THE DEVIL'S MEN (1976)





THE DEVIL'S MEN Greek video artwork



SPOILER INFORMATION



DONALD PLEASENCE (Father Roche)
PETER CUSHING (Baron Corofax)
LUAN PETERS (Laurie Gordon)
COSTAS SKOURAS (Milo Kaye)
NIKOS VEWLERKIS (Ian)
VANNA REVILLI (Beth)
BOB BEHLING (Tom Gifford)

Directed by COSTA CARAYIANNIS
Written by ARTHUR ROWE
Produced by FRIXOS CONSTANTINE


SYNOPSIS AND REVIEW BY TROY HOWARTH



SYNOPSIS:

Distraught by the mysterious disappearances of several young friends, Father Roche sends for his friend Milo for assistance. Milo, a former student of the priest's, has since established himself as a successful private investigator in New York. They are soon joined by Beth, the fiancee of one of the missing people.

Their investigation is soon thwarted by Baron Corofax, an exiled Romanian nobleman, and the reasons for his bizarre behavior soon comes to light. Corofax is actually the head of a bizarre satanic cult, who worship the stone statue of the minotaur. During the cycle of the full moon, the Baron's minions kidnap young tourists and sacrifice them to their god. Milo is initially skeptical, but when Beth disappears, he and Roche are forced to act. Invading the cult's secret temple, they manage to rescue Beth from impending death. When Corofax pulls a knife on Roche, the priest sprinkles holy water on the Baron and his disciples, and they---together with their idol----are destroyed. The happy ending sees Beth reunited with her fiance.

REVIEW:

In opening, I'd like to make a confession. As a child, I was weaned on horror films. Each Saturday afternoon and evening, local programs like Shock Theatre and Suspense Theatre offered up a wide array of the good, the bad, and the ugly in horror films. One film that made token appearances on more than one occasion was The Devil's Men. Perhaps it is nostalgia clouding my normally harsh critical perspective, but I am the first to admit that this totally ridiculous, completely contrived B movie has a special place in my heart. I feel towards it rather like a mother must towards a bad offspring---there's a special, inexplicable bond that makes me willing to over look its absurdities and pop it into the tape player on special occasions.

The film was produced by Frixos Constantine, who hoped that its success would lead to more film production in Greece. In order to insure its success, Constantine hired two of the finest, most versatile horror film icons to represent the opposing forces of good and evil. In an unusual casting switch, Donald Pleasence is cast as the heroic Father Roche, while Peter Cushing has one of his very few truly villainous roles as Baron Corofax. Their combined dignity goes a long way towards making up for the film's terrible script, hackneyed direction, and colorless supporting cast.

As Father Roche, Donald Pleasence contributes a sincere, low-key performance. The fact that he has the only memorable dialogue in the film ("I'm not afraid to meet my maker, I just don't want to meet him today.") makes one suspect that he either re-wrote his dialogue, or simply did his best to overcome a truly disastrous scenario. One immediately senses his character's decency and heroism, but Pleasence mixes these traits with a palpable air of fear. These traits would subsequently crop up in two of Pleasence's best loved horror roles, in John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) and Prince of Darkness (1987). In fact, it seems likely that Carpenter had seen The Devil's Men, and that it partially informed his Nigel Kneale/Dario Argento homage Prince of Darkness. Yet whereas Prince of Darkness dares to ponder such controversial issues as the nature of faith and the true origins of Christianity, the Greek film is content to offer yet another variation on the "devil cult taking over a small town" theme that informed superior items like Horror Hotel (1960) and The Devil's Rain (1975).

As the Baron, Peter Cushing has a rare villainous role. Cushing is one of those rare actors who never, ever contributed a bad performance, but The Devil's Men does not give him any opportunities to truly shine. He appears before Pleasence, in the opening sacrifice scene, but he appears all too infrequently---and many scenes rob him of dialogue. Cushing does what he can with the sketchily written role, and it's a joy to see him fearlessly confront Pleasence and beefy (and annoying) Costas Skouras with a shotgun, but this type of material is quite beneath his talents.

What the two stars thought of the film is open to interpretation, as neither spoke much about it----no small wonder! Always frank and candid in his opinions, Pleasence recalled the film as being a "dreary affair," but it is unlikely that he actually ever saw it. Cushing, by contrast, was always happy to work and never spoke disparagingly of the films in which he appeared. Following the tragic death of his beloved wife Helen in 1971, Cushing flung himself into film work in an effort to ease his pain, sometimes appearing in six or seven films per year. No doubt he accepted this assignment because of the opportunity to travel to Greece, and to be reunited with his old friend Pleasence. (The two actors collaborated only one more time, in the dire Canadian omnibus film The Uncanny, 1977).

On the plus side, the film offers an eerie electronic music score by Brian Eno and some lovely cinematography. Certain location scenes go a long way towards giving the film some much needed ambiance. However, Costa Carayiannis directs the film with little flair and his efforts are further compromised by the truly terrible screenplay. A great director like Mario Bava might have been able to make something out of this film, but Carayiannis is no Bava. (A delightful production photo shows Carayiannis shouting as Pleasence and Cushing look on with amusement---perhaps this mirrors their assessment of his talents!)

For all that, it has to be admitted that the film has a certain period charm. Though the characters and their motivations are only vaguely delineated, the film is developed with enough pace to keep one interested. Not a good film by any stretch of the imagination, but---for Pleasence and Cushing fans, especially---it is at least worth a couple of laughs.

(It should be noted that the American version, Land of the Minotaur, is cut by several minutes. The blunt censorious edits blend effectively with the terrible editing of Barry Reynolds, so it should not be assumed that these edits conceal greater character/plot development. The cuts basically involve some tame violence and very gratuitous nudity---e.g., Pleasence first calls Milo only to be refused assistance. The sole purpose of this scene is to show off co-star Jane Lye's "assets," and serves to weaken Milo's apparent devotion to Father Roche. Most interestingly, a song performed by Paul Williams is missing from the end credits of the U.S. edition; it is replaced by superior music by Brian Eno. Special thanks to Christopher Weedman for providing me with a copy of the uncut edition---at the very least it proves that there is not a great film lurking behind the cuts!)



Synopsis/Review submitted by Troy Howarth

Synopsis/Review © 1999 Troy Howarth. All Rights Reserved.

Video artwork is the property of ZODIAC VIDEO.

Title and logo designed by Karen Rappaport




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