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Director: Michael Armstrong
Writers: Michael Armstrong, Adrian Hoven
Cast: Udo Kier, Herbert Lom, Olivera Katarina
Length: 108 min
Rating: V (for Violence)
Label: Arrow Films and Video
Release Date: March 17, 2015
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Audio: English: LPCM Mono, German: LPCM Mono
Subtitles: English SDH
- Audio Commentary with Michael Armstrong and Calum Waddell
- Mark of the Times Documentary featurette about the rise of British Exploitation in the 1970s
- Hallmark of the Devil Documentary featurette with Fangoria’s Michael Gingold talking about Hallmark’s distribution tactics of Mark of the Devil and other films
- Interviews with composer Michael Holm and actors Udo Kier, Herbert Fux, Gaby Fuchs, Ingeborg Schöner and Herbert Lom
- Mark of the Devil: Now and Then: Locations before and after
- Photo Gallery
- Reversible Sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys and an Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Adrian Smith and Anthony Nield, plus an interview with Reggie Nalder by David Del Valle, all illustrated with original stills and artwork.
Britain has always been a special home for horror. Of course, there is the infamous Hammer films of the 50s, Amicus in the 60s, and, let us not forget, the banning and persecution of films under the Video Recordings Act in the 80s—if only to name a few. Perhaps, however, the most interesting and provocative era of British horror is the series of — what has been colloquially donned Britsploitation — sexually charged and egregiously violent films of the 1970s by filmmakers like Pete Walker. Tiring of the kind of films that had been defining British horror, a group of filmmakers decided to push the envelope a bit farther. While Michael Reeves’s Witchfinder General marks an important turning point in British Horror from that Hammer and/or Amicus style, it would be Michael Armstrong’s similarly themed Mark of the Devil, which really helped to propel the movement forward. Ironically, though, Mark of the Devil — while written and directed by a British filmmaker — would not be seen uncut in Britain (at least officially) until last September’s Blu-Ray release. Now, with Arrow’s expansion into North America, the Blu-Ray is getting a re-release in region A, and us Americans have never been so lucky.
Mark of the Devil has one of the most enigmatic openings. There is this strange optical effect that creates a bubbling, hazy feature in the image—almost a fisheye effect. This is met with images of a wild witch-hunt, which results in the pillaging and apparent raping of a group of nuns and a priest. From here, the film spirals into a sort of more sexually charged and violent version of Witchfinder General. The basic plot follows Count Christian von Meruh (Udo Kier), an apprentice to the famous witch-hunter Lord Cumberland (the famous Herbert Lom) who moves into a small Austrian village to overtake the intrepid and vile witch-hunter-in-residence Albino (Reggie Nalder). Albino is far from happy to give up the power that he has enacted over the village, to which he exploits in oder to rape and then murder the village’s attractive women. When Albino’s next victim, Vanessa (Olivera Katarina), falls under the eye of Christian, Christian’s ties to the church and his ‘noble’ task begin to come in question.At its core, Mark of the Devil is about two things: love and greed. On the one hand, it is a story about how the power of love can work to save a man from the damnation of systematic power and greed. On the other, it is a powerful critique of organized religion, government, and patriarchy. The real power of the film, however, is that it manages to oscillate between these two thematic poles without losing either its entertainment value or its ties to exploitation cinema. Armstrong’s reservations and clear political edge never stops him from delving into the most distasteful and atrocious torture imagery — such as the ripping out of a woman’s tongue. In ways, you could see the film as an ancestor to torture porn but there really aren’t any sadistic tendencies at play here. The violence, for Armstrong, seems necessary. It is not enough to show you the corruption of the church-state; he seems hell bent on showing you just how vile the form of this corruption can manifest itself in. As Armstrong claims, the film is based on apparently true events, using actual torture devices as its principle props. This has a strong effect because, while the film has all of the familiar trappings of what one may find in trash cinema (of course this is no slight to trash), Mark of the Devil is never pure trash. Aside from Armstrong’s succinct visual eye, the film is really carried by many of the performances. In particular, both Kier and Katarina lend themselves wonderfully, as they both have this almost unknowable quality to them. While viewers will find themselves drawn to both characters, there is always an underlining aura of mystery, a sense that we will never truly understand who they are. Additionally, Nalder and Lom serve as brilliant, yet very different, antagonists—far from one-dimensional villains. If there is one aspect of the film that I find to be a bit alienating, it is the soundtrack by Michael Holm. The main cue is this hauntingly romantic number that is used to both highlight scenes of romance as well as torture. It is deeply unsettling. While I find this aspect to work in the film’s favor during many of the scenes, there are times where I found it to be out of place.
Arrow has become a trusted name in our community because their releases are almost without fault commissioned from beautiful prints. Mark of the Devil is no exception to this rule. 1.66:1 MPEG-4 AVC, 1080p transfer is simply beautiful. The colors are crisp and pop from the screen, especially the bright red blood — which there are bucket loads of. The grain is finely intact, and there are no signs of obtrusive digital restoration present.
The film comes with two LPCM Mono tracks, both in English and German. As the film was shot MOS, with the dialogue dubbed in after, it really is your preference on which you choose. That said, I believe that the production put more effort into the German-dialogue track, which (at least on this blu-ray) has a stronger resonance and clarity than the English dub, which is much thinner. Additionally, a comparison of the tracks reveals a much darker script present vis-à-vis the German release, than the English one.
While audio commentary tracks can be sort of hit or miss, I think that the commentary between Armstrong and critic, filmmaker Calum Waddell commissioned for this release is the shining feature. Armstrong is funny, candid, and a bit inspirational. There is a moment where — when it is confirmed that the Arrow release will be the first time that Mark of the Devil will be released uncut in Britain — Armstrong explodes with genuine joy. Further, Armstrong talks about how he purposely wanted to avoid the exploitation cinema trope of showcasing only violence to female bodies and this is why there is an emphasis towards the male body (in explicitly sexual ways) as well. The two newly commissioned featurette documentaries, Hallmark of the Devil, documenting Hallmark and their distribution tactics on Mark of the Devil and other films, and Mark of the Times, documenting the rise of the 70s British exploitation scene, are both fantastic viewings and will probably warrant numerous viewers from fans of the film, and British horror alike. In addition, there are interviews with the cast and crew, a featurette showcasing the locations now and then, outtakes, and a gallery of images.
Mark of the Devil is an important film but it is also a wildly entertaining one. Armstrong’s relentless vision is fueled by a clear political edge, yet one that never sees him stray too far from the bloodiest elements of exploitation. While elements of the film are firmly cemented in their time, other aspects of the film are timeless. It still has the power to provoke, disturb, and disgust viewers. With a strong set of extras and a beautiful restoration of the fully uncut film, if you haven’t already grabbed the film’s Region B release, surely there is nothing stopping you now — just be sure to have your corresponding vomit bag nearby, you just might need it.