Color, 1974, 84 mins. 37 secs. / 83 mins. 38 secs.
Directed by Joe Wiezycki
Starring Stephen White, Eldon Mecham, Joyce Molloy, Kathleen Archer, Bob Barbour, John Edwards
SATANIS: THE DEVIL'S MASS
Color, 1969, 85 mins. 42 secs.
Directed by Ray Laurent
American Genre Film Archive / Something Weird (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Image Entertainment (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)
Among the occult fads that gripped American pop culture in the late '60s and throughout the 1970s -- UFOs, psychic abilities, haunted houses, etc. -- Satanism actually seems pretty mundane by comparison, perhaps because it had been around in horror movies for so long. However, the watershed double home run of Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist ensured that all things Satanic would be populating movie screens for a long time, which led to some very, very odd productions that now seem like broadcasts from another planet. Case in point: Satan's Children, a Tampa-based horror film that never really got an official release until home video and now stands as one of the most fascinating cult items from the Something Weird vaults. It's had three go-rounds now -- one DVD and two Blu-rays(!) -- so let's sort it all out, shall we?
Fluffy-haired young Bobby (White) has a miserable suburban home life in Florida and ends up running away when his bitchy stepsister, Janis (Molloy), rats him out over a bag of weed in his closet. That night he ends up dodging the advances of an older male customer and finds a roof from the seemingly kindly Jake (Barbour), who ends up raping Bobby at knife point, tying him up, and taking him for a joyride during which he's further molested by three more drunk jerks. The next morning he's found unconscious in a park by the dope-smoking Satan's Children who take him back home. Sherry (Archer) takes a shine to him immediately, but Joshua (Edwards) protests because he thinks the new arrival is "queer." A power struggle erupts between them as they summon "the Master" by praying to a stuffed blue goat head and lynching undesirable members... oh, and that's just the first half hour. From there it's a feast of depravity as Bobby decides to prove his heterosexuality and loyalty to the forces of darkness, which involves Satanists getting buried up to their heads and covered in ants, decapitations, and dialogue like "You're weak. You're a loser. Satan wants winners."
Gloriously nuts, this film is so conflicted you could get whiplash trying to figure out what its creators actually think about religion, sexual orientation, or linear plotlines. The dialogue seems to have a major grudge against gay men, which sits oddly with the many lingering shots of Bobby in his tighty whities and buff guys walking around in tank tops. There's even an online production diary about the film that sheds some light on how it came about (including the recruiting of local college theater actors for most of the cast, which explains a lot), though not much about what the real intentions were. One thing's for sure though; there's nothing else out there remotely like it, and there isn't a single dull second. For maximum effect, try programming it on a double feature with Midnight.
In an interesting twist, Satan's Children -- which played with zero fanfare in a very tiny handful of local theaters -- was added as a co-feature to the 2002 Image / Something Weird DVD of William Girdler's Asylum of Satan and wound up attracting far more attention than its more famous main attraction. Extras on that disc include commentary and behind-the-scenes footage for Asylum of Satan, a "Satan's Dance" short subject, "The Soul Snatcher" featurette, and a "ghastly gallery of ghoulish comic cover art" along with trailers (Horror High, Dr. Tarr's Torture Dungeon, The House of Missing Girls, Don't Look in the Basement, The House That Vanished, The Murder Clinic, Mansion of the Doomed, House of the Damned, and Asylum of Satan).
In 2019, AGFA and Something Weird brought the film to Blu-ray as a minimized co-feature to Satanis: The Devil's Mass. Hailing from the tumultuous year of 1969, Satanis is a chatty documentary about the burgeoning Church of Satan in the San Francisco area spearheaded by the infamous Anton LaVey, who's seen expounding on the major tenets of his religion as an expression of human indulgence in all its non-violent forms. Other person on the street interviews from both sides of the aisle are also included, intercut with footage of various black masses and chats with multiple witches about their own proclivities. You also get some spooky nude writhing with a boa constrictor, a bizarre monologue about childhood gas passing, a reference to Thor and Loki that plays a little strangely now, and lots of footage of LaVey in a horned devil suit. Barely released in theaters by Sherpix (who also handled Lonesome Cowboys and Pink Narcissus, among others), Satanis first appeared on DVD in 2003 from Image Entertainment in its Something Weird line paired up with Sinthia the Devil's Doll, with extras including three "Satanic shorts" ("British Black Mass," "My Tale Is Hot," and "Sexual Ritual of the Occult"), "supernatural trailers" (The Devil's Hand, House of Exorcism, Mark of the Devil Part II, Meat Cleaver Massacre, and Witchcraft '70), and the usual gallery of sexploitaiton ads. The Blu-ray features a fresh HD scan of what appears to be the same 16mm print (maybe the only element out there at all by this point), which features a moderate uptick in detail and better color timing but won't exactly set the world on fire given the limitations of the source. The DTS-HD MA English mono track is also fine for what it is, but don't expect your speakers to get much of a workout.
That first Blu-ray mattes Satan's Children at 1.78:1 versus the differently framed 1.33:1 presentation on the DVD, and it works fine compositionally this way without anything significant getting cropped. The red and yellow tinge from the DVD is gone here and replaced with paler colors; the 35mm source print (apparently all that's left anywhere) is also less damaged and more complete, running a minute longer than the DVD version. The DTS-HD MA English mono track once again is fine for a vintage film print, and the crazy electronic score (by the director's son) still sounds great. On the extras side, "Satan in Church" (8m34s) is a bizarre animated short (first seen on the Something DVD of The Joys of Jezebel) about a Catholic church thrown into upheaval, complete with a freaky jazz score and a cackling devil intercut with recreations of the final days of Christ. Then "Boys Beware" (14m7s) is a Pasadena-produced '70s scare short (the third version made since the early '60s) about the perils of sexual predators out there preying on young boys, who probably think that kind of thing only happens to girls. Sleazy and grimy, this one has more racial diversity than the 1961 original, which isn't exactly a good thing as we see numerous scenarios about predators including a really skeevy baseball coach. Finally it's time for "Torrid Trailers from Lucifer's boudoir!" consisting of Magdalena - Possessed by the Devil, Devil Times Five, The Devil Within Her, The Devil's Wedding Night, and The Touch of Satan.
In 2022, Satan's Children finally earned its own standalone release (justifiably so) with a Blu-ray presentation that appears to be culled from the same scan but given a lot more TLC here with a considerable amount of color correction giving it a much healthier, more vibrant look. The blazing reds in Bobby's bedroom look great here, and the flesh tones are the most convincing and consistent of all three releases. Audio-wise it sounds about the same, which is fine, and English SDH subtitles are included. Ported over here are the "Boys Beware" and "Satan in Church" shorts along with the trailer reel (in slightly different order), but you get two great new bonuses as well. First up is an audio commentary by Elizabeth Purchell and AGFA's Bret Berg, with the former's Tampa native status coming in especially handy here parsing out the history behind the musical arrangements by "Leadfeather," the bizarre nature of Florida regional filmmaking, ties to other genre films, the unpleasantness of shooting in a shed in Florida, Tampa skater culture, the turns into "John Waters territory," and the TV station that had to be kept in the dark so its employees could work on the production. Also included is a 2014 reunion Q&A with the cast and crew (27m34s) for a screening in Tampa; though they aren't credited anywhere, it consists of White and actors Rosemary Orlando and John Edwards with special makeup effects artist John Mocsary and sound recordist / bit actor Bill Dudley, emceed by Joel Wyncoop. Though White seems a bit tired and/or befuddled on the far left, everyone else is in very fine spirits here with tons of lively stories about the film including the "hilarious" car assault scene, the use of real African ants and trying to keep them around for the weekend, getting script pages along the way, and the "it's a job" mentality that got them through some of the crazier moments.
SATAN'S CHILDREN (2022 Blu-ray)
SATAN'S CHILDREN (2019 Blu-ray)
SATAN'S CHILDREN (DVD)
SATANIS: THE DEVIL'S MASS (Blu-ray)
SATANIS: THE DEVIL'S MASS (DVD)
Updated review on July 26, 2022.