Hollywood@Home: Mark of the Devil (Hexen bis aufs Blut gequalt)

"Hold your tongue, woman! Never mind. I'll let you hold it in a minute." There's torture aplenty in "Mark of the Devil."

“Hold your tongue, woman! Never mind. I’ll let you hold it in a minute.” There’s torture aplenty in “Mark of the Devil.”

Billed in 1972 as “Positively the most horrifying film ever made” and “the first film rated ‘V’ for Violence,” “Mark of the Devil” is, indeed, quite shocking, even by today’s standards. The German horror film, starring Herbert Lom, is now available for the first time in the U.S. in the Blu-ray format. The restored version is grainy, but watchable. If your stomach is well-settled, that is.

The original marketing for the film also declared “Due to the horrifying scenes, no one admitted without a vomit bag.” Special effects weren’t all that persuasive in 1969, compared to today’s geniuses. But, “Mark of the Devil” might well give your stomach a turn with its graphic scenes of torture in the name of the church.

Lom plays Lord Cumberland, Austria’s premier witch-finder in the late 18th century. His apprentice is Count Christian von Meruh (Udo Kier), a sincere believer in the ways of the church. Yet, he’s much troubled by Cumberland’s randomness in picking those to be tried, found guilty and burned as witches.

When they set up in a small village, no one is more displeased than the local witch hunter, known as the albino (a particularly icky performance by Reggie Nalder). The struggle for power begins and the castle dungeon is filled to overflowing with the accused.

Say what you will about the quality of the film, at least it looks authentic. A real Austrian castle was used along with genuine instruments of torture, borrowed from the local museum.

We know from the history books that millions likely died in the Christian cleansing of the Middle Ages, many of them accused of dealings with Satan. Often, the accusations were used to accommodate the church’s thirst for wealth. All property belonging to the accused was automatically transferred to the church for safekeeping.

“Mark of the Devil” is an exploitation film. It’s clearly not a work of art. The focus is on depravity more than injustice. Still, it has significance to film buffs.

The new Blu-ray version is supposedly the best and longest version available. The producer and director fought like savages during the 1969 shoot, and various scenes were cut or added. Horror fans will want to see this grindhouse classic, and I give it a slight recommendation. It’s worth seeing once, but be warned.  Have your barf bag handy. Grade: C+

Fast Facts:

Street Date: March 17, 2015

Formats: Blu-ray and DVD

Runtime: 96 minutes

Rated: “Not Rated” but has many scenes of torture and some nudity

Released by Arrow Films (UK) through MVD Entertainment Group

The local witchfinder may be out of a job in "Mark of the Devil."

The local witchfinder may be out of a job in “Mark of the Devil.”