31 Days of Horror: Devils of Darkness

I’ve been traveling for a few days and I’m running behind on my movie marathon. Looks like I’m going to have to step up the pace to get my 31 in before the clock strikes midnight on Halloween.

I’m a fan of Swinging London, the Austin Powers movies notwithstanding. When I heard there was a movie that had black magic, vampires, and Satanism all set in 1960s Chelsea, I suspected I’d found the movie for me. When I saw the cast, which contains absolutely nobody of note, I knew it was a movie right in my wheelhouse for this year’s October movie marathon. With names like William Sylvester and Hubert Noël as our stars, how bad could this movie be?

Devils of Darkness (1965) is like Dracula, except terrible. Vacationing Londoners visiting Brittany stumble upon the cult of Count Sinistre, a sorcerer cursed to eternal life and buried alive in the town cemetery.  Count Sinistre, risen from the grave and now with the villagers under his control, kills two of the Englishmen for disturbing his cave coffin, then feeds upon another of the party. In the process of doing so, he loses his magical talisman, which our hero, Paul Baxter, discovers. The rest of the film involves Sinistre and his cult trying to recover the talisman—for reasons not entirely clear—before Baxter discovers Sinistre’s secret and puts an end to his diabolical plot.

Sinistre travels to London in pursuit of the talisman, his coffins vanishing upon arrival and perplexing both customs officials and Scotland Yard. His cult across the Channel is comprised mostly of bored dilettantes and the wealthy who hang around Chelsea, partying late into the night at the eclectic gallery, The Odd Spot. It is there that Baxter meets Karen, a sometimes model who has most recently agreed to pose for a suave foreign painter. You win absolutely nothing if you guess that painter is Count Sinistre. Little does Karen (or Tania, Sinistre’s current vampire bride) suspect, the Count plans on taking Karen as his new consort, setting up pins that are bound to be knocked down before the final credits roll.

Theoretically, this movie has everything I’m looking for: vampires, Swinging ‘60s London nightlife, buxom redheads, bland heroes, black masses, and a bunch of looney cultists. Unfortunately, the film delivers them in a steaming mass of nonsense. The insistence of Count Sinistre calling upon “the Devil of Darkness” throughout his fiendish rites had me wondering if he was worried about mistaken identities. How embarrassing would it be to call up the “Devil of Happiness” to your black mass?

The movie does have the distinction of being the first British vampire film set in the modern era, and I can’t think of a better period than 1960s London. This is the place and almost the time that gave us the Highgate Vampire after all. However, hammy acting and a meandering plot can’t deliver the goods, earning Devils of Darkness a mere 1.5 skulls out of 5. Better luck next time, Hubert Noël!

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