Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Enter the Devil (1972)

Warning: I need to spoil some of the film’s details, but I do believe anyone has had enough time to see it by now.

All around the hunting lodge and part-time mine of one Glenn (Joshua Bryant), people disappear or die under mysterious circumstances. Well, mysterious circumstances if you aren’t the audience, for we know they are killed by a cult of robe-wearing evil-doers carrying crosses (the proper way round) who like to walk picturesquely through the desert night carrying burning torches while chanting in Latin. Most of their early victims are racist rapists, though, so we’re not sure how bad this cult actually is.

While hunters are leaving because the body count doesn’t quite run the way they want, anthropologist Leslie (Irene Kelly) arrives at the lodge. She believes the area to be a hot spot of some kind of religious activity that mixes pre-Christian rituals with the accoutrements of Christianity and tries to find someone, anyone, willing to talk to her about it. Which would probably be easier if she spoke Spanish or actually, you know, made efforts to talk the people around. She also finds time to let herself be romanced by Glenn. What woman, after all, doesn’t lust after the kind of 70s macho who always interrupts her when she starts expounding on her theories? I am being sarcastic, if you didn’t notice. But then, Glenn will turn out to be evil in other regards, too.

Texan filmmakers Frank Q. Dobbs’s Enter the Devil is, as they say in modern parlance “problematic”. Hell, I think its racial politics were even “problematic” for 1972, what with this being all about a cult of evil Mexicans – with one token white guy who surprises the pulp reader by at least not being their leader - sacrificing white people for their Catholic/pagan religious mash-up. It certainly doesn’t help that impression when I add that the film’s climax consist of all the brown people being gunned down by a group of white Texan good old boys. So yeah, if you want to watch an early 70s horror film and not be offended by this sort of thing, this is certainly something to avoid.

Despite my objections against the film’s racial politics – which I suspect not to be the point of the film but just prejudices drifting in combined with a lack of reflection by the way – I actually enjoyed it quite a bit once I started to look at it more as visual pulp. While the pacing is a bit too slow even for the tastes of 70s regional cinema, the film is carried by an exceptional sense of place and time (one might argue the film’s less than pleasant racial politics even add to that) that seems as close to putting the viewer into desert country in Southwest Texas in the early 70s as we can get from here. Particularly responsible here is Michael F. Cusack’s (whose only credit this film seems to be) beautiful photography that mixes early 70s grit, clever camera placement and a poetic eye for the use of natural light, torch light and so on to create a remarkable feeling of place.

The final third, with a series of sequences taking place in the desert and various caves at night, is particularly great, Cusack’s work adding a truly eerie mood to what otherwise would have been a pretty bland story of a somewhat random cult.

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