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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

The Brotherhood of Satan Bernard McEveety 1971

A Cock in a Smock, in Shock

It’s confession time, kids: I hate witchcraft movies. Well, not ALL witchcraft movies, particularly if they involve teen witches having telekinetic bitchfights over football jocks in the wood shop… but for the most part, the whole Rich White Satanists in Suburbia subgenre never really gelled for me. Whenever a film cuts to a group of Jazzy-ready biddies wrapped in black robes on a leftover set from one of the Hercules movies, I tune out. The very sight of arthritic hands clutching cathedral candles or paunchy, overfed bellies straining at hemp-rope belts during a lazily-rendered Black Mass is enough to put me to sleep, sorry to say. Because at the end of the day, whether the crucifix you’re praying to is rightside-up or upside-down, church is boring.

But if any film can convert me to someone who can make it through a black magic movie without swallowing my own tongue, the gloriously moody, marvelously creepy, and deliciously retro witchcraft thriller The Brotherhood of Satan is probably it. Thanks to a wonderfully eerie central concept (which deals with children and their toys, always a hot subject), some audaciously detached directing choices, and the hottest central male cast on the other side of the seventies (or at the very least the tannest, which to my Midwestern albino ass is the same thing), Brotherhood is goat’s-head-and-shoulders above most of its satan-worshipping brethren and an all-around fun film.

The film starts out with a bang, literally: a child’s toy tank whirrs and clacks on a lonely patch of dirt, and eventually drives toward camera. We cut to a close-up of the treads, and suddenly hear voices of people panicking. Wait – is that a REAL tank? And is it crushing a REAL car? The tank pulverizes a hot late-sixties model family sedan, presumably with the screaming family inside, and afterward a young boy in a cowboy hat walks casually from the smoking wreckage, along the treads the tank has left in the ground up the hill, where he picks up his toy and goes to meet a small group of children who have been watching from the roadside. Cue opening credits.

Is that not the HOTTEST opening EVER?! It totally reminded me of Ray Bradbury’s classic story “The Veldt”, where two neglected children turn their virtual-reality nursery into an African savannah, complete with parent-eating lions. I’m hooked already.

From here we join Ben (70’s-Sears-Catalogue-hot Charles Bateman, who pretty much represents the man of my dreams growing up) and his ladyfriend Nicky (Ahna Capri), who are vacationing in rural California (I guess) with widower Ben’s young daughter K.T. (Geri Reischl, best known as “Fake Jan” from the Brady Bunch Variety Hour). After coming across the wreckage of the family sedan we saw crushed in the opening scene, Ben stops in the sleepy little nearby town to let the local sheriff know that there’s been an accident. But when Ben gets out of the car, he’s suddenly violently attacked by Sheriff (L.Q. Jones of The Wild Bunch and most recently of Prairie Home Companion, who also co-wrote and produced here) and the townsfolk, one of whom even goes at Ben with an axe. Ben and his family are able to get back in their car and escape, but they’re understandably shaken by the encounter: this shit ain’t Mayberry!

As Ben and his ladies try to escape town (more on that later), we learn more about what’s going on in this creepy little berg. It seems that there has been a series of violent and unexplained deaths lately – something like 30 in 3 days. And in each case, parents are killed and children are disappearing without a trace. To illustrate the point, we are introduced briefly to a family with two children who are related to the dead folks in the crushed car. The dad is extremely handsome, but otherwise they’re pretty irrelevant until the little girl gets out of bed to take her dollie to the bathroom, and dollie’s shadow is seen leaving the room on its own as the little girl nods off outside the door. What?!

To further the creepiness, the hot daddy is reading the Bible to his grieving wife down in the living room – that is, until someone throttles the poor woman to death as he reads only feet away. The father stops reading and looks up to see the doll sitting in the middle of the room. Suddenly, dad is strangled as well by the toy, and the little boy and girl wander wordlessly out the front door and through town.

Okay, so now we’ve got a panicked town, mind-controlled kids, and killer toys. Awesome. What next? Umm… how about… satanic old people? Sure! Indeed, it seems that the town’s elderly elite have been gathering not to hold bake sales for the Ladies’ Auxiliary, but to worship the devil. And it looks like they’re collecting children whose bodies they intend to inhabit in the next stage of their eternal lives. This is pretty lame until an old biddie shows up who has apparently betrayed the coven (which they pronounce “coh-ven”, which I love) by allowing her child to be baptized in the Christian church. The coven’s leader, who looks suspiciously like the town’s good-natured Doc (Strother Martin of Nightwing, SSSSSSS, and Cool Hand Luke), READS this bitch in front of the coven and eventually asks Satan to judge her. He naturally doesn’t judge her kindly, and the coven beats the old lady to death with their wrinkly bare hands. It’s hot.

Meanwhile, Ben and his lovelies have been forced to return to the town after veering off the road to avoid hitting a little girl (who conveniently disappears immediately after the accident), and Sheriff has warmed up to him, explaining that due to some unexplained force no one has been able to enter or leave the town since the “accidents” started and they were suspicious that Ben was able to just stroll on in. In order to figure things out, Sheriff calls in the local Priest – and this is where I totally lose it.

Folks, this priest is the hottest thing since sliced martyr. Seriously – he’s GORGEOUS. He’s also smart and idealistic and concerned and all those other things that a priest should by all rights be, but he’s GORGEOUS, and that’s what really matters. Hottest. Priest. Ever. I seriously could think of nothing other than getting him out of that smock and making him genuflect every moment he was gracing the screen. The actor, Charles Robinson Knox, is new to me, having done mostly television in the 70’s (and although the IMDB would have you believe otherwise, Robinson did NOT change his race in order to play the beloved “Mac” on Night Court in the 80’s). He’s basically all my childhood Catholic school fantasies come to life in one tan, collared, tousle-headed dreamboat. Somebody stop me before this gets dirty.

Anyway, the Incredible Edible Man of God has a theory – what if the children are being gathered for some reason? And what if that reason is… DUN-DUN-DUUUNNNN… Satan? (Lightning Crash). Yes, Father O’Hottiepants took an exorcism course in seminary (seriously) and didn’t sell his books back at the end of semester – he’s got lots of creepy child-sacrifice drawings and Black Mass reference books to try to convince the others, who still don’t buy it, even though it’s the only remotely reasonable explanation. He also notes that the 11 missing kids are between certain ages, and that both Ben’s daughter and a select few other local kids fit the profile. With a coven being 13, it makes sense that these kids are the next likely targets, so the group heads to a local house to try to keep an eye on the remaining young’uns.

This of course ends in disaster, as a statue of a knight on horseback becomes life-sized and beheads the little boy’s father – in front of the hunky priest. The effect this has on the hottie in the smock is essentially tantamount to resetting your iPod to factory settings – the guy has a complete nervous breakdown and becomes a glassy-eyed, babbling – but still incredibly handsome – mess. It’s so wrong of me to write, or even think this, but the sight of a beautiful man in a St. Peter’s collar who has lost control of all mental function was enough to give me shower-nozzle masturbation material for YEARS. In fact, I’m touching myself RIGHT NOW.

Anyway, with Preachy McSexystein out of the picture, things get a bit mechanical, with the town adults hunting down the Satanists (who have also gotten K.T.) and the Satanists rushing through their body-changing ritual. Luckily, though, things get fabulous again when the ritual reaches its climax and all of the old farts get hacked up by hooded figures with flaming swords. Actually, this troubled me: if the Satanists are all involved in the ritual, then who are the hooded “attendants”? Are they the Black Mass equivalent of caterer-waiters? Seriously – if they are witnessing all this and yet not participating, they better have signed one hell of a non-disclosure agreement. Anyway, it appears that the ceremony is a success and the Mass is over – and then the adults crash through the doors, to find…

The missing kids playing together in an empty, dusty room. On a cobweb-covered table, toppled action figures in black robes are strewn about carelessly. The children look at the adults with neither surprise nor relief. An act? Methinks yes. Quite a creepy and “down” ending for such a fevered, relgion-steeped flick, huh? The bad guys win out in the end? Much like the glorious Wicker Man, which boasts a similarly jaw-dropping resolution, this movie plays for keeps. And I love it.

Overall, this flick has atmosphere, class, shocks, striking visuals, a great ending, and a delicious assortment of loin-stirring man-candy to keep things moving. The Brotherhood of Satan belongs among other great creepy-kid flicks like The Children, Village of the Damned, and The Bad Seed, and is definitely worth checking out – and I’d swear that on a stack of Bibles.

Rating (out of 5):