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SATAN’S SLAVE (1976)/TERROR (1978)
Director: Norman J. Warren

British director Norman J. Warren started his career in the sexploitation field but soon graduated to more high profile genre fare, having an unquestionable affection for the subject. Although he started making horror pictures in the mid 1970s, a time when British gothic was quickly ceasing, he managed to become something of a cult director, gaining less attention in the U.S., as many of his efforts never got a proper release here. Crown International, the poor man’s American International Pictures, did manage to pick up two of his early horrors for a U.S. theatrical release in 1979, and through BCI’s acquirement of the Crown catalog, they are presented here as a double feature DVD (in the U.K., Warren got his own box set and even contributed to the supplements). Having a widescreen version of Warren’s maiden shocker SATAN’S SLAVE should be reason to celebrate, but unfortunately, it’s not, and you’ll soon find out why.

SATAN'S SLAVE is the first of British director Warren's genre efforts, and his first collaboration with screenwriter David McGillivray (who also has a cameo as a priest in both a flashback and in the present time). Nineteen-year-old Catherine (Candace Glendenning, TOWER OF EVIL) travels with her parents to visit her estranged Uncle at his country mansion. Tragedy strikes when their car crashes in front of the house and is quickly set on fire just as Catherine leaves to get help. Trying to recover from her loss, she is taken care of by her overly kind Uncle Alexander (British horror legend Michael Gough sporting an enormous moustache), his peculiar son Stephen (Martin Potter, CRAZE) and secretary Frances (Barbara Kellerman, THE MONSTER CLUB). It seems that they are all part of a satanic cult (Stephen is introduced as a homicidal maniac from the get go) and have a nasty plan in store for Catherine on her 20th birthday.

For those unfamiliar with Warren's work, this is a good place to start, and although it's been criticized as tedious, the film deserves its place in British horror history. Set in modern times (with several witch-hunting flashbacks), its gothic feel and atmospheric setpieces pays homage to Hammer while adding loads of gratuitous nudity and grueling gore, including some truly over-the-top killings and kinky sacrificial rites. The film also gives Gough one of his last decent lead roles in a horror film before the British cycle died altogether. Regrettably, most of SATAN’S SLAVE’s catalog of carnal atrocities has been heavily excised in what’s presented here.

Previously, Rhino Home Video (when they had control of the Crown library) released SATAN’S SLAVE as part of their multi-title “Horrible Horrors Collection Vol. 1”. Their print was full frame and cropped, but it was totally uncut and the transfer reflected the stronger "export" version (the film was also censored in the U.K.). BCI’s transfer, while presenting the film in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and anamorphic, is censored, removing much of the meat and potatoes. Some of the scenes removed and/or shortened include a woman having her underwear sliced up and her body teased with a knife and her subsequent stabbing, a naked blonde being branded by a cross and whipped, the mutilated corpse of a man who jumped to his death, some bloodletting during a sacrifice, another really bloody stabbing of a bare-breasted woman during a flashback sequence, a shot of a woman impaled to a door by a knife through her mouth and climatic money shots of a nail file to the eye. BCI apparently used a choppy 35mm print (complete with a Crown International 20th Anniversary mention before the credits), and along with the cuts, there’s some jump splices here and there. Colors look okay, and there is some grain, but the main dilemma is its extensive amount of missing footage. The mono audio, while acceptable, sometimes suffers from low dialog.

TERROR is the second collaboration between director Warren and writer David McGillivray, and it was admittedly inspired by Dario Argento's SUSPIRIA, delivering what many deem a British giallo. With a centuries-old curse lingering over their family name, filmmaker James Garrick (John Nolan) is united with cousin Ann (Carolyn Courage) when she stars in his latest low budget horror flick. At the wrap party, Ann goes under a trance and tries to slice him up with an ancient sword. Soon, people are turning up dead in the most bizarre ways, and the unseen assailant has a supernatural sway in his favor. Allowing the red stuff to flow freely, a woman is found pinned to a tree with knives, a dirty movie director is crushed by a hanging film light, a canister of film comes to life and leads to a beheading by a broken window glass, a policeman is repeatedly run over by a car, etc.

The film is a matter of style (with some striking shots and color lighting schemes) over substance (the script lacks interesting characters, and there are too many for that matter), but you have to give Warren and McGillivray points for attempting to keep the genre alive and fresh at a time when the British horror cycle was already ten feet under. It’s pretty much a mixed bag of unintentional laughs (a floating, menacing car!) and every horror film device imaginable, but it certainly can be enjoyable. Look for cameos by McGillivray (as a reporter), bald Hammer heavy Milton Reid as a bouncer and Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca in the "Star Wars" series) as a sinister mechanic.

BCI’s transfer for TERROR is identical to the one used for their “Crypt of Terror” DVD line when it was paired with LAND OF THE MINOTAUR only recently. The film was also previously available open matte from Rhino as part of the “Horrible Horrors Collection Vol. 1” package (it is also available in the U.K. in the Norman J. Warren box set from Anchor Bay). Here, it’s presented in an appropriate 1.78:1 aspect ratio and anamorphic. Aside from being a tad dark in some scenes, the colors are nice and detail is rich. The mono audio is very clear and clean. This “Exploitation Cinema” release gives you the option of watching each film separately, or as one big double bill, complete with trailers (POINT OF TERROR, NIGHTMARE (1981), BEYOND THE DOOR – the latter two forthcoming from Code Red DVD – PRIME EVIL, SAVAGE STREETS and NIGHT CALL NURSES) and at least one vintage concession stand commercial. The 3-D menu is showcases a typical grindhouse theater lobby, and by accessing the door that says “Projection Room,” you can get straight to the trailers. Had SATAN'S SLAVE at least been uncut, this release would have been a much happier affair. (George R. Reis)