As the 1960s turned into the 1970s, America’s cultural mores began to shift dramatically. The birth control pill fuelled the sexual revolution, drug use became more commonplace, civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, along with opposition to the Vietnam War, and other things widened the generation gap. More and more young people left the Christian church. Sometimes they turned to other religions or dabbled in the occult. At the same time, Christian Fundamentalism began to rise. Conservative evangelicalism was seeing a huge increase in numbers and its members began to dabble more heavily into politics.
These two oppositional forces fueled one another. Conservative Christian groups saw the younger generation having casual sex, engaging in drug use, and dabbling in the occult, and freaked the heck out. The kids saw the freakout and dug it. Hard rock groups began using occult symbols on their album covers and other promotional material. There was an influx in films about the occult and satanism. This, in turn, fueled more religious fervor which then created more use of the symbolism. By the time the 1980s rolled around, the world was filled with Satanic Panic. Books were written, documentaries were made about satanic cults ritually abusing children. The news media had a field day. Accusations were flung. Sadly, numerous trials led to numerous convictions of people being falsely accused of ritual abuse due to the panic.
As a child of the 1980s, I can remember my religious family going a little crazy with the panic. My brother used to tell me about how the abandoned house down the road was used for satanic rituals, and you could see occult symbols spray-painted on the walls. He swore his friend Tim’s parents had used a Oujia board one night and after a long session, the little planchette began moving on its own accord (he neglected to tell me how much drinking they had been doing beforehand). My parents wouldn’t let me play Dungeons and Dragons and I used to stay up late on Friday nights watching various documentaries on the subject.
I won’t delve any further into the cultural and political ramifications of this period of panic, but I will note this period certainly created some interesting music and movies. One such film is The Brotherhood of Satan (1971), which is a fairly early entry into the genre and obscure, which makes it perfect for an Arrow Video release we are getting this week.
It begins, as these things so often do, with a bad road trip. Ben (Charles Bateman), his daughter K.T. (Geri Reischl), and his girlfriend Nicky (Ahna Capri) are driving through the American Southwest headed to grandmother’s house for K.T.’s birthday. They come across a horrible accident whereupon they see a car smashed to bits with the people inside.
Actually, the film really begins in the opening credits where we see a small child playing with a toy tank which is juxtaposed by an actual tank driving over an actual car. It is a scene that will make sense as the film plays out.
They drive a little further down the road to the town of Hillsboro where they try to let the local sheriff know about the accident. The sheriff (L. Q. Jones) accosts them, and tries to arrest them. The townspeople come running out of their doorways looking for blood. The family narrowly escapes but just as they get out of town they see an apparition of a little girl and crash into a telephone pole trying to avoid her. Miles from anywhere, they have no choice but to walk back to town and seek help.
There they once again meet the sheriff but this time he’s calmed down significantly. Also in the police station is Tobey (Alvy Moore), Doc Duncan (Strother Martin), and Priest (Charles Robinson). Neither Priest of Sheriff are given proper names. They explain that for the last few days strange occurrences have been happening all over town. Nobody has been able to leave town and up until now, nobody has been able to get in. Multiple murders have happened and children keep going missing.
Meanwhile, in a old mansion, where these things always happen, we find our group of Satanists. It is mostly a bunch of old folks bowing down to guys in black robes holding giant candles mumbling things about the Dark Lord. They’re the ones kidnapping the kids. The apparent plan is to do some murderous ritual that will enable them to move their souls into the kid’s bodies and live a little longer. They are also the ones bewitching the town and murdering anyone who stands in the way. Apparently, they can turn kid toys into larger, murdering objects, which explains the tank at the beginning of the film, but little else.
Eventually, our heroes figure out what’s going on and wander about the town looking for the Satanists and the kidnapped kids. As this is a cult film from the 1970s, you shouldn’t go in expecting an altogether happy ending.
There are some really great visuals to be found in The Brotherhood of Satan. The Satanist dungeon looks like something out of a Roger Corman adapting Edgar Allan Poe film with lots of flowing black and red robes, blazing torches, and creepy occult symbols. I love me some good Satanic cult rituals and this film is full of them. The ending is full of fiery swords and blood. The story is pretty par for the course but killing kids to stay alive another few decades is a nice touch. These moments are punctuated by long scenes of total tedium.
The heroes spend long scenes discussing what might be causing all the trouble, and then once they figure it out, what is to be done about it. The head Satanist does a bit of preaching and the supplicants blather on about whether or not they deserve to remain in the cult. It is a lot of people talking nonsense and it couldn’t be duller. The bit about using the kids toys as real weapons is interesting but it is only used twice which is a huge disappointment.
There’s enough going on here to make it worth watching if you are into this type of film. I suspect with this new release it will gain a larger cult following which is well deserved.
Arrow Video presents The Brotherhood of Satan with a new HD transfer and its looks quite good. Extras include a very spirited audio commentary from Kim Newman and Sean Hogan. At times, more entertaining than the actual film. There’s also an informative video essay from David Flint who goes into the history of satanism and the occult in film, plus a new interview with actors Jonathan Erickson Eisley and Alyson Moore. Also included are trailers, TV spots, and stills gallery, plus essays in the booklet.