Most of the time when I think of the 70s I think of it as the most horrible time to be kicking around. Bad hair, bad clothes, arena rock and disco—at least until punk came along and kicked it all to the curb for a while. But then I remember cool things like glam and the Velvets and the Stooges—and a lot of terrific spooky movies, full of ambiguous and often downbeat endings. These are the movies in the back of my head that played while I was writing Satan’s Sorority.
Of course the big mama of devil horror is The Exorcist. It’s holds up as a fascinating film, though a lot of the horror these days for folks is seeing a child go through horrendous medical tests with doctors who are just speculating. While it’s not quite the classic 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby is, it made more than a few people believe that there might be something brewing up from the land of brimstone. Some of them were cheap ripoffs of better films, like The Mephisto Waltz, a Faustian tale with Jacqueline Bissett, Alan Alda and Barbara Perkins – or Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby.
But there were some born-to-be-B pictures that have kept their cheesy charm over the years, like the rural devil’s sects in The Devil’s Rain, which featured Ida Lupino, Ernest Borgnine and Shatner, as well as introducing a kid named John Travolta. In the same year, Race with the Devil, gave a twist on the city folk out gallivanting where they ought not be, like The Hills Have Eyes and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. In that one, Peter Fonda, Loretta Swit and Warren Oates show what happens when happy vacationers accidentally witness ritual murder. Uh oh!
Of course a big fave is The Omen. Gregory Peck and Lee Remick and Doctor Who and the Carmina Burana against a wicked little boy and the awesome Billie Whitelaw (“I am here to protect thee”). And David Warner! I saw all the Omen films. The first one is the best but in the second one there’s William Holden, Lee Grant, and the man bisected by an elevator cable, which is ALWAYS IN MY MIND when I step on an elevator (which explains the weird look I get). The third one has Sam Neil, so there you go.
I know I’ve seen Satan’s School for Girls but I don’t remember a thing about it. When I think of devilish girl’s schools, I go right to Dario Argento’s Suspiria, one of my favourite movies period. The lovely Jessica Harper as Suzy Bannion, the terrific Goblin soundtrack, Argento’s bloody palette of riotous colour and, of course, UDO! I don’t even much mind that they conflate witches with devils: after all people have been doing that since the fifteenth century, so maybe I should give up on trying to school them (never!).
Which reminds me of Ken Russell’s The Devils. It is criminal that the film is not available (cheap repros and cut versions abound: don’t be fooled!). Bernard Rose just hosted a screening of it in L.A. to huge acclaim, so there’s an audience for it. When I worked in the video store in Hollywood in the 80s, I remember it being in one of those oversized boxes. I first saw it back in the mid-70s and was totally knocked out. Vanessa Redgrave and Oliver Reed?! How can you not love this film? It’s totally wild. It deserves a proper release.
A writer of bleakly noirish tales with a bit of grim humour, Graham Wynd can be found in Dundee but would prefer you didn’t come looking. An English professor by day, Wynd grinds out darkly noir prose between trips to the local pub, including SATAN’S SORORITY from Number Thirteen Press and EXTRICATE from Fox Spirit Books. See more stories (including free reads!) here.