Friday, April 29, 2011

Evil heritage can lead to becoming 'Satan's Slave'

Satan's Slave (aka "Evil Heritage") (1976)
Starring: Candace Glendenning, Michael Gough, Martin Potter, and Barbara Kellerman
Director: Norman J. Warren
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

After her parents die in a sudden car explosion, Catherine (Glendenning) is taken in by her uncle (Gough) and strange nephew (Potter). However, Catherine soon learns that she is more a prisoner than a guest and that her uncle intends to turn her body into the vessel for the spirit of a long-dead witch.

Full of psychic premonitions, creepy Gothic manor houses and their even creepier inhabitants, 1970s-style Satanic rituals with naked chicks writhing on altars, and periodic explosions shocking gore, "Satan's Slave" is a one-stop shop for low-budget British horror from that era.

It may also be the best film from Norman J. Warren, as it more successfully sustains an oppressive atmosphere throughout, features better acting and writing than others I've seen from him, and makes far better use of the same thematic material he explored in "Terror". Furthermore, this is one of those very rare horror films that features a twist ending that actually works! While it probably had a greater impact on audiences in the 1970s--where the habit of ending films with a "it was all just a hoax" was still in the childhood movie-going memories of many, and the downer endings that are now so commonplace so as to be annoying were still somewhat unusual--it still offers a surprising jolt for modern audiences. (And by mentioning the surprise twist and that it will cast a pall on the film's finale won't deaden its impact.)

The film is further elevated by a great cast who all do a fantastic job in their roles. Candace Glendenning strikes just the right balance between vulnerability and independence to make Catherine a very sympathetic heroine, while Michael Gough hams it up as the quietly sinister Satanic cult leader to make his performance fun and engaging. They are ably supported by Martin Potter--whose portrayal of a character with a seemingly docile milquetoast personality is a sinister aspect in itself, because we are introduced to him as he commits a brutal, sexually driven murder--and Barbara Kellerman who comes and goes as a near-complete cypher in the picture but is interesting to watch nonetheless. (In fact, Kellerman's character is the only real complaint I can mount about the script; we never gain any insight whatsoever into her motivations or who she is.)

"Satan's Slave" is one of several pleasant surprises lurking within the better-than-average Mill Creek-manufactured 50-movie DVD multipack "Pure Terror". It's one of the prime reasons to purchase the set. The film is available in other collections, but not as economically as it can be acquired in "Pure Terror".