Despite its title, 'The Night of the Devils' actually has very little to do with the devil or any supernatural demons which only emerge at sundown. It's a dramatic, eye-catching title, to be sure, but not much else, and it's unrelated to any personification of an evil spirit. This doesn't make the 1972 Italian horror flick from Giorgio Ferroni a disappointment, however. Quite the contrary, it's a pleasant surprise, full of mystery and a dark aesthetics that epitomize the filmmaking style of the period. Ferroni's film was released just as the giallo genre was starting to grow, and a few years before the "Golden Age of Italian Horror" was coming to an end, giving way completely to the whodunit giallos, graphic slashers, and the zombie craze.
Ferroni's 'Night of the Devils' exists in that fascinating in-between stage where European horror was moving from the weird, mind-bending sensibilities of the 60s and into a more explicit display of on-camera violence and nudity. The plots are still heavily influenced by themes of the supernatural and traditional, highly-stylized gothic horror, but now with an attempt to make those themes compatible with a contemporary worldview. Renato Polselli's 'Black Magic Rites' is another great example of this intermediate point, where the flamboyant and psychedelic meets the strikingly grotesque and hypnotically elegant. In 'Devils,' the cinematography of Manuel Berenguer is vivid and fantastically whimsical, while the stage design is outlandishly gothic and atmospheric.
And so, in this moody, ethereal environment of nightfall and darkness, heralding a chilling sense of dread, we find a small family forced to lock themselves indoors and bar their windows every night. This strict, patriarchal family fears the wails and moans of an unidentified woman roaming the surrounding forest. Sometimes the seemingly ghost-like figure bangs at their door; other times, she screams and howls as she circles the house. A young lumber broker (Gianni Garko) whose car broke down nearby is a welcomed guest until repairs are completed. He becomes witness to the tension and melodrama between father (Bill Vanders) and son (Roberto Maldera), and he eventually becomes personally involved in the tragic mystery when he falls in love with the exotically gorgeous Sdenka (Agostina Belli).
On the surface, the plot synopsis carries a Poe-like moral sense and taste, and when watching the film, the classic Hammer-horror style of the production warrants this sentiment. In actuality, the script is an adaptation of a gothic novella written by poet and playwright Aleksei Tolstoy, cousin of legendary author Leo Tolstoy. The woman haunting the surrounding forest and the small family is not a ghost, a devil, or even a witch, as a couple characters call her. She is a vourdalak (or wurdalak), which in Russian folklore is the Slavic version of the vampire with bizarre ghoulish attributes. These types of poor, pathetic creatures suffer a rather pitiful and dismal fate since they're cursed with having to feed on only those they love and turning their family into more wurdalacs. This particular story has also been adapted for Mario Bava's movie anthology 'Black Sabbath,' in which Boris Karloff plays the family's father.
In 'The Night of the Devils,' the tale starts off a bit slow as the aforementioned lumber broker is discovered while in some kind of shock and institutionalized. Straight-jacketed, the man begins to remember his experience encountering Slavic vampires, and it takes a while before we're finally made aware of this fact. With the help of Giorgio Gaslini's eerie but mesmerizing musical score and the special effects of Carlo Rambaldi, best known for his work on Spielberg's 'E.T.,' director Giorgio Ferroni slowly builds on the tension, mystery and chills, leading his audience to a fantastic half-hour finale of gothic beauty. Ferroni's creative camerawork is as ingenious as it effective in arresting our imagination and finishes this atmospheric ride of the macabre with a splendidly memorable shocking twist.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Raro Video brings 'The Night of the Devils' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD50 disc inside a blue, eco-lite keepcase. Along with a cardboard slipcover, the package includes an 11-page booklet with a short essay by Chris Alexander and an excerpt from an interview with film composer Giorgio Gaslini. At startup, the disc goes straight to a main menu with full-motion clips and music.
'Night of the Devils' crawls its way to Blu-ray with a generally pleasing 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode, which appears to have been taken from a decently well-preserved print. However, it's fairly obvious minimal efforts were put forth for its restoration. The mild application of noise reduction is visible, but thankfully, not to an extent that would distract from its enjoyment. Colors are somewhat faded and weaker than I would prefer, but this may be due, again, to the age of the print and the fact that the overall color timing seems to be a bit off as well. Contrast is just okay, with highlights looking a tad overblown, but black levels are excellent with strong shadow delineation. Fine object and textural details are another plus, as definition and clarity into the far distance are first-rate, far better than what I've seen in the past via bootlegs. There's still a good deal of softness in some spots, attributed to the original photography, but all in all, Giorgio Ferroni's little-known atmospheric horror flick has never looked better.
The movie also makes its way to Blu-ray with a strong DTS-HD Master Audio mono soundtrack. A couple minor drawbacks are noticeable, but are very likely related to the age of the print used, such as hissing and crackling pops heard in the background. It's not enough to distract, but lightly audible nonetheless. The biggest offender is in a mid-range that feels somewhat restricted and narrow in some places but suddenly a bit screeching and bright in others. Thankfully, this doesn't affect the ethereal, creepy music of Giorgio Gaslini, but it also fails to create a wide, spacious soundstage. Although there isn't much going on in the low-end, bass is still appropriate and responsive for a film of this vintage. Dialogue reproduction is also clean and precise in the center of the screen. In spite of some negligible issues, this lossless mix of an atmospheric Euro-horror movie is still quite satisfying.
Based on the gothic novella by Aleksei Tolstoy, 'The Night of the Devils' is an Italian horror flick about a family terrorized by a menacing Slavic vampire. Directed by Giorgio Ferroni, the film starts a bit slow but eventually mesmerizes as the chills and mystery grows, finishing with a memorable twist. The Blu-ray arrives with a good picture quality, if only hindered slightly due to age, and better audio. Supplements are in short supply, but interesting nonetheless, making this package one cult and Italian horror enthusiasts will surely want to pick up.