★★ out of ★★★★★
Directed by Norman J. Warren*
Crack open the dusty dictionary parked over on your bookshelf and look up staid British horror film. We’ll wait. What’s it say? 1976’s Satan’s Slave? Yep, that’s what we thought.
Satan’s Slave is not without some bosom-y witches, ghastly stabbing, and a couple well-placed Satanic black mass ceremonies, but these titillating affairs are few and far between. Where Satan’s Slave excels is dialogue. Lots and lots of dry British dialogue concerning ye’ ole witches of yesteryear.
Set in contemporary 1976, the film follows a young 20-year old, Catherine York (Candace Glendenning, Tower of Evil and the Flesh and Blood Show) who is dispatched by her uncle to join him and his son (her cousin) at their country estate. She decides to ditch city life and join her mother and father for a fun-filled function in the boonies. As soon as the family approaches the estate Dad goes bonkers, crashes the car, Mom falls in to a catatonic state, and the car explodes in a fiery patch of mayhem.
Catherine is now forced to deal with her immediately dead parents, her uncle and cousin who she barely knows, and their sultry assistant. From the drop everything is wrong. Her cousin puts the moves on Catherine — and she acquiesces (read: gross). Her uncle drugs her in the evenings — and she acquiesces. Her cousin puts a witchy hex on her and leaves her in the woods — and she believes his feeble story about not being able to find her.
All along, her uncle Alexander Yorke (Michael Gough, Horror Hospital) and her cousin Stephen (Martin Potter) are grooming her for the blackest of black masses. A black mass so dark that it will resurrect an exceptionally powerful witch who will, allegedly, grant uncle York powers beyond his imagination. The thing is, he’s already got a sweet country estate, a couple Rolls, and he’s likely in his late 70s. Seems like a lot of work to gain ill-gotten spoils that you’ve already got, but that’s probably for another review.
The reticent and demure Catherine has received the double-whammy and she’s going to be stuck as the center piece of the witch resurrection. Does she fight off the hex? Does her uncle get the ill-gotten booty? Does she live happily and grossly ever after with her cousin? There is a twist, and it’s a pretty cool one, but alas, it’s too little and way too late.
Satan’s Slave, not to be confused with the brilliant 2017 Indonesian film Satan’s Slaves, is a perfectly fine piece of grind house ephemera that includes one of the best title sequences we’ve seen in a while! Some films of the past hold their own and improve like a fine wine, while others get dusty, clunky, boring, and just whine. If it’s Satanism or buxom witches that you’re after, look elsewhere. To be sure, they’re here, but you have to take in a lot of staid UK drama to get what you’ve come to find.
Satan’s Slave is Rated R, but it’s a touch difficult to find. Thankfully, the good people at Vinegar Syndrome have you covered.
*Sadly, director Norman J. Warren passed away in 2021.