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Mark Of The Devil (Vinegar Syndrome) UHD/Blu-ray Review

    Ian Jane

  • Mark Of The Devil (Vinegar Syndrome) UHD/Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: October 24th, 2023.
    Director: Michael Armstrong
    Cast: Herbert Lom, Udo Kier, Olivera Katarina
    Year: 1970
    Purchase From Amazon

    Mark Of The Devil – Movie Review:
    By Horace Cordier and Ian Jane

    Michael Armstrong's Mark Of The Devil will never win any awards for originality. Clearly designed as a Witchfinder General knockoff its main claim to fame is some disturbingly nasty gore effects and an infamous ad campaign by Hallmark Releasing that utilized a vomit bag for use in theaters.

    In an unnamed medieval European village a hideously disfigured witchfinder plies his trade. Albino (Reggie Nalder of Salem’s Lot) is a cruel sexual deviant who likes hurting women and grubbing cash from his murdered victims. He's strictly penny ante though. When the Church sends bigwig witch hunter Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom) to town after reports of Albino's abuses of power things ironically take a turn for the worse. Cumberland is a sanctimonious and deeply disturbed individual who outwardly projects moral certitude and piety while really being a sociopath. His assistant - Count Christian Von Meruh (Udo Kier in an early role) is initially in awe of the man, but after realizing Cumberland's true nature he ends up opposing him.

    Mark Of The Devil works to an exploitation formula but it's an effective one. The "showpieces" - torture primarily and a burning - are staged with an unflinching eye that brings the horror home. On the commentary track, director Armstrong is very insistent about how he used completely authentic torture devices in the film. He sought to make something truly disturbing that showed the inhumanities of that era. As a personal friend of Witchfinder General director Michael Reeves, Armstrong's aim appeared to be to make a more visceral companion to the Vincent Price classic. For the most part he succeeded, though his infamous clashes with producer Adrian Hoven sabotaged the film. Hoven cast himself as a puppeteer and inserted a clearly botched plot line into the film as well as a water torture that was historically inaccurate. The acting is average to good with Nalder and Lom making the strongest impression. Kier is good looking but a bit doe eyed and bland and the various women in the film fail to make a lasting impression. His love interest Vanessa (Olivera Vuco) and catalyst for confrontation with Cumberland is especially weak.

    What people remember though is the tongue-pullings, scaldings and burnings, racks and thumbscrews. Still pretty nasty stuff even by today's standards you can certainly see why this film was a favorite target of the UK Video Nasties witch hunts. There's also a particularly unpleasant rape scene where Cumberland becomes violent when his impotence becomes apparent. Is there a point to all this? Not really. But it is solid exploitation fare.

    Mark Of The Devil – UHD Review:

    The HEVC encoded 2160p transfer, framed at 1.66.1 widescreen and featuring HDR10 looks excellent. Restored in 4k from its original camera negative, detail is really strong and colors look spot-on. There’s a little bit of dirt during the opening credits due to the opticals being used, but the rest of the movie looks nice and clean, retaining grain but not showing much damage outside of the odd small white speck here and there. Colors look great and detail is considerably stronger than past editions have allowed for. There are no problems with any compression issues, edge enhancement or obvious noise reduction and all in all, the movie looks great.

    German and English audio options are provided in 24-bit DTS-HD Mono with English subtitles provided for each track. There’s a tiny bit of sibilance that isn’t on the cleaner sounding German track but otherwise both tracks sound fine, with properly balanced levels and easily discernible dialogue.

    There are also a host of new and archival extras here, many of the archival extras taken from the Arrow Video Blu-ray release from 2015, starting with an audio commentary with director Armstrong moderated by writer Calum Waddell. This is a very informative track with Armstrong in fine fettle. Armstrong is allowed to take the lead and asked good questions. Good job all around with incredible amounts of info and some very entertaining digs at the infamous producer Hoven. This is the only extra on the UHD.

    As to what is on the two included Blu-ray discs, the first disc features that same commentary as well as some new featurettes starting with Performing God's Work, a new interview with director Michael Armstrong that runs thirty-five minutes. He talks about how he came to work on the movie basically by accident, what it was like working in Germany, major changes that were made to the script, the hypocrisy of the witchfinders in centuries past as well as the state's involvement in it, how Lom didn't really want to do the film due to some of the more extreme content, what it was like on set, the production schedule, thoughts on the score, shooting without live sound and thoughts on the dubbing, his thoughts on violence in film, how he felt about the movie after seeing it for the first time, the film's cult popularity and home video releases that have come out and wanting to tell his side of the story about his experiences making the film.

    The Devil's Apprentice is a new interview with the always entertaining actor Udo Kier running twenty minutes. He starts by talking about the devil himself before going on to discuss play with a toy skeleton/electric chair thing! With this out of the way, he talks about how he wound up as an actor in the first place before then talking about landing the part in Mark Of The Devil, thoughts on his character arc in the film, shooting on location in Austria, having a great time on set and what a great experience it was, how the movie had a big impact on his career, memories of shooting specific sequences and some unused scenes, learning a lot on set, working with Lom and how he feels about the movie now.

    Words Of The Devil is a "brief guide to the screenplays of Michael Armstrong" with lecturer and film historian Dr. Adrian Smith. This fifteen minute piece examines Armstrong's career and works, why he brought Udo Kier on board, various projects that Armstrong was involved with, the impact of the state of the studio system at the time on his work, how he got a very early start doing screenplays as a teenager, how Armstrong got burned by the business a few times, his early short films and quite a bit more.

    A Hell Of A Place - The Locations Of Mark Of The Devil runs twenty-three minutes and shows off the different locations as they appear in the film compared to how they appear in the real world now. We get a good look at the Austrian wilderness locations used as well as the town where the movie takes place, covering many exteriors, as well as the large castle that was used in the film.

    From there, it’s back to the archival material with a forty-eight minute documentary called Mark Of The Times which examines the British horror film industry from the 1970's. Director Norman J. Warren, screenwriter David McGillivray and Armstrong himself as well as analysts/authors Prof. Peter Hutchings and Kim Newman are the principals here and they give a good history of the period. Censorship, promotion, social mores of the period and other topics are addressed.

    Disc Two contains yet more archival extras. First up, Fangoria's Michael Gingold hosts the thirteen minute Hallmark Of The Devil featurette which details the history of the infamous releasing house that also gave us the lovely LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. Gingold is always a pleasure to watch due to his infectious enthusiasm and lively disposition, and this piece is no deviation from that assessment.

    The 2013 Q&A with director Michael Armstrong featurette is a twenty minute piece shot at The Festival Of Fantastic Films in Manchester back in October of 2013 hosted by Waddell where Armstrong speaks about his experiences making the film and answers questions from a pretty enthusiastic audience, going over the ending, the themes that the movie explores, religious thinking, how the vomit bag promotion came to be and more.

    After that it's on to the cast interviews that were included on the Arrow disc. Actors Gaby Fuchs, Herbert Fux, Udo Kier, Herbert Lom (audio only), Ingeborg Schoener; and composer Michael Holm all get short pieces with Fux being the longest at twenty-five minutes and Lom the shortest at five. These are generally interesting with Kier's being the most fun due to his slight annoyance during the interview funnily enough!

    Finishing up the extras are a selection of forty minutes worth of outtakes (presented without live sound but with selections of the film’s score overtop), an alternate German language title sequence, an archival artwork and image gallery, an English trailer, a few radio spots, menus and chapter selection options.

    As to the packaging, if purchased from the Vinegar Syndrome website, this set comes with a spot gloss hard slipcase and slipcover combo designed by Chris Barnes which is limited to 7,000 units as well as some reversible cover sleeve art.

    Mark Of The Devil - The Final Word:

    Mark Of The Devil may not rise to the levels of The Devils or Witchfinder General but it is really solid entertainment thanks to some memorably over the top set pieces and some unforgettable performances from a great cast. Vinegar Syndrome’s has done a great job on the UHD/Blu-ray release, carrying over almost all of the extras from the Arrow Video release and throwing in some really interesting new interviews to help sweeten the pot. The new presentation is also a really nice improvement over what we’ve had before. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below, or right click and open in a new window, for full sized Mark Of The Devil Blu-ray screen caps!

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