TV Tuesday: Hammer House of Horror (The Mark of Satan)
The Mark of Satan, the final episode of Hammer House of Horror, brings us to the end of a strange and fascinating journey. The series definitely got more compelling for me as it reached its second half. It started a little slow with stories that seemed straightforward, but had gaps in logic. It continued with more traditional tales of witches, werewolves and ghosts. It concluded with two that were the most original of the lot.
Like The Two Faces of Evil (episode 12), it’s hard to tell what exactly is going on in The Mark of Satan. I prefer the former, though, because it does such a good job of creating a mood and atmosphere. The latter creates mostly confusion. On the other hand, since it deals with paranoia and mental illness, who knows that it’s not a realistic peek into a sick mind. (I’ve never thought I was infected with evil and the police were trying to warn me through weather vanes.)
Poor Edwyn (Peter McEnery) is a little neurotic to start. He’s three days into his new job at the morgue when the body of Samuel Holt is delivered with a horrific history. He apparently tried drilling into his own head to release what he thought was an evil possession. (“The logic of madness,” one of Edwyn’s superiors comments.) Edwyn begins noticing the number “9” everywhere: his address is #9, three times 9 is 27 and 2 plus 7 equals 9, Holt’s name in code equals 9, etc.
Eventually, Edwyn suffers from the same affliction as Samuel Holt. We see the pain and torture Holt must have experienced. In fact, we see Edwyn at the end literally in the exact same location and position as Holt at the beginning. We’re then left to conclude for ourselves what that means. It’s either coincidence, Edwyn did in fact become infected when he pricked his finger in the morgue, or it’s some kind of loop where Holt and Edwyn were the same person.
Early episodes of Hammer House of Horror featured nudity; we discussed that earlier. However, that became less prominent and, in fact, disappeared completely by the end. Instead, the blood and gore level increased. That’s not to say they were ever terribly bloody or gory, but the intensity increased the longer the show continued. Here, we don’t see actual surgery, but we see very bloody aftermath.
More troubling is the image of a greased baby ready to pop into the oven. (Imagination can produce worse horrors than vision.) For some reason, the characters in Edwyn’s version of reality encourage him to eat a baby, which, by the way, the tenant upstairs in his mother’s apartment building happens to have. Scenes of them slightly out of focus surrounding the baby and almost chanting to Edwyn elicit a Rosemary’s Baby vibe.
I’m glad I finally watched the entire series and now understand why I never got further than one or two episodes in the past. It definitely gets better as it continues, before then flying off the rails. If ranking the episodes, The Mark of Satan falls exactly in the middle, which I think is fitting for the evolution of Hammer House of Horror. With individual hits and misses, overall reflection leaves me feeling neutral.
Hammer Horror Film Connections:
Conrad Phillips played Michael Latimer in The Shadow of the Cat (1961.)
Roy Lansford (uncredited as “Undertaker”) was uncredited as “Man at Funeral” in The Plague of the Zombies (1966) and “Court Clerk” in Frankenstein & the Monster from Hell (1974.)
Norman Warwick (cinematography) was director of photography for Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971.)
Peter Weatherley was editor for The Anniversary (1968), Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971), and Fear in the Night (1972.)