Director: Bernard Mc Eveety
Script: William Welch
Cast: Strother Martin, L.Q. Jones, Charles Bateman, Ahna Capri, Charles Robinson, Alvey Moore
Running time: 92.5 minutes
Arrow Films thankfully have pulled another obscure 1970s exploitation classic out into the light, blinking and dazed, but undiminished by the passage of time. In this instance it’s Bernard McEveety’s strange, but weirdly engaging, The Brotherhood of Satan.
During the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, following the likes of Rosemary’s Baby and The Devil Rides Out, there was a slew of occult and black magic themed films dealing with the subject of Satanists and weird religious cults, including the likes of Race with the Devil, The Mephisto Waltz, The Devil’s Rain and The Omen. The Brotherhood of Satan arrived in 1970, and was based on an original story by Sean MacGregor.
The plot follows a ‘family’, of sorts, travelling across the wilds of the USA on their summer vacation. The family consists of Bill, his daughter (Katie, from a previous marriage), and Bill’s new girlfriend, Nicky. They drive into a town that, initially, is both scared of and angry at them; thinking they are in some way connected with a number of recent child disappearances within their community. After being attacked by a gaggle of townsfolk, and escaping, they quickly find that forces beyond their ken are at work, preventing them from leaving the town and its immediate surroundings.
Later, after making it back to the town and being taken in by the Sherriff, his deputy and the local priest, they learn that there are dark forces ranging throughout the town, forces that require young children to enable its continuance, and poor little Katie is next on its collection list.
Saying any more about the storyline of The Brotherhood of Satan would be to give too much away, although the title provides a big clue to the reason for all the disappearances and the murders that have occurred, and are occurring, throughout the district.
As with so many other seventies films, the pacing and shooting style of The Brotherhood of Satan is very different from what modern audiences are used to, but the slower pace, and more sedate style of filming enhances rather than detracts from the film as a whole. For example, the opening sequences for our ‘hero’ family sees them travelling through imposing barren countryside, and, for a few minutes, nothing is said and there’s no music score telling us how we, as an audience, should feel – we’re just seeing what they’re seeing as they witness it. The only sound is road noise and the car radio, which is becoming more and more indistinct, as if it’s fighting a malevolent influence that’s breaking down the airwaves and creating more and more static. There are several similar strange moments throughout the film that enhance its overall weirdness levels.
The Brotherhood of Satan is well acted and all the characters, including the kids, are believable. In fact, the children used are all incredibly natural – there are no stage school wannabe actors here. And when the Satanists do finally reveal themselves, they too are believable, more akin to the older, mostly amiable tenants from Rosemary’s Baby than the angry shooters of Race with the Devil. And the Satanists are also portrayed as individuals with their own agendas and pecking order; in fact, at one point, they turn on an old dame who dared to try and protect her own child from the sect and beat her to death as punishment.
The film creates its own meta-world within the cut-off surrounds of the township, and has its own mythology and lore, hence providing the audience with more to get its teeth into, along with plenty of unanswered questions. Unusually, probably the most disturbing scenes in the film involve images taken from books of satanic rites involving the butchering of children that one ‘hero’ character, the priest, is studying, as he tries to learn more about what he’s up against.
If you’re into cult films (on more than one level) that feature toy tanks crushing cars, killer dolls strangling parents, black cake consumption at satanic kids parties, over-the-top satanic rituals and spooky children turning on the adults then you’re in for a treat.
The Brotherhood of Satan is certainly worth a look, especially, if like me, you’re curious about black magic and witchcraft and enjoy peering into the abyss from time-to-time.
Arrow Video is distributing The Brotherhood of Satan on Blu-ray, which is being released on 31st August 2021. The extras that come with this release include:
An audio commentary provided by writer and novelist Kim Newman and author and filmmaker, Sean Hogan. The two writers make for a complimentary double-act and they reveal some interesting facts about the production, including that the director wasn’t keen on spoon-feeding his audience; hence some aspects aren’t particularly well explained. Kim Newman also name checks one of my favourite left-field films, namely Dark Intruder starring Leslie Nielsen.
Dark Past– A visual essay by journalist David Flint on 1970s satanic cinema (15 mins). Here the author of Satan, Superstar, talks about the film’s place amongst the pantheon of other satanic films, name-checking quite a range, from Rosemary’s Baby (of course) and Crowhaven Farm to Race with the Devil and even more mainstream films, and explains it’s lack of success as being due to it being too esoteric for its own good!
The Children of Satan (18 mins) – Jonathan Erickson Eisley and Alyson Moore remember their experiences, as child actors, on the film. We find out that the film’s working title was Come in, children and that it was shot in Laurel Canyon. Both interviewees are engaging and happy to chat about the shoot; both its good and bad aspects.
Trailer, TV and radio spots – the trailer (2.27 mins) is a fun watch, but the quality dips, picture-wise, with the TV spots (both just over 1 min). The radio spot is played over an original poster for the movie, with the tagline: A demon spirit of madness and murder holds a Californian town in the grip of terror.
Image gallery – 19 images from the film, plus posters, etc…