Directors: Lance Comfort and Don Sharp
Fox Home Entertainment

With Fox now distributing the home video releases of MGM’s vast library of cinematic treasures, they have decided to use the Midnight Movies banner for their own collection of genre delights. This means that we now have a slew of deliciously macabre releases to look forward to from both the MGM and Fox libraries. Happy Halloween, indeed! The Fox Home Video team seems to have been inspired by having the Midnight Movies banner under their stewardship, since they have really dug through their vaults to unearth some forgotten gems. This is certainly the case with their double feature release of two similar-themed British productions – DEVILS OF DARKNESS and WITCHCRAFT, both of which are making their U.S. home video debuts on this two-disc set.

DEVILS OF DARKNESS stars William Sylvester (GORGO) as a weary traveler who stumbles into a small English village and incurs the wrath of a vampire and his devil worshipping followers when he takes possession of their precious talisman. The 400 year-old vampire, Count Sinistre, is played with restraint and menace by French actor Hubert Noel. The lovely Carole Gray (ISLAND OF TERROR) is the villager who Sinistre turns into his bride. Gypsy predictions, missing coffins, vampire bats, and the encroaching All Soul’s Eve all come together rather nicely, regardless of some gaps in logic and a too-quickly executed climax, both of which are easy to overlook.

Despite the fact that our main antagonist is a vampire, DEVILS OF DARKNESS isn’t exactly a vampire film per se. It’s really about a cult of Satan worshippers who happen to be lead by a vampire. The acting is strong throughout, which as we all know is common among British genre B-pictures from this era. Cameraman turned director Lance Comfort makes excellent use of locations, and is able to imbue some atmosphere even within the many daylight outdoor sequences. It’s a low budget production, but the cast and crew give it their all, elevating the film above its modest origins.

This is a pretty good transfer from Fox. Sure, the 1.85:1 anamorphic image is a little soft, and there is some grain present, but the Eastman colors are strong (especially the crimson robes) and fleshtones are accurate. The print is in excellent shape, with only a few minor blemishes. The audio fares equally well, as the mono soundtrack comes through crisp and clear. Optional subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French. The aspect ratio and running time are incorrectly labeled on the back cover. The film is presented in its correct 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and not in 2.35:1, and the running time is 88 minutes, not 124 minutes.

The disc contains two special features: a trailer and a photo gallery. The energetic trailer runs an economical 40 seconds, and is in black and white (!). Like the feature itself, it’s anamorphic 1.85:1. The photo gallery images are also in black and white, and play along with the film’s opening theme music. Within this gallery are some one-sheets and lobby cards which show that this film was once part of a double bill with Fox’s CURSE OF THE FLY.

WITCHCRAFT is a deliciously wicked tale of a centuries-long family feud, pitting the Lanier family against the witchcraft-practicing Whitlock clan. The animosity is renewed when the Lanier’s extensive land development campaign desecrates the Whitlock family graveyard, unearthing the coffin of powerful family matriarch Vanessa Whitlock, played by Yvette Rees (CURSE OF THE FLY) in an impressive non-speaking role. Other Whitlock family members include horror icon Lon Chaney, Jr. (THE WOLF MAN, SON OF DRACULA) as Morgan Whitlock, and Diane Clare (PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES) as the conflicted Amy Whitlock. The Lanier family includes veteran TV actor Jack Hedley as Bill Lanier, and David Weston (MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH) as Todd Lanier. The acting is uniformly impressive, with Chaney giving arguably the final great performance of his prolific career.

Directed with panache by Hammer veteran Don Sharp (KISS OF THE VAMPIRE, RASPUTIN: THE MAD MONK), WITCHCRAFT emerges as an atmospheric minor masterpiece. The fruitful collaboration between Sharp, production designer George Provis (CRY OF THE BANSHEE, THE CREEPING FLESH), and director of photography Arthur Lavis results in many astonishing sequences of gothic deliciousness. Many of the interiors and exteriors are richly-textured works of art. Graveyards, crypts, and hidden passageways are all elaborately realized. And, on top of all this we’re treated to a fiery climax that is tense, exciting, and expertly executed.

This is another fine transfer from Fox. Again, grain is present and the image could be sharper, but the blacks are deep, the grey scale is decent, and there’s a fair amount of detail. Considering a full-blown restoration wasn’t performed, it’s difficult to complain. The opening title sequence is mildly letterboxed at about 1.66:1, but then switches to full frame for the remainder of the film’s running time. The framing is occasionally a bit tight, but it really isn’t much of a problem. The mono soundtrack is just fine, with dialogue, music and effects nicely delivered. There is an additional Spanish mono track, and optional subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French. The special features section is comprised solely of an impressive photo gallery, and the majority of these stills are in color!

It’s very easy to recommend this double feature release, as WITCHCRAFT is essential viewing for fans of atmospheric horror. It’s a joyous celebration of mood and mise en scène. Just think of DEVILS OF DARKNESS as an added bonus. (Matt Martell)