Wednesday, September 21, 2022

#2,819. The Brotherhood of Satan (1971) - Brotherhood Triple Feature


Shots of a wind-up army tank - a child’s toy - are interspersed with close-ups of a car being demolished by what we’re led to believe is an actual tank. We never see the destruction; from off-screen, we hear the occupants of said car, first their shock and confusion, then their agonizing screams as the vehicle is crushed with them inside. The chaos eventually subsides, and a young boy walks away from the carnage, strolling a short distance until he is met by three other children.

These are the opening images of 1971’s The Brotherhood of Satan, a horror film that ignores traditional narrative as it weaves the story of a Satanic cult and the mayhem it unleashes on a small desert community.

Widower Ben Holden (Charles Bateman) is driving down a secluded road with his daughter K.T. (Geri Reischl) and girlfriend Nicky (Anha Capri) when he happens upon the wreckage from the opening scene. Racing to the nearby town of Hillsboro to alert the police, Ben is instead assaulted by the sheriff, Pete (L.Q. Jones), and other locals. It seems that Hillsboro has been inexplicably cut off from the rest of the world for days now, during which time dozens of citizens were brutally murdered and a number of kids have gone missing. With Ben’s help, Sheriff Pete, his deputy Tobey (Alvy Moore), and kindly Doc Duncan (Strother Martin) try to figure out what’s happening in this normally peaceful town.

What none of them realize is a coven of Satan-worshipping witches has descended upon Hillsboro, and are luring the town’s children to a dilapidated mansion, where, in a few days’ time, they will participate in an ancient ritual. And the leader of this cult is none other than Doc Duncan himself!

Directed by Bernard McEveety and written by William Welch (credited) and L.Q. Jones (uncredited), The Brotherhood of Satan is a bizarre motion picture that, as its story unfolds, raises more questions than it answers. Yet I found myself drawn into it, and the weirder the movie got, the more intrigued I became.

And believe me, this movie gets plenty weird! While at home one evening reading from the bible, Hillsboro resident Ed Meadows and his wife Mildred are attacked and killed by their daughter’s doll; and the scene where the witches, all of whom are senior citizens, initially gather features both head-scratching dialogue and the brutal slaying of one of their number, Dame Alice (Helene Winston). The murder of Dame Alice is shocking in that it seemingly comes out of left field, with only a faint explanation of who this person was, and why they were killed. Then there’s Nicky’s peculiar dream, tinted in red and littered with dead bodies, that randomly pops up in the final act.

Yet as unusual as it all is, I never once believed the events unfolding in The Brotherhood of Satan were as random as they seemed. I trusted that every odd image, every fantastic killing, every random interaction between two characters was another piece of a puzzle, and regardless of how long it would take to piece it all together, I was in it for the long haul.

It took two viewings (both in the same night) of The Brotherhood of Satan for me to decide whether or not my faith in the filmmakers was justified. Happily, it was, but that’s not to imply the movie is perfect. The scene with the doll-turned-killer has a handful of unintentionally funny moments, and tonally the film never really comes together, teetering between arthouse and exploitation without fully embracing either. But its unique approach, coupled with an unforgettably creepy final scene (that also featured a twist I didn’t see coming the first time through) do their part to make The Brotherhood of Satan a unique addition to the late ‘60s / early ‘70s Satanic craze, ranking alongside The Devil Rides Out and Rosemary’s Baby as one of the subgenre’s most unforgettable entries.
Rating: 8 out of 10

No comments: