Sunday, July 7, 2013

THE BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN (Bernard McEveety, 1971, USA)


A small town is reduced to an abattoir where stinking corpses are preserved with dry ice and black magic eclipses the rising Son. Veteran TV director Bernard McEveety helms this supernatural tale of paranoia and dread set amid Our Town, creating a viable tension that superimposes Satanism with the corrupting counterculture and its deleterious effects upon the children of a lost generation. This poisoned seed is planted in Anytown, USA and blossoms into a village of the damned.

The bedeviling plot is a conventional exercise in satanic tropes, where a secret coven of witches and warlocks conspire towards immortality. Silver chalices, Pagan symbols, black cloaks and red robes set amid some secret antechamber in an abandoned house make for a visually repetitive setting. What makes the film interesting is Strother Martin’s diabolically gleeful performance as the leader of this brazen coven, and the use of benign children’s toys as murder weapons.

The opening sequence is a close-up of a toy tank screaming its war cry with childlike fervor, clicking and clacking tiny gears and plastic treads. But we hear screams off screen and the crunching of steel and bone, as a real tank crushes a car with the people trapped helplessly inside. This cuts back and forth, from the toy to the large tank as giant tracks grind metal and tear flesh. Finally, a child comes and picks up the toy leaving behind a bloody massacre and mysterious tank tracks like an exclamation point at the end of a life sentence. And it’s into this maelstrom that the protagonists are eventually driven by supernatural forces, emanating not from above but from the hellish depths of the abyss.

Small town America is plagued by the murder of its adult townsfolk and the disappearance of the children. LQ Jones, the versatile stuntman and character actor whose name nobody knows but face everyone remembers, plays the county sheriff trying to solve this gruesome mystery. Jones is also known for directing the Harlan Ellison post-apocalyptic tale A BOY AND HIS DOG. The film eschews a score to heighten tension and instead allows the silences between actions to carry dead weight, or the soft patter of raindrops whispering in the chill night air to create discomfort and unease. And it works. A surreal dream sequence isn't the most frightening aspect of the story: Fear takes the form of a bizarre orange monkey, a doll whose yellow face is a ghastly death mask cradled in the arms of a child. Like a baby cuckoo, firmly nested in the care of its victim whom it shall soon consume.

The Brotherhood performs its secret ceremony and meets their fate at the end of fiery swords, only to be reborn into the world to carry out Satan’s majestic request.

Final Grade: (C+)

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