Although Devil’s Nightmare (1971) includes beheadings and impalements, it’s hard to top the shock of the movie’s opening sequence. Other films have shown the death of a baby, but I can’t think of one that graphically represents a long dagger piercing a baby’s swaddled body and the resulting pool of blood soaking into its blanket. Never mind the fact that it’s the baby’s father who kills it. At least the scene, which takes place in 1945 Berlin, is filmed in black and white.
As the credits begin, the cinematography changes to color and we get our first look at the gothic castle in the country where events will unfold nearly 30 years later. It belongs to Baron von Rhoneberg (Jean Servais), the German general who murdered his daughter after her birth and who lives there with his former “assistant,” Hans (Maurice De Groote.) They occasionally host bus tour groups when the road is blocked and weary travelers need a place to spend the night.
The story is extremely simple. One by one, the tourists, each representing one of the Seven Deadly Sins, meet their fate at the hands of a succubus, the product of a curse that haunts the family. The deaths aren’t particularly original or creative, but in the only movie he ever directed, Jean Brismee does a fairly good job of generating an atmosphere of dread. Since most of the tourists are nasty people, I was glad to see them die.
The screenplay by Pierre-Claude Garnier and Patrice Rhomm attempts to give Devil’s Nightmare some twists and turns. They’re about 50% effective. The surprise reveal of the monster’s identity didn’t really work for me; however, the final turn of events, in which Father Alvin Sorel (Jacques Monseau) offers to trade his soul for the other six who have died, provides an intriguing climax and a surprising conclusion.
Since this is 70’s Euro-horror, there’s an obligatory lesbian love scene and an ample dose of gratuitous nudity (although tamer than others in the genre.) Considering the monster is one that seduces its victims, it’s no surprise that the lovely redhead, Lisa (Erika Blanc), arrives at the castle dressed in an outfit that’s part Power Girl and part Vampirella. Of course, she has to remove even this scant clothing in order to work her magic.
Devil’s Nightmare is a fun movie to watch, and the new Mondo Macabro Blu-ray release offers a fun commentary from Troy Howarth. Discussing the actress who gives birth in the opening scene, Howarth admits, “I know nothing about her. That’s why they pay me the big bucks.” His tone perfectly accompanies a film that you shouldn’t take too seriously. I don’t know that it’s significant in the history of the genre, but not every movie needs to be.
Interview with Director Jean Brismee
Interview with Assistant Director Robert Lombaerts
Interview with Filmmaker Roland Lethem