Color, 1983, 82 mins. 19 secs.
Directed by Ulli Lommel
Starring Suzanna Love, Robert Walker, Jr., Donald Pleasence, Paul Wilson, Mary Walden, Deanna Haas
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), 88 Films (Blu-ray) (UK R0 HD), Anchor Bay (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Following his biggest theatrical success with the supernatural quasi-slasher cult item The Boogeyman, director and onetime Rainer Werner Fassbinder actor Ulli Lommel tried to recapture the same magic with another trek into the horror genre with The Devonsville Terror. Shot back to back around the same area of Wisconsin as Bill Rebane's The Demons of Ludlow with much of the same production crew, this one brings back leading lady Suzanna Love, Lommel's wife at the time who co-wrote the script with him and gets to play multiple roles here (a la the film they made together in the interim, Olivia). If you're a Lommel fan, this one delivers heaps of fun including weird plot turns, spaced-out performances, and a truly crazy finale you have to see to believe.
In 1683, three women are dragged from their homes in the middle of the night to be accused of witchcraft and interrogated via torture. The last to die, Rebecca (Love), is burned at the stake but transforms into a spectral force that proclaims "Damn you all" as it ascends into the thunderclouds above. 300 years later, Dr. Warley (Pleasence) is researching and chronicling the effects of this atrocity on the community, believing that "only evil will out evil." New schoolteacher Jenny (Love again), a dead ringer for Rebecca, comes strolling into the religious community where the supposedly devout populace tend to stray horrifically astray, such as shifty shop owner Walter (Wilson) who smothers his wife with a pillow and tries to pass it off as death by pneumonia. Two other women in town, Monica (Haas) and Chris (Walden), look an awful lot like the other two historical witches, and soon the wheels are set in motion for a reprise of the town's dark history that might end a bit differently this time.
The strong feminist subtext here is the most interesting aspect of The Devonsville Terror, with the female characters' bucking of the townspeople's entrenched sexist attitudes achieved simply through the impact of their words and mere presence. The male characters are mostly presented as jerks whose rage is unleashed when their sexual urges are repressed, not really the most common theme in American cinema at the time, and the cast is a wild one with Pleasence getting a particularly nasty bit involving worms under his skin. The craziest highlight has to be the finale in which we get a reprise of the famous face-melting from Raiders of the Lost Ark, something Lommel professed in Video Watchdog was an attempt to expose the inherent fascism of Spielberg's film. Sure, Ulli.
Following an aborted attempt at a theatrical release, The Devonsville Terror hit VHS from Embassy and popped up on TV a few times in a miserable transfer that was so dark you could barely tell what was going on. It received a pretty decent DVD release in 1999 from Anchor Bay as a co-feature with The Boogeyman, followed by its Blu-ray debut in 2016 from 88 Films in the U.K. (now discontinued) featuring a
Lommel interview (7m6s) and an 18m5s trailer reel including Children of the Corn, Don't Go in the Woods, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, and Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man.
In 2023, Vinegar Syndrome brought the film back into circulation in the U.S. officially for the first time in ages with a Blu-ray release featuring a greatly improved transfer from the 35mm interpositive. This is a title that hasn't ever looked all that great (and certainly isn't as crisp or vibrant as The Boogeyman), but this is easily the best it's ever looked with more visual info compared to the earlier Blu-ray as well as more convincing color timing and better detail. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 English mono track sounds solid throughout with the very emphatic electronic score benefiting the most, and English SDH subtitles are provided. In "God is a Woman" (35m22s), Love recalls the Scarlet Letter-connected inspiration for the concept, her approach as an actor, her joy at working with Pleasence, and her misgivings about the compensation deal she had on the film. In " It’s Melting Men!" (15m16s), special effects artist Matthew W. Mungle chats about his studying under Joe Blasco (who referred him for this film), his other projects around this time, and the engineering of that big finale. Then it's Wilson's turn in "The Incredible Melting Man!" (42m5s) to talk about his acting career in Portland, his theater experience, and his recruiting for this film where he plays the most despicable character and gets the biggest payoff moment. "Not Very Nice People" (12m10s) features makeup artist Erica Ueland looking back at her career in Wisconsin, the U.K., and L.A. (including Forbidden Zone and Halloween) as well as her work on this film and her aversion to doing sequels. In
"Mind of a Chess Player" (18m45s), camera operator Jurg V. Walther enthuses about the new Kodak film stock that came along to use on this film, his enthusiasm for shooting Pleasence, and his admiration for Lommel's penchant for dual meanings in his dialogue. The archival Lommel interview is carried over here (now running 7m16s with a title card at the beginning), followed by a really drab trailer and a squishy 1m10s behind-the-scenes gallery.
VINEGAR SYNDROME (Blu-ray)
88 FILMS (Blu-ray)
Reviewed on April 2, 2023.