To be perfectly frank, you have to be in the right mood and the proper consciousness-expanding state of mind to sit down for something like 'Black Magic Rites.' Believed to be lost until a few years ago, this sleazy exploitation thriller is the sort of Euro-trash which will challenge one's tolerance and fandom of atrocious low-budget B-level features. Filmed in 1971 but didn't see the light of day for two more years, Renato Polselli's movie is an outrageously bizarre psychedelic trip about vampires, witches, gore, and plenty of sordid nudity. It comes with the sort of bad production values which cult enthusiasts and horror aficionados hunger for, but makes average viewers, even those believing themselves fans of the genre, instantly scorn and sneer with dismay.
But as is the usual case with these types of movies, they're not for everyone. Hate them for being poorly constructed and poorly made, and you'd be in the right to feel that way because they are poorly constructed and poorly made. Love them for precisely those same reasons, and you're still in the right because you find those aspects of the production particularly entertaining. The story of a vampire performing an ancient ritual in order to revive his lost love, a witch who burned at the stake 400-years earlier, is a difficult one to follow. Confounding things is the fact that he's also a member of a satanic cult, and on the night the ritual is to take place, we learn that guests at the castle are also the reincarnated souls of those who once served and persecuted the witch.
Keep in mind that's my best guess of the plot. There's also some silly nonsense involving local villagers, a crazy woman with overgrown eyelashes and seven virgins — which by the way, considering the floozy behavior of these women, it's hard to believe any of them strangers to the intimate touch of a man. Watching something like 'Black Magic Rites,' or pretty much anything else of similar ilk, requires a specific audience that can appreciate what the filmmakers were going for in spite of the horrible script, laughable dialogue and confusing editing. Growing up on bad low-budget movies that starred El Santo like 'Invasion of the Zombies' and 'Samson vs. the Vampire Women,' I like to believe myself practically groomed into being that audience. Over the years, my tastes expanded into admiring and collecting the strikingly unconventional style of Euro-sleaze, and Polselli's film is one of those marvelous Italian schlock-fests only a long-time exploitation fanatic can love.
I readily admit 'Black Magic Rites' is a genuinely terrible motion picture from any objective point of view imaginable, often bordering on the offensive and challenging viewers to find even the slightest thing worth redeeming. And thankfully, Polselli's incomprehensible garbage has some good bits and pieces that are still enjoyable, so long as you pick off the rotten, moldy areas — those being the perplexing narrative, dialogue, acting and editing. At times, it can be quite slow, plodding along when characters try and explain important plot points, which is pretty odd considering. But the film's saving grace, if we can even call it that, is the psychedelically surreal and phantasmagoric imagery, which make you wonder if a hallucinogen is not a prerequisite to decipher their meaning.
As poorly-made as the movie may be, it is the eccentrically gonzo and off-the-wall photography of 'Black Magic Rites' that makes it worth watching at least once, just so that you can tell your friends you've seen one of the weirdest movies ever made. Polselli does a surprisingly great job at creating an oneiric atmosphere that balances between a trancelike reverie of ecstasy and a freakish nightmare of superstition. Primary colors twirl like a pinwheel across the set or the faces of actors for no real logical reason, but sometimes used as a way to distinguish the undead villains from the good guys.
Part of a trend for spooky stories related to the occult and black magic after the success of Roman Polanski's 'Rosemary's Baby,' Polselli's film also takes elements from the decamerotic, a popular Italian subgenre at the time that blended eroticism with comedic misadventures, often with characters of the church or in medieval times. This would explain some of the weird comedy mixed with the hallucinatory visuals of horror. 'Black Magic Rites' is not easy to sit through, but it's a fascinatingly curious little movie with an incredibly offbeat artistry to the photography. It's definitely not for everyone outside of the most hardcore and devoted cult exploitation enthusiasts.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Kino Lorber brings 'Black Magic Rites' to Blu-ray under the distributor's "Redemption" label. Housed inside a normal blue keepcase, the Region Free, BD25 disc goes straight to an animated main menu with music.
'Black Magic Rites' delivers some wicked surrealism with this good 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode, taken from a new master of the original 35mm negatives. Unfortunately, it's not a full restoration of those elements, which means the picture is still riddled with lots of dirt and white specks, rarely going away long enough to appreciate the positives. Presented in a 1.78:1 frame (OAR is 1.66:1), the transfer is also quite soft and blurry in several areas. At its best, definition and clarity is crisp and detailed, often even shockingly so, exposing great texture in the facial complexions of the cast. Contrast ranges from average to brightly distinct without ruining any of the highlights, but the color palette is bold with primaries looking particularly vivid. Black levels are also shockingly rich and fairly strong throughout with rather excellent shadow detailing during the several darken sequences. All things considered, the source appears to be in great shape but in need of proper restoration nonetheless.
Redemption does a nice job in conjuring up a strong but still problematic uncompressed PCM mono soundtrack, presented in its original Italian language. Despite the obvious, sometimes distracting ADR work, dialogue is clear and intelligible. Imaging is surprisingly broad and engaging, providing on-screen action with a good sense of depth and warmth. Low bass is equally deep and appreciable, grounding the music with a good sense of presence and fidelity.
Sadly, the lossless mix does display age-related issues that can't be ignored and which tend to take away from the many positives. Dynamics and acoustics are, for the most part, clean and distinct, but the upper ranges crackle and clip, often times with noticeable loudness. The music is accompanied by very subtle noise in the background, and popping sounds are clearly heard on various occasions. Nevertheless, the high-rez track can still be enjoyed as a product of its time.
Only special feature is a small collection of trailers in HD for other movies under the "Redemption" label.
Hampered by a horrible script, laughable dialogue, and confusing editing, Renato Polselli's 'Black Magic Rites' is an outrageously bizarre psychedelic trip with vampires, witches, gore, and plenty of sordid nudity. Still, for those hardcore and devoted fans of cult exploitation, this sleazy exploitation thriller is the sort of Euro-trash schlock that will satisfy the appetites of enthusiasts. The Blu-ray is a great improvement over Redemption's DVD from a few years ago, but the audio and video is still far from perfect. Sadly, the real disappointment comes from the lack of supplements. Nonetheless, collectors and fans should be happy with their purchase.