Directed By: Renato Polselli
Starring: Mickey Hargitay, Rita Calderoni, Raul Lovecchio
AKA: This movie was also released as The Reincarnation of Isabel
Trivia: When released on DVD in the UK< this film had the added title Secret Orgies in the 14th Century
Satanism, vampires, possession, witches, and the occult; director Renato Polselli’s 1973 horror film Black Magic Rites (aka The Reincarnation of Isabel) has it all. But damned if I can make any sense of it!
After an opening that features a cult ceremony / human sacrifice to resurrect the long-deceased Isabella (Rita Calderoni), who was burned 500 years ago as a witch, we’re whisked off to an ancient castle, a portion of which has just been bought by Jack Nelson (Mickey Hargitay). Shortly after moving in, Jack throws an engagement party for his step-niece Laureen (also played by Calderoni) and her fiancé Richard Brenton (William Darni). Also in attendance are a bevy of babes, presumably friends of Laureen’s, including the mysterious Christa (Krista Barrymore) and the incredibly annoying Steffy (Stefania Fassio).
Residing in another part of the castle is a sullen, creepy man who specializes in the occult (Raul Lovecchio). As it turns out, he and all the others (including Jack, Laureen, and her guests) are somehow connected to one another, and were there 500 years ago when Isabella was murdered. There are hints that Jack and his pals, including the doctor (Max Dorian) and the village priest (Gabriele Bentivoglio) are vampires who must feast on the blood of virgins (Laureen and her friends, as well as the more buxom village girls) before the 25th moon. Only by doing so will Isabella be reincarnated. The occultist is either working with or against them (I can’t say for sure), and at least one babe (Christa) joins their ranks before the “big day” (i.e. - the arrival of the 25th moon).
That’s as much of a plot as I could muster from my first viewing of Black Magic Rites. Surrounding it on all sides are images, scenes and sequences of total absurdity; moments of incomprehensible barbarity; and a whole lot of nudity (not a single young girl escapes the film without showing us.. something). For a while, I actually felt as if I was keeping up with the movie, and able to understand enough of what was happening to want to see more. Then the vampire angle was introduced (When Jack vowed to bring Isabella back to life 500 years earlier, I guess he was magically transformed into a vampire. How that vampirism then spread to his friends, who were also in the past and are still among the living, is anyone’s guess). From that point on, try as I might, I was completely lost, and the rest of Black Magic Rites baffled the shit out of me.
But then it hit me, right towards the end of the movie: maybe we’re not supposed to know what’s going on. Perhaps Black Magic Rites was a hybrid of sorts, a marriage of exploitation and experimental filmmaking. Had I figured that out earlier, I would have sat back and reveled in the insanity of it all: carnival music playing during sex scenes; basements that may be attached to the castle but might also be situated in hell; Stefanio Fassio’s over-the-top turn as the flighty Steffy (I swear, she could have been a character in Fellini’s 8 ½); and vampire attacks on innocent beauties who, moments later, are themselves being accused of witchcraft. And believe me when I tell you this is only scratching the surface. There seems to be no end to the madness that is Black Magic Rites!
This first experience with the film was a frustrating one, but I definitely want to watch Black Magic Rites again someday soon, if only to see how it plays when I don’t try to connect the dots.