Norman J. Warren Week: Satan’s Slave (1976)

Editor’s Note: We reviewed this British horror obscurity on February 15, 2021, as part of our tribute reviews to Mill Creek’s Gorehouse Greats 12-Film Pack (Amazon). We’re bringing it back as part of our “Norman J. Warren Week” tribute of reviews. Visit our Gorehouse Greats Round-Up for all of those reviews.

How is it that we could go on all day about British actor and Hammer stalwart Michael Gough, starting with his first role as Sir Arthur Holmwood in Hammer’s Horror of Dracula (1958), watch his work in Horrors of the Black Museum (1959) multiple times, and watch him in The Phantom of the Opera (1962), The Skull (1965), and Horror Hospital (1973), but never encountered his work on Crown International Pictures’ Satan’s Slave? Even with all of our combined video store memberships and watching Friday and Saturday late night horror blocks on our local UHF-TV stations, we’ve never heard of it or seen it (at least it slipped by me). How is that possible? We fell in love with Euro-obscurities like A Bell From Hell and Symptoms from multiple UHF showings — and even seen them on home video shelves.

Well, let’s unpack this flick brought by the great Norman J. Warren!

Turns out, director Norman J. Warren has two flicks on Mill Creek’s Gorehouse set: this and Terror (1978), which is also on the B-Movie Blast 50-Film pack that we also reviewed back in February 2020. Truth be told, while he’s legendary — at least in B-Movie and video nasty circles — Warren is an under-the-radar obscurity to most horror fans (well, except for FUBAR’d dudes like Bill Van Ryn who’s made his fandom of Warren’s Prey well known), with only 16 credits. The Warren films you (may or not) know are the insipid, Star Wars-inspired sex comedy Spaced Out (1979), aka Outer Touch (that we passed on during our “Star Wars Month” tribute; the similar, better known Galaxina won that review pole position), and the Alien rip off (that we did cover with our “Alien Week” tribute) Inseminoid (1981). Then there’s that off-the-nut sci-fi zombie romp Prey (1977) that Bill Van Ryn digs, and Warren’s final tour de force: Bloody New Year (1987), that Sam digs. All of those films were, of course, better distributed projects that turned up in theaters, cable, and VHS (for me, that would be as Inseminoid; Spaced Out was an oft-aired HBO programmer).

Perhaps it’s because it was only Warren’s third feature film — after two Italian sex shenanigans flicks issued in 1968: Loving Feeling and Private Hell, which makes Satan’s Slave his first horror film. In between his Alien romp, Inseminoid, and his Slasher romp, Bloody Birthday, Warren changed it up with, well, looking at the cover, a Stallone Rambo-cum-Arnie Commando rip called Gunpowder (1986) — has anyone seen it?

Now, the writer on this, well that’s a different story: While he wrote Warren’s Satan’s Slave and Terror, he gave us the video rental favorites of ’70s British horror: White Cargo (1973), House of Whipcord (1974), Frightmare (1974), the sleaze-o-rama that is The Confessional (1976), and Schizo (1976): Lord Smutmeister David McGillivray (and we mean that as a complement).

This time we have a supernatural horror tale with Catherine (British horror “Scream Queen” Candace Glendenning; The Flesh and Blood Show) who comes to live with her uncle and cousin (Michael Gough and Martin Potter; his work goes back to Fellini Satyricon) after she survives a car crash that killed both of her parents. Of course, Uncle Alex and Cousin Stephen are behind the crash: they’re necromancers who need her as a sacrifice to resurrect a powerful, spiritual ancestor.

To say more will spoil the film, as this Rosemary’s Baby-inspired tale (but not at all like a cheap Italian ripoff of that film or The Exorcist) is an excellent watch; one that’s far above the fray of the exploitative-norm discovered on Mill Creek sets. The scripting, set design, and acting — from all quarters — is top notch. I loved it. Consider it one of my new classics in the British ’70s cycle of gothic horror tales, right alongside Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter and Hammer’s Karnstein Trilogy.

The production story: There’s additional material shot that was even more violent, and alternative versions of existing scenes that are in the film are available in other prints in the overseas markets. So, what we get is an amped up, Gothic psychological-sexploitation tale that programs nicely with the better distributed (as with the aforementioned A Bell from Hell and Symptoms via VHS and UHF-TV) Virgin Witch (1971) and the always incredible to watch The Wicker Man (1973). Of course, keen eyes immediately notice that the house and grounds of the Yorke estate appeared in Virgin Witch; and when you watch Terror off this same Mill Creek set, you’ll notice the Gothic estate, reappears.

Another choice: Paired with Warren’s Terror.

While you can get this on the Mill Creek sets we’ve unpacked in February, the more serious Warren fan can get Satan’s Slave, along with Terror, Prey, and Inseminoid on Anchor Bay’s Norman Warren Collection DVD box set. Vinegar Syndrome and Severin also offer restored single-disc reissues. However you watch it: watch it. There’s a copy of Satan’s Slave on You Tube.

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