Between Ed Sanders’ book The Family — which examines the origins of Manson’s Family — and Maury Terry’s The Ultimate Evil — which suggests that a worldwide network of Satanists is responsible for the Manson family and Son of Sam murders, we’ve come to accept the notion of an organized army of evil. But who are they?
In the revised 2002 edition of The Family, Sanders referenced the Process Chuch of the Final Judgement as the “satanic group of English origin” behind these killings. The Process successfully sued Sanders’ publisher to remove this reference.
That said the die was cast. By 1980, books like Michelle Remembers suggested a deep conspiracy of Satanic ritual abuse. The Satanic Panic of the 80’s found sacrifice and worship around every corner. Perhaps the author you’re reading now was targeted. Yet no real evidence has ever been found.
Michele Soavi’s The Sect concerns that network of Satan as they prepare the way for the Antichrist. From a commune being slaughtered in the early 1970’s — a scene with references to the Rolling Stones that repeat throughout the film — to multiple modern murders that follow, including a heart being left on a train and a suicide in public, the devil’s helpers are organized, know how to plan and are well ahead of the rest of society.
Just a note — as cheesy as Sympathy for the Devil reads today — The Rolling Stones were at the forefront of the occult 60’s thanks to their association with Kenneth Anger. If you’re interested in learning more, I’d heartily recommend Gary Lachman’s Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius.
But let’s get back to The Sect. In modern Germany, schoolteacher Miriam Kreisl (Kelly Curtis, sister of Jamie Leigh) saves Moebius Kelly (Herbert Lom, Hammer’s The Phantom of the Opera) after an accident and brings him back to her house. Within a few hours, he’s injecting her and shoving beetles up her nose while she sleeps and giving her nightmares of a giant bird having sex with her.
From there, the film descends into more of a series of nightmares than a fixed narrative. That makes sense once you realize that its origins in three different scripts that producer Dario Argento, director Michele Soavi and writer Gianni Romoli couldn’t finish. So you’re left with a film with a giant glowing blue gateway to Hell in the basement, a plot to conceive the Antichrist much like Rosemary’s Baby, an evil Shroud of Turin that can kill and bring people back from the dead and, oh yeah, a super smart rabbit named Rabbit who can use a TV remote.
The Sect has some references to other films, with the first victim being named Marion Crane (Psycho) and another named Martin Romero (obviously, George Romero and his Braddock vampire film Martin).
Following Soavi’s Stage Fright and The Church, this film offers less of the pure insanity that he’d bring to bear in his next film (and sadly, final horror film) Cemetery Man. Yet a restrained Soavi is still more visually inventive than a hundred lesser directors. From images of animal-masked children to the evil Jesus that smokes up and annihilates hippies in the flashback, there’s a continual undercurrent of menace and doom.
Strange symbols just appear. People disappear even after we see them arrive. Or they die in airplane accidents and still appear. Kathryn (Mariangela Giordano, Evelyn from Burial Ground, she of the incestual zombie child relationship) shows up to get smothered by the previously mentioned evil shroud. Faces get ripped clean off. Worms show up in the water. A possessed Kathryn convinces a trucker to kill her. Rabbit symbolism abounds. Kathryn gets back up off the operating table and attacks Miriam before killing herself again, which a doctor tries to explain as a commonplace thing. Long black tunnels lead to a sinister mortuary. The doctor who couldn’t save Kathryn and Damon, the Jesus-like killer from the opening, are working together. A woman’s face is ripped clean off, Hellraiser-style. Even trusted detective Frank is taken over and wants to kill Kathryn now that he knows her secret. Whew. I hope these short bursts of words give you an idea of just how much happens in this movie. It never really lets up, becoming more and more unreal.
Moebius comes back to life to tell Miriam that every moment of her life has been planned, that they own her, that everything has been for this moment indescribable joy. The cult gathers as the doctor injects her, sending her to sleep.
Finally, the devil comes to take Miriam. In shadow form, he appears to be human, but what attacks her is a giant bird that pecks at her neck and has his way with her. The cult lowers her into a pit as Moebius raves, screaming that he is her father and that she will give birth to the Antichrist. As she waits in the blue basement water, midwives swim around her, facilitating the birth as the moon slowly goes dark.
A giant amniotic sac with a child inside is lifted as the moon goes completely black.
In a shot straight out of Rosemary’s Baby, Miriam moves through the crowd to see what Moebius refers to as their “revenge against God.” He offers her the chance to raise the child.
Cut to her kneeling, beatific in white, as she stares into the blue waters of the well below. The doctor attempts to be tender to her, but Miriam tosses her down the pit. She makes her way to the rest of the cult and accepts her child, running with it as a motorcyclist chases her and crashes, creating a giant wall of fire.
Moebius screams that they are ger family now. Miriam kneels into the flames of the crashed motorcycle and sacrifices herself to destroy the baby and Moebius.
Fire crews put out the bodies as we see their charred remains wash away — except Miriam is still alive under all of the ash. An eagle circles the sky as Miriam believes that her son saved her.
The Sect is crazy, but it still doesn’t feel as strange as The Church or Stage Fright. Yet again, when compared to any other film, it’s odd as hell. It flies by, a mix of imagery and ideas that takes you on a whirling dervish of a ride. It’s hard to find — Shameless put out a UK only DVD this year — but there are plenty of not so legal ways to find a copy. I’d recommend that you do so.