Set in 18th Century Austria Mark of the Devil details the deterioration of a small village society under the oppressive regime of the church and its wicked witch finders. They accuse and torture any and every one they encounter without evidence or real authority, often for their own nefarious and greedy gains rather than the good of the people.
Oddly enough there is much in this 1970‘s extremely violent cash-in on the British classic Witchfinder General that rings disturbingly true to audiences today living in a world of religious extremism, Stop and Search powers for police, The Patriot Act allowing unjust imprisonment, tabloid scare tactics and mob mentality. All of these can be paralleled with the powers of the church and the panic of the people they incite seen in this story.
Ruled and repressed by the evil Albino (Reggie Nalder) the townsfolk live in fear of accusation and death as the corrupt witch finder parades around taking what he pleases be it food, money or even women. When spirited barmaid Vanessa (Olivera Katarina) stands up to his lecherous advances he calls her and witch and takes her away to be tortured as he has done a hundred times before.
However the arrival of Count Christian von Meruh (cult icon Udo Kier) seemingly scuppers Albino’s power trip as it heralds a visit from his mentor and master the legendary witch finder Lord Cumberland (The Dead Zone’s Herbert Lom) who has come to the village to clean up the murderous mess of miss accusations.
Dedicated to his religion and his cause Christian believes his work and the path laid down by Lord Cumberland to be just and righteous but as the victims of the churches witch charges are brought in front of him including Vanessa all claiming their innocence he starts to be plagued by a dangerous doubt that makes him question everything he has come to believe in.
Filmed in an Austrian castle where real life interrogations had taken place and using many of the authentic torture devices from the time, Mark of the Devil is both an exploitative gore fest full of graphic torture, rape and violence and an insightful look into a horrific period in history, depicting the men who revelled in the power given to them by God to indulge their twisted desires.
Available for the first time in its full uncut glory people are burned at the stake, have their tongues torn out, put through excruciating water torture and decapitated all in the name of God in an attempt to get them to confess their sins and devil worship even though they all protest and plea for mercy.
The film has some excellent effects. In fact the excessive horror works well to prove the film’s point as the audience is at first shocked and appalled by what they see. But then with the frequent brutal scenes, the viewer almost becomes numb to it all, only reacting when the ante is upped sufficiently. This is in many ways a reflection of the towns folk and the torturers who view these terrible and disturbing acts as a mundane everyday occurrence.
Another excellent element is that throughout the entire film no one is ever seen to be magic or proven in any way to be in league with the devil. This makes their ordeals at the hands of their captures even worse.
From a woman being raped by a Bishop, to a nobleman who has an inheritance the church wants to take, to a couple who make wooden puppets to entertain their children the charges move from unfair to ridiculous, yet all are frighteningly believable.
At its core Mark of the Devil proves the age old adage that ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’ and the men in charge are seen to swerve their own needs above all else doing more work for Satan than any of the accused.
Although the cast are annoyingly badly dubbed at times, their performances are excellent. And Udo Kier especially manages to convey with his still and stunning eyes the mental pain and moral anguish he goes through watching his mentor descend from righteous Holy crusader to a rapping murdering power mad pig.
Equally parts excessive bloodletting, historical horror and stark unsettling expose of religious corruption (although they may not have realised at the time of making it) Mark of the Devil has as much to say about the 21st century climate of chaos and terror as it does about the atrocities that took place in humanities past.