Challenge the Devil (1963)


The second film Christopher Lee made during his three months in Italy beginning In May of 1963 was originally titled, Faust ’63. Written and directed by Giuseppe Veggezzi, it was unfortunately completed just as its production company, I Filmes della Mangusta, faced financial ruin. It supposedly had only one public showing under the title Katarsis.

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Two years later, it was resurrected and released by Eco Film under the title Challenge to the Devil. However, about 30 minutes was cut from the original 90-minute film and a new framing story was created in which the original plot was merely a flashback. The experience was so frustrating for Veggezzi that this was the one and only film he ever made.

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As you can imagine, the resulting product, now called Challenge the Devil, is perplexing. My question is not why Eco Film butchered the film, but why it made the choices it did when butchering. Why did they frame a horror fantasy with a crime drama? Mashed together, the flashback explains why a deadbeat kid abandoned his life of crime to become a monk.

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However, when you experience the details of the crime drama, they seem completely detached from the flashback. Honestly, it’s a bunch of nonsense about blackmail and an innocent man hunted by a crime lord (I think.) He seeks refuge with the monk, whom he convinces to visit the stripper who really has the documents the crime lord wants. Maybe?

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Whatever it is, it’s awful. Therefore, I’m going to focus on the hour in the middle that’s the horror fantasy. I’m afraid it’s not very good, either. I was bored to tears watching it, but I tell you what… it’s been haunting me ever since. There is some terrific black and white imagery and a dream-like atmosphere that shouldn’t completely be dismissed.

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Lee appears in only a very few minutes of Challenge the Devil. I question that he really participated for the 8 days he reportedly spent on the set. Sometimes I don’t think he’s even in the same room with the other characters and I’m pretty sure several of his scenes use a stunt double.

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The plot of the flashback is bare bones. The future monk and his five deadbeat friends invade what they think is an abandoned castle, even though they find a dinner table full of food and drink. They get drunk, take drugs, and tear the place apart before encountering an old man, played by Lee, who asks them to help find his lover before the rooster “sings” and he dies.

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He sits by the fire while they explore the castle, finding an endless stairway going up, a room full of “crystals” (glass panes), and an endless stairway going down. I’d rather watch Lee sitting by a fireplace for an hour than these idiots stumbling their way around the castle, spending extended periods of time dancing and contorting their bodies.

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For a few moments, the old man transforms into who we assume is the titular devil. The camera “fuzzes out” on his frail hands, then “fuzzes in” on strong hands, pulling back to reveal white hair changed to dark and the most evil face that Lee can muster. This is one of the parts that shouldn’t be dismissed. On its own, it’s creepy and wonderful.

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There’s not much more to say about it. I mean, nothing else happens inside the castle. The rooster sings, the deadbeats escape, and there’s actually a clever twist in which Lee again appears briefly. He was apparently playing a character we saw earlier but didn’t realize was him. This tiny morsel makes me think the original film might have been more coherent.

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Butchered again by more skilled hands, there’d be a creepy short film lying somewhere deep inside Challenge the Devil. However, it’s absolutely not a 79-minute feature, even with a wraparound, whether or not it has anything to do with… well, anything. After thinking about it, I don’t regret watching it, but at the time, I was certain the devil was challenging me.

Directed by Giuseppe Veggezzi

Starring Christopher Lee, George Ardisson, Bella Cortez, Piero Vida

RT 79 min.

Released June 9, 1963 (Italy)

Home Video Blu-ray (Severin Films, The Eurocrypt of Christopher Lee)

Rating 3 knife-wielding psychos (out of 10)


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