UK: Norman J. Warren, 1976
As you may remember, back in August I purchased a trio of British horror collections from Anchor Bay, among them The Norman Warren Collection. I put them to one side, because at the time I was knee-deep in the final draft of my dissertation, but now that that’s done and dusted, I decided to take a look, starting with the first film in the Warren box set, Satan’s Slave.
After a less than auspicious start, consisting of the generic murder of a generic victim, Satan’s Slave pleasantly surprised me. It’s not masterpiece, to be sure, but it’s a competently-made supernatural horror film with an impressively spooky atmosphere. The plot deals with a young woman, Catherine (Candace Glendenning), who, on the cusp of turning 20, witnesses the fiery death by exploding car (!) of her parents, on the very doorstep of the house of her uncle Alexander (Michael Gough). Kindly Uncle Al takes the bizarelly untraumatised Catherine into the fold, but it soon turns out that he, his wacky son Stephen (Martin Potter) and his secretary Frances (Barbara Kellerman) have a sinister ulterior motive in adopting her as their own.
It’s all a bit uneven: the script makes a major bungle by revealing the malicious nature of Alexander and Stephen within the opening ten minutes, and a lot of the dialogue is of a risible standard. The performances are also rather hit and miss, although Candace Glendenning, who seems to have all but disappeared after making this film, makes an appealing and at times resourceful heroine, with her wide eyes and raven hair, while the inimitable Michael Gough makes the most of his distinctive and powerful voice in the role of her malevolent uncle.
The film also benefits from some truly impressive cinematography (a grand total of five cameramen are credited, of whom Les Young seems to have been the chief), which makes the English countryside seem like a genuinely haunted place, while John Scott’s score is pleasantly ominous, if a tad hokey. Unfortunately, some of the gore effects are more than a little cringe-worthy: it’s clear that Warren doesn’t know when to hold back, leering over the effects in extreme close-up and revealing just how fake-looking they truly are. This is especially true of the rubbery-looking flesh used for brandings and slicings, while an otherwise well-directed suicide features a lumps of pink-looking putty, presumably signifying the victim’s innards, bulging out of various orifices.
Still, I enjoyed Satan’s Slave. I’ve always had a thing for supernatural horror, especially of the demonic possession variety, and this one is well-executed. It’s rather predictable, and the budgetary constraints are at times all too visible, but it’s a good, solid effort with a palpable sense of dread - which, in a horror film, is almost always the most important feature.
On a side note, the transfer for this film is pretty shockingly bad. I know it’s old, and low budget, and obscure, and all those things, but really, there’s no excuse for it looking the way it does. Half the time is resembles one of those dodgy camcorded movies.