The Brotherhood Of Satan (1971 USA)

brotherhoodofs3This classy underrated film is packed with spooky imagery. The occult scenes are presented in a completely matter-of-fact way as to make them unsettling and extremely effective – particularly the opening sequence involving an army tank crushing a car, the rampage of a devil-doll, a surreal dream sequence (set inside the ice chamber where all the victims are kept, since they can’t be buried), a beheading committed by a horse-riding medieval knight and the lengthy ‘black mass’ finale which culminates in ritual mass suicide.

The movie is disinterested in plot. There is a story. A stout-chinned man, his girlfriend, and eight year old daughter are on a road trip. While stopping through the town of Hillsboro, California, they are attacked by crazed locals. After escaping, their car breaks down outside the town, forcing the three to return. Over a nightmarish pace, we are made privy to a plot by the town’s devil-worshipping elderly to kidnap children, sell their souls to Satan, and take up residence in the now lifeless young bodies. The dad and town priest realize this slowly, unaware that the kindly old doctor is the ringleader of the cult. Strother Martin, who plays the sinister doctor Duncan, easily steals the show.

The story is purely functionary and the film outright ignores it at times, focusing instead on eerie imagery – a man decapitated in shadow by a sudden black-clad rider. A child’s birthday party cut together with pictures of dismembered bodies. The red face of a painted devil appearing over a man reading a book & so on. The satanic lodge reminds me of “Suspiria,” with its checkered floors, and “The Masque of the Red Death,” with the way the camera glides through the ’70s puke-green painted walls. The movie is largely without music.

The direction is frequently intentionally askew, creating an otherworldly feeling. There’s even a sick sense of humour, when an elderly couple enter the lodge, pledge allegiance to Satan, and then chit-chat and tell jokes like this is an after-church bingo party. Like many of the Satanic cult films that followed, this has a downbeat ending. Evil triumphs and good arrives too late to stop it. It’s hard to decide if the loose plotting was intentional. Either way, the film sustains a freaky atmosphere of seventies dread and packs a visual wallop.

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