one to keep an eye (of the devil) on

Often, there are subjects that I want to tackle on this journal, but the press of time doesn’t allow me the opportunity. Over the coming weeks I hope to tackle a few items that have been on the mental back-burner for some time.

For instance, I’d want to mention a horror flick I saw at the end of October, when TV channels were dripping with slasher pics and creature features. On TCM late one night I caught the beginning of a film called Eye of the Devil (1967), and made a snap decision to watch its entirety despite the fact it was going to cost me the next day. The film was directed by J. Lee Thompson (responsible for The Guns of Navarone and the original Cape Fear), and was written by Robin Estridge and Dennis Murphy. Much to my surprise this black and white film, despite flatness of characters and poorly-explained plot, is a little-known occult classic in the style of one of my favourite films, The Wicker Man.

It showcases an incredible line-up of talent: David Niven as Philippe de Montfaucon, a French aristocrat (with a British accent!) who is reluctant to discuss his family’s past, and Deborah Kerr as his wife, Catherine, who refuses to stay away from the Montfaucon homestead, and despite her husband’s protests moves into the massive mansion with her two children. The family business, and the locals, are invested in the grape harvest, and it has been failing. Philippe is drawn back into the rural secretive community, and Deborah is left to figure out what’s going on among an assortment of odd characters. Such as the beautiful and icy siblings, Christian de Caray (David Hemmings) and Odile De Caray (Sharon Tate), and the strange priest, Pere Dominic (Donald Pleasence).

The film looks sumptuous, and is a clear reminder that horror films are fantastic in this colour palette–if you have a fine director and a cinematographer (Erwin Hillier in this case) who know what they are doing. There are startling scenes, such as Niven wielding a whip on Sharon Tate as punishment for her nearly killing his wife. In the day it must have been quite thrilling. Tate and Hemmings are particularly attractive in this light–the hard planes of black and white accentuate their bone structure and add haughtiness to their mysterious characters. Niven is somewhat half-hearted in his role, but his character is somewhat wishy-washy in his adherence to the family’s particular allegiance to the community’s prosperity. Kerr bounces from shocked to horrified at the discovery of the cabal of robed figures that run the pre-Christian traditions of the village.

I’m a big fan of occult horror films. There aren’t many made any more–the most recent that springs to mind is Roman Polanski’s The Ninth Gate (1999)–a film that I’ve grown to appreciate more and more over repeated viewings.

Unfortunately, Eye of the Devil is not available on DVD–but I’m sure it will get a release eventually. I’ll certainly snap it up as soon as I can, and I recommend that horror aficionados keep an eye out for it on TV. Despite its incoherent moments I would rate this as a horror classic.

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