Back in 1960, a television series aired in Sweden entitled "13 Demon Street." Each episode dealt with a lost soul who is doomed to go to Hades because of the usual earthly temptations (greed, lust, and the other five Deadly Sins). However, the series was no hit, not even in Sweden and only 13 episodes (how's that for appropriate?) were shot. Any chances of a U.S. release went to hell too.
The producers (Herbert L. Strock, director of I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF and I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN fame) and Curt Siodmak (renowned creator of the 1941 Universal Pictures classic THE WOLF MAN and the masterful FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN) did not know what to do with the episodes, so two years later, in 1962, they put together a full-length motion picture (courtesy of Herts-Lion) utilizing three of the episodes with Lon Chaney, Jr. appearing as The Devil himself (he'd appeared in the original series to introduce each tale). Hence, the end result is THE DEVIL'S MESSENGER, a strange entry in the arena of cult classics but lots of fiery fun nonetheless!
But the working relationship between Strock & Siodmak was no picnic as reported by David H. Smith in Midnight Marquee's collection of essays on Lon Chaney, Jr., "Curt Siodmak felt betrayed by the company... They never mentioned me, but I'm glad of it. I never saw it. Actually some of the episodes did come out okay. I think they were better than 'Thriller' in story values."
Underneath modern-day Los Angeles (and we do mean WAY UNDERNEATH) we find The Devil (the wonderful Lon Chaney Jr. looking jovial down there) sitting at a desk, wearing a dark short sleeved shirt and dark tie. Presumably his rolodex contains the names of the "catch of the day" -- the incoming souls headed for the infernal depths. One of these souls is a most attractive brunette named -- get this -- Satanya! Hers is a special case as she was a suicide and therefore a special tribunal can reconsider her case. Immediately Old' Nick gets his horns going and promises her another chance at life way up there if she will act as his messenger. Some of the devilish dialogue is hysterically funny here and must be heard to be believed! Satanya (Karen Kadler) must reappear on earth to enlist other souls to come and join the infernal country club. Since eternity is a timeless and relentless bummer down there, why not have some fun with it?
Writer David H. Smith also reported, "Strock might have felt hamstrung by Herts' insistence on using wife Karen Kadler in the lead. But the attractive brunette made this, her final film, an adequate bid for limited genre immortality."
Satanya has delivered a very special camera in the first episode. This camera records the image of a femme fatale that completely unnerves and ultimately damns a famous photographer at the height of his career. The second episode, very obviously shot in Sweden, involves a beauty found encased in a block of ice during an excavation by archaeologists. One of them becomes obsessed and commits murder thinking this to be his long lost inamorata. The third and final episode is also the most atmospheric as it opens on a foggy lamp lit street corner where a man is told by a fortune teller he will die at midnight by her own hands.
In the limited edition of his memoirs, Siodmak said, "Being in Stockholm in 1960 the impact of that welfare state on my American mind was overwhelming and disturbing, and so was trying to find a distributor for '13 Demon Street.'"
THE DEVIL'S MESSENGER runs a mere 71 minutes and has six chapter stops. Alpha Video's print quality is better than average to very good in parts (for some reason the footage of Chaney in the pit look a bit fuzzy and indistinct while the tales themselves look great). THE DEVIL'S MESSENGER release on DVD is the best available at this time. The sound quality is adequate but acceptable. The cover art is dazzling and compelling, and at $6.95 retail is well worth the price. Alpha Video just keeps getting better thanks to the efforts of Steve Kaplan. (Christopher Dietrich)
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