Though best remembered today for his five horror films made during a 12-year period starting in the mid-'70s, British exploitation director Norman J. Warren originally cut his teeth on boundary-pushing sexy titles in the late '60s like Her Private Hell and Loving Feeling. That background still lingers in his first official horror outing, 1976's Satan's Slave, which queasily combines heavy doses of sex and gore with the occult fad sweeping through genre cinema since the success of Rosemary's Baby. Like Warren's subsequent terror titles, it isn't really "good" in the traditional sense and has incredibly odd pacing, but there's certainly no forgetting some of its more extreme highlights.
At a remote English estate, the Yorke family is having some issues. Handsome Stephen (Potter, the brief "it boy" star of Fellini Satyricon and Goodbye Gemini) gets his jollies sexually terrorizing women with scissors and committing the odd murder or two, while his dad Alexander (Gough, Horrors of the Black Museum), seems to be more than slightly connected to the discreet satanic rituals being held around the property. When Stephen's cousin Catherine (Tower of Evil's Glendenning) comes to visit, her parents die in a car crash upon arrival, leaving her in the hands of her suspicious relatives. While she recuperates and wanders around, she's soon subjected to wild visions involving witch persecutions and nasty priests, all connected to the gravestone of an ancestor named Camilla. The supernatural shenanigans continue when her boyfriend bloodily offs himself from a rooftop and Stephen develops too keen a carnal interest in his cousin, setting the stage for a devilish final showdown.
Savaged by UK censors, Satan's Slave took almost three years to cross the ocean to America where it was unleashed in longer form by Crown International, making it by default one of their best releases. The film was shot in Techniscope, something of a rarity for a British horror film of the period as this was used for more often for spaghetti westerns; the process is definitely rougher-looking than its glossier cousins like Panavision, giving the film a weird and gritty ambience you simply don't see anymore. As usual, Gough (and his co-starring mustache) is a joy to watch, especially when he gets to let loose in the final half hour, and Glendenning makes for an appealing and attractive scream queen, even more or less pulling off the unlikely twist ending pretty well. Also noteworthy is the eerie score by John Scott, who worked on Warren's previous films and would go on to some mainstream recognition for Greystoke and The Final Countdown.
The film is also significant in British horror history as a transitional title for screenwriter David McGillivray, who had penned an excellent trio of films for cult director Pete Walker (House of Whipcord, The Confessional, and Schizo). His teaming with Warren is certainly a different beast, and their subsequent collaboration on Terror indicates an increasing desire to pull out all the stops at any cost -- which was starting to show with Schizo, but it really goes out of control here. Incidentally, he also appears in the flashbacks as a priest.
As mentioned above, the initial UK prints and home video versions of Satan's Slave were heavily compromised, losing many snippets of nudity and gore (including much of the astounding nail file scene during the climax). The closest thing to a director's cut and the longest version for several years was the initial American DVD licensed from Crown to Rhino in the first part of their 2004 Horrible Horrors series, a condescendingly-titled collection which nevertheless found the film packed with a motley crew including The Hearse, Horror High (that cut TV print), Point of Terror, Lurkers, and Fleshburn. This edition was fullscreen and looked atrocious, but at least it contained the pretty shocking extended Japanese version of the early scissor sequence, which is still strong stuff in its complete form. The same year saw by far the longest British release of the film as part of the five-disc Norman J. Warren Collection from the UK branch of Anchor Bay, an attractive anamorphic transfer correctly framed at 2.35:1. The full scissor scene was missing here, not surpirsingly, but otherwise it's a good presentation overall and features a very lively, informative commentary with both Warren and McGillivray, who aren't afraid to crack a few jokes at their own expense. This disc also features some worthwhile video extras, but more on those in a moment. As usual, it also featured one of those terrible, fake 5.1 mixes the company seemed so fond of at the time, basically shoving random dialogue and sound effects around to all the speakers with a lot of reverb thrown in.
It looked like the US might finally get a decent version of the film in 2008 when BCI began licensing Crown titles for remastered editions, and while their double-feature DVD paired up with Terror looked promising and was indeed the first scope edition on American home video, it was the hopelessly savaged initial British cinema cut with almost every highlight missing in action. The source print also looked like it had been dragged behind a truck for ten miles, which didn't exactly help matters either. Unfortunately that also proved to be the case with the film's subsequent reissue as part of a bargain-priced Gorehouse Greats Collection in 2010 from Mill Creek, another compressed and iffy pack of 12 random Crown titles.
That finally - finally! - brings us to the 2012 edition from Scorpion Releasing, which automatically wins simply for being the only truly uncut version ever released in the original aspect ratio anywhere in the world. The transfer looks pretty close to the Anchor Bay one, i.e., correctly framed, clean film source, and colors as good as the cinematography will allow; it's definitely light years ahead of the previous BCI one by a long shot. All of the footage from various versions around the world appears to be intact here, clocking in at 89 minutes. Apart from dropping the audio commentary, the UK video extras have been carried over here and then some. "All You Need Is Blood," a featurette created during filming, is a fun 12-minute promo piece about the making of the film, including behind-the-scenes footage of ritual sequences, Gough hanging out in the woods, creation of the copious fake blood, and staging that crazy suicide scene. The slightly longer "Devilish Music" features Scott at a piano talking about the "strange music we could probably never do again" for the film and even doing a demo on the keyboard. The 29-minute "Creating Satan" is the beefiest of the bunch, with Warren, McGillivray, Potter, producer Les Young, production designer Hayden Pearce, associate producer Moira Young, and distributor salesman Ken Dowling talking about getting Gough for the film, finding girls able to do the demanding ritual scenes, following this film hot on the heels from the same distributor as Thriller: A Cruel Picture, and how it was paired up in theaters with Curtis Harrington's Ruby. You also get three minutes of B&W deleted scenes from the workprint (two scenes, both inessential - a tea party and an alternate dream sequence), with no audio but filled in with some commentary and music tracks. The disc is rounded out with the earlier B&W Warren short film "Fragment," a loose and jazzy little piece previously available on the BFI release of Her Private Hell, along with the theatrical trailer and bonus trailers for Terror and Death Ship. The film is packaged as part of Katarina's Nightmare Theater, with hostess Katarina Leigh Waters proferring plenty of facts about the film against grisly backdrops of scene highlights. As usual these wraparounds are optional when you choose to play the film, but given the trivia value and amusing nature of the sexy satanic setting, there's no rational reason to pass them up.