Friday, December 9, 2011

ASYLUM OF SATAN (1971) / SATAN’S CHILDREN (1974)

ASYLUM OF SATAN (1971)
SATAN’S CHILDREN (1974)

Directed by William Girdler/Joe Wiezycki
Something Weird DVD

THE FILMS
For no good reason, I tend to think that exploitation films involving Satan are pretty hilarious. Just think about it...Satan?! Boogedy-boo! Up until this point, it’s been all fun and games; The Devil Master, Invitation To Hell, etc. Tonight, the gleeful world of satanic trash has come crashing down. Tonight, I watched Satan’s Children. I need a drink.

This bursting disc is about to take you on a whirlwind of emotions, all of which involve Mr. Lucifer in some form or another. In one corner, we have semi-legendary/tragic director William Girdler’s Asylum Of Satan, a dreamy cheapo in which nothing much happens, but you’re still a slave to the charm. On the other side of the coin, there’s Satan’s Children, easily one of the most screwed up motion pictures of all time, courtesy singular auteur Joe Wiezycki. Between the two, you’ll laugh, daydream, fall asleep, sweat, forget where you are, catch flies with your gaping mouth, and say “uggh.” Rev up the Porsche! Starch those whitey-tighties! Brush your flowing brunette locks! We’re about to sacrifice three precious hours to Satan’s celluloid altar.

Lucina is in a fuddle. Seems she fell asleep, only to wake up in the Asylum Of Satan! That's right, our heroine has unexpectedly found herself a "patient" of Dr. Specter, who runs a mansion/asylum for wheel-chaired people in KKK outfits and other assorted bad actors. When Lucina becomes suspect of the she-male servant and her escalating hallucinations, there's only one thing to do: call Chris, her man-boobed, Porsche-drivin' boyfriend! The cast meets grisly death by animals and claustrophobia, but the cops don't believe Chris. Was Lucina captured for her virginous qualities? Is Doc Specter Satan himself? Papier-mâché monster head. Random gore photos. Satan: master of disguise. Anticlimax. Clothes furnished by Schupp & Snyder, Inc. of Louisville, Kentucky.

No plot, no point, not much sense. Yep, William Girdler's dirt cheap debut pretty much delivers all the necessities. Asylum Of Satan isn't exactly a film I'd consider "exciting"; in fact it's more often directionless and frequently dead boring. So why does it remain so watchable? It's all in the mugs. Much like Mark Of The Witch, another occult-themed regional rarity, Asylum floats around on an odd plain of surreal haziness, heavily sprinkled with quirky characters and unique faces. The paste-on mustaches, the thinly-veiled guy in drag, the unbelievable 70s machismo of Chris, the hilarious "blind" girl...that's just a taste. A slapdash 70s horror comic book has come to life and you can taste the musty halftones. Girdler keeps things lo-fi (fire extinguisher smoke, rubber spider attack, recurring white boy funk), but somewhat tame, further pushing the film's allure into the red.

That was pleasant enough. How about a little man-on-man gang rape to scar things up? Satan's Children it is! Bobby has problems. Bobby can't take anymore of his abusive father's taunts and his super gross stepsister's games. Bobby says, "Go to Jesus H. Christ Heeeeelll!" and walks out. Bobby gets picked up by a biker at the local diner. Bobby gets hog-tied and defiled by four white trash hillbillies. Bobby is found the next day by a satanic cult. Bobby feels a oneness with the cult, but they say he’s too much of a “queer” to join. Bobby falls in love with Sherry, the would-be high priestess of Satan. Bobby runs away from the compound in his white Fruit of the Looms, gets chased by satanic dudes for eons. Bobby is looking for redemption (take a bottle to the head, Dad). Bobby is looking for revenge (smell ya later, rapists). Bobby is looking for sex (grease up that sister again). Oh, Bobby.

Part classroom morality filmstrip, part sleaze lobotomy, Satan’s Children is all man. At least I think so. See, there seems to be some kind of mean slant towards homosexuals (both male and female), but I can’t tell if the film is serious or just taking the easy way out with a spin on the ol’ rape/revenge plot wheel. The latter makes more sense; the whole thing is too ineptly constructed to harbor such subversiveness, no matter how simplistic. At it’s core, Satan’s Children is a mean-spirited, slightly homophobic experiment in exploito-shock cinema, strangely subdued and never all that inviting. Shot in Tampa, Florida by one-time director Joe Wiezycki and co., the backyard grime takes center stage amidst the indifferent photography and tacky sets. It’s all sweat (who oiled up Bobby’s sister so quick?!), zits (take your pick), and dirt (cult leader Simon and his pencil-greased mustache); the kind of dain-bramaged film you see once, notch up for experience, and move on. For a fascinating look into the making of the movie, check out crew member Marc Wielage’s recollections here. And then move on.

Watch Asylum for the great fun, watch Satan’s Children for the bragging rights. Next time somebody blurts, “Name one of the most insane movies you’ve ever watched,” you’ll have a pretty good answer.

AUDIO AND VIDEO
Prints = full frame. Grain = in spades. Satisfaction guaranteed. Satan’s Children was lost for decades until Something Weird turned up a sole print. Naturally, it’s a bit rough in the dirt and damage department, but that’s completely expected. Twenty years in someone’s garage certainly didn’t keep my jaw from hitting the floor. The mono sound was just fine. Girdler’s film looks fantastic, with lots of 70s traits and a crystal clear picture. Film noise was present, but at a minimum. The mono sound was a bit muffled and hard to decipher at times, but it sounded like set issues to me.

EXTRAS
Wowee, this is a hot one! We’ll start out small and ramp up from there. First, a 5 minute burlesque short titled Satan’s Dance features a woman dressed half-ladylike, half Lucifer, as she struts the stage and makes out with herself. It’s very odd. Then, in one of the most interesting supplements I’ve ever seen on a Something Weird disc, witness 7 minutes of Super 8 footage from the set of Asylum, wherein Girdler directs with dry ice, a few lost scenes are shot, and numerous close-ups of a cobwebby corner unfold. Footage of this sort never seems to pop up anywhere, so it’s a welcomed peek into the workings of cheap 70s filmmaking, no matter how brief. Next, gain a snitch into the life of a struggling nudie mag model in the 30 minute short, The Soul Snatcher. Kind of like a classroom scare film with a little spice...and a pasty, eyelined Satan. Also included are nine thematic trailers, most of which come from those crazies at Hallmark Pictures (Last House On The Left, Don’t Look In The Basement). Faves include Horror High and a theatrical spot for Asylum, which utilizes some additional footage not seen in the film. A gallery of grisly 60s/70s comix covers also appears on the disc, repeated from several other Something Weird releases.

Now, to the true girth of this Satanic tilt-a-whirl. Jeffrey C. Hogue, owner of distributor Majestic International Pictures, and Patty Breen, William Girdler “expert-biographer” and creator of WilliamGirdler.com, get together for a thorough commentary track on Asylum. Breen knocks off a flurry of facts throughout, while keeping the tone light. Hogue doesn’t offer much insight (“I’d rather not talk about that.”), but both have a great sense of humor about the film. Some highlights include the Church of Satan’s involvement in production, a few Rosemary’s Baby connections, and Patty labeling actor Nick Jolley aka Chris as, “...the ultimate anti-sex symbol.” Overall, a fantastic track, one that flows and ends before you want it to. As a companion to the commentary, Ms. Breen also supplies exhaustive liner notes with the film’s included insert, covering Girdler’s tragic life and the film. Absolutely top notch.

FINAL THOUGHTS
The more I think about it, the more I enjoyed Asylum Of Satan. Satan’s Children was an experience, to say the least. The disc itself is completely packed, so I think the choice is obvious.

— Joseph A. Ziemba, 07.14.05

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