Friday, April 3, 2009

Giorgio Ferroni's Night of the Devils (1972)

Gianni Garko is most famous for his role as Sartana (If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death (1968); Sartana the Gravedigger (1968); Have a Good Funeral, My Friend... Sartana Will Pay (1970); and Light the Fuse... Sartana Is Coming (1971)) and his other numerous performances in Westerns. Garko had an interesting look: bright, piercing eyes and a strong stoic sense about him. He could sling a six-shooter with the best of them, and many of his Westerns are favorites of mine. The Price of Death (1971) is excellent as a giallo/mystery/Western with Garko as a playboy/private eye/gunslinger. Garko's performances weren't limited to Westerns in this period. He would appear in Enzo G. Castellari's thriller, Cold Eyes of Fear (1971), and Fernando Di Leo's masterful crime flick, The Boss (1973). Finally, in between those two films, Garko would appear in a little-seen horror film of the period, Giorgio Ferroni's Night of the Devils (1972). Based upon Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy's The Family of the Vourdalak (Sem'ya Vurdalaka) (1839), Garko is Nicola, first seen tattered and worn, stumbling to the edge of an unknown river bank. Upon his collapse, the viewer is treated to a highly sexual, gory, and surreal montage of images. Nicola is now in the hospital in the big city. The doctors do not know his identity nor the series of events which led Nicola to their doors. Sdenka, Agnostina Belli, arrives and claims to know the man; however, upon first glance of Sdenka, Nicola screams in horror. Night of the Devils, then, truly begins. Tolstoy's story was previously filmed in better-known Black Sabbath (1963), Mario Bava's anthology horror film, with Boris Karloff. The always progressive and experimental Bava had put behind traditional atmospheric horror, having created around the same time his seminal, Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971). Giorgio Ferroni, who had been directing since the late-1930s, would direct only one film after Night of the Devils. He is perhaps best known to genre fans for his film, Mill of the Stone Women (1960). His 60s filmography is full of sword-and-sandal films and Westerns, like many an Italian director of the period, and shamefully, I've seen little of his other work. However, I don't really think Ferroni would be able to top Devils, at least in terms of cinematic bliss, for this viewer.Genre cinema during the period was going through a transitional phase, and Devils, either consciously or subconsciously, was representative of this transition. When Nicola's car is diverted off the road by a mysterious figure, his trip through the forest is like a trip back in time. He encounters a superstitious and anachronistic family living all alone in seclusion. The family boards the house up at night, something's out there, but Nicola just sees them as backwards and dysfunctional with some serious skeletons in the closet. Nicola eventually falls in love with Sdenka and wants to take her away to the city, but Sdenka's got some issues to resolve at home--for example, her father, who goes out one day on a quest to end the evil that has been plaguing their home. If he does not return before nightfall at the stroke of six, his oldest son is going to kill him. In dramatic fashion, the old man arrives as the clock is chiming.Belli's performance as Sdenka is terrific. She would also make noteworthy performances in genre cinema in Sergio Sollima's Revolver (1973) and Alberto de Martino's Rain of Fire (1977). All of the performances are better than average, including the two child actors, and not least of all, Garko, who gives his best performance, in my opinion, outside of the Western. The special effects are by Carlo Rambaldi, who worked previously on Bava's Twitch of the Death Nerve and would go on to work on King Kong (1976) and E.T. (1982). The effects range from laughable to credible but always gory. Ferroni really excels at the atmospherics, and I believe Devils is on par with Black Sabbath in this respect. Giorgio Gaslini's score is also particularly noteworthy. It's a mix of operatic classical combined with more progressive and abstract sounds. Night of the Devils has been relegated to obscurity, and it's time this one's dug up. Like some of the later films from the waning Hammer Studios, there was a lot of interesting films produced before the sun fell upon them.

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