Night of the Devils (1972)
* * *
Dir. Giorgio Ferroni
A study could and probably should be written about the opening sequences of early 1970’s Italian horror films. Hitchcock (Giallos, the Italian subgenre which blurred the lines between thriller and horror, were in many ways an exploration [or celebration] of the id of Hitchcock’s films complex psychology) utilized title sequences, and occasional dream sequences, to utilize avant-garde techniques in mainstream film and a similar argument could be made (whether it was intentional or not is a whole other argument) about these opening sequences which are some of the most disorienting, bizarre, and grotesque things ever put on screen. Night of the Devils opens with a series of face melting, nightmarish impressions of the events we’ll later see in film. Only after this disorienting, non-narrative sequence, do we realize we have been watching the mental trauma of Nicola, a survivor of some horrifying event who now resides in a mental hospital. We then flash back to what happened to put him there.
The film is an adaptation of Aleskey Tolstoy’s the Family of the Vourdalak, or perhaps more probably an adaptation of the Wurdulak sequence in Bava’s Black Sabbath. Nicola is traveling through the country, has car trouble, and finds a family for help. He discovers that they are worried about some evil that is outside in the woods. The father of the family leaves to kill the evil, and warns his family that if he’s late coming home to not let him in, no matter what happens.
It’s a terrific set up, but the middle of the film drags a bit as the film covers a lot of internal family politics and throws in a love story that’s not that believable. However, it’s the final quarter of the film, as Nicola makes his escape from the house, that makes Night of the Devils something of a lost classic. The entire film is beautifully shot, in some garish hues reminiscent of some Eastern-European films, but for most of the film the action is limited to the family’s compound. The finale allows for Ferroni to explore more spaces and actions. It’s moody, atmospheric, at times darkly comic, and the gore (the effects were by Carlo Rambaldi, who would later create E.T.) is surprisingly strong and effective for 1972.