Thursday, October 21, 2010

In short: Devils of Darkness (1965)

British writer Paul Baxter (William Sylvester) and his friends, the Forest siblings, are on vacation in a picturesque little village in France. As this is a British movie, there can only be something sinister afoot in continental Europe. And in fact, the village turns out to be the nest of a Satanic cult serving the very subtly named vampire Count Sinistre (Hubert Noel) and his chosen bride Tania (Carole Gray).

The Forests don't survive their stay in the village for long. The brother is killed in a caving "accident" when he stumbles onto the coffin of Tania. I think there might be a better place - preferably with locks - for a vampire's coffin than a dank cave, especially when her fiancée owns a village, but what do I know?

Soon after, the bereaved Forest sister doesn't survive the good Count's very special attempts at comforting her. Officially, she drowns.

Baxter is getting a little suspicious of the whole affair, but the local police blocks his attempts to find out what really happened (while drinking coffee, instead of tea - the fiends!), and his only hints for solving the mystery are a short glimpse of bite marks on the dead woman's neck and a golden bat talisman he finds where she was killed. The only thing Baxter can do is to pack his things and take his fancy new amulet back to England for further research.

What Baxter doesn't know is that the golden bat is the most prized possession of Sinistre - that's why he lost it so easily - and that the vampire's Satanist cult has a branch office in London. So while our hero is trying to find out more about the amulet, evil plans are set in motion by the vampire and his friends.

The best part of those plans is obviously the kidnapping of Karen (Tracy Reed), a girl Baxter has just met at a party, to try and use her as a hostage against the writer. That's a real tactical masterstroke by Sinistre, which only gets better when the rather distractible vampire decides that he'd rather have Karen than Tania as his bride. A vampire marriage crisis ensues.

What begins as a standard Gothic vampire film with a few short scenes about the awakening of Sinistre in ye olden times, soon turns into a standard Gothic contemporary vampire film. It seems however that Devils of Darkness' director Lance Comfort isn't satisfied with making "just" a nice Gothic genre piece, and so the film again transforms into one of those vampire films that try to be contemporary. Unfortunately, while Comfort manages to make his film very pretty to look at, he never finds a way to either lose the Gothic trappings completely or use the friction between the modern and the Gothic to any memorable effect.

This failure certainly has a lot to do with the film's inability to understand its contemporary pop culture, which leaves us with some of those dreaded scenes of very polite British mid-60s beatnik "orgies" as seen through the eyes of a scriptwriter nearing his or her fifties.

Then there's the rather confused and very very slowly developing plot that does contain some funny ideas (monogamous vampire counts? really?), yet prefers dithering to coming to any point; building any form of tension is right out anyhow. It's never a good sign when the best end a film can find for its main villain is to die by randomly running into a cross on a graveyard. Of course, Hubert Noel and his not utterly unthreatening thick French accent and presence are well served with that sort of ending, as they are with the bland William Sylvester as their enemy.



Anarchivist said...

Fortunately, I am easily amused by polite British beatnik orgies. Movies like this involve a lot of "ooh, nice shoes!" or "I want that coffee table!" on my part. I suspect that watching a lot of Something Weird films is responsible...

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

I mostly got an appreciation for Andy Milligan and Doris Wishman out of Something Weird. Not sure if that's better or worse.

I suppose I would have enjoyed this one more if it had been made two or three years later. Would have made for a much more exciting "what old people think modern fashion looks like" element, I think.