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Night of the Devils (1972)
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/29/2013
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/14/2012
In the last 20 years, we've seen a real growth in communication technology. The internet, cell phones, and satellites have made it easier for people in different parts of the world to get in touch with one another. Many say that this makes the world feel smaller and that it creates a "global community". This could be taken to imply that people all around the Earth are very similar. The truth is that, in many ways, we aren't. If you watch enough foreign films, you'll see that every culture has their own way of telling a story and that different things are emphasized in different parts of the world. Take Italian horror films for example. They are the epitome of style over substance. This is exemplified in Night of the Devils.
As Night of the Devils opens, Nicola (Gianni Garko) is admitted to a mental hospital, as he's mute and agitated. Dr. Tosi (Umberto Raho) notices that Nicola gets very upset at night, and when Sdenka (Agsotina Belli) comes to visit, he really loses it. The story then turns into a flashback where we learn Nicola's story. While on a business trip to buy lumber, Nicola's car runs off the road in a secluded forest. He walks to a nearby house seeking help and is hesitantly welcomed by Gorca (William Vanders), the patriarch of the odd family. Nicola is told that they will look at his car in the morning, as they barricade the doors and windows. Gorca's son, Jovan (Mark Roberts), acts very aggressive towards everyone, and Sdenka is the only one who seems normal to Nicola. It's clear that something odd is going on, and things get weirder when Gorca announces that he's going out to kill the witch who lives in the forest. He tells the family that if he returns after 6pm that they should drive a stake through his heart. This starts a series of supernatural events which will have Nicola running for his life.
Night of the Devils is based on an 1839 story by Russian writer Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy entitled "The Family of the Vourdalak" which was previously adapted as part of the 1963 Mario Bava film Black Sabbath. I have not read Tolstoy's story, but it apparently offers a different take on the vampire myth.
I knew this going in, so I was somewhat surprised (more on that in a moment) at how parts of Night of the Devils lacked in detail. Again, I haven't read the story, so maybe it doesn't offer much explanation either, but this film is sorely lacking in the story department. You'll spend a great deal of the film saying, "What is that?" or "Why did that happen?" When Nicola is approaching the house, he passes a funeral in progress, where Jovan places a wooden carving in the grave. Is this a talisman? We get that something odd is going on with the family and that they are secretive, but we learn nothing about the witch in the woods. Gorca just announces that he's going to kill her. Was this due to the fact that his brother had just died? (Apparently in a supernatural way.) Why does Jovan wait until the next afternoon to look at Nicola's car, thus forcing him to stay another night? Why does Nicola trust a car which has already broken down on him once?
Yes, Night of the Devils is a class Italian head-scratcher from the outset. But, like many films in this genre, it offers some interesting visuals. In the first few minutes, Nicola imagines scenes of gore and nudity, which we assume are foreshadowing and a prelude of what his flashback will be like. However, nothing like this shows up again. OK...weird. When Nicola arrives at the house, he sees two small children posed in a window like a portrait. The finale offers some shots which are creepy, especially those which include those same small children. However, Director Giorgio Ferroni falls into the same trap as so many of his contemporaries and indulges in unmotivated zooms a little too much.
Night of the Devils arrived at a transitional period in Italian horror cinema. The supernatural films of Bava were giving way to the gialli of Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. The film attempts to retain the sort of Hammer gothic style which was commonplace in the 1960s, but it's never able to generate any real tension. Because we don't fully understand what is going on, it's hard to feel that Nicola is in any danger until the finale. The family squabbles and the seductive Sdenka he witnesses are somewhat interesting, but not enough to carry the film. The decidedly downbeat ending doesn't really gel with the rest of the film, which is dark, but in a goofy kind of way. Night of the Devils takes a the timeless story of the traveler who needs a place to stay for the night and tries to put a scary twist on it. However, the movie is uneven and drags at times. This will appeal to students of Italian horror, but those who like their films from this genre to be more garish will be disappointed.
Night of the Devils is set in a place where the spiders make cobwebs in record time on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Raro Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is fairly sharp and clear, showing little discernible grain. There are some minor defects from the source materials, such as cuts and black dots, but this is to be expected, given the age and relative obscurity of the film. The colors look good, most notably the red blood in a certain scene, but a few scenes do look somewhat washed out. The image is never overly dark or bright, which is unusual for a film from this era. The picture shows a nice amount of detail, although some scenes look flat. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 1.6 Mbps. This is the Italian language which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The English subtitles are easy to read. The bulk of the audio comes from the center channel and we don't get any dynamic audio effects. Having said that, there are few clicks and pops and the music doesn't drown out the dialogue.
The Night of the Devils Blu-ray Disc contains only two extras. Chris Alexander of Fangoria Magazine provides an "Introduction" (5 minutes) talks about his affection for the film and discusses its importance and its place in Italian horror film history. The other extra is an "Interview with Composer Giorgio Gaslini" (32 minutes). This is a rather rough and awkward piece at the outset, as the interview just starts and Gaslini doesn't seem to know what is happening and the interviewer is still outlining what the topics will be. (They could have easily edited this out.) From there, Gaslini gives his opinions about music in film, talks specifically about Night of the Devils, as well as some of the other movie's he's worked on, and the relationship between movies and music.
Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.