Thursday, December 17, 2009


TITLE: Nude for Satan
DESCRIPTION: Italian Gothic horror that tells the tale of a man who stops at a remote castle hoping to get medical help for an injured woman, only to find the inhabitants mirror the darker sides of the woman and himself. [IMDB]
DIRECTOR: Luigi Batzella
YEAR: 1974
RUNTIME: 82 min

Man, if I rated all films on their ability to live up to their titles, Nude for Satan would get a whopping A+++. Now, yes, it's true it takes a good twenty or so minutes for Satan to undress (quite literally!) female lead Susan Smith (Rita Calderoni) with his eyes, but once he does, boy, do the soft-core times roll!

By the end of the film, it hardly matters that there wasn't any clear flow of Susan to the dark side (apparently ever since the Fall, it doesn't matter how we ladies end up in the Devil's hands: the point is, we always do in the end! Lars von Trier must be fist-bumping Batzella in spirit right now). Nor does it matter that the male lead, Dr. William Benson (Stelio Candelli), ultimately saves both his and Susan's souls with... holy water? prayer? Nah -- fire, stupid! Because everyone knows fire is what the Devil fears! (Did I mention this solution is left out in the middle of this film's requisite castle, in a book open on a pedestal for just anyone to read?)

No matter how absurd the promiscuity, no matter how ridiculous the spiderweb scene (you've got to see it to believe it), at the end of the day, the film did what it set out to do: It got some hot chicks nude for Satan. A+++ on that score.

On a deeper score, however, I really wanted to like this film: After the abysmal staging in Night of the Hunted, the very intelligent, quiet atmosphere building in the first twenty minutes of Nude for Satan caught my eye. I was especially drawn to a scene where Dr. Benson, having entered the archetypal Italian horror castle in search of aid for a woman he found in a car accident, stumbles upon a room thick with decades-old cobwebs -- and beneath them, an old man lying supine on the floor, stabbed in the neck, who proceeds to laugh his rotten smile.

Now, in a realistic film, this would clearly be the point when any reasonable outsider venturing into the castle would decide "Dude, this shit's fucked up," and get the hell out in search of aid elsewhere. But this isn't a realistic film: for at least the first twenty minutes, it's definitively an atmosphere piece. So when the good doctor's too stunned to do more than accept the scene at face value and continue wandering through the castle, it doesn't feel at all like a cop-out to senselessness (as so much did in Night of the Hunted): Rather, you get the feeling this is an intentional move on the director's part to brace his audience for the surrealism to follow.

And the surreal certainly rears its head later on in the film, especially when Susan falls -- again, quite literally -- into Satan's spiderweb, and her screams, as a paper-mache spider inches toward her, rouse the doctor from his bedchamber. Whatever might be said about this scene -- its ridiculousness almost coming full circle into creepy -- it certainly is striking. And bizarre.

But by the close of the film, as all plot progression is abandoned to bare more wanton flesh, I was left wondering if the crew had just run out of time and money -- and if more of either could have guaranteed the quality of the film's thoughtful first twenty minutes extending through to the end. It's not that the cheap, prop dungeon serving as the penultimate setting was itself absurd (you make exceptions for these things the moment you've seen your first Ed Wood flick), but the Devil's playthings made it painfully obvious I was watching people act. It's a failing of the genre that you can't have even a slew of nude women act with the lewdness properly due a puppet of Satan, but still: Interpretive dance (or whatever the hell they were doing to symbolize their debasement)? Just didn't make the whole den of sin seem very sinful.

Maybe I'm missing something. Maybe the point of the film is to slip from a decent premise for sophisticated gothic horror to slapdash soft-core -- or maybe the first twenty minutes are the actual sore thumb in this whole endeavour, and I've got my criteria utterly backwards. Maybe most people don't care if there's a coherent framework for all this naked groping, and actually get impatient when the film tries to do more than what its title claims it will -- namely, to make the actresses nude for Satan!

In which case, I revert to my earlier verdict: A+++ for a film that lives up, quite squarely, to its title -- and nothing more.

RECOMMENDED VIEWING AIDS: A love of nude ladies and a taste for old movies that disintegrate into nonsense as you watch them.

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