Review Date: October 15, 2002
Released by: Columbia Tri-Star
Release date: 8/13/2002
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
"Satan, what we have here is failure to communicate."
Strother Martin will always be known for his role as the sadistic warden in Cool Hand Luke, but he had some other great parts in films other than that classic Paul Newman vehicle. One of those other roles was in the relatively obscure 1970 devil-worship film The Brotherhood of Satan
. Columbia Pictures presents this bizarre film on a very nice DVD, one that fans of 70s style Satanist movies will definitely want to check out.
Widower Ben (Charles Bateman), his girlfriend Nicky (Anna Capri), and his daughter KT (Geri Reischl) are enjoying a lovely afternoon by the side of a lake. A sudden storm forces the trio to pack up and leave, but en route they find the gruesome remains of a terrible traffic accident. They go to the nearby town of Hillsboro to get help, but the locals there are even scarier than the accident. They decide to leave the bizarre town, but a ghostly apparition in the middle of the road forces them to swerve into a tree. Unhurt, but with a seriously damaged car, they reluctantly head back to Hillsboro.
Back in Hillsboro, we find the reason for the odd behavior: There's a string of murders and missing children, and for some reason no one is able to leave or enter the town. That's why everyone was so up in arms about Ben's arrival. Father Jack (Charles Robinson), tries to convince his cronies Doc Duncan (Strother Martin) and the Sheriff (L.Q. Jones) that the disappearances are tied to witchcraft. His theories are scoffed at, even though Doc has a rather suspicious hobby that he's keeping a secret from his buddies.
Ben and his family stay the night at the sheriff's, but the freak show is just too much for them and they make another attempt at leaving. This time, a flat tire befalls them, and when Ben and Nicky leave the car to inspect the damage, KT is quickly snatched. Now, everyone's giving a little more respect to Father Jack's witchcraft theories, and it's up to Ben to rescue his daughter before she enters The Brotherhood of Satan
Hollywood has always loved jumping on bandwagons when it comes to copying popular films. What's changed recently is that so many of these copy films show little to no deviation from what made the original version so popular. Now, having said all that, it's a breath of fresh air to see a film like The Brotherhood of Satan
, which was clearly influenced by Rosemary's Baby, yet is a strikingly different film.
Yes, the similarities are still there; the elderly Satan worshippers, skeptical bystanders, and the young couple fearful of losing their child to the coven. (Demonic children would continue to be a popular film device throughout the 70s with The Exorcist and The Omen). But other that that, what you have is a very unique devil film that's been unfortunately overlooked. It's intelligent, well acted, highly original, and fairly creepy in several parts.
I can also see why this film has not gotten the recognition it deserves, though. It's a bit cryptic, especially in it's use of children's toys as a major plot device. You won't quite understand that part until near the very end of the film. Thus, the opening sequence juxtaposing the toy tank and a real one won't make a whole lot of sense to the first-time viewer. Ditto with the reception that Ben and his family receive when the first enter Hillsboro. This is a film you really need to watch a few times to fully understand (I've watched it three times and several scenes are still a mystery to me), and not everyone has that kind of patience.
But the good really outweighs the bad in The Brotherhood of Satan
. I liked the way they avoided a lot of the traditional cheesy Satanist cliches like cartoony devils and demons or animal sacrifices. (Of course, I'm not a real Satanist so I don't know how accurate the portrayal here is). And I really appreciated the early revelation of Doc Duncan's double life. In many films of this style, the filmmakers usually try to make something like that a big surprise for the ending. But here, we find out Doc's true motives very early on, which adds to the suspense as he pretends to be ignorant of the source of the town's troubles. Also, we can then focus more on the activities of the Satanists rather than concern ourselves with their identities.
The Brotherhood of Satan
may not be for everyone. It's fairly slow, with very few violent sequences. The horror here is more in the basic concepts rather than in any one particular scene. This is a very subtle film, requiring very close attention, and repeated viewings are really necessary. But I like this intelligent kind of horror film, and others who feel the same way should definitely seek out The Brotherhood of Satan
Once again, we get to see why DVD is such a boon for fans of older movies. This 30+ year-old film looks outstanding. Darker scenes look amazing, and the colors are really rich, especially in the Satanic Mass sequences. The outdoor scenes seem a bit faded, but that's not surprising for a film of it's age. This disc preserves the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is enhanced for 16x9 screens. I've never seen any previous video releases of The Brotherhood of Satan
, but I'd bet they were pan-and-scan and probably nowhere near as good-looking as this DVD. Nice work on an obscure title from Columbia.
The sound presentation here is adequate, but nowhere near as impressive as the video. It's a pretty harsh and tinny mono mix. Luckily, it's mostly a dialogue film, but on certain scenes (the opening tank attack is a perfect example) the thin sound mix detracts from the experience. And I might have wanted a little more depth on the Satanic mass scenes, but that would probably require a major re-working of the soundtrack, so this is probably about as good as it will get.
This is the only area of the disc that really disappoints. The sole supplements on the disc are trailers, but not for The Brotherhood of Satan
. Instead, it's previews of three other Columbia releases: Creature Features, Hollow Man, and The Craft. I really do wonder what the Brotherhood trailer looked like, and how the film was marketed. Sadly that's not something we'll find out from this DVD. I don't expect all-out special editions on every title, but I think adding a trailer (even if it's not in the best of shape) really enhances the viewing experience, especially with older films like this one.
The Brotherhood of Satan
is like a combination of The Twilight Zone
and Rosemary's Baby
. It doesn't work all the time, and it needs repeated viewings to fully appreciate the storyline. But fans of subtle horror will really enjoy the movie. The new widescreen transfer is very nice and really enhances this relatively older film. I also like a major studio putting such effort into their older catalog titles, something I hope we'll see continue. It's a good time to be a horror fan when movies like this get released on DVD.
Movie - B-
Image Quality - A
Sound - C
Supplements - D-
- Running time - 1 hour 32 minutes
- Rated PG
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- Dolby Digital Mono
- English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, and Thai Subtitles