I recently did a survey on Twitter asking the question what was the most controversial film people had seen and apart from the odd wild card here and there the results came back as a resounding ‘A Serbian Film’ as the answer. Well today I think I may have just called tops trumps on that one with this rare Italian Exorcist/Omen rip off Satan’s Wife, aka Ring of Darkness, being perhaps one of the most uncomfortable films I have ever witnessed. I blame Youtube for this entirely given that I have been watching some weird shit this week on there, guided by their related content at the sidebar I found myself slowly spiralling down to the depths of depravity until I reached this little piece of muck, and it all started out so promising…
The opening shot was impressive to say the least and quickly drew me in featuring what I can only describe as a set of Italy’s answer to a Satanic Pan’s People cavorting around with some guys in spandex body suits. This five minute interpretive dance number, disco style, is set off nicely by an epic sounding electronic score courtesy of Stelvio Cipriani and carries on until one of the Pan’s lot gets completely naked and starts simulating a sex act with her partner in front of a group of Satan’s Wives who are lurking at the sidelines… so far, so good, or so I thought. I have to say Cipriani’s ( Bay of Blood, Baron Blood, The Night Child, Rabid Dogs, Nightmare City) score is mesmerising all the way through this film and has to be marked as the highlight of the overall feature, it is just a shame that the actual film is not befitting a soundscape so rich and enjoyable.
After this little sleazy showcase we are quickly introduced to the story which centres on these wives, who gather together to discuss some issues caused by the affiliation with the Unholy One. It would seem this follows two lines; firstly none of them can have sex with other men, their forced chastity brought on by the condition they stay faithful to their master and if they do manage to get it on with a prospective partner a little man pops out of the shadows and points menacingly like the evil monkey on Family Guy. Secondly all these women have kids which have been fathered by Satan himself and the main protagonist Carlotta Rhodes (Anne Heywood) is particularly worried about her daughter Daria as she is showing an awareness of her powers and lacks humanity. Now you would think the women had considered this before making a pact, because from what the film shows they don’t seem to get any perks being married to old Beelzebub, in fact the opposite. However as this back story isn’t really elaborated on you really have no idea how this all came about. Maybe it was the Pan’s People, I know I was impressed; perhaps that is what drew them in.
So Carlotta’s daughter is getting a bit carried away with her new found power and resembles a female Damien from Omen Part Two, spouting off things from ancient texts to her teachers, practising her powers by burning fellow students, and shoplifting dolls. Carlotta is very worried about the shoplifting in particular, and I mean if we have made a pact with Satan we really aren’t in a position to start preaching about morality to our children are we? Here the plot is at its most ridiculous because what transpires from this is Carlotta’s journey to bring her daughter Daria back on a righteous moral path, and again you have to wonder why the hell she didn’t consider any of this before she decided to get herself knocked up with the seed of Satan. Lara Wendel is the child concerned, an actress barely 13/14 at the time who was to later appear in Argento’s Tenebre, and the reason I am highlighting her age is, and here comes the controversial part, she appears in at least three scenes completely naked, and I am talking full frontal here. This well-developed young lady is filmed in the shower, she is filmed full frontal lying in a magic circle, and she is naked for a cat fight scene which takes place near the end with her mother who is also fully unclothed, yes a naked 47 year old cat fighting with a naked 13 year old, inappropriate? Well I think so. It isn’t that these scenes are particularly sleazy or sexually motivated either, but when you become aware that Lara is still a minor it all feels a bit unclean and dirty, and just plain wrong. I could understand if the film was perhaps more on the art side, the main character in Czech opus Valerie and her Week of Wonders is seen undressed (however not in full frontal) and for some reason it can be forgiven in that film because you get a sense that you are watching more of an artistic impression, but Ring of Darkness is nothing more than a cheapo and slightly sleazy low-budget number, so what gives? Yeah, yeah, yeah different time, different place and all that, but I still think it was unnecessary and so that’s my two penneth on the matter.
Nudity aside Satan’s Wife is nothing more than a mother/daughter melodrama, and if Satan were not involved it could just very well be about a teenager slipping off the rails. There is a lot of talking and the mother in conference with others about what she should do about Daria’s errant ways; featuring some of the other wives among them Marisa Mell ( Danger: Diabolik) as Agatha. Lara Wendel when she keeps her clothes on is actually quite good, and the overdub they have for her character is spot on; having a perfect spoilt brat tone of voice. Lara is great in all honesty, a true seed of Satan, which makes it all the more shameful, that this performance is marked with a bit of controversy.
As for the film in terms of a horror film, well it mainly fails, as there is not much horror to be had, apart from the director Pier Carpi being slightly warped. The long drawn out scenes with Carlotta sighing and moralising are pointless and boring, the story convoluted. Of course I also have to mention John Phillip Law (who also appeared in Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik with Marisa Mell) is brought in at one point as a priest to perform an exorcism on Daria; yes if I was married to Satan I would call a priest too (?). The way in which this scene pans out is all very Exorcist to a point, however Father Merrin did not have a gang of naked Satanic Priestesses to aid him in his ritual though, (as he does here). The mumbo jumbo chanting by said ladies was mildly entertaining, being reminiscent of Papa Lazarou’s introduction in The League of Gentlemen for those who have seen it (a series of made up and unrelated words, quoted at random).
Satan’s Wives can only be recommended for Italian horror completists ; given that it is the wrong kind of trash that will appeal to no one else other than those who want to have ‘seen it all’. Contrived, mainly pointless, saved by a fantastic Cipriani score and some great acting from a young Lara Wendel. There are some enjoyable moments, but that is all they are sadly, moments, marred by an overall feeling of incoherence and lashings of inappropriate child nudity.
Check out the full movie here if you dare (and while you can).