Were I given the opportunity now to do a high school report on Italy, I would list the boot-shaped country’s top major exports as “Pasta, Shoes, and Horror Movies.” Made during the time of that curious cusp between Italian filmmakers’ transition from the giallo style of thrillers to the flat-out, full-on “We’re gonna try to make you puke” gore-laden chillers we all know so well today, Giorgio Ferroni’s (The) Night of the Devils (La Notte dei Diavoli) manages to deliver the goods from both genres — and incorporates a hypnotic (and sometimes bewildering) music score by Giorgio Gaslini (yes, you get two Giorgio’s for the price of one here!) to boot.
Opening with a befuddled and near-dead Gianni Garko (Italy’s own Donnie Darko) making his way out of the mountains, our hero is taken to a city hospital, wherein genre regulars Umberto Raho (as his doctor) and Tom Felleghy (as a police detective) try to unravel the mystery of how he came to be where he is. They get nothing out of him, of course, until a mysterious and beautiful redhead (Agostina Belli) shows up claiming to know him. This sparks an outlandish flashback in Garko — one that is only known to us, the audience. Because it’s part giallo, too, kids.
Traveling through the Yugoslavian mountains in a sports car (hey, he’s Italian, people!), Gianni — naturally — manages to get stranded by a nearby village; a community so tiny and remote, it has been thought abandoned by all except the small family that lives there. Their reasons for residing there are sincere enough, though, since a plague has set upon them all: an epidemic that causes those who die to return as vampiric vurdalalks who prey upon the rest of the clan! Keeping the windows and doors bolted tightly every night, the family does their best to stay alive — never straying out of the area for assistance since they’re all fairly certain no one will ever believe them anyway. So, they occasionally battle with their own deceased relatives, with impaling and dismemberment being a surefire way to win against the forces of evil, who tend to disintegrate after finally being dispatched by the living once and for all. And who’s that behind the bloody special effects, kids? Why, it’s Carlo Rambaldi: the same fellow who later designed E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial!
Meanwhile, Gianni — who is pretty sure his new, accidental hosts are crazy — develops a case of the hots for the family’s oldest daughter (the aforementioned Belli). Devils, death, and disease are all around en masse, and he’s playin’ it cool and thinking with his dick (he is Italian, you know). Personally, I would do the exact same thing. Ferroni expertly crafts this loose adaptation of the Tolstoy classic, The Wurdalak, into a sexually-charged, psychosomatic nightmare that never completely clues us in as to whether of not Garko’s plight is indeed a fanciful truth or a demented fantasy. The casting of veteran and (then) up-and-coming talents such as Teresa Gimpera, Bill Vanders, Luis Suárez, Maria Monti, and Cinzia De Carolis (the latter of whom would later portray John Saxon’s horny teenage neighbor in Cannibal Apocalypse) only adds to the charm, and Gaslini’s score embellishes several fine gothic traits to it, ranging from happy to sad in not even so much as a measure’s notice.
Gaslini himself is on-hand for one of two special features this RaroVideo presentation has included here. The now-elderly composer sits before his piano, answering questions bestowed upon him by an unknown off-camera interviewer with an almost reluctant quality, occasionally resorting to just playing the damn music to show you what he means. It’s a long (nearly thirty-minutes in length) discussion, which is completely unedited by the looks of things and never changes camera angles; my television set actually dimmed itself about halfway through thinking it was idle.
The other, first featurette (hey, Ferroni can tell his story backwards — why can’t I do it with a review?) included here is a brief intro by Fangoria editor Chris Alexander. Though it was recorded in his dimly-lighted basement via a webcam, and a poster for the remake of Dawn of the Dead is clearly discernable behind him (which might warrant instant discrediting as an authoritative figure in some people’s eyes), and despite the fact he records the whole thing in an aggressive fanboy-like manner (sorry, Chris) and has great difficultly pronouncing many Italian words and names, Alexander still manages to sound well-read on the subject. A third, tangible extra is in the guise of a 12-page booklet.
RaroVideo has always been a wonderful label for bringing obscure and seldom-seen Italian flicks to those of us with a yen (or is that a lira?) for such things. While some of their older presentations have been a bit questionable in terms of quality, there is no doubt that Night of the Devils is a commendable release. Sharp, solid, and fairly well-detailed, Raro does a fine job with this low-budgeted cult classic, adding a surprisingly-formidable (all things considered) 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio lossless soundtrack as well. I should point out that I was particularly pleased with the disc’s main menu, which delivers some (spoilerific) highlights of the movie set to an appropriate selection from Gaslini’s compositions.
All this and full frontal nudity, too, guys and gals: RaroVideo’s Night of the Devils is definitely a keeper in my book. Highly recommended.