The Brotherhood of Satan (1971)


Wow, I don’t know where to start with this one. As good as any place, I’ll say that the sheriff’s deputy, Tobey, in The Brotherhood of Satan (1971), looked awfully familiar to me. Sure enough, it’s Alvy Moore, none other than Hank Kimball from Green Acres! I guess for your first project after a six-year run on a classic sitcom, a low budget horror movie is a good change of pace. But that’s not all. Moore also produced the film. How did that happen? I hope to learn at the end of August when the Arrow Video special edition (that I promptly ordered after watching the movie on Amazon Prime) arrives on my doorstep.

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I like Tobey. I don’t want to say that he’s simple… he’s just very calm and collected when, for some reason, nobody has been able to physically enter town for three days until Ben (Charles Bateman), his daughter, K.T. (Geri Reischel), and his girlfriend (?), Nicky (Ahna Capri), discover the aftermath of a car accident two miles south and drive in to report it. You’ve got to love a guy that grabs a stuffed monkey from a crime scene to give K.T. for a birthday present and pulls an issue of the comic book Adventures into the Unknown (#142) out of his back pocket to help support Father Jack’s (Charles Robinson) theory that something supernatural is happening.

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After the movie ended on Amazon Prime, those familiar words appeared on screen: “Customers who watched this item also watched…” The recommendations included Race with the Devil, The Devil’s Rain, and Tourist Trap. For once, the algorithm seemed to work. The Brotherhood of Satan is a perfect companion for these movies, especially the first two. (In fact, so perfect that Rich Chamberlain and I will be spending “September with Satan” on The Classic Horrors Club Podcast.) Yes, it’s a 1970s occult thriller like others that were so popular at the time. The fact that it is confusing and sometimes makes very little sense is just the icing on the black cake.

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Yes, if you have a birthday as part of a coven, you are apparently served black birthday cake with a really sweet candle and candle holder on top! But are the children gathered in the attic of “the old Barry (?) place” there of their own free will, or were they compelled to come by an equal number of old folks who are already there? As the movie ends, the words “come in, children” appear in pink letters on the black background. They really pop, but there’s no capitalization or punctuation, if you notice details like that. It doesn’t really matter, because good or evil, all kids love to wear pointed hats and blow cardboard horns at birthday parties.

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The film opens with scenes of a toy tank whizzing and whirring across the screen, alternated with scenes of a real tank demolishing a real car. A young boy then climbs up a hill carrying the toy tank. I didn’t quite understand what that was all about until later, when a “Drowsy” doll, just like the one my sister had growing up, stood on the floor in front of a girl’s parents, then shook in front of them until blood came out of their mouths and they died. OK, I still didn’t understand it, but there’s a scene later that helps explain… maybe. Ben and his “family” discover their bodies, but then suddenly there’s a roomful of bloody bodies and body parts.

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Where things were happening weren’t clear to me. However, we soon learn that there have been a number of deaths in the last three days and that’s why Sheriff Pete (L.Q. Jones), Tobey, and Father Jack are frustrated and confused, perhaps like those who are watching this movie. Doc Duncan (Strother Martin) is quick to dismiss their theories about little green men and/or witches, as he should be, because [SPOILER ALERT] he’s the head of the local chapter of the “brotherhood of Satan.” He tells Sheriff Pete that he’s the last one he thought would fall for this cock and bull story. (And I’m the last one I thought would fall for this movie! But I did. Hard.)

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Martin is terrific, feeding ravenously on the scenery as he chews it. Yet it’s a fairly restrained performance most of the time, which is truly effective. I mean, I’m used to the heads of Satanic cults being confident and loud and manic. Doc Duncan is quiet and respectful in his prayers to the dark lord. He asks for things politely rather than demand them. It’s almost like he’s scared to have an audience with the devil. That seems realistic to me. If you play with fire, you’re going to be burned, so you might as well be careful. He’s more forceful with his minions, barking orders at them during the climactic ceremony, which seems to occupy at least 1/3 of the film.

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I want to know more about The Brotherhood of Satan. L.Q. Jones is an uncredited writer and he also produced it with Alvy Moore and he wrote the paperback novelization. Hold on! Surfing the credits in IMDb, I see that Jones and Moore also had various writing/directing/producing responsibilities on the beloved A Boy and His Dog (1975.) It just goes to show that you always have something to learn about the things you love. One thing I didn’t need to research was the name Geri Reischel. I’ve always called her the imposter Jan Brady because she replaced Eve Plumb as the character on The Brady Bunch Variety Hour. Now that’s a real horror story!

Written by L.Q. Jones (uncredited), William Welch

Original story by Sean MacGregor

Directed by Bernard McEveety

Starring Strother Martin, L.Q. Jones, Charels Bateman, Ahna Capri, Charles Robinson, Alvy Moore, Geri Reischl

RT 92 min.

Released Aug. 6, 1971

Home Video Amazon Prime

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