My first experience with Mark of the Devil was to receive a DVD review copy from America which included a barf bag, written on the side was a warning that this movie would make me sick…of course it didn’t. I like novelties like that though, it adds to the fun of cult movies and gives it an over the top feeling. These gimmicks may never live up to what they promise but that’s hardly the point. Mark of the Devil is a surprisingly extreme film for its time, which is probably why it took so long to make its way to the UK, then to finally be released uncut. Now Arrow Video have released a new Blu-ray version, with a big update in terms of quality and the usual Arrow Video treatment, fans are in for a treat.
Christian (Udo Kier) is the assistant to Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom) the witch hunter. Believing his master is doing the work of the church and is beyond question he soon finds his faith shaken when he forms a relationship with Vanessa (Olivera Katrina) a free-spirited woman who finds herself being accused of being a witch. As Christian witnesses the cruelties of the witch trials and the corruption of the court he soon realises he must turn against everything he had faith in to do the right thing.
After watching the film and moving onto the special features one of the most interesting things to learn is that there was a lot of controversy behind the scenes, especially the tension between Michael Armstrong the director/co-writer and Adrian Hoven producer/co-writer and director of some of the movie. The commentary is especially interesting as you hear Michael Armstrong’s view on events, but the interviews that are included also touch on the subject with Udo Kier’s view being especially interesting as he is somewhat of a legend to many cult film fans. Along with the interviews there is a documentary Mark of the Time which looks at the emergence of so called “new wave” British horror directors who moved away from the Hammer style of horror, including this of course included Michael Armstrong. This is a highlight of the release as it looks at not only Mark of the Devil but also Witchfinder General, Blood on Satan’s Claw and The Wicker Man. The special features are excellent making the release worth buying just for them, especially for Mark of the Time (which is feature-length).
Mark of the Devil is a movie that isn’t the best of its kind but for the time it was made was pretty extreme, especially in terms of gore. Now in its uncut form for the first time in the UK and with an impressively good picture quality it is an exceptional release, though I don’t think you’ll be needing a barf bag these days, we’ve seen much worse. Udo Kier is excellent in the movie, and Herbert Lom is perfect as Kier’s nemesis. I will admit that I do prefer Witchfinder General with Vincent Price, but to be fair these are two different movies in tone. Where Mark of the Devil looks to shock Witchfinder General looked to provide a stronger story.
With the controversy behind the scenes there could have been potential for Mark of the Devil being a big failure, but in truth it is far from it. I find it interesting that on its original run it did well in America but was never even released in the UK, but we got it eventually and now we finally have it uncut and it’s about time. One of the more extreme folk horrors Mark of the Devil has influenced horror in many ways through its history and is everything you would expect from a cult movie which is why of course Arrow Video have given it such special treatment. A must for fans of the genre, not just the movie, I didn’t expect Mark of the Devil to look so good so the surprise you get when you put the Blu-ray in is very pleasant indeed.
Mark of the Devil is released on dual format DVD and Blu-ray in the UK September 29th.