Tuesday, April 17, 2012

AN ANGEL FOR SATAN (1966)

Camillo Mastrocinque had a late-career transformation when he directed the Carmilla-inspired Crypt of the Vampire at the age of 63. Two years later he attempted to tap the same atmospheric gothic vein by making Un Angelo per Satana, the story of a legendary curse and its consequences centuries later. This film replicates some of the elements of Crypt, starting with a young scholar (of a sort) as a point-of-view character and pressing forward with hints of lesbianism from a female menace. Mastrocinque freshens up the package by trading in Christopher Lee for Barbara Steele, but his commitment to black-and-white resulted in this film never getting a proper theatrical release in the United States -- it ended up on television in the 1970s. Visually it is very reminiscent of Crypt and monochrome was arguably the right call despite the mid-60s stampede to color that rendered Angel almost instantly obsolete. What Angel lacks, arguably, is the courage of Crypt's supernatural convictions.


Roberto Merigi (Anthony Steffen) has been hired by Count Montebruno to restore an infamous statue recently recovered from a local lake. The statue of a beautiful woman has a curse attached that takes immediate effect when the boatmen who brought Merigi to the village drown on their return trip across the water. The statue is about 200 years old and portrays a beautiful female ancestor of the present count. She's also a spitting image of the count's daughter, the English-educated Harriet (Steele). The legend relates that the original model had an ugly sister, a failed rival for a man's affections, who placed a curse on the statue, which was originally mounted on a bridge, and promptly tumbled off the bridge with the statue, which remained submerged until the film's 19th century present.


Will Belinda's curse on the statue (above) doom its model's descendant (Barbara Steele, below)?


Before long, predictably enough to the superstitious, Harriet begins behaving strangely. She plays the sexual predator, seducing and flogging an imbecile gardener while simultaneously seducing her pretty maid (Ursula Davis, the vampire from Crypt) and compelling her to break off her engagement with the local schoolteacher. Her scheming has fatal consequences for many. She seems to be possessed, not by the spirit of her precursor but by Belinda, the wicked sister who cursed the statue. It's up to Merigi, who started to fall for Harriet before the curse kicked in, to get to the bottom of her strange, dangerous behavior and figure out what power has changed her so drastically.


An Angel for Satan is provocative adult entertainment!


Angel reunites Mastrocinque with his Crypt cinematographer, Giuseppe Aquari, and the team again milks an atmospheric location for all it's worth. If anything, Angel has even more gothic sweep than Crypt, thanks to moody shots of boats on the lake and Barbara Steele riding her horse through the landscape. Going black-and-white was probably a good idea, since it makes the film less the Pop Art anachronism it could have been and more of an honest evocation of the 19th century we know from photographs. Barbara Steele is as good as you could want in her split-personality role, which sort of merges her two Black Sunday characters in one body. No matter how often she played depraved women, she could always convince you that her character at least starts out innocent.



What disappoints a little is the film's ultimate resolution, which undercuts Steele by reducing her character to little more than a puppet. Somehow the way she changes becomes less plausible once you eliminate the supernatural element, and it becomes hard to believe that the real villain of the piece could manipulate all the victims (the motive being hatred for "all who love") so effectively and so indirectly. You can still believe in the curse when all is said and done, but the story complicates things in a manner that doesn't necessarily enhance the horror of the piece. Angel isn't as effective or impressive as the still-underrated Crypt. but it's still an attractive and interesting effort that probably looks older now than it actually is. That seems appropriate somehow.

2 comments:

Conradino Beb said...

I watched it recently and although not a horror fan at all, I have to admit I quite enjoyed it for it's s/m vibe and Steele's creation. Very Italian treatment of perspective by DoP and creepy atmosphere, although obvious gaps in screenplay make for good entertainment...

knobgobbler said...

I saw this recently somewhere, either TCM or The Monster Channel website.
I'd never seen it before but I thought it was well done. I totally bought into the curse and figured it had a hand in things all along.