DEMON WITCH CHILD
Color, 1975, 88m.
Directed by Amando de Ossorio
Starring Julián Mateos, Marián Salgado, Fernando Sancho, Lone Fleming, Ángel del Pozo
Code Red (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
This double feature of 1970s drive-in horror obscurities revolves around the theme of possession courtesy of two films made in the aftermath of The Exorcist, though only one of them really marches directly in Linda Blair's head-spinning footsteps. First up is the amusingly titled Help Me... I'm Possessed, a southwestern-shot, ratty gothic that kicks off with a pair of young necking lovers getting offed in their car by a monstrous force in the pre-credits sequence. It turns out they were parked less than half a mile from Blackwood Sanitarium, a castle now functioning as a mental institution -- or as the supervising Dr. Arthur Blackwood (Greer) calls it, "a rest home for emotionally disturbed people." The investigating sheriff (Dean) comes snooping around but doesn't get too far with the doctor, who also stashes some of the more extreme patients down in his torture dungeon basement. In this secret lair, the doctor conducts weird experiments involving pretty women strung up from the ceiling in their underwear, and the ones who die are then dismembered by his faithful hunchbacked servant (Agostino) to fit in handy coffins they can bury in the desert. Enter the doctor's new wife, Diane (co-writer Peters), who meets the doc's infantile little sister, Melanie (Myrta), and gets a clue that something's amiss when a wandering patient named Edith warns her, "There will be more murders, more blood!" Boy, she ain't kidding.
Though it does contain a supernatural presence that looks like a bunch of long red hair ribbons in front of a turbo fan (and whose identity is only revealed in the final minute), this film doesn't really have any possessions per se. Instead it feels more like a throwback to '60s schlock films (especially basement mad scientist epics like The Brain that Wouldn't Die) thanks to hoary scenes like a man stuck in a guillotine poised to drop after a candle burns through the rope holding up the blade, and the paint-like blood gets sloshed around without any blades actually cutting anyone in graphic detail. There are also lots of women in their undies acting terrified, of course, along with an eye-punishing parade of overgrown sideburns, tacky wigs, and the most hideous interior decorations this side of a Ray Dennis Steckler film. Completing the retro atmosphere is an explosive finale shot at Bronson Canyon, site of sci-fi quickies like Robot Monster. It's also worth noting that this was the last theatrical feature from enigmatic, deceased filmmaker Charles Nizet, who had previously churned out odd programmers like Voodoo Heartbeat, Something Weird favorite The Ravager, and VHS trash staple Slaves of Love.
Barely released in theaters and briefly issued on VHS from Video Gems, this is goofy, wildly entertaining cheapie has inexplicably remained undiscovered while many of its peers have gone on to cult film status. Perhaps the Code Red release will correct this to some degree, and the new anamorphic transfer does what it can with damaged, modest source materials. Colors are definitely on the faded and earthy side, not surprisingly, and the print's probably passed through more than a few projectors over the years. However, it's way better than the old '80s transfer and does a suitable job of capturing the seedy atmosphere of the original film.
Next we move on to the second feature, a Spanish Exorcist rip-off from none other than director Amando de Ossorio, the man behind the four Blind Dead classics as well as The Loreley's Grasp, The Night of the Sorcerers, and The Sea Serpent. Also released on both VHS and into theaters as The Possessed, Demon Witch Child was released the same year as the last Blind Dead film (Night of the Seagulls) and manages to copy a few highlights from the Friedkin hit (especially the ridiculous profanity and the bedroom levitation, here moved near the beginning of the film) while dropping the whole God vs. Satan and sexualized aspects of most of the copycats. Here the source of evil is an old gypsy witch who's kidnapped a child as a sacrificial offering. The locals can't pry the location of the missing kid and threaten her with a dose of sodium pentathol, which sends the witch hurling herself out a window to a bloody death below. However, her curse continues when Susan (Salgado, Spanish dubber of Linda Blair in The Exorcist), the young daughter of the main interrogator, gets stuck with a supernatural necklace that causes the witch's spirit to enter her and start doing all sorts of terrible things. Sometimes Susan turns into a mini-hag running around killing people, and people in her house are terrorized when objects start flying around the bedroom. Can the local priest (Cold Eyes of Fear's Mateos) put a stop to her reign of terror in time to save her soul?
Despite a truly awful English dub track, Demon Witch Child boasts a handful of memorably grotesque horror sequences that truly come out of left field. No age group is safe at any time, and adult males get some of the nastiest treatment here including a castration gag that probably cleared out more than a few viewers at the time. There's also a creepy, surreal highlights with Susan clambering face first down the side of a building and attacking victims in a park by leaping out of the bushes, made all the more unsettling by Salgado's nasty old age makeup. The whole priest angle doesn't really make sense given the nature of the story (unless it's saying that gypsies are emissaries of Satan), but it does lead to an unexpectedly downbeat finale that shares more than a few similarities to The Night Child.
A fairly regular item on VHS from a number of below-the-radar labels (including one with great cover art), Demon Witch Child popped up on a few gray market compilations as well from the same early '80s video master. The Code Red version is obviously a much newer transfer from what appears to be a 35mm print that also passed through its share of projectors, but despite its ragged appearance at times, it's still better than what we had before. As usual this is the English dubbed version, which doesn't appear to have been trimmed in its journey from Spain to America. Thankfully all of the ridiculous profanity is kept intact, with Salgado hurling a few casual epithets at the priest that would've gotten Brett Ratner kicked out of Hollywood for good. Also included are "demonic" trailers for Seeds of Evil, Devil's Express, Heated Vengeance, House of Insane Women, and The Vampires' Night Orgy.