Night of the Devils
November 26, 2012
Italian horror really came into its own during the 1960s with the rise of Mario Bava’s atmospheric gothic horror films. He paved the way for a new generation of filmmakers in the 1970s, chief among them Dario Argento. Giorgio Ferroni was a contemporary of Bava’s and rose to prominence with the 1960 film Mill of the Stone Women, which contained the kind of abstract and erotic imagery that would be on display in more graphic detail with Night of the Devils (1972), an adaptation of the Tolstoy story The Wurdulack (which Bava had also adapted with Black Sabbath).
A man named Nicola (Garko) is found wandering the countryside bloodied and in a daze. He’s taken to a psychiatric hospital but has no I.D. and is unable to speak, initially. He also has amnesia and clearly lost his mind. Nicola flashes back to an encounter he had with a backwoods family and the disturbing nights spent in the woods. The day started off with a drive in the country. He spots a woman darting out suddenly in front of his car. He swerves to miss her and crashes the car. When Nicola gets out, she’s gone. He sets out on foot and hears strange noises echoing through the forest. He eventually comes across a house deep in the woods, running afoul of the creepy family that lives there. They exhibit slightly odd behavior, like going to bed early and closing and barring all the windows at night.
Ferroni hits us right up front with surreal imagery coming from the man’s troubled mind – a woman’s face is graphically blown apart, a heart removed from someone’s chest, and a naked woman’s torso are just some the visuals that take us into the fevered imagination of a man scared out of his mind. There is some genuinely creepy imagery, like the pale woman running through the forest and whose mere presence scares off nearby animals. She is a witch who is cursed and the family patriarch takes it upon himself to kill her before the curse spreads to the family. With her pale white skin, unsettling wild-eyed stare and creepy laugh, she is quite the frightening presence.
Night of the Devils is a mini-masterpiece of Italian horror with its moody, atmospheric music, courtesy of Giorgio Gaslini (Deep Red) and bloody makeup effects by Carlo Rambaldi (E.T.). For the first hour, Ferroni manages to keep us off-balance as we sense that he is building to something. Like Nicola, we’ve wandered into the middle of something we don’t completely understand but that gradually reveals itself over the last third of the film.
There is an introduction by Fangoria magazine’s Chris Alexander who puts the film in the context of Italian horror and talks about what makes it so memorable.
Also included is a 32-minute interview with the film’s composer Giorgio Gaslini who talks about working with Ferroni and how he got the job on Night of the Devils. The composer also talks about what makes a good score and his work on the film itself.