Color, 1976, 90 mins. 3 secs.
Directed by Norman J. Warren
Starring Michael Gough, Martin Potter, Candace Glendenning, Barbara Kellerman, Michael Craze
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Scorpion Releasing, BCI (US R0 NTSC), Mill Creek (US R0 NTSC), Anchor Bay (UK R0 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9), Rhino (US R1 NTSC)

Though Satan's Slavebest Satan's Slaveremembered 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's pretty shaggy an and has incredibly odd pacing, but there's certainly no forgetting some of its more extreme highlights or its potent atmosphere of melancholy evil.

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 the company's 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 Satan's Slaveless pulling off the Satan's Slaveunlikely 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 quartet of films for cult director Pete Walker. 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 U.K. 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 that 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 surprisingly, 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 Satan's Slaveterrible, 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.Satan's Slave

It looked like the U.S. 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 seemed 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 brings us to the 2012 edition from Scorpion Releasing, which automatically bested its predecessors 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 reasonable color timing that's a bit darker here; 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 90 minutes, and it even features an absolutely awesome vintage Brent Walker opening logo that has to be seen to be believed. Apart from dropping the audio commentary, the U.K. video extras have been carried over here and then some. "All You Need Is Blood" (13m14s), a featurette created during filming, is a fun 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. "Devilish Music" (12m34s) 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. "Creating Satan" (29m51s) is the beefiest of the bunch, with Warren, McGillivray, Potter, producer Les Young, production designer Hayden Pearce, associate producer Moira Satan's SlaveYoung, 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 Satan's Slavehow 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" (10m4s), 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.

In 2019, Satan's Slave made its Blu-ray bow as a "Halfway to Black Friday" title from Vinegar Syndrome in a limited dual-format slipcase edition (with reversible cover art as well), featuring what's described as a new 2K scan from the 35mm camera negative. The film is completely uncut with the full scissor scene, and it looks darker, richer, and much more foreboding here than earlier transfers. Interestingly, this edition features a different, much more traditional Brent Walker logo at the beginning. The DTS-HD MA English mono audio is also quite robust and in very clean shape, with optional English SDH subtitles provided. The earlier Warren commentary is replaced here with a new one featuring him and Scott, who seem very relaxed as they take a sedate but pleasant stroll down memory lane chatting about the creation of the score, the shooting locations (with a family living in that house during filming), the commercial demands of the era, and plenty more. A second commentary with Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger is very high in both enthusiasm and info (Ellinger cites this as her favorite British horror film) with plenty of thoughts on Warren's cinema (and its frequent critical misinterpretation and neglect), the gothic elements, the active nature of its female protagonist, and the various themes running through his work. The pertinent video extras from the earlier two special editions are carried over here -- "Creating Satan," "All You Need Is Blood," "Devilish Music," and "Fragment" -- along with two theatrical trailers, the B&W deleted scenes with commentary,

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Updated review on May 24, 2019