Editors’ Note: The Coroner’s Report and Foreign Objects are distinct columns covering horror and foreign films respectively, but a mash-up of the two feels more appropriate on the rare occasion when we cover a foreign language horror film.
You wouldn’t know it from Italy’s film output these days, but there was a time when the country was home to filmmakers keeping the horror genre alive and well for the rest of us. That time was a roughly three decade span from the 60s through the 80s when filmmakers like Mario Bava, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Lamberto Bava delivered movies that paired violence and sexuality with style and atmosphere. The result was a list of movies that continue to excite fans to this day including A Bay of Blood, Suspiria, The Beyond, Demons and more.
Giorgio Ferroni and his 1972 film, La Notte dei Diavoli (aka The Night of the Devils) aren’t nearly as well known, but both he and the movie truly deserve to be. It’s bloody, sexy and atmospheric horror that manages to be both graphic and frightening on its way towards a surprisingly strong finale.
There are multiple deaths to be found here, both onscreen and off, and none of them are peaceful.
The blood flows freely with shots to the head, stakes slowly driven into chests, faces collapsing in on themselves, fingers severed in car doors and more. Most ill is a scene that sees a little girl take a bite out of her mother’s neck before ripping the woman’s shirt open and scraping her fingernails across mom’s naked chest. Ah Italy…
Like the blood and grue, there’s no shortage of naked lady flesh here. The film’s first few minutes include full frontal nudity as women stand around and get groped in the lead character’s fever dream. Later on we get some boob fondling, some nightgown dropping fun w/more nudity and an undead but still hot lady in a sheer nightgown.
People in rural areas are just as likely to bite into your flesh and suck your soul as they are to vote Republican.
Nicola (Gianni Garko) is found wandering the woods with no memory but plenty of abrasions. Treatment in a psychiatric hospital sees him experience visions of naked women and bloody deaths leading to a crazed then almost catatonic state. He’s sedated, straitjacketed and left to lie in bed as the memories slowly return.
While driving in the country’s more rural parts Nicola swerves to avoid a mysterious woman in the road and damages his car. He takes shelter with an oddly secretive family who insist the doors and windows on their small home be closed and locked at sundown. Explanations aren’t forthcoming, but when their patriarch heads out to confront the local witch his family agrees that he won’t be allowed back once darkness settles over the land.
Gorca (William Vanders) returns, but something is amiss behind his eyes, and soon Nicola and the family find themselves in a waking nightmare.
The setup here isn’t necessarily all that original, but Ferroni and his trio of screenwriters deliver the goods with gusto that wasn’t available to Mario Bava when he adapted the same story as part of Black Sabbath. The film’s first few minutes set an irreversible tone as we’re witness to full frontal nudity and bloodletting before things settle down to set the eerie stage. Nicola overhears snippets of conversations about curses and things in the night, but his curiosity is redirected by the beautiful Sdenka (Agostina Belli). He slowly comes to discover the truth behind the strange happenings, but it may be too late for him and his new love.
Ferroni’s lens pours over bright, red carnage and pale, naked flesh with abandon, and he’s not afraid to zoom in for reaction shots from characters or to create a reaction from viewers. As gory and sexy as events are, the director manages some truly unsettling scares with a third act free-for-all as Nicola struggles to escape. The scene is legitimately creepy and plays out with only laughs and sound effects in place of a score to great effect. The rest of the film utilizes a score by Giorgio Gaslini, and it adds wondrous layers of mood, uncertainty and terror.
The film is fairly graphic with the bloodletting and lady parts, and it adds a fantastic balance to the very effective and creepy atmosphere out there in the woods. The family share knowing glances that tell Nicola and viewers that something is amiss, but when it hits the gloves come off and the screen fills with vibrant, wet and crimson hues. The effects come courtesy of Carlo Rambaldi who would later go on to design and create the candy-munching alien from Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and while some of them appear dated now they’re still quite effective.
The Night of the Devils has a rather generic title, and while that’s perhaps part of the reason the film has been unfairly forgotten, it’s far from a valid one. Unlike the directors listed above Ferroni didn’t really make a make a name for himself in the horror, and the majority of his films are outside the genre. That’s a shame because he shows an adept hand at horror’s subtle and gratuitous elements, and a resume with a few more films like this would have been an even bigger gift to fans of the terrifying and bizarre.
The Night of the Devils has just received a spectacular release on Blu-ray from RaroVideo and is available from Amazon. The restored image is a thing of beauty, and it includes a video introduction, an interview with Gaslini and a booklet.