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Hexen bis aufs Blut gequält

Mark of the Devil
Burn, Witch, Burn! / Brenn, Hexe, Brenn! / Austria 1700

West Germany 1970
produced by
Adrian Hoven for Atlas Film, Hi-Fi Stereo 70
directed by Michael Armstrong, Adrian Hoven (uncredited)
starring Herbert Lom, Udo Kier, Reggie Nalder, Olivera Vuco, Herbert Fux, Johannes Buzalski, Michael Maien, Gaby Fuchs, Ingeborg Schöner, Adrian Hoven, Günter Clemens, Doris von Danwitz, Dorothea Carrera, Marlies Petersen, Bob Gerry, Percy Hoven
written by Michael Armstrong (as Sergio Casstner), Adrian Hoven (as Percy Parker), music by Michael Holm, cinematography by Ernst W.Kalinke

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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The 17th century: Albino (Reggie Nalder), a local witchhunter, terrorizes a village rather at will finding pleasure in torturing and killing whoever he wants. But then, young Christian (Udo Kier) arrives in the village, announcing the arrival of his master Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom), who is to take over as federal witchhunter and have an eye on Albino, for the next day ... and immediately, Albino has chosen Christian as his personal enemy for that, and because he can't get his hands on him, he arrests Vanessa (Olivera Vuco), a waitress whom Christian has laid an eye on, and accuses her of being a witch.

Had anyone of the villagers thought that Cumberland would be any better (more humane that is) a witchhunter than Albino, he would have been mistaken though, Cumberland only goes through the trouble to legitimate his actions with a sickening moral code whereas Albino was a primitive sadist - and Christian is Cumberland's devoted student, to san extent that when he finds Vanessa incarcerated, he uses the same empty phrases as his master to legitimate her being in jail, even though deep down he loves her.

But then Albino, who has managed to retain a job in the witchfinding business despite everything, finds Cuberland's soft spot when he suggests that he (like Albino himself) finds pleasure in torturing and might be impotent otherwise ... immediately, Cumberland strangles him to death, right in front of Christian. After this, Christian doesn't know any longer what to believe - in fact the more he talks with Cumberland, who has since killing Albino intensified torture of his prisoners and has even tried to rape a young woman, the more he feels his mission was wrong from the get-go - and ultimately he frees Vanessa from jail.

The jailbreak goes greatly, but suddenly (and rather stupidly) Christian decides he has to save someone else from jail too, aristocrat Daumer (Michael Maien), and this goes wrong, so much so that Christian himself is incarcerated. Cumberland wants Christian tortured and executed, also to overcome his own guilt, and now Christian's only hope is Vanessa - but she's a woman on the run ...

Austrian genre actor Herbert Fux plays one of Cumberland's main torturers.

 

Quite obviuosly, Mark of the Devil was more than a little inspired by the classic The Witchfinder General, and it never reaches the powerful effect of that movie, it's neither as well-written nor as subtly directed as the earlier movie - but one can't deny that Mark of the Devil is great fun at the same time: Sure it's much blunter than the earlier movie, the violence is explicit mostly, the film seems to enjoy its own sadism, everything is very simplistic, and many interesting plotpoints are at best hinted at to not distract from the straightforward narrative - and that might turn many people off the film admittedly, but seen as a piece of vintage Eurotrash, beautifully carried by the dependable Herbert Lom sided by quite a few genre faves, the film is easy to enjoy for the nostalgic genre fan!

 

By the way, Michael Holm, the composer of the musical score, has in 1970 just hit it big as a Schlager-singer (Schlagers are German language pop songs from the cheesy end of the genre) with the song "Mendocino". In later life, he would form the new age band Cusco with fellow musician Kristian Schultze, which was successful primarily in the USA and got nominated for a total of three Grammy awards.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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