PURE TERROR MONTH: The Devil’s Nightmare (1971)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: An American living in London, Jennifer Upton is a freelance writer for International publishers Story Terrace and others. In addition, she has a blog where she frequently writes about horror and sci-fi called Womanycom.

Directed by Belgian Jean Brismée, the film was a co-production between companies in Belgium and Italy and fits comfortably into the sub-genre of Euro-horror combining gothic atmosphere, supernatural elements, lots of sex and violence. 

The film opens at the end of WWII during a bombing raid. A Baron’s wife has just given birth and died immediately after. The Baron orders the servants out of the house for safety and murders his newborn daughter in her cradle. The scene – shocking even by today’s standards – uses a real baby in the special effect. A good way to grab the audience’s attention for sure. 

We then flash forward to present-day 1971. A busload of tourists from all walks of life, including a Priest named Sorel, and their driver – each representing one of the seven deadly sins – get lost on their way to their intended destination. A creepy-looking fellow dressed all in black (Satan) gives them directions to a nearby castle owned by the Baron. He gives them all rooms and over dinner, tells the group of his family’s curse. Centuries ago, an ancestor of the Baron’s sold his soul to Satan in exchange for the first-born female of each generation becoming a succubus in His service. By coincidence, this very night happens to be the anniversary of the Baroness’s murder in her cradle. Enter Lisa (Erika Blanc dressed all in white), who shows up at the door out of nowhere to visit Martha the Baron’s maid. 

Lisa is the daughter of the Baron’s older brother who had a secret affair with Martha. The unaware Baron killed his daughter for nothing and now Lisa is free to set about killing all the guests in the castle. She changes from her innocent white frock into an amazing black midriff-bearing dress and traps all but one guest within a state of their own particular sin – pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, sloth and wrath. Each soul will go to Satan. 

Erika Blanc’s performance is stellar. Whenever she changes into the succubus, her skin turns pasty gray and her lips become black. Her face contorts ferociously like an animal. Especially when Satan shows up and commands Lisa away from Father Sorel so that he may deal with the Priest himself. She slinks away like a hungry scolded cat from unfinished prey. 

Father Sorel strikes a deal with Satan. His soul in exchange for the lives of his fellow travelers. He wakes finding everyone alive and well at breakfast except the Baron who has been injured during his morning fencing exercises. Father Sorel sends the tourists on their way, offering to stay behind to look after the dying man. 

Satan is not trustworthy (of course) and drives his horse-drawn carriage directly into the path of the bus, causing it to plummet off of a cliff and explode. He’s got all the souls he wants now, including Father Sorel, whom Lisa hugs for comfort as her boss looks on knowingly. 

The film is incredibly atmospheric. The gothic-style location – the Chateau des Prince de Ligne in Antoing, Belgium – is put to great use. The long corridors seem to go on forever into the darkness and all the guest rooms are decorated in a different theme. 

It’s the music, however that elevates this film to new heights. Composed by Alessandro Alessandroni who came to fame for playing the guitar and whistling on Ennio Morricone’s theme for Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964.) Here, he uses a fuzztone guitar/harpsichord theme which is both haunting and catchy. 

In the days before Blu-Ray The Devil’s Nightmare was circulated for years under several different titles in various versions on VHS and bargain-bin DVDs. The most common was The Devil Walks at Midnight. The Mill Creek print in the Pure Terror collection is sub-par when compared to the recent Blu-ray release by Arrow Video but it’s still worth a watch as the movie itself is a classic. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: To read Sam’s take on this movie, head over here.

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