The 1970s were the golden age of pulp horror euro-trash cinema and the aesthetic doesn’t come looking much trashier or cheesier or, indeed, pulpy, than it does in this particularly pungent smorgasbord display of exploitation material written and directed by someone called Jordi Gigó, a Spanish filmmaker who seems to have bided his time before taking up the reins of this entertainingly clumsy French-Spanish horror co-production by knocking out the occasional obscure porno film before promptly disappearing without a trace. Replete with names and faces that will doubtless be all too familiar to the connoisseur of similar such continental sleaze efforts (since many in the cast regularly also turned up in those cheap but evocative exercises in the luridly macabre essayed by the Eurocine stable of directors), “The Devil’s Kiss” is not a very good film from the point of view of any conventional criteria of film appreciation – but as an prime example, though, of the kind of lurid 1970s comic-strip blended and cellulite-exposing eurotica that combines French disco camp with cheaply instrumented gothic horror tropes from the crypt, this is surely the non plus ultra of the genre!
All the various elements we expect to encounter from such an effort turn up one by one in the first ten minutes: we start off by joining an strangely elite chateau gathering deep in the French countryside, in which a collection of bored-looking, elderly aristocratic sophisticates and their wives resignedly watch a lengthily staged ‘erotic’ tribal dance act -- quickly followed by an absurdly camp fashion show in which buxom euro totty models trot out their exaggerated ‘chicken walk’ funky moves on the stage while dressed in brightly decorated, body-hugging floral cat-suits and platform heels, jiving to a progressive rock beat that accompanies some searing fuzz tone guitar, heavy riffing base and wild jazz organ manoeuvres. This somewhat unorthodox entertainment has been put on especially, by the middle-aged Duke de Haussemont (José Nieto), as a prelude to the main event: a séance, conducted by psychic medium Madam Grandier (Silvia Solar) deep in the chateau’s vaults. This sultry raven-haired attendee arrives in a black limousine, accompanied by a taciturn silver-haired gentleman called Romain Gruber (Olivier Mathot) who is jointly both a professor working on the science of cell regeneration and an expert in telepathy. Claire Grandier has another reason for being here though: unbeknownst to most of the guests, she is the former Countess Moncorn, the previous owner of this very chateau and a wronged woman, who lost everything and had to sell up to the Duke after the suicide of her husband. She blames the somewhat placid and unsuspecting present owner for this state of affairs and, aided by her companion and lover professor Gruber, plans on exacting a needlessly convoluted revenge that makes unusual use (in equal measure) of the professor’s particular brand of weird science and her own special brew of Satanic powers, gleaned from the pursuit of practical occult ritual.
“The Devil’s Kiss” is typical of its genre in that manages to combine lethargic funerary pacing with a long list of outrageously silly happenings, executed with the usual euro-dross flair for histrionic ham acting, bad lip synching (no matter which of the two audio languages provided you choose to watch it in), crashingly clumsy editing and risible dialogue. Various miscellaneous music cues alternate between jazzy work outs and Gothic melodrama with scant regard for appropriateness. As Gigó works to try and squeeze in as many scenes of gratuitous nudity as possible, courtesy of the film’s long list of second division euro starlets, the story undergoes numerous rather torturous false starts before finally getting to the nitty-gritty … and then things only get weirder still!
Grandier and Gruber are invited to stay at the Chateau after a less than succesful attempt to contact the spirit of the Duke de Haussemont’s brother Laurent during the séance results in things going bump in the night in Laurent’s old bedroom. The Duke wants the duo to conduct special research into the afterlife (or something) and so Gruber makes for Paris to pick up his test tubes, pipets and the traditional smoking vials of coloured liquids we see him stooped over later on in the film, while Madam Grandier reacquaints herself with her old stables in the grounds of her former home. While horseback riding outside a nearby village one day she stumbles across a dishevelled, hippy-looking sex pest dwarf in a holey jumper (bear with me) who’s being hunted by the local villagers for groping up one of the village maidens! Evidently deciding that every dabbling diabolist and unnatural experimenter requires his/her own Igor figure, Grandier gives the mute dwarf his own room in the Chateau while the Duke is conveniently away on business, keeping her diminutive assistant aboard by lavishing him with platefuls of nosh (‘pace yourself’ she helpfully suggests after handing him an overflowing plate) while keeping him entertained by parading about in front of the bewildered renegade sans her top and bra. When Gruber returns, the next stage of the plan is revealed: the duo (with the help of their new dwarf dogsbody to do all the grunt work) disinter the corpse of a recently deceased local man from the cemetery, and set about putting into motion a crazy plan to resurrect the dead.
The film’s visual references seem to range right across the Gothic horror spectrum, from various Hammer versions of the Frankenstein story to a more supernaturally inclined visual context that derives more of its texture from the content of the Dracula films. Thus, Grandier and Gruber require the paraphernalia associated with satanic ceremonial rituals and which involve a black-robed Madam Grandier indulging in various theatrically demonstrative practices that require the use of chalked pentagrams and black candles, and the utterance of exotic sounding incantations; but also the pseudoscientific performances of the white-coated professor Gruber, working behind the scenes to bring about cell regeneration in the stretched-out stitched up corpse they now have hidden away in his coffin in the Chateau cellar, which is later to be inhabited by a satanic spirit awoken by Grandier’s diabolical spells.
To cap the mixed bag of second-hand references the film depends on, there’s a living dead theme: Gruber uses his telepathic powers to remotely control the lumbering zombie brute that results from this wild combination of black magic and biological science. The somnambulist that emerges (played by Moisés Augusto Rocha – who also, incidentally, starred alongside the actor playing the Duke, José Nieto, in the bizarre Spanish-German co-production “The MiniKillers”, which starred Diana Rigg in a bewildering Emma Peel-like spoof role) looks one-part like Christopher Lee’s creature in “The Curse of Frankenstein” -- with huge, raw-looking stiches and one eye gruesomely swollen and healed over with scars -- and one part like Freddie Jones’s bald-headed monster in “Frankenstein Must be Destroyed”. The creature lumbers about, arms outstretched, shirtless in high waist-banded trousers, carrying out the murderous commands of his vengeful resurrectionist master and mistress .
Things seem to be going to plan for our evil duo for a time, but complications ensue when the Duke’s playboy photographer brother, Richard (Daniel Martín), turns up with his beautiful model girlfriend (Maria Silva) and Grandier and Gruber have to hastily conceal their murder-by-undead-proxy scheme (‘thank god we had time to hide the dwarf and the coffin,’ Grandier sighs with some relief). But as fat, trench-coated cops investigate the ensuing zombie strangulation murders in the French countryside, the somnambulist starts going on unauthorised nocturnal wanders and Gruber confesses he is no longer in control of it. When the Chateau Haussemont’s maid, Loretta (Evelyne Scott), is murdered In her bed one night, the duo try to conceal the fact by re-animating her as well … and her boyfriend gets a nasty surprise when, ignoring her pasty, sunken-eyed complexion and blank gaze, he tries to make out with her and gets stabbed to death with a pair of scissors seized from the bedside table for his troubles!
“The Devil’s Kiss” is sloppy, laughable and only barely competently made, but I must admit I enjoyed every daft retro second of it. Its combination of rudimentary white-faced zombie make-up and a cast who give comic-book style performances that suggest most of them are in on the joke comes together with sometimes weirdly evocative sequences which make use of the typically sedate and sophisticated French Chateau settings we know and love from the work of Jean Rollin (this most resembles Rollin’s “Shiver of the Vampire” in style, although its nowhere near as artfully executed) to produce some memorable material. The Hammer Films derived monster-zombie is oddly watchable as he lumbers around amid the baroque 18th century furnishings at night, and the way he suddenly lunges at full pelt whenever he sniffs any prospect of nubile, scantily clad flesh on offer, produces some compelling moments that work as unintentional comedy whilst still somehow largely retaining their creepiness factor. Eurohorror fans will have a blast with this one, but casual viewers should probably stay well away!
The print used for this UK ArrowDrome release looks quite nice considering this film is hardly a fully restored masterpiece, and you get the choice of mono French or English audio with removable English subtitles (which are rife with spelling and grammatical errors, although still easily understandable). The only disc extra is a trailer reel of Eurocine titles, most of which are in quite poor nick. They include “The Female Vampire”, “Orloff and the Invisible Man”, “Oasis of the Living Dead”, “Zombie Lake” and “The Sadistic Baron von Klauss”. The disc also features a booklet with new writing by genre expert Stephen Thrower, although this was not available for review.
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