Mark of the Devil Blu-Ray Review
Blu-Ray Review- Mark of the Devil
Distributor: Arrow Video USA
Street Date: March 17th 2015
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.66:1 Aspect Ratio, Linear PCM Mono Audio
Runtime: 97 Minutes
The subject of Witchcraft throughout history, along with the truly evil individuals who accused the innocent, has long been a staple of Horror cinema. It is often the most nightmarish history of humankind that makes for the most captivating Horror films, and Mark of the Devil stands alongside Witchfinder General (a.k.a. The Conqueror Worm) as one of the genre’s best.
Based on “authentic documents” from three cases in British history, Mark of the Devil opens with disturbing brutality, as the accused townsfolk in an 18th century Austrian village are burned at the stake and tarred and feathered for their roles in supposed Witchcraft. Count Christian Von Meruh (Udo Kier) eagerly awaits the arrival of his master Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom); the Chief Witchfinder in the region. He respects his master as a good pupil does, but grows increasingly weary of the judgments they are forced to hand down with little evidence. It doesn’t help that Christian’s local love interest Vanessa (the lovely Olivera Vuco) has been accused of Witchcraft from a fellow Witchfinder named Albino (a truly nasty performance from Reggie Nalder). As the number of innocents accused grows substantially, the ulterior motives and hypocrisy of Christian’s superiors becomes more evident. Tensions build and relationships crumble as Christian leads the townspeople in an uprising against the Witchfinders he once aligned with.
Mark of the Devil is a handsomely produced film, aside from the English dubbing of what must have been hard to understand German and Italian accents, which can be quite absurd at times. In the end though, it strangely enhances the unique flavor of the film overall. The beautiful location scenery is truly something to behold, along with historical buildings that once held actual witchcraft trials and public executions that add to the “creepy” factor of some scenes. The score from Michael Holm is also a standout aspect of the film, consistently raising the tension and suspense as the film progressively grows more disturbing. The gore, for the time, must have been fairly difficult to stomach for audiences, and remains disturbing especially given the actual history behind the true cases the film used as inspiration. Mark of the Devil was a treat to revisit in High Definition, and makes for an impressive North American Blu-Ray debut from Arrow Video.
Arrow Video makes their U.S. debut with a stellar transfer for Mark of the Devil. Simply gorgeous is an understatement. To be honest, I was a little worried during the “fish-eye” lens opening credit sequence, which appears intentionally Vaseline-smeared, but features more than few unwelcome artifacts. But as soon as the credits are over, the vibrant colors light up the screen, the natural film grain is intact, and definition and detail in faces, clothing and scenery are pristine. The bright-orange blaze of the witch burnings, crimson red blood, and lush green summer scenery all add to the beauty of this transfer. Extremely well done!
The Linear PCM mono audio track does a fine job, even with the sometimes laughably bad dubbing that accompanies the print. It’s a front heavy track that captures the music, background effects, and subtle sound design well enough for fans, while never fully capturing the immersive experience of a multi-channel job.
Arrow Video has provided fans of Mark of the Devil with an incredible array of bonus material for this Blu-Ray release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary by Michael Armstrong– The Director sits down (along with moderator) to discuss the Blu-Ray release of the Uncut version of his film. Fans will be incredibly pleased with Mr. Armstrong’s behind-the-scenes stories from the making of the film, its controversial subject matter and advertising in both Britain and America, and discussion of the actors from the film. Fantastic and informative!
- Mark of the Times: The New Wave of British Bloodshed- This documentary from High Rising Productions focuses on the “new wave” of British Horror directors from the 1960’s and 1970’s and features contributions from several experts in the field. Clocking in at over 47 minutes, this piece offers fascinating insight into the British Horror genre including the catalog of beloved Hammer films. Filmed in High Definition, this is a nice companion piece to this set and is endlessly engaging for fans of the genre.
- Hellmark of the Devil– This featurette has author Michael Gingold (of Fangoria fame) discussing the distributor of Mark of the Devil, Hallmark Releasing Corp., and runs just over 12 minutes. Hallmark’s unique advertising of their films released in America included the “barf bag” gimmick, posters featuring stills & actors from other films, and creative trailers that offered truly groundbreaking slogans that pulled audiences into theaters.
- Mark of the Devil: Then and Now- This featurette runs just over 7 minutes and features some truly gorgeous locations from the film, as seen in the film, and how they appear now in 2015. Set against the film’s score and a series of running images, it’s fairly simple but effective nonetheless, and makes one appreciate the lengths the filmmakers went to achieve some breathtaking location shoots among the landscapes and architectural beauty.
- Interviews- Several separate interviews are presented including Udo Kier, Michael Holm, Herbert Fux, Gaby Fuchs, Ingeborg Schoner, and Herbert Lom. Udo Kier’s take on the film’s production is especially fascinating, as he details the issues regarding Michael Armstrong being credited as the Director even though the production designer actually finished shooting the film. Udo felt that Michael had “too many artistic ideas” for the studio heads to deal with at the time. Great stuff!
- Outtakes- Just over 3 minutes of random footage/test shots from the film. Some of the “clapper” scenes and effects shots are seen here from production. I may add that the footage is in ridiculously good shape! Looks beautiful in high definition.
- Gallery- Posters, lobby cards, VHS sleeves, and other memorabilia from collector Christian Holzmann that lasts about 2 ½ minutes.
- Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for the film runs roughly 3 ½ minutes and is in pretty good shape! The gory trailer includes some of the great effects shots from the film, nudity, and plenty of thrilling suspense scenes.
This Blu-Ray edition from Arrow Video features impressive newly-commissioned artwork Graham Humphreys and has the likes of Udo Kier, Herbert Lom, and Reggie Nalder on the cover, along with some horrific witch-hunt imagery. On the reverse of the packaging you’ll find a plot synopsis, production stills, a list of special features, and technical specifications. On the interior of the case is the Blu-Ray disc complete with a reversible wrap featuring the original theatrical artwork. Last but not least, an illustrated booklet is included featuring essays by Adrian Smith and Anthony Nield. This is quite the gorgeous package!
Mark of the Devil stands alongside Witchfinder General as one of the best the sub-genre has to offer. The film itself is handsomely produced, with beautiful location scenery and historical buildings that once held actual witchcraft trials, which add to its eerie effectiveness. The Blu-Ray edition offers up a gorgeous transfer with vibrant colors and natural film grain, along with an impressive audio track to boot. The special features are the absolute standout though, with the Mark of the Times documentary and captivating featurettes that will surely please fans of the film. Mark of the Devil was a treat to revisit in High Definition, and makes for an impressive North American Blu-Ray debut from Arrow Video.