Tuesday 5 April 2011

The Brotherhood of Satan (1971)

THE BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN was directed by Bernard McEveety and stars Charles Bateman, Ahna Capri, L. Q. Jones, Strother Martin and Alvy Moore.  It was made in 1971 and shot on location in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  It tells the story of a young couple and their daughter who become trapped in a strange village where the children are disappearing and the adults are being killed in bizarre and gruesome fashion.  Aside from being an atmospheric horror movie, it is interesting for the fact L. Q. Jones also wrote the screenplay and co-produced with Alvy Moore.

Jones has been a character actor in Hollywood since 1955 and was for many years part of Sam Peckinpah's stock company, along with guys like R. G. Armstrong, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Slim Pickens and his co-star in this movie, Strother Martin.  He was most at home in westerns, usually playing a slovenly, craven wretch.  He was really good at it too, which is why it's always worth catching a film he's in.  What he and Martin and the others did so well was create interesting and memorable characters out of relatively few lines of dialogue and in so doing added richness to what might otherwise be fairly routine movies.  It helped of course that he was blessed with the kind of face that even Lee Van Cleef might regard as shifty.

L. Q. Jones
It's pretty rare for well-established character actors to do much work behind the camera but L. Q. Jones is a notable exception.  As well as this movie, he produced and directed THE DEVIL'S BEDROOM (1964), and wrote, produced and directed A BOY AND HIS DOG (1975).  That latter film is a bona fide classic: a blackly comic tale of a young man wandering a post-apocalypse United States with his dog, Blood, with whom he just happens to be able to communicate telepathically.  It's unquestionably the best film Don Johnson has ever been in.

THE BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN isn't quite in that league, mainly because Bernard McEveety directs in a rather boring manner.  You wonder what might have been, had Jones directed it.  Still, it's not at all bad once it gets going.  The two leads are a bit dull but once they get stranded in the village and run into Jones, Martin and Moore they kind of take a back seat to those veteran character actors.  Strother Martin has the best part, as the duplicitous doctor, and he has a ball with it - he's kind of pathetic but also imbued with a satanic power which makes him genuinely frightening.

Strother Martin
The photography, by John Arthur Morrill, is really good - it's shot in 2.35:1, probably so they could get great shots of the entire coven at work, which they do.

For 1971 it's not afraid to take risks.  The villains are children and pensioners, while the priest is shown to be totally ineffectual.  It has a great ending too: if you're up against the might of the Devil himself, and you haven't got God on your side, then the chances are things are not going to end well ...

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