Attractive young holidaymakers are disappearing at an alarming rate in a remote region of Greece. Only a lonely old priest, Father Roche (Donald Pleasence) suspects the true reason for this: a pagan, Minotaur-worshipping cult, led by Baron Corofax (Peter Cushing) has summoned the Devil himself in black magic rituals requiring the sacrifice of unsuspecting, sun-seeking tourists! Three archaeologist friends of Roche go missing while on a dig, prompting the fiancé of one of them, Laurie (Luan Peters), to travel to Greece to find him. Roche enlists the help of an old friend from New York called Milo (Costa Skouras) in his fight against the gathering forces of darkness, and the trio soon find themselves pitted against hypnotised, devil worshipping villagers led by the evil Corofax -- who is, himself, in the service of Beelzebub!
The most noteworthy aspect of the production history of "The Devil's Men" (as detailed by Marcus Hearne and Jonathan Rigby in their informative viewing notes for the film) is the fact that Poseidon Films -- the independent production company who made it -- was originally established in the hope of reviving the moribund career of Britain's maverick film making genius Michael Powell, who, despite directing a string of acclaimed masterpieces of cinema in association with Emeric Pressburger (such as "The Red Shoes" and "Black Narcissus") in the forties, had since found it impossible to regain critical and commercial approval after the scandal created by his 1960 horror flick "Peeping Tom". Greek ex-film critic-turned-director Costas Carayiannis and his associate, Frixos Constantine formed Poseidon with Powell, intending to launch Powell's dream project -- an adaptation of "The Tempest". The project fell through though, leaving Powell (whose career was now at an all time low) free to continue his association with his two friends by helping them out with their various shoestring projects, one of which was a cheaply made horror quickie, directed by Carayiannis himself. This became known as "The Devil's Men". The film itself also garners some degree of interest from the fact that it possesses a pulsing, ambient electronic score, written and performed by non-other than Brian Eno! Along with the varied cast list, which reunites Donald Pleasence with Peter Cushing for the first time since 1959's "The Flesh and the Fiends", these associations lead one to think this might be a really interesting little flick.
Unfortunately, this Anglo-American production appeared at a weird time for the British horror movie. It obviously wants to be like recently released occult horror sensations "The Exorcist" or "The Omen", but, in reality, is still very much trapped in the traditional Hammer mould. Carayiannis' directorial style is competent enough, but shows little of the punchyness or flair that the more hard-hitting horror movies of the time were famous for; instead we have only derisory nods towards this brand of new horror. For instance, the film's opening discovery of ancient artefacts amid picturesque ruins of ancient Greek civilisation, which then go on to unleash devilish forces, is presumably meant to be a cheaper variation on the Iraq-set opening scenes of "The Exorcist". Also, the minotaur cult's victims are all "trendy-looking" blonde seventies hippy chicks in cutaway jeans, or bearded fellas in jesus scandals -- something which is presumably intended give the film a hip contemporary feel. (In fact, the casting director appears to have been a big fan of blondes since every single role requiring a young female to play the part is filled by a very similar type of woman!) The trouble is, rather than the terrifying possession scenes of "The Exorcist" or the unnerving evil atmosphere generated in "The Omen", this film has a Devil who makes himself known through a ridiculous voice with a cheesy echo effect on it which booms from a stone statue of a minotaur! This is not really convincing or scary!
The plot, such as it stands, is entirely constructed of standard Hammer horror style elements: we have an authoritative evil Baron (played by the same person who always tends to play authoritative evil Barons in Hammer films!) controlling a bunch of simple villagers through black magic, and a Van Helsing-type figure (Pleasence) who is the only person capable of stopping him; the plot moves at a glacial pace and ends up consisting of a succession of set-pieces along the lines of "The Devil Rides Out" or "To the Devil...a Daughter", where the Devil's minions launch a number of surprise attacks on the protagonists and eventually manage to kidnap the heroine; and the climax is a fairly predictable sequence involving the heroes confronting the Baron and his robed worshipers in the middle of one of their sacrificial rituals -- although it is all still quite artfully done! In the final analysis, the film is successful, neither as an imaginative, traditional British horror flick or a contemporary supernatural thriller. It is not a badly made or unwatchable film though by any means and there are several good things about it: namely Pleasence and Cushing who turn-in very pleasing reruns of characters they'd both played a million times before by this point, but are still enjoyable to watch again nevertheless! Although the gore is kept fairly light, there is a ridiculous amount of unnecessary female nudity on display -- something which betrays the film's mid-seventies origins more than anything else about it -- with all those young blonde females required to shed their clothes at some point in an endless succession of shower, bath or love scenes! Other than its two leads, the most recognisable member of the cast is Laun Peters, who many will remember from a classic episode of "Fawlty Towers" where she played an Australian tourist who gets accidentally groped by John Cleese's bumbling snob, Basil Fawlty! She also had minor roles in Hammer's "Lust For a Vampire" and "Twins of Evil".
The film is presented by DD Home Entertainment in a non-anamorphic print, letterboxed at 1.66:1. The print is a bit dark but otherwise not too bad. The audio track is the original mono mix and sounds quite clear -- being largely free of pops and crackles. Extras consist of an animated photo gallery and a twenty-five minute interview with Christopher Lee about his friend Peter Cushing conducted by Hammer historian, Marcus Hearne. A glossy twenty-four page booklet of viewing notes by Hearne and "English Gothic" author, Jonathan Rigby also provides a valuable record of the film's production history and its initial reception in the UK and US.
"The Devil's Men" is no classic but Cushing fans and fans of British horror in general will be interested in this curiosity, and DD Home Entertainment have given it a fairly nice release.