Satan's Slave [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Powerhouse Films
Review written by and copyright: Rick Curzon (16th July 2019).
The Film

One of British genre cinema’s most important and distinctive independent filmmakers, Norman J. Warren made a series of horror films which were at the forefront of a new wave in British horror during the 1970s. Reflecting a period of permissiveness and fearlessness, Warren’s distinctive stylings are far removed from the Gothic conventions of Hammer Films, deliberately upped the ante in terms of sex, violence and gore to create a new breed of horror that was designed to shock for shock’s sake.

Five of Norman J. Warren’s horrifying chillers are presented here in new restorations and on Blu-ray for the very first time in the UK. Containing a wealth of new and archival extras – including new appreciations by contemporary British filmmakers, new cast and crew interviews, audio commentaries on all five films, rare short films, outtakes and alternative scenes, and making-of documentaries – this stunning Limited Edition box set is strictly limited to 6,000 units.

Video

Also known under it's working title as Evil Heritage, Powerhouse Films kick off their superb and very welcome Norman J. Warren boxed set with his 1976 shocker Satan's Slave.

A young woman, Catherine Yorke (Candace Glendenning) is invited with her parents Malcolm (James Bree) and Elizabeth (Celia Hewitt) to her uncle Alexander's (Michael Gough) country house for her twentieth birthday. On the way they're in a car accident and both her parents are killed. She's taken in by Alexander, his son Stephen (Martin Potter) and Alexander's secretary Frances (Barbara Kellerman) but the situation in the house is not as it seems ...

Norman J. Warren's third feature is his first horror and it's a pretty standard satanic cult epic with a surprising amount of blood, gore and nastiness. Also, as befitting his sexploitation roots there's a fare amount of sex and nudity. Essentially the kind of thing that the ailing Hammer should have been making; ultra cheap and nasty shockers that could rake in the moolah.

A real, sleazy, blood and thunder grindhouse-style gothic with hooded covens and naked sacrifices. Writer David MacGillivray has a nice bit as a priest and associate producer Moira Young turns up as the initial naked victim. In other words a guilty pleasure and a good time. Acting is decent if unremarkable and it's generally well made. Occasionally Warren's direction and editing falter into awkward handling like the first murder and the car crash, but the latter was probably down to budget and resources.

Before I tackle this disc's transfer it's important to note that Satan's Slave was shot in the then popular cheap CinemaScope format known as Techniscope. This was a non-anamorphic widescreen process that took a standard frame of 35mm film which had four perforations (perfs) spanning it's hight and split it into two 2.35:1 frames with only two perfs spanning each frame's height. This meant that film makers could get widescreen production value for half the money, but the downside was that the image was softer and grainier.

Considering the source this is an fine transfer of this potentially technically problematic film. Not only did it cost a mere £20K which even in 1975-76 was a pittance, it was shot using the lower resolution Techniscope format. To compare, Hammer's film for 1976 - To the Devil a Daughter - was shot on 4perf 35mm with a soft matte ratio of 1.75.1 and cost approximately a whopping £400K.

Colours are generally rich and naturalistic favouring flesh tones and blood red although I did detect a slight purplish bias at times; some blood looked purplish but at other times items (dresses etc) were obviously red. Being shot in the winter it all looks bleak and brown with plenty of forest backdrops and a big old house. I noticed no signs of colour bleed or other faults so the restoration is topnotch. Don't expect a Techniscope restoration of the level of Grindhouse Releasing's work on Lucio Fulci's The Beyond (1981) or MGM's work on Sergio Leone's Dollars trilogy (1964-66) because this was a fast and dirty film shot quickly.

Blacks are deep and rich but given the speedy nature of the production schedule and the low budget, crush is much in evidence in dark interiors and exteriors shot at night. It's more or less intended; I don't think even a 4K restoration and release will get much more out of the depths. Contrast is very low key with plenty of detail getting through on all focal planes, but obviously closeups fair best. It's a soft looking film and backgrounds can be slightly indistinct.

Grain is fine and lovely for the most part although it does get courser in low light conditions. The encode is superb as we've come to expect from maestro David MacKenzie and Fidelity in Motion; hats off to them for what must have been a difficult gig.

Both cuts seem to use mostly the same source but I think I detected a slightly different overall look for the UK theatrical cut (Warren's preferred version). It struck me as a shade brighter throughout, but that could be a trick of my mind. Some of the uncensored footage (the opening murder of Gloria Maley) looked mildly - and I stress, mildly - rougher.

All things considered I reckon an 'A' is a fair rating for the transfer here.

1080/24p / MPEG-4 AVC / 2.39:1 / Export Cut: 89:40, Director's Cut: 88:10

Audio

English LPCM 1.0
Subtitles: English HoH

This is a very low budget film that cost £20K in 1975-76 so this mono track is very flat and, limited when compared to what we've come to expect from the much bigger budgeted Hammer films from around the same time. It's rather thin and there is a small amount of hiss. Dialogue is always clear and Scott's score comes off well. Don't expect much and it ought not to mar enjoyment. After all, it's about as good as it's ever going to get shy of a complete rebuild from the sound stems, which I'll bet credits to navy beans don't exist anymore. Under the circumstances, B+ seems fair.

Excellent subtitles for the hearing impaired are included, bravo Powerhouse Films!

Extras

Audio Commentary by director Norman J. Warren and writer David McGillivray (director's cut)
Audio Commentary by director Norman J. Warren and composer John Scott (export cut)


Warren is such an enthusiastic raconteur his input is a sheer delight; every aspect of the production you could possibly want to know about is covered. He's also got an easy relationship with both of the colleagues featured on these two tracks. McGillivray seems to be entirely embarrassed by his involvement in the film, but he's such an agreeable chap he manages to be very entertaining with his wonderfully jaded voice; he essentially acts as a sort of foil for Warren reacting incredulously as facts and detail about Satan's Slave are reeled off and recalled.

On the second track recorded more recently, it's obvious that Warren has suffered fifteen more years of age; the other track dates from 2004 and the UK Anchor Bay DVD set. He's not as vibrant sounding. However, he's still on good, enthusiastic form. Scott is very keen and full if memories. Obviously there is some crossover between the tracks but not as much as you'd think.

"Before the Blood: Norman J. Warren on His Early Life and Career" 2019 featurette (28:42)

Typically fascinating interview with Warren as he discusses his early influences. His mother was an obsessive cinema-goer and used to take the young Norman with her. He covers his short films - plenty of detail about the how the making of his war film The Bridge (1955-57) led to other work as a runner and tea boy. He joined a cineclub where he met like-minded people; also covered is Warren's friendship with Anthony Balch and Michael Craze. The final section deals humorously with his sexploitation efforts.

All You Need is Blood (Play All - 46:28):
"All You Need is Blood: The Making of Satan's Slave" 1976 featurette (13:46)
"All You Need is Blood Outtakes" featurette (32:42)


Fascinating little short made by a BBC documentary unit shows behind the scenes on the film's December 1975 shoot. The short has been rebuilt in full HD with the 16mm footage is presented pillarboxed 1.37:1 and clips from the film are from the restored master letterboxed 2.35:1. Also, excitingly are over 30 minutes of silent outtakes pillarboxed at 1.37:1.

We have contributions from Warren, make-up supervisor Robin Grantham, actor Michael Gough and make-up artist Nick Maley.

"Creating Satan: Making Satan's Slave" 2004 featurette (30:14)
"Devilish Music: Composer John Scott On His Score for Satan's Slave" 2004 featurette (13:05)


Vintage featurettes that were made for the excellent UK 2004 Anchor Bay coffin-shaped DVD boxset of four Warren films.

In addition to director Norman J. Warren we have contributions from producer Les Young, writer David McGillivray, actor Martin Potter, production designer Hayden Pearce, actress and associate producer Moira Young and Ken Dowling who was responsible for Film Sales & Distribution. The second piece focusses entirely on Scott and his score.

"Censoring Satan's Slave" 2019 featurette (15:51)

Excellent piece crystallises the differences between the BBFC approved 'X' certificate version first seen in UK cinemas in 1976 and the uncut international edit Screened around the world from 1976 onwards.

Deleted Scenes with commentary by Norman J. Warren (Play All - 5:17):
"Dream Sequence" deleted section (B&W silent) (2:12)
"Tea Party" deleted scene (B&W silent) (3:05)


Deleted scenes from the B&W work-print; interesting but it's not hard to see why they were cut. The magnetic sound was lost years ago.

Trailers (Play All - 5:19):
'U' Theatrical Trailer (2:08)
'R' Theatrical Trailer (3:10)


Two trailer with for use in accompanying both adult and family audience screenings of other films.

Satan's Slave Image Gallery: Original Promotional Material (56 images)

Excellent HD still gallery contains practically every production still seen from over the years.

118-page liner notes book with new and vintage writing in all five films in the set

Holy zarking fardwarks!

A ball-bustingly good extra 118 pages on Norman J. warren and his most popular films. Never a critical darling this is as good a collection of essays and material as I've read on a film maker and bless Powerhouse and all those responsible for giving Warren his due. There aren't many books out there about Warren and his work and this superb tome goes some way towards redressing the balance. Perhaps Jo Botting and Katt Ellinger can take up the gauntlet?

Overall

Overall a superb disc of a tough source to make look good, but the team at Powerhouse Films has done wonders with Warren's endearingly goofy little programmer. Picture and sound are about as good as we can expect although the grade does waver a little with blood appearing purple at times; this could be down to the quality of the fake blood used on set however. The extras package is second to none porting over many prior extras and adding valuable new ones. I feel that I can say this now, but Bloody Terror is *THE* release of the year for me.

Get it bough ASAP because there are only 6,000 copies being produced and the whopping 118-page book is a deal breaker.

The Film: B Video: A- Audio: B+ Extras: A+ Overall: A+

 


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