Color, 1971, 94 mins. 54 secs.
Directed by Jean Brismée
Starring Erika Blanc, Jean Servais, Jacques Monseau, Daniel Emilfork, Ivana Novak, Lorenzo Terzon, Shirley Corrigan
Mondo Macabro (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Image Entertainment (US R1 NTSC), Salvation (UK R0 PAL) / WS (1.66:1)
This Belgian-Italian supernatural gothic gem has been circulating on video under so many titles and variant cuts that it would be impossible to list them all. The primary reason for the film's cult rests with the presence of sultry Erika Blanc, a drop-dead gorgeous '60's and '70's scream queen (see The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave and Kill, Baby... Kill!, among others) who really outdoes herself here as a scantily-clad succubus.
The crazy and utterly beguiling plot finds our unearthly siren, Lisa (Blanc), decimating seven tourists who are more or less representatives of the seven deadly sins, which led some folks to call this a precursor to David Fincher's Seven! The tourists traveling by bus end up getting waylaid by a roadblock and spend the evening at the castle of Baron von Rhoneberg (Rififi's Servais), an alchemist whose family is under a curse that turns the firstborn daughter into a succubus in league with Satan. (To get around this, in a frequently censored prologue we even see him impaling his newborn daughter with a blade as bombs rain down on Berlin at the end of World War II.) Among the potential victims, the most pure of heart is a young priest, Alvin (Monseau), who locks in a battle of wits with Lisa when she shows up for the night as well and initiates a swift body count.
The murders themselves are fairly mild here with the bloodshed more in line with those old dark castle chillers like Castle of Blood, so the fun really lies in the film's giddy disregard for restraint and logic. Characters ogle each other, their food, money, and the castle setting with wild abandon as the film's nominal hero looks on oh so solemnly. Daniel Emilfork, one of Fellini's trademark oddball actors, makes an appearance as a sinister stranger with a crucial role at the end, and composer (and frequent Morricone whistler) Alessandro Alessandroni virtually steals the film with his insane, electric-guitar-tinged score with eerie vocals by Giulia De Mutiis (credited as "Julie" or "Julia," which had an earlier, differently arranged incarnation in another Mondo Macabro release, The Deserter. However, this is really Blanc's show as she gets to strut her stuff as one of Euro horror's most tantalizing femme fatales, showing off some fetching (and insanely revealing) outfits while occasionally turning into an apparition that truly looks like something from beyond the grave.
After those many, many aforementioned VHS releases under titles like Succubus and The Devil Walks at Midnight, The Devil's Nightmare (or just Devil's Nightmare going by some editions) made history in 1999 as the very first Redemption DVD release in 1999 through Image Entertainment (slightly preceded by a laserdisc release as well). The non-anamorphic letterboxed presentation was solid for the time and a nice step up from previous editions, but the big selling point was the restoration of an hysterically prolonged lesbian sequence featuring Crimes of the Black Cat's Shirley Corrigan (previously unseen in the U.S. in any form) that turns this into a softcore sex film from a few minutes. Though the packaging fails to note it, the DVD contains the Italian soundtrack on the second audio channel (with no subs). It's great fun as this version contains a far more pronounced music score and some odd variations in the dubbing of dialogue, though it never comes close to syncing with the actors. The film is followed by a brief U.S. TV spot and also has one of those endless shot-on-video intros with Eileen Daly and topless friends vamping it up with lots of flames and stage blood, a gimmick that was mercifully dropped after a few more releases. The U.K. Redemption DVD contains only the English language dialogue track but does throw in a gallery of twenty stills, ten posters, and five video covers, and sports a somewhat cleaner and more stable transfer.
Fans waiting for the inevitable Blu-ray release of this classic had a long spell ahead as this one didn't turn up until 2019 from Mondo Macabro, and thankfully it proved to be worth it. The region-free release first appeared as a limited red case edition (featuring exclusive postcards featuring the original art campaign and a liner notes booklet by Pete Tombs) and a standard edition, with the disc contents identical either way. The new 2K scan from the original camera negative is preceded by a disclaimer about the less than optimal conditions of the film's storage over time, which means you'll some image fluctuations and little scratches from time to time. It's still a major upgrade over the DVD though and makes for a very rich viewing experience. The opening prologue (which seems to differ slightly in every version out there) is presented in black-and-white here versus the sepia tone on the DVD. The LPCM mono options include the usual English dub and, in its first appearance ever, an English-subtitled version of the original French language track in which the actors actually performed. It's the best of the available options with the performances coming off for more naturally, though of course that English track has its own drive-in style charms as well. A new audio commentary by Troy Howarth is upbeat and entertaining as he bounces through tidbits about the castle location, the cast, the connections to other Euro genre films of the same time, the meager history of Belgian horror cinema, the circumstances of the six-week shoot, some dubious interior design calls, and tons more. A video interview with one-shot director Jean Brismée (32m40s) is a fascinating and welcome look at a pivotal figure in the Belgian cinema community, with several short films and TV projects under his belt along with founding a major film school, INSAS. In addition to discussing this film and its script process, he also touches on the unique artistic situation in Belgium with French and Flemish interests making things more complicated than usual. Next up is first assistant director Robert Lombaerts (23m4s), who also performed second unit directorial duties (including the lesbian sequence) and discusses getting his start at INSAS and worked with many other alumni on the film, some of them with quite illustrious credentials. Finally another member of the crew, avant garde director and INSAS alumnus Roland Lethem, appears for a third interview (29m14s) about his own path to ending up on the set and his role in the Belgian film scene. Some of the film clips in this thing are crazy, too. Finally the disc closes out with two U.S. trailers (both quite lengthy), the usual TV spot, and the U.K. trailer.
Mondo Macabro (Blu-ray)
Image Entertainment (DVD)
Updated review on April 22, 2019