Peter Cushing and Donald Pleasence Ride out in Greece-based Satanic Potboiler
DIRECTED BY KOSTAS KARAGIANNIS/1976
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: FEBRUARY 22, 2022/INDICATOR (U.S.)
When it comes to unearthing the mysteries of Greece, young hirsute hippie types apparently don’t tend to get very far. And that’s before the local Satanic cult, led by a sinister Peter Cushing, abducts them for ritual sacrifice.
That is just one takeaway to be derived from director Kostas Karagiannis’ competent if also by-the-numbers pagan horror flick, The Devil’s Men (1976). Actually, the featured pair of scraggly unkempt explorers do make their way into the subterranean “Land of the Minotaur”- the evil inner sanctum where creepy, stabby death is indiscriminately doled out by torchlight. The place is obliviously a Satanic chamber, as evidenced by the massive fire-breathing cock n’ bull statuary. (The great horned visage even speaks!) Also, the assumed name of the chamber is derived from the title of the eight-minute-shorter U.S cut of the ninety-four-minute journey into fear.
A mid-1970s post-Exorcist “Devil-movie” programmer if ever there was one, The Devil’s Men looks to appeal to the thrill-seeking youth audience of the day while keeping one foot in the old British horror pond. The top-billed names of Cushing and Donald Pleasence likely did little to rouse the younger set, though they are as well cast as anyone can be in a disposable scare film such as this. Pleasance shines as the priest Father Roche, the kind of no-nonsense Christ-affirming warrior for The Light that Cushing himself embodied in Terence Fisher’s Dracula/Horror of Dracula (1958). Such connections are too tempting to leave unmentioned, as is the notion of earnestly dire Roche as a kind of proto-Loomis, paving the way, if ever so slightly, for his character in Halloween (1978). He and Cushing persevere as the primary reasons to check out The Devil’s Men.
Surrounding the complex field of film restoration are persistent debates over how much is too much. Just because we now have the technology to digitally scrub older films of grains and initial imperfections, does that mean that we should do so? While boutique labels such as Indicator have long since settled into an ideal if still nebulous middle ground of retaining any given film’s period-accurate look and feel amid all other extensive efforts to recreate original theatrical aesthetics and whatnot, there are still those who harbor a soft spot for the trashy, projector-worn presentations by which they first encountered these films. With this disc, fans can have it both ways.
Though the primary attraction is an impressive 2K restoration from the original negative of the uncut The Devil’s Men, there is also a highly degraded Super 8 print of the full film included. Whereas the former version offers a clear presentation of the film’s original mono audio, the Super 8 version has tin-can (also mono) sound to match its wildly edge-less and blotchy (and weirdly, interestingly wrongly colorful), scratched-to-crap picture.
Looking considerably better- and maybe the film’s finest of its three varied presentations- is the truncated U.S. version, retitled Land of the Minotaur. At a noticeably shorter eighty-six minutes, this PG-rated cut sanitizes the movie of most of its gore and all its nudity (all of which is stupidly gratuitous). That said, the plot (such as it is) takes a hit or two as, for example, certain key exposition was originally delivered by a naked Jane Lyle (Miss Lyle’s superfluous part consists of two scenes, both of which she’s in the buff. Per her performance, she’s obviously a model and not an actress), clearly post-coital fresh out of the shower. That whole bit is, of course, gone in Land of the Minotaur… leaving viewers to fill in narrative gaps. With both versions, however, iconoclast musician Brian Eno, fresh from his time with Roxy Music, contributes the film’s darkly minimalist score.
Though The Devil’s Men isn’t exactly across-the-board must-own material (at least not beyond the realm of the devoted horror niche), the pot is certainly sweetened by Indicator’s impressive bevy of bonus features prepared for this limited edition. First up is a terrific newly recorded audio commentary with critics and authors David Flint and Adrian J. Smith. Flint and Smith have a great repartee, regaling each other and by extension, us, with all manner of fun facts and observations about The Devil’s Men’s key players and creators. Quite interestingly, they single out the “Greece-ploitation” run of films of the 1970s (of which this title is certainly a part of) as perhaps the last widely untapped well of such cinema.
The disc’s second alternate audio track is not a commentary proper but rather a 1973 chat with Peter Cushing recorded at the National Film Theatre, London as part of the John Player Lecture series. The discussion does not include The Devil’s Men, as the film wasn’t made until several years later. Nevertheless, the interview’s inclusion here is a good one, as Cushing happily fields attendees’ questions about his life, career, experiences, and techniques. Anyone’s main takeaway, though, is likely to be just how personable and charming Cushing himself is. Hearing him here while seeing him coldly lead an evil cult adorned in a silk hooded robes evidence just to what degree he was acting in such horror films.
Additionally, there’s a new talk with the film’s producer, producer Frixos Constantine. In this seven-plus minute on-camera sit-down, the producer discusses his hands-on technique to shepherding his films through production. Constantine, now quite up there in years, is very soft spoken and sometimes difficult to understand, but it’s nonetheless nice to have his contemporary presence here. His interview is of the general variety, offering few specifics on The Devil’s Men.
Rounding things out is a short, clickable image gallery of promotional and publicity material, reversible cover art, and a nice thick limited edition exclusive booklet featuring an excellent new essay by Andrew Graves (not at all entirely complimentary), an archival interview with star Donald Pleasence, extracts from original promotional materials, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits. Limited to only 2000 U.S. units, interested collectors will not want to drag their feet in acquiring this world premiere Blu-ray release. As dire as meeting The Devil’s Men is for various cast members, it is bound to be a right pleasure for fans of 1970s horror.
The images used in this review are purely to represent the film itself, and do not at all visually reflect the superior image quality of Indicator’s U.S. Blu-ray release. (The version covered here). Thanks to Powerhouse Films for providing this Blu-ray review copy.