewing, not because the film is that great, but because it is highly unlikely that you will be able to walk away from an initial viewing with any clear conceivable notion of what just happened.
A satanic cult requires the blood and eyes of seven virgins in order to resurrect the corpse of the persecuted witch Isabella (Rita Calderoni, NUDE FOR SATAN), who was impaled and burned at the stake some 500 years ago. A gathering of friends and acquaintances at an ancient castle conveniently provides the perfect opportunity for the faction's members to collect such ingredients. Among the guests present is Laureen, also played by Rita Calderoni, stepdaughter to the castle's newest occupant (Mickey Hargitay, BLOODY PIT OF HORROR) who bares an uncanny resemblance to the deceased witch. As the night stretches out before them, the unknowing guests set a stage of lesbian encounters, wild accusations and ritualistic blood letting, which may inadvertently assist in the reincarnation of Isabel.
BLACK MAGIC RITES jumps back and forth from the present day to the night Isabel was burned at the stake via flashbacks in such a random fashion that it is virtually impossible to decipher any rhyme or reason to their inclusion. The best one can hope for is to soak in enough knowledge of the proceedings to gather some resemblance of a plot. The only thing that is abundantly clear is that a satanic sect has plans to resurrect the witch known as Isabel. Confusion is however added with the inclusion of numerous vampire trappings, leading you to question the film's standings. Several women are found dead or unconscious with bite marks on their necks, one character refers to himself as Dracula and before being licked by the flames of an angry mob, Isabel is screwed with a stake through the heart. All tell tale signs of a vampire film, but ones that are deluded by the picture's satanic witchcraft trappings. Worst of all are the haphazard jumps from day to night, usually in the same scene. One minute it’s the stroke of midnight, the next it’s three in the afternoon. The picture simple can’t make up its mind as to its time period, its genre or even its surroundings.
Most of the cast present worked with Polselli previously on DELIRIUM, including Raul Lovecchio, Christa Barrymore, William Darni and Rita Calderoni, who stands out throughout the film both for her screen presence and her various states of undress. Most of the women present show more than their fair share of flesh, which is always nice but it is the men who venture the most iconic imagery. For their black mass congregations, each male cult member dresses head to toe in skin-tight, red jumpsuits and are adorned with silk capes -- outfits that resemble a convention of rejected satanic superheroes. Visually the cult members do little to educe a sense of fear but what is hilarious about the proceedings is how seriously each actor appears to be taking their role. Constantly mugging for the camera, it’s hard not to laugh as it evidently clear that not even the cast making the picture where privy to its purpose.
Visually, BLACK MAGIC RITES is an amusing, if not bewildering portion of Euro Trash. It is only when combined with the film's nonsensical script (assuming there was one) that the film begins to fall apart. If you have ever purchased or watched a bootleg in which the film's spoken language is an unfamiliar one and without the benefit of subtitles, then you can understand the frustration and rewards of such a viewing experience. As your brain tries to piece together the film's events, you start to create a story that is unique to you and quite often, more entertaining then that of the original film. Bare that in mind when viewing BLACK MAGIC RITES, those subtitles are optional, as you would probably benefit from creating your own plot than following the one originally intended. Granted you will miss out on such classic lines as "Vampires need blood that's not contaminated by human semen.”
In 1998, Redemption released BLACK MAGIC RITES under its alternate title, THE REINCARNATION OF ISABEL, through its then distribution deal with Image Entertainment in a non-anamorphic transfer, and just a few years ago, Redemption USA released it 16x9 on DVD. Now Redemption and Kino Lorber bring this oddity to blu-ray disc, mastered in HD and 1080p resolution from the original 35mm negative. Presented in a 1.78:1 widescreen anamorphic transfer, the film looks pretty damn good, with some of the colors appearing quite eye-popping and detail is significantly sharp throughout. There are several instances of minor grain and speckling but nothing that will distract you from trying to piece together what the hell is going on. The mono audio, presented in its original Italian language with removable English subtitles, is nicely improved over the previous DVD release which had a less than stellar sounding track.
The original Italian trailer for the film is included, as are trailers for several Jean Rollin horrors and the upcoming Mario Bava classics HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON and LISA AND THE DEVIL. (Jason McElreath)
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