(a.k.a. VEIL OF BLOOD, VAMPIRE ECSTASY)
Review By-Sean Patrick Dolan Director: Joseph W. Sarno Cast: Nadia Henkowa (Wanda), Anke Syring (Julia), Nico Wolferstetter (Peter), Ulrike Butz (Monika), Marie Forsa (Helga) Source: EI Independent Cinema: Retro Shock-O-Rama (2005, NTSC, Region 1) Runtime: Approx. 85 minutes
"You think spells are nonsense? Some spells make you tremble with chills of fever." "Other spells make you seethe with unfulfilled desires"
In medieval Bavaria there lived a ruthless Baroness, Danielle Varga, who impaled her enemies on stakes and drank their blood while it was still warm- many believed she was really a vampire. So much so that the local village burned her to death at the stake over 300 years ago. As the flames consumed her, Varga vowed to return, in the body of a descendant, to quench her thirst on the blood of the descendants of the women who had burned her. It is now 1969, and two young women have journeyed to the castle after receiving letters that the may be the relative and heiress of Baroness Varga. One of the two is descended from Varga, the other from her sister- one of the very women who overthrew and executed the wicked baroness. In times of chaos, the thread of lineage was lost, and it is uncertain which woman is which. Both women bare a resemblance to the portrait of Baroness Varga; Helga has her green eyes, Monika her black hair.The same week, two siblings, Peter Malenka and his sister Julia, arrive at the castle after their car breaks down in the mountains of the remote area. Coincidentally, Julia is a doctor engaged in the study of "local superstitions" and the occult. She has certainly landed in the right place! The housekeepers, led by the stern Wanda, are Priestesses of a cult dedicated to resurrecting the vampire Baroness. Their erotic rituals of chanting, drums, and naked dancing evoke lust in all the inhabitants of the castle and the cultís plan is quickly set in motion. Only Julia suspects that they are all in very grave danger . . . .
THE DEVILíS PLAYTHING, by famed sexploitation director Joseph W. Sarno (INGA (1967), SWEDISH WILDCATS (1972), GIRL MEETS GIRL (1974)), is a vampire tale with a decided bent towards psychological horror and eroticism rather than the neck biting, bat transforming camp of many films of the same era. As Sarno states in his interview (an extra feature found on this DVD release), he does not kill a lot of people in his films- it goes against how he thinks a movie should be made. Rather, he believes in building up a sense of unease; in threatening the characters with more than the simple act of being bitten on the neck. Consequently, though THE DEVILíS PLAYTHING is a tale of a vampire Baroness seeking revenge from beyond the grave, it is through sex and manipulation, not violence, that her (as well as the directorís) aim is achieved.As this review has so far suggested, THE DEVILíS PLAYTHING is filled with sexuality, which the vampire has always lent itself to easily- the carnal nature of the vampire has been exploited by writers and directors since at least the writings of Bram Stoker. The nightly rituals of the priestessesí topless, nearly naked bodies writhing to their relentless drumming and chanting not only tie the series of events together, but provide the catalyst for all of the erotic acts on screen. This film is filled with erotic trysts between nearly all combinations of the central characters, as well as various members of the Varga cult. The screener I received to review was the R rated version of this film, and I look forward to seeing an unrated version which includes an additional fifteen minutes of footage. Sarno states that he was able to get the actors to put a lot of their own sexual feelings into their performances, and watching the film, this viewer wholeheartedly agrees. All of the actresses, as well as the actor portraying Peter, gave very intense and convincing performances, both in and out of their clothing.
Despite the overwhelmingly erotic nature of this film, one should not get the impression that the directorís goal or achievement here was simply to arouse his audience. This is no "quickie nudie" film; it is very intelligently written and executed. Throughout the film, the High Priestess Wanda uses her powerful personality as much as her occult powers to cast powerful spells of lust on the heiresses Monika and Helga and on the brother and sister, Peter and Julia. Wanda quickly determines that Monika is the blood descendent of the Baroness, and soon after has everyone else headed hurtling towards the roles they will play in her Mistressí resurrection. Whether her goal is to inspire lust between Peter and Helga, distance between Julia and Peter, or jealousy between Helga and Julia, she works her manipulations masterfully. When she discovers that Julia and Peter have incestuous feelings towards each other that they have been suppressing since adolescence, she ruthlessly exploits this angle as well.
Director Sarnoís talents extend beyond his writing and ability to get strong performances from his cast. Sarno is also adept at using visually symbolism, a prime example of which is the deliberate contrast between the long silver medallion that Wanda uses to aid in the mesmerizing of her victims and the crosses made of garlic which Peter and Julia wear for protection. Also, despite having the luxury of shooting the film in an authentic 12th Century Bavarian castle (owned by the uncle of producer Chris D. Nebe), Sarno does not simply rely on the setting of his film to create atmosphere. In fact, he purposely uses a dark lighting scheme so that the rooms of the castle blend into the background, leaving the focus of each scene on the actors themselves, so that every nuance of posture and facial expression are heightened. It also helps, he states, that such a scheme also provides natural "mood lighting" for his sex scenes.
THE DEVILíS PLAYTHING is an excellent film, and the Retro Shock-O-Rama DVD is a quality release worth looking into. The film is presented in wide-screen 1:78:1 aspect ratio and is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVís. The DVD itself does not state what the audio specs are, but I would guess that it is the filmís original audio. The film, though shot in Germany under the title Der Fluch Der Schwarzen Schwestern (THE CURSE OF THE BLACK SISTERS), was originally shot in English anticipating an international release, and this version is presented in English. This DVD release contains two notable extra features, the first being an interview with director Joe W. Sarno, "A Touch of Horror: An Interview with Joe Sarno". The interview was conducted by Michael Bowen in May of 2005. The only complaint here is that at only six minutes in length, one could have hoped for a longer discussion with Sarno, and maybe a little more background into the directorís existing body of work besides the film featured here. The DVD also comes with a booklet, "Joe Sarnoís Satanic Seduction", written by Bowen which does go a fair way towards remedying that complaint, as it contains more background nature on Sarno and the sexploitation genre in general, as well as specific notes about the filmís production and subsequent struggle to be released in an era of censorship.
Story: 4.0 Bitch Slaps Extras: 2.5 Bitch Slaps Picture/Audio: 3.0 Bitch Slaps Overall DVD: 3.5 Bitch Slaps
Also read our review for the X-Rated Kult release of VAMPIRE ECSTASY
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