Friday, September 28, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #39: Black Magic Rites

Black Magic Rites
Now this was a nice surprise. A twisted, loony Seventies madhouse of a movie - originally reviewed for dvdsnapshot.
Our Take:

Black Magic Rites
was originally titled Riti, Magie Nere E Segrete Orge Nel Trecento... (which translates to “Rites, Black Magic and Secret Orgies in the Fourteenth Century...” and also sometimes called The Reincarnation of Isabel. All in all, a collection of names as loopy and vague as its plot. This is not a bad thing. One character towards the end says “Don't try to understand it,” and this is very good advice indeed.

In short, our plot has walking beefslab Jack Nelson (Micky Hargitay) buying a share of a castle already occupied by a vampiric cult of devil-worshipping men in red long underwear (with rear flaps, no doubt) who are murdering women in order to bring back Isabella, their long-dead mistress of bad body makeup. The fact that she burned to death in no way impacts the opportunities to show her topless with a painted ragged hole below her breasts. As in all horror stories involving reincarnation, everyone has a past life involving poor old Miss Issy, so we're asked to care that the cult targets Hargitay's wooden niece (Rita Calderoni) to be the next piece of kindling on their bonfire.

The local village, seemingly made up entirely of pretty young fashion victims, is far too superstitious to do anything but go along with all the killing, past and present. They're also unflappable, as the occasional orgy, murder, or occurrence of casual public nudity don't seem to effect them in the least.

From first frame to last, this is a constant wash of stylish Italian film-making. No opportunity to add striking washes of colored light, smoky atmosphere, or a clever camera angle is passed up. Lousy audio dubbing, nonsensical editing, and overpowering musical cues only increase the psychedelic impact of the film's style. Most disorienting of all, though, is that no character acts in any way that even remotely resembles a human being. Be it bloodthirsty villagers or the most awkward movie-party guests this side of Midnight Cowboy and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, they seem to have been directed by Renato Polselli to engage in highly-stylized “Performance Art” rather than “performance.” The two main modes are “over-emote” and “meaningfully vacuous stare into the middle distance.” Comic relief characters like “Eye-twitch Guy” and flighty Stephy, possibly one of the oddest and most awful performances in cinema history, somehow only exacerbate the ghoulishness of the proceedings.

That said, it all adds up to a magnificent example of dreamlike Eurosleaze with an impact on the viewer reminiscent of the illogical, idiosyncratic horror films of Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Jean Rollin, Lucio Fulci (with less gore), and Jess Franco... and no, I'm not exaggerating by dropping those names. The odd behavior, leaps of logic, and characters who seem to lack control also make “nightmarish” perhaps a good descriptive. Polselli definitely proves to be a director of vision with this film. There's a cumulative effect these glowering, weirdly behaving cyphers, with their lack of reason or rhyme and predetermined air of doom, have on the viewer. Taken in pieces Black Magic Rites is a terrible mess, but as a whole, this is surprisingly compelling stuff and definitely worth checking out for discerning genre fans.

Official Synopsis:

Filled with psychedelic '70s style by Italian cult director Renato Polselli (Delirium), this satanic shocker pulses with violently erotic energy, and is a must see for horror aficionados.

In a mountaintop castle, devil worshippers (sic) hunt down virgins and cut out their hearts to restore life to their Great Mistress Isabella (Rita Calderoni), a witch who was burned to death centuries before. Their castle is purchased by the unwitting Jack Nelson (Mickey Hargitay, former husband of Jayne Mansfield), whose niece Laureen (also played by Rita Calderoni) bears a striking resemblance to Mistress Isabella. Drawn to the cult's evil orbit, Laureen is targeted as the final sacrifice in order to restore Isabella's terrifying power.

Audio & Video:

A remastered 1973 film presented in Widescreen HD, it looks and sounds as good as it can. There are flecks and flutters in the film that obviously come from the source materials, but the digital transfer is pristine. The stereo Italian audio is, as was customary at the time, completely dubbed.

Special Features:

Very limited, only trailers and English subtitles.


Overdone, illogical, and nightmarish (in the authentic sense of the word), Black Magic Rites is a hidden gem of Eurosleaze style. Equal parts awful and compelling, with candy colors and horrible acting, it's an obscure must-watch for fans of 70s Italian horror.

Overall Picture:

Movie: B
Video: B
Audio: B
Extras: D

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