Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Devil's Nightmare (1971)

Original title: La plus longue nuit du diable

aka Vampire Playgirls

A group of seven travellers (a glutton, a seminarist, an unfaithful husband and his rich and greedy wife, an old grump, an oversexed young woman and another one who really likes to sleep a lot) on a bus tour lose their way and have to spend the night in the castle of Baron von Rhoneberg (Jean Servais). While the baron is welcoming the seven with open arms, they soon realize something's not right with the place. The creepy butler Hans loves telling the guests about the violent deaths that happened in each room, all connected with the von Rhoneberg family curse that turns the firstborn daughter of every Rhoneberg generation into a succubus. So it's probably for the better the film showed the present Baron murdering his infant daughter in the pre-credit sequence.

The castle has a curious influence on the guests: they all indulge in their various obsessions - all part of one particular Deadly Sin - a little more openly, and suddenly, than people usually do. Most everyone's behaviour turns from strange to downright crazy once Lisa Müller (Erika Blanc), another tourist in dire need of a room, appears. It's pretty obvious Lisa is a servant of the Devil (Daniel Emilfork) himself, so it will not come as much of a surprise when the tourists die one after the other by her hand while indulging in their favourite sin. But will Lisa be able to bag herself a seminarist, too?

Leave it to a cooperation between Belgium and Italy to make the most Catholic 70s European horror movie I've seen that isn't about possession but about a succubus really doing very traditional devil's work by enabling people to indulge in their sins and then killing them before they can be absolved of these sins. How serious director Jean Brismée and his writers take the theological content of their film is of course questionable, for Devil's Nightmare is an exploitation film through and through, which means it is a film very much in the business of tut-tut-ing at people indulging in behaviour it tells us is morally corrupt while spending all of its running time showing us this behaviour with great enthusiasm.

I have seen sleazier movies made in Europe in the 70s, but The Devil's Nightmare still has more than enough room for close-ups of a guy over-eating, mock-lesbian shenanigans, Erika Blanc's attempts at seducing a seminarist, infidelity, Erika Blanc in simple yet effective demoness make-up, breasts (though it has to be said that the film's sex scenes, at least in the cut I watched, are rather on the harmless side and only interested in showing off a little naked actress rather than in the simulated sex they have), and a wee bit of violence.

Devil's Nightmare isn't quite as stylish, or crazy, or sleazy as some of its (especially Italian) counterparts in the European horror game of the era. I wouldn't call its aesthetics exactly conservative, but from time to time, I wished it would indulge its own flights of fancy a little more. Some of its sleaziness just feels a bit awkward, especially in the lesbian sex scene and the final seduction attempt of our seminarist hero Blanc indulges in, rather than like it should feel - an attempt to be sleazier, or cruder, or more tasteless than all films that came before, and certainly sleazier than the audience expects.

As it stands, the film is at its best whenever it comes closest to the feeling of a dream (which is especially appropriate for this particular film for plot reasons), or involves some actual fairy tale tropes. There's a scene of a deal with the devil right out of a (Catholic) fairy-tale that I found particular effective in that regard.

Taken as a whole, Brismée's film is taking up the middle ground of this particular type of European horror movie. The Devil's Nightmare is not quite outrageous or colourful enough to win my heart completely, but contains enough of the good stuff to be worthy of my time.


Paul WJM said...

Thanks for your review. I've really grown to like this one over the years, and keep hoping for a decent digital release (I have it on a two-film US disc, which was obviously produced cheaply, although Devil's Nightmare doesn't look too bad to be honest).

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

Yes, with films like this, I'm often happy when the DVD isn't sourced from a beat-up VHS.
I think there's even hope for a decent version of this one. But then I'm an optimist when it comes to things like this.

Paul WJM said...

I kind of feel there's a good release of this somewhere down the road too, though I guess the market isn't exactly huge, and if this stuff falls into a 'public domain' category I suppose it's even less likely (as too many seems happy to pay little or nothing for substandard crap rather than pay something more for a better product...). Actually I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Redemption have it up their sleeve given the work they've been doing with Kino this year, and the fact that they once released it on DVD.