Satan's Slave (1976)

Norman J. Warren's first horror film, an effectively eerie satanic horror, starring Michael Gough. ABUK R2 boxset release.

The Film

Horror films revolving around cult and demonic worship were big in the 1970s. The notions of cult ceremonies had been a feature of a lot of horror films, dating back to the silent movie days with the neo-documentary Häxan (1922) on the legends of witchcraft and devil worship across the ages. Universal's The Black Cat (1934) brought Satanic worship to mainstream cinema and with the return of the gothic horror films in the late 1950s came Mario Bava's Black Sunday (1960) and Hammer's Kiss of the Vampire (1963). The genre really kicked off in 1968 with Hammer Film's effective The Devil Rides Out (1968), based on a book by very popular horror writer Dennis Wheatley, and Tigon Film's Witchfinder General (1968) starring Vincent Price as the titular Witch Hunter who sought out alleged devil worshippers. The films quickly became popular with the incredibly graphic semi-follow-up Mark of the Devil (1970) being filmed in Germany and spawning a variety of unofficial sequels. Tigon quickly followed up their sucess with the more moderate Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968) and Blood on Satan's Claw (1971) while Hammer mixed the notion of vampires and devil cults again in Twins of Evil (1972) with Peter Cushing as a 'witchfinder'. Acclaimed British horror The Wicker Man (1973) brought the idea of cult worship into the modern day, while The Exorcist (1973) brought the notion of demonic possession into mainstream cinema and spawned dozens of imitators. 1976 saw more devil worship with big budget British productions, The Omen (1976) and Hammer's final horror film, To the Devil a Daughter (1976), it also saw a variety of low budget exploitation films on similar themes - including Paul Naschy in Spanish film, Inquisición (1976), Peter Cushing in Greek production, Land of the Minatour (1976) and Michael Gough in the all-British production Satan's Slave (1976):

After opening with scenes of a Black Mass, we meet Catherine Yorke and her parents preparing to drive into the countryside to visit her long lost Uncle. As they arrive, her father crashes the car into a tree and as Catherine runs for help, the car explodes, apparently killing both of her parents. Suffering from shock, Catherine is cared for by Uncle Alexander (Michael Gough) and his son Stephen (Martin Potter), but soon Catherine starts to suffer from premonitions, and there are hints that something sinister is going on.

Satan's Slave is a pure exploitation film, capitalising on the big budget demonic films of the era, and hoping to recapture the fleapit audiences from the wave of Spanish and Italian productions - fortunately, unlike many films of the genre, it benefits from a surprisingly well written script. The opening shots of a demonic ceremony, and the following scene showing Stephen as a twisted murderer with an eye for the ladies, sets the scene for a very uneasy atmosphere throughout the film and the viewer is never quite sure what intentions any of the family have towards Catherine. Due to its exploitation nature, the film's producers insisted on a lot of blood and nudity which the script provides in abundence, but you do get the feeling that the film might have worked better with more subtlety and many of the low budget gore effects look laughable.The dialogue is well written, although the story has a number of loose ends and the incredibly rapid relationship between Catherine and Stephen seems very implausible. The build up to the film's climax is effective and unpredictable.

The film was shot on a very low budget (about US$200,000 in today's money) but looks surprisingly good. The British location shoots give the film a sense of authenticity, and although not quite 'documentary style', the film does have a grittly realistic edge. Warren uses an incredible number of clever tricks to give the film an effective feel and makes good use of the scope format to present some good compositions. The soundtrack is particularly strong, with a mix of dark piano and electronic themes.

The small cast give surprisingly good performances. Michael Gough was a familiar face in horror, appearing in a variety of Hammer horrors in the 1960s as well as Tigon's demonic worship horror, Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968). He gives a wonderfully kind yet menacing performancing, and convincingly disguises his motives. The rest of the cast look good in their roles, and bring a good level of authenticity. The female extras, given little to do but strip off are far from the Hollywood bimbo types, and the presence of visible bikini lines on one of the models meant to be a 17th Century Witch does rather take away from the realism.

With a gritty look, and a good script, Satan's Slave boasts an effectively eerie atmosphere and some good tension that helps to lift the film above its exploitation roots that do dominate much of the run-time. 1976 was the end of the gothic horror era that Hammer had defined in the late 1950s, and had proven popular in both Europe and the USA for over a decade - Satan's Slave still shows some hints of the Hammer style, with the middle class characters and rural locations, but its gritty atmosphere was more in keeping with the popular American horror films of the time, and gives the film a realistic edge that Hammer rarely achieved with their bright colours and elaborate sets. A suitably entertaining film and one of the better realised demonic horror films of the period. Recommended.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? Michael Gough - star of Hammer's Horror of Dracula (1958), and played Alfred in Batman (1989).
Martin Potter - little known British actor with the lead role in Fellini's Satyricon (1969)
Directed by anyone interesting? Norman J. Warren - One of Britain's few exploitation horror directors, best known for Inseminoid (1981).
Is it scary?There are a few atmospheric scenes that might prove scary.
Any violence/gore? Some very bloody deaths.
Any sex? A lot of topless and nude scenes, not really erotic.
Who is it for?
Recommended to fans of exploitation and demonic horror films.
Good Soundtrack?A very well composed score from John Scott that adds to the film's atmosphere.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
The print is decent with faded colours, some grain and print damage throughout. A few scenes have notably lower quality.
Audio English original mono sounds good, plus rather unnecessary 5.1 and DTS remixes.
Subtitles English HOH.
Extras The disc includes:
  • Audio Commentary from Norman Warren and writer David McGillivray. Full of information with a good chatty nature.
  • Devilish Music - interview with John Scott about the soundtrack, with clips from the film. (13m 03s)
  • All you need is Blood - a contempory TV documenary about the film with lots of interesting behind the scenes shots and interviews with the cast and crew. Fullscreen, rather ropey quality but watchable and very interesting. (13m 10s)
  • Deleted Scenes - two short scenes from the workprint that never made it into the film. Presented in black and white.
  • Original cinema trailer full of spoilers.
A documentary and more interviews about this film are present on the boxset bonus disc.
AvailabilityOnly available in the Norman J. Warren collection boxset.
Region Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Other regions? No other DVD versions of this film exist.
Cuts? The film presented here is Warren's 'director's cut' which includes the gorier versions of many scenes, but does not included the infamous, alternate bedroom sequence which Warren only shot due to producer pressures. This scene was later rejected by the BBFC for inclusion as a bonus feature.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 19th August 2006.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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