Friday, 21 June 2013

The Devil's Nightmare (1971)

If you’re ever faced with that oh-so-common Trivial Pursuit question ‘Name a Belgian horror film’ you’re probably going to answer Harry Kumel’s DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, or, if you have a predilection for the Seriously Awful, Emmanuel Kervyn’s RABID GRANNIES. Hopefully, though, Jean Brismee’s THE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE will be fairly high on your list of possibilities as well. Actually an Italian-Belgian co-production, Brismee was apparently just one of three directors who contributed to this, but it’s his name on the movie so he gets the credit / blame for this one.
It’s World War 2, as evidenced by the stock footage intermixed with a sepia toned pre-credits sequence in which Baron von Rhoneberg (Jean Servais) is being bombed while waiting for his wife to give birth. She dies and the child is a girl. Miffed by this outcome the Baron stabs the baby to death in a scene you wouldn’t get away with nowadays. We switch to colour (or rather an anaemic washout of reds and oranges if you’re watching the  public domain print that I saw) as the credits unfold to Alessandro Alessandroni’s warbly EuroHorror music score, complete with harpsicord and slightly unnerving female soloist.
A group of seven people on a guided tour in the ropiest old bus you could imagine get lost and have to ask directions from a man dressed in black and wearing white gloves standing at a crossroads. No-one seems to think this is odd so they probably deserve all they get. He directs them to the Baron von Rhoneberg’s rather lovely-looking gothic chateau where apparently they’re expected and rooms have been prepared. Over dinner the Baron explains that his family is cursed. Because of a centuries-old deal with the devil every female child is born a succubus. He denies he has ever had any children but of course those of us who were awake during the start of the film know better. When the Baron isn’t telling stories or fencing with his manservant he’s in his basement laboratory inventing sparklers, bubble bath and glitter. It’s quite possible that if left to his own devices he might have gone on to  invent disco and the mirrorball as well, but fate is about to intervene.
Arriving late at this bizarre party is succubus Erika Blanc, who as Sexy Erika tries to seduce priest Alvin (Jacques Monseau). Each of the guests has a vice that quite handily matches up with one of the seven deadly sins and results in their death at the hands of Scary Erika. The chap at the crossroads turns out to be the devil (surprise!) and Alvin bargains with him - his soul for the return of the souls of the others. The devil agrees but in one of those bothersome bits of small print, as the group are leaving the castle the brakes on the grotty old bus fail and over the cliff it goes to burst into flames as Satan gives us a rather crooked grin.
      It turns out that Erika is the Baron’s brother’s daughter via the housekeeper, or something, which is why she’s able to turn a kind of grey-white colour and kill everyone. Quite why all these people deserve to die just for eating too much chicken / playing with glitter / having a bit of a lesbian romp / getting a bit miffed is beyond me, but that’s Belgian morality for you. 
Overall THE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE isn’t too bad, but it takes an awfully long time to get going. Having said that, there’s a nicely weird atmosphere at work here, and Erika Blanc makes an excellent screen succubus, perfectly capable of being sexy in one scene and unnervingly scary in the next. The direction isn’t especially stylish but the castle location is a gothic dream. Alessandro Alessandroni, the composer of the soundtracks to LADY FRANKENSTEIN and KILLER NUN amongst others, comes up with a suitably eerie main theme, but his accompaniment to the “erotic lesbian sequence” that occurs early on in the film sounds like a cat with diarrhoea being put through a mangle. Another picture where your tolerance for EuroDaftness will be a major factor on whether or not you’ll want to be watch it three or four times, THE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE isn’t as good as DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, but it is a lot better than RABID GRANNIES.

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