SATANIS: THE DEVIL'S MASS
Color, 1969, 85 mins. 42 secs.
Directed by Ray Laurent
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
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 hybrids that now seem like broadcasts from another planet. Case in point: a Blu-ray double feature from the Something Weird vaults released by the American Genre Film Archive, Satanis: The Devil's Mass and Satan's Children. Both have been around on DVD for years on separate releases, but having them together in HD is a special experience that proves the format is still full of surprises.
The earlier of the two, 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.
Then it's on to our co-feature on the Blu-ray and the real reason to pick it up, Satan's Children, a stunning slice of drive-in insanity that floors almost everyone who stumbles across it. 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 some dope-smoking Satanists 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.
In an interesting twist, Satan's Children -- which played with zero fanfare in a very tiny handful of 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). The Blu-ray mattes the film at 1.78:1 versus the open matte 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 more naturalistic colors including more realistic flesh tones, which looks fine; the 35mm source print 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 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.
SATANIS: THE DEVIL'S MASS (Blu-ray)
SATANIS: THE DEVIL'S MASS (DVD)
SATAN'S CHILDREN (Blu-ray)
SATAN'S CHILDREN (DVD)
Reviewed on June 26, 2019.