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The Brotherhood of Satan

The Brotherhood of Satan(1971)


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Vintage '70s Ameri-horror-cana at its most grubbily disturbing, Bernard McEveety's The Brotherhood of Satan (1971) was intended for adult audiences but invariably wormed its way down the film distribution chain to unsuspecting kiddie matinees, where its depiction of a physical world turned inside out by Devil worship warped a generation of impressionable young minds. The film's first and second acts seem indebted to John Sturges' Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) and Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby (1968), respectively, but the subplot of soul transference by which members of a senior citizen Satan cult plan to shoehorn their corrupt souls into the fresh bodies of young children bears a Luciferian likeness to The Mephisto Waltz (1971), released earlier in the year. Offsetting its Gothic blandishments with a dusty desert milieu, Brotherhood kicked off a mini-vogue for shockers utilizing the American Southwest as a crucible for the war between Good and Evil, among them Enter the Devil (1972), Race with the Devil (1975) and The Devil's Rain (1975).

Top to tails, The Brotherhood of Satan gets better mileage out of its smaller moments (God fearing folk asphyxiating in their Barcaloungers, a small town ice house filling up with the recent dead, an infernal birthday party complete with black-frosted red velvet cake) than it does in its big setpieces but those bits add up to a palpable atmosphere of dread and disgust. In his August 7, 1971 New York Times review, Roger Greenspun praised the film's "uncomplicated acceptance of its supernature," which he felt was "the essence of fantasy moviemaking" and noted "some wonderfully spooky which nothing quite happens and which are the most terrifying moments in The Brotherhood of Satan."

Working with an obvious limited budget but a wealth of weirdness, Hollywood character actors turned independent producers L.Q. Jones and Alvy Moore scored a casting coup when Strother Martin signed on for the pivotal role of a backwater sawbones who does double duty as the head of the local devil cult. The Kokomo, Indiana-born actor (who started out in Hollywood as a swimming instructor to the stars) was certainly comfortable in a western setting, albeit more often as unreliable frontier businessmen, apoplectic civil servants and degenerate lawbreakers. (Longtime Sam Peckinpah stock players, Martin and Jones first appeared together onscreen in the 1955 Warner Brothers Korean War drama Target Zero [1955] but are perhaps most memorable as the grungy bounty hunters of Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch [1969].) Despite an early bit in the Curt Siodmak-scripted The Magnetic Monster (1953), Strother Martin's spookshow appearances were few and far between. However out of his element he may have felt here, Martin was clearly relishing the opportunity to cut loose, never content to chew scenery he could otherwise bite whole chunks from. As the earthly helpmeet of the Prince of Darkness (whom he addresses as "Dear One"), the actor even strips down for a fleeting moment of all-but-full-frontal nudity.

Following The Brotherhood of Satan, Martin played a mad scientist who turns hunky Dirk Benedict into a king cobra in SSSSSSS (1973). He also turned up in the bat attack thriller Nightwing (1979) shortly before his untimely death from heart failure in 1980.

As a jobbing actor specializing in rural types of debatable intelligence and moral fiber, L.Q. Jones (born Justus Ellis McQueen, Jr., in Beaumont, Texas, he took his stage name from the part he played in Raoul Walsh's Battle Cry, 1955) had to take whatever work was offered. As a writer/director/producer, however, Jones demanded greater job satisfaction. Turning down well-paying offers to direct projects in which he had no interest, Jones preferred to scrape together his own budgets to make his own kind of films. He studied books on witchcraft and the occult to write The Witchmaker (1969), which he handed over to director William O. Brown (later the author of the early independent film primer Low Budget Features). The Brotherhood of Satan was the third go-round for Jones and producing partner Alvy Moore. (The pair had first acted together in Don Siegel's An Annapolis Story in 1955, an Allied Artists picture on which Sam Peckinpah served as dialogue coach.)

A World War II veteran and Iwo Jima survivor who took advantage of the GI Bill to study acting at the Pasadena Playhouse, Jack Alvin Moore carved out his own industry niche with his energetic portrayals of well-meaning but ultimately ineffectual schlemiels and is best remembered for playing absent minded county agent Hank Kimball for six seasons on the CBS sitcom Green Acres. Jones and Moore would score a cult hit with their next project, the Hugo Award-winning post-apocalyptic sci-fi satire A Boy and His Dog (1975), based on the book by Harlan Ellison.

In support of headliner Strother Martin are a number of familiar 70s faces with resumes rich in television credits. Leading lady Ahna Capri would go on to plum roles in the Bruce Lee vehicle Enter the Dragon (1973) and in the cult favorite Payday (1973) with Rip Torn but was reduced to bit parts by the end of the decade. The bland good looks of Capri's costar Charles Bateman (who bears a passing resemblance to the late American president John F. Kennedy) kept him busy on the small screen but he was strictly a walk-on in films; the following year he appeared briefly as the ill-fated first officer of Irwin Allen's The Poseidon Adventure (1972).

Anthony Perkins look-alike Charles Robinson got his start in show business in a deuce of James Stewart comedies at Fox and as one of the legendary actor's sons in the Civil War tragedy Shenandoah (1965) at Universal. A few additional high profile films followed (he co-starred with Steve McQueen in The Sand Pebbles [1966]) but this early promise went largely unfulfilled as Robinson job-hopped from one weekly TV series to another.

Child actor Geri Reischl was by the age of eleven a seasoned professional, a singer and commercial actress. She was reportedly one of several girls short-listed for the role of Regan in The Exorcist (1973) and later gained a kind of cult immortality as "Fake Jan" when she was hired to replace Eve Plumb as Jan Brady for the short run of The Brady Bunch Hour, a variety show spin-off of The Brady Bunch.

Producers: L.Q. Jones, Alvy Moore
Director: Bernard McEveety
Screenplay: L.Q. Jones, William Welch; Sean MacGregor (story)
Cinematography: John Arthur Morrill
Art Direction: Ray Boyle (production design)
Music: Jaime Mendoza-Nava
Film Editing: Marvin Walowitz
Cast: Strother Martin (Doc Duncan), L.Q. Jones (Sheriff), Charles Bateman (Ben), Ahna Capri (Nicky), Charles Robinson (Priest), Alvy Moore (Tobey), Geri Reischl (KT).
C-92m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Richard Harland Smith

L. Q. Jones interview by Justin Humphreys, Psychotronic Video issues 21-22, 1995
L.Q. Jones interview by Rusty White, Entertainment Insiders, 2003
L.Q. Jones interview by John C. Snyder,, 2003
L.Q. Jones interview by Matthew Hays, Montreal Mirror 2003
The Official Geri Reischl Website
Low Budget Features by William O. Brown

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