• Satan’s Slave (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: May 24th, 2019.
    Director: Norman J. Warren
    Cast: Michael Gough, Martin Potter, Candace Glendenning, Barbara Kellerman
    Year: 1976
    Purchase From Vinegar Syndrome

    Satan’s Slave – Movie Review:

    Notorious British exploitation director Norman J. Warren’s first entry into horror, 1976’s Satan’s Slave kicks off with a bang as we see some evil looking Satanists doing evil Satanic things overseen by a creepy dude in a goat mask. Cut to a scene where a young man named Stephen (Martin Potter) has taken his pretty blonde date home for a little fun. Unbeknownst to her, this fun involves some bondage and some scissor on her boobie action, which is not what she signed up for. She runs away and he just keeps on doing his thing. His dad, the mustachioed Alexander (Michael Gough), however, is possibly a far more sinister menace as he appears to be the leader of a Satanic cult out to do something they shouldn’t to Stephen’s very pretty cousin, Catherine (Candace Glendenning), who is visiting after her parents died in a car cash.

    As Catharine settles in and wanders around the lavish estate, strange things start to happen and she starts to experience eerie visions of devilish ceremonies and witches being burned and weird priests doing strange things. Does any of this relate to her? Why is her boyfriend acting so strange? Why is Stephen putting the moves on his own cousin? Why the Hell are goats so creepy?

    Obviously made in to cash in fast and cheap on the supernatural horror film craze that was sweeping the world in the mid-seventies, Satan’s Slave is a fun and slightly sleazy entry that’s as goofy as it is entertaining. The film is shot with a fair bit of style, and if the highlights are the ultra-bizarre Satanic ritual sequences, which seem to be chock full of full frontal female nudity more often than not, so be it. There are a couple of good gore scenes in the latter half of the film, strong stuff for a British film of this period, and Warren is smart enough to keep enough oddities front and center on the screen throughout the film to make sure that it never suffers from pacing issues. The film might be more than a little predictable, which obviously saps some of the suspense out of it, but aside from that this is a fun ride through a very evil part of the English countryside with a cool cast helmed by a director you can always depend on to entertain.

    Michael Gough, a staple of British horror films who is probably best known outside of his native England as Alfred in Burton’s Batman movies, looks a little goofy with his big bushy mustache here, but hey, it was the mid-seventies, it’d probably more unusual if he wasn’t sporting a big bushy mustache. He plays his part well, fitting into Alexander’s evil shoes quite well and hamming it up just enough when he needs to in order to stand out. Martin Potter is also decent here, obviously having a good time playing the malicious and perverted Stephen. The gorgeous Candace Glendenning makes for a fine female lead, and if she’s a little wooden in spots, well, she looks awesome naked so most people probably won’t mind so much. The film is all over the place and suffers from an obviously limited budget and some moments of strained unoriginality but the good outweighs the bad. There’s enough sex, violence and atmosphere to make this one worth a watch.

    Satan’s Slave – Blu-ray Review:

    Vinegar Syndrome brings Satan’s Slave to Blu-ray on a 50GB disc in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 2.35.1 taken from a new 2k scan of the original 35mm negative. The transfer is clean and shows nice detail. Colors look quite good, if a bit flat in a couple of scenes (likely due to how it was shot), while skin tones, important in a movie like this, look nice and natural. Black levels are good and there’s very nice depth, detail and texture evident throughout the film. The image is devoid of compression issues and there are no problems with noise reduction or edge enhancement – all in all, a very solid picture.

    The English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track is clean and properly balanced and comes with optional English subtitles. Although some scenes do sound a tad flat, there are no problems to note with any of the audio. Dialogue stays clean, clear and nicely balanced throughout and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion. The effective and intriguing score in the film also sounds quite strong here.

    Extras start off with an audio commentary featuring Norman J. Warren himself, joined by composer John Scott, who are clearly having a good time strolling down memory lane during this chat. Warren leads the talk but Scott chimes in a lot, offering a lot of insight into the scoring of the film starting with some fascinating information about working with a paraplegic on the recording. As the movie plays out, they discuss the locations that were used for the film, the importance of the main house used in the picture, contributions from art director Hayden Pearce, how Martin Potter (who was a last minute addition to the cast) put a lot of research into getting his character right, the editing process, budgetary issues, problems with natural light and the shooting of the exterior scenes, and what the various cast members were able to bring to the production. They also talk about David McGillivray’s screenplay, having to get the film finished in a tight three week shoot (which compared to Prey was a breeze!), not wanting to get ‘too bogged down with details’ on the film, how inserts were shot for the film to be used for the film’s distribution outside of the United Kingdom (some of which use a famous porn actress named Monika Ringwald), the importance of overseas sales and how the Japanese market required stronger content, the wardrobe choices and quite a bit more. Very informative stuff.

    A second commentary features film historians Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger that provides an interesting alternate take on the movie. It the first track covers the history and making of the film then this one focuses more on critical analysis. Of course, there is a bit of crossover but the duo covers the film’s excessive qualities and how it differs from other gothic horror pictures of the period. They cover the film’s context within other British horror pictures of its day, the importance of Warren’s contributions to British genre cinema and how this particular picture plays into that, the film’s sense of energy, the quality of the performances, the influence of Hammer Films’ productions and how this picture differs from much of that studio’s output and quite a bit more. It’s a good talk with some interesting insight.

    From there, dig into Creating Satan, a making of featurette that runs a half an hour in length and is made up of interviews with producer Les Young, Warren himself, writer David McGillivray, actor Martin Potter, production designer Hayden Pearce, associate producer Moira Young, film sales and distribution rep Ken Dowling. There’s some neat footage of Warren revisiting the house in and amongst the talking heads interviews that cover the making of the film, the casting of the picture, the performances, the film’s stronger content, the marketing behind the picture and more.

    There are some archival pieces here too, like the ultra-cool twelve-minute making of featurette called All You Need Is Blood which was made to promote the film around the time of its release and which features some great behind the scenes shots of Gough and company doing their thing as well as some interesting shots of the Black Mass scene while it was being filmed. Covering the film’s score is Devilish Music, which is a thirteen minute interview with the composer of the film’s score, John Scott, who speaks about his work on this picture and talks about his experiences in general. More interesting is the half hour long Creating Satan: The Making Of Satan’s Slave, which is a great retrospective featurette that includes on camera interviews with director Norman J. Warren, producer Les Youn, writer David McGillivray, production designer Hayden Pierce, producer Moira Young and leading man Martin Potter. An early Warren short film, 1966’s eleven minute Fragment is also included here. It first appeared on the BFI Blu-ray release of Warren’s Her Private Hell but its inclusion here is welcome. The black and white short tells the strange story of a failed love affair. If it doesn’t match the feature in terms of tone at all, it’s still an interesting look back at the early part of the director’s career.

    We also get a featurette with Scott entitled The Devil’s Music that clocks in at just under thirteen-minutes in length. This covers some of the same ground as the commentary track but regardless, it’s interesting enough that you’ll want to check it out. Here Scott discusses his creative process, what went into creating the music featured in the film and more. He starts off sitting at the piano and playing some selections from the film before then talking about the theme of the film and how the music reflects this. He talks about his friendship with Warren, how they came to work together, how composers are typically brought into far too late during a production and how that was never the case on his collaborations with Warren, how and why the score came to sound like it does, the use of gongs and clarinets in the film and more.

    Fragment is an interesting short film directed by Warren made in 1966 running just under eleven-minutes in length. This black and white quickie is the story of a failed love affair and it’s interesting in that it provides a keen look at Warren’s early work. There’s no dialogue here but the use of the jazzy score and the stark black and white cinematography tells the story well enough. Some great shots here, and the piece is an interesting snapshot of the London of its day.

    Also included on the disc are two original theatrical trailers for the feature, five-minutes’ of deleted scenes, menus and chapter selection. As this is a combo pack release we also get a DVD version of the movie taken from the same restoration and featuring the same extras.

    Additionally, this limited edition release which is currently only available from Vinegar Syndrome directly, includes some great reversible cover art and a collectible slipcover.

    Satan’s Slave – The Final Word:

    Satan’s Slave may not be the be all end all of seventies occult films but it is spooky, sexy, bloody and entertaining enough that it’s definitely worth a watch – in fact, like most of Warren’s work, it is a ridiculously entertaining film. Vinegar Syndrome bring the film to Blu-ray in grand style with a nice presentation and a host of extras covering pretty much every aspect of the film and its production history. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Satan’s Slave Blu-ray screen caps!