MARK OF THE DEVIL
(Hezen bif aus Blut Gequält)
Most critical commentary on Mark of the Devil is dismissive of it as simply being a catalogue of gratuitous torture scenes, although I would argue that it has more merit than that. Certainly, a catalogue of torture scenes is what the film seems determined to give us. The opening scenes provide several of these nuns being raped; a man stripped naked and then tarred and feathered and made to run through the streets; a witch being winched down into a fire. Elsewhere, we get scenes with Gaby Fuchs being stretched on a rack, branded and thumbscrews applied; the nasty Blood Feast (1963)-like effect of tearing out someones tongue; Michael Maien made to sit on a chair of nails, his feet beaten and he then placed on a chair where a fire is lit under his exposed buttocks. This was Torture Porn way back before anyone ever coined the term.
The film seems confused in regard to its sense of historical place. It was shot in various locations in Austria. It is never specified as taking place in any country throughout most of the characters have Germanic names with von prefixes, although Herbert Loms character contrarily has the very English name of Baron Cumberland. The opening credits also make the highly exaggerated claim that there were some eight million people burned at the stake in Europe. This and even higher figures that have been quoted in terms of witch burnings is something that modern historians have poured ridicule on. A look at the basic figures can easily dismiss this claim considering that Europe only had a population of around 60 million during this period, a figure of 8-11 million witch burnings would seem to indicate something like one-sixth of the population would have been burned at the stake. Historians have looked over the surviving records and, though these are incomplete, estimate the more accurate figure to be around 100,000.
Unlike Witchfinder General and The Devils, Mark of the Devil has a much more sordid view of the people enacting the persecutions. Where these other films saw the motives as being ignorance, mass hysteria, mob cruelty or political machinations, Mark of the Devil digs deeper and sees that these acts were motivated by drunken rapists, cowards accusing those who had sexually rejected them, fears of impotence, soldiery excusing an opportunity to wantonly rape and murder, or of false accusations made as an excuse to confiscate land and titles issues that Witchfinder and The Devils only peripherally touched upon.
Mark of the Devil certainly comes with a great cast. There was Reggie Nalder, probably best known subsequently as the vampire in Salems Lot (1979), whose pock-marked features have a deliberately loathsome rat-like appearance that seem perfect for such a craven, cowardly role. The surprise is a 26 year-old Udo Kier, who manages to look piercingly handsome as the hero of the show. This was one of Udo Kiers first film appearances and comes at oppose to the culty, offbeat roles that he would become known for throughout the rest of his career. The film also benefits from an unusual and melodic score.
The sequel was Mark of the Devil Part II (1972), written by this films director Michael Armstrong, directed by producer Adrian Hoven and featuring a return appearance from Reggie Nalder but in a different role.
English director Michael Armstrong had previously made The Haunted House of Horror (1969) but only ever directed one film subsequent to Mark of the Devil with the horror anthology Screamtime (1983). He did write a number of other films, including several 1970s British sex comedies, the most famous of these being The Ballad of Eskimo Nell (1975). He occasionally returned to write genre material, delivering the screenplays for House of the Long Shadows (1983) and Psychosis (2010).