Beware and tread lightly, as Satan (or the son of, or perhaps someone in his middle management) has once again erupted from the bowels of Hell to let loose another firestorm of insidious worship, gratuitous nudity and gore! Well, we’re in the ‘70s and he never really left anyway; the box office was very kind to the Horned One in that decade, and Vinegar Syndrome has polished up another one for a sparkling Blu-ray release, Satan’s Slave (1976).
This film was Norman J. Warren’s first horror outing after helming a couple of nudie flicks in the late ‘60s; a sign of the times, a lot of directors entered through the green door before seeking the slightly more reputable terror genre. Of the Warren’s I’ve seen (which is admittedly few), Satan’s Slave is the most accomplished and controlled, and a welcome addition to the coven of Satanic horror.
Let’s meet Catherine Yorke (Candace Glendenning – The Flesh and Blood Show): she’s on her way to visit her Uncle Alexander (Michael Gough – Sleepy Hollow) with her parents when their car crashes right inside his estate. When Catherine comes to, she is told both her parents died in the crash, and she is to recuperate with her uncle and family until she gets better.
That sounds nice, right? Except her uncle’s family leaves a lot to be desired; her cousin Stephen ( Martin Potter – Craze) has a habit of strangling drugged women to death at the estate, and we’re fairly certain that’s uncle’s voice we hear beneath the goat’s head mask as he flays a naked woman during a ritual at the start of the film. What could they possibly want with Catherine? She’s definitely not a virgin (just ask her boyfriend back home – if you can reach him), nor does she appear to be cut from the same cloth as the seedier side of her family. Will she escape her doom?
Satan’s Slave is a film at once economical yet grand with intent; which is to say that the budget precludes any fancy effects yet manages to get its points across with some short sharp knifings (which seems to be the preferred method for on screen Satanists anyway). The main thrust of the film is in its well earned paranoia on behalf of our heroine.
Catherine, still shaken by the loss of her parents, seeks solace in the only place available: the new-to-her family. She adopts Alexander as a quick fix father figure, and finds an attachment to Stephen that is anything but family friendly; her obliviousness to the goings-on makes sense as she sees them as an anchor, a support system in her crumbling world. Warren and screenwriter David McGillivray (House of Whipcord) wisely then inform the viewer through the unmistakable boom of Gough’s voice at the beginning of the film that we know what’s going on, even if Catherine doesn’t. (Perhaps they didn’t think people would recognize Gough through just speaking and were going for mystery; either way it simply plays better like this.)
Satan’s Slave wants to have its gothic cake and eat it too; the inclusion of much bloodletting and nudity puts it much closer to an Italian or American take on the subject – a take that only seems jarring because it comes from the normally staid British, even if their horror output had been dancing around with risqué for years. But the Yorke Estate demands attention, and as Catherine works her way around trying to uncover the truth about her parents and her extended family, one gets a sense of Gaslight slowly being saturated with a cult film. That’s not easy to pull off, no matter the budget. The success of Satan’s Slave would ensure Warren a voice in the horror world for years to come.
His legend lives on in good stead with Vinegar Syndrome’s sparkling new Blu-ray, starting with a great 4K scan, but far from ending there:
The featurettes are all fun and informative, with “Creating Satan” the standout; I haven’t listened to Warren’s commentary yet, but I did listen to film historians Samm Deighan & Kat Ellinger’s, and it’s a delightful mix of fact and fandom that’s sure to please anyone who enjoys lively discussions. As you can see, there’s a lot to gleam from this presentation; Vinegar Syndrome has shown Warren a lot of love, and Satan’s Slave is a great reminder of the power of imagination over the limitations of money. Give yourself over to VS and the Dark Lord and pick it up.
Movie Score: 3.5/5, Disc Score: 4/5