Color, 1973, 98 mins. 13 secs.
Directed by Renato Polselli
Starring Mickey Hargitay, Rita Calderoni, Christa Barrymore, Raul Lovecchio, Max Dorian, Stefania Fassio, Cristina Perrier
Indicator (UHD & Blu-ray) (US/UK R0 4K/HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Kino Lorber (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Redemption (US R0 NTSC, UK R0 PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), / Image (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1)

One of the Black Magic Riteswildest and most experimental films from the Italian horror boom of the early '70s, this once-obscure offering from director Renato Black Magic RitesPolselli (Delirium, The Vampire and the Ballerina) languished unseen for years after its Italian play dates under the title Riti, magie nere e segrete orge nel trecento... ("Rites, Black Magic and Secret Orgies in the Fourteenth Century"). A nearly plotless blast of ooga-booga satanism, rampant nudity, and eyeball-searing colors, it returned to find a far more appreciative audience at the dawn of the DVD era in 1998 as one of the format's first releases from Image Entertainment and Redemption Films under the title The Reincarnation of Isabel, though apparently some prints have also floating around under the title The Ghastly Orgies of Count Dracula. Then the title was shortened by Redemption to the one we have now, but whatever it's called, this is still one seriously crazy slice of sex and violence with a strong surrealist bent.

The story, what there is of it, skips back and forth over the centuries as a cult of devil worshipers in a castle rounds up women to harvest as a blood offering. Their purpose is to bring back their supernatural founder, Isabella (Nude for Satan's Calderoni), who was tied up and burned alive by angry villagers (for reasons never made entirely clear, but apparently she was a sorceress of some kind). The castle's owner (Hargitay) brings his stepdaughter, Laureen (also Calderoni), to party down with some of her friends, and the stage is set for a rampage of red-cloaked orgies filled with ample flesh, blood drinking, and Black Magic Ritesbig holes punched in people's Black Magic Riteschests.

Much of the cast from the already extreme Delirium reunite with Polselli here, apparently trying to push the boundaries of narrative horror filmmaking as far as it can go without breaking. (And some might argue that not only does it break, but Polselli and company grab all the shattered pieces, fling them in the air, and do a samba on top of them.) The entire thing is amazing to watch, sort of like what might happen in Mario Bava and Kenneth Anger dropped acid together in a castle. On top of that you get cultists running around in makeup and red tights, which might be some kind of homage to Hargitay's beloved turn in Bloody Pit of Horror. (The former husband of Jayne Mansfield has quite the exploitation track record, to put it mildly.) On top of that there's some bug-eyed comic relief courtesy of the astonishing Stefania Fassio as Steffy (with an iconic hairdo), a dizzying music score by Gianfraco Reverberi that skips genres every five minutes or so, and that aforementioned dual role for the gorgeous Calderoni, whose career began with A Quiet Place in the Country and lasted barely over a decade. As for Polselli, he had at least one more outrageous shocker up his sleeve later the same year with the mondo/porn/horror hybrid Rivelazioni di uno psichiatra sul mondo perverso del sesso, but that one proved too extreme for a release by any English-language distributor; hopefully someone will get around to that one eventually. In the meantime, we now have a gorgeous HD version of this bonkers cult classic; as long as you don't expect it to all make much sense at all, just sit back and enjoy all the mayhem.

The flat letterboxed version released by Image on DVD was fine for its time, with Redemption eventually issuing it under their own Black Magic Ritesbanner in a solid anamorphic upgrade. However, those were easily bested by Redemption's upgrade on Blu-ray and DVD in 2012 from Kino Lorber. The Black Magic Ritescolor scheme for this film has always been a bit insane, but the Blu-ray version pushes it into overdrive with a visual assault of hellish reds, purples, blues, yellows, and everything in between. The negative has been kept in fine condition over the years (not surprising considering how few prints were actually made), and while there are some little white specks here and there, it's in nice shape with as much detail as the film stock will allow. As usual for Kino/Redemption titles, this has been left essentially untouched without any digital smoothing or noise clean up; the photography is intentionally a little soft at times, but this looks like an accurate and very pleasing presentation. The mono Italian track (an English one was apparently never created) is presented with optional English subtitles. Extras include the long Italian theatrical trailer ("La psicosi del terrore crea il terrore che uccide!") and bonus ones for Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Lisa and the Devil, The Nude Vampire, and Shiver of the Vampires.

Over a decade later in 2023, Indicator revisited the film from separate 4K UHD(!) and Blu-ray editions in the U.S. and U.K, featuring a fresh 4K restoration from the camera negative that offers a significant improvement with greater detail, much more gradation in the colors (especially with HDR on the UHD), and a great deal of extra horizontal image information with the 1.85:1 framing looking more balanced than the zoomed-in 1.78:1 of the prior transfers. This transfer also fixes some severe fading that affected the right side of the image for portions of the first reel (see second comparison frame grabs below.) The DTS-HD MA Italian 2.0 mono track is also in excellent shape and features improved optional English subtitles. A new audio commentary by the always amicable team of David Flint and Kim Newman covers ties to literary horror works including Dracula, the essentials of Polselli's filmography, the possible reasons for the film's long period of obscurity, and Hargitay's life story and career. Eugenio Ercolani's "The 7th Art According to Ralph Brown" (33m43s) is a fascinating look at the first half of Polselli's Black Magic Ritescareer featuring an archival timecoded VHS interview with the filmmaker dotted through comments from Hargitay and director and programmer Luca Rea (who worked with Polselli on a retrospective of his work), Black Magic Ritestouching on various urban legends about his personality and offering some context for his works that seem to exist in some warped galaxy of their own. In "When We Were Crazy" (18m32s), a very bemused Reverberi looks back at his music career starting in childhood, his time in pop music, his own lack of interest in the horror genre, and his memories of Polselli and scoring this film with a "tribal" approach. In "Chaos Magic" (38m47s), Stephen Thrower presents his own entertaining appraisal of this film and its filmmaker whose progression from the 1950s onward reflected a dedication to his craft that veered into some highly orthodox storytelling directions. Finally in "Rock Delirium" (24m57s), soundtrack expert Lovely Jon extensively analyzes Reverberi's somewhat mysterious place in the Italian film music canon (along with his younger brother, Gian Piero), with his commercial music background informing the genre-fusing approach taken to this project. Also included are the Italian trailer and a 16-image gallery, while the 80-page book included with the set features a new essay by Miranda Corcoran ("Black Magic Rites and Popular Satanism in the 1970s"), a "Blood, Sex and Gialli" interview with Polselli by Jay Slater covering his entire career, Andrea di Francesco and Giuseppe Policelli's "Renato Polselli: The Cinema Is Not Art" editing together Polselli's brief comments about most of his films and topics like pornography, and a new study by Roberto Curti, "The Rites of Censorship," about the director's troubled history with the local censors.


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Updated on September 10, 2023.