The Devil's Plaything - The Devil's Plaything(DVD) [Artus Films - 2018]The Devil's Plaything(or Le château des messes noires as it’s sold here under its French title) is a well scoped, at times effectively moody, but often highly campy example euro-gothic erotic horror. Here we have a recent(ish) DVD of the film- offering a nice crisp & lush print of the film- both in English & French, and a few extras.
The Devil's Plaything( aka The Curse of the Black Sisters, Vampire Ecstasy, Veil of Blood, Der Fluch der schwarzen Schwestern) was released in 1973, and was a Swedish/ swish/ West German production. It was directed by New York Sexploitation director Joseph W. Sarno- who racked up an impressive one hundred & twenty three directorial credits between the 1960’s & early 2000’s. As far, as I can gather this was Sarno’s one & only attempt at making an erotic horror film after seemingly giving every other sub-genre sexploitation a go going from arty soft-core, roughie, porn parody, and hardcore. And I guess you’d best described what we have here is a blend of kinky witches & lesbian vampires, in an effectively filmed gothic setting/ environment- think a more coherent version of Franco’s lesbian vampire films or a less arty/ meaningful take of Jean Rollin’s erotic horror.
The film's plot is fairly typical of vampire fare- we get a group of very 1970s dressed folk making their way to a gothic castle- there are two twenty-something women, one of who may be the relative of the castles long-dead countess, a brother & sister who break down near the castle, and a few others. They are initially greeted by the seemingly creepy/prim & proper housekeeper, and her three maids- who are dressed in Puritan like black dresses. Fairly soon peoples clothes are dropping off- and we have various encounters between the visitors, as the creepy housekeeper & her clan watch on & chant. In time we find out they are witches, and this is revealed by lots of footage of the group cavorting & gyrating to ritual voodoo drums- nude & covered in day glow symbols. And they are (surprise, surprise!) trying to raise their slumbering vampire countess.
The film brings together an effective, at times fairly creepy castle settings- which is often lit by either candlelight or colored lighting filters. With a fair bit of mainly female softcore action, wonderful stilted & awkward dialogue- that reaches the level of Warhols two horror films, silly & campy rituals- featuring pink ‘n’ purple phallic candles, garlic glove crucifixes( which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before). And a bit later more formal bloodsucking action, and vampire related action- like a group of hissing rubbery bats stripping & biting a woman. The balance between the erotic & horror elements are fairly well done, and unlike a lot of Franco's female vampire films, there is a plot, which is mostly kept to & flows through the film.
Sure The Devil's Plaything is campy, silly, and sleazy as you’d expect from this type of thing- but there’s enough atmosphere, interesting shots, ridiculous dialogue, and gothic horror touches to keep you involved for the films one hour & thirty-eight-minute runtime…seemingly this is one of the longer prints of the film, though there is seemingly a full uncut one hour & forty-three-minute version too.
Moving onto this DVD, and we get two versions of the film- a French-language version, then the original English version of the film, which features French subtitles you can turn off. The new print is pretty damn good- really making the blend of gothic & 1970’s backdrops nicely crisp & defined, also the few outdoor shots look nice too, as we get creepy & shadowy forest, green fields with the backdrop of mystic snow-topped mountain, and moody outside shots of the castles, and it’s surrounding grounds. Extras wise we get a thirty-two-minute featurette- this is French language, and seemingly covers both the film & the wider erotic horror genre. We get a stills & poster gallery for the film, and lastly a selection of trailers from Artus films Masterpieces Of Gothic series.
It really is a pity that Joseph W. Sarno made no other erotic horror films, as The Devil's Plaything isn't half bad- and I say it certainly rivals some of Rollin & Franco’s work in the sub-genre. This Artus films edition of the film features a good print, extras & two different versions of the film, so if erotic horror is your thing- this is certainly something you’ll need to have…head here to buy direct.Roger Batty