Seddok, l’erede di Satana (Atom Age Vampire)
Region 2 PAL DVD
Terminal Video Italia SRL
1960 / B&W / 1:66 flat letterbox / 103 min. / Street Date June 12, 2011 / available through Amazon.it / EUR 6,64
Starring: Alberto Lupo, Ivo Garrani, Susanne Loret, Sergio Fantoni, Rina Franchetti, Franca Parisi, Roberto Bertea.
Cinematography: Aldo Giordani
Film Editor: Gabrielle Varriale
Makeup Effects: Euclide Santoli
Original Music: Armando Trovajoli
Written by: Gino De Santis, Alberto Bevilacqua, Anton Giulio Majano; story by Piero Monviso
Produced by: Elio Ippolito Mellino (as Mario Fava)
Directed by Anton Giulio Majano
Let me herewith take a break from new discs to review an Italian release from six years ago, a movie that for years we knew only as Atom Age Vampire. Until sporadic late- night TV showings appeared it existed for us ’60s kids only as one or two interesting photos in Famous Monsters magazine. Forry Ackerman steered away from adult films with the effect that I learned nothing of many highly esteemed Euro-horror pictures until I was in college, when one could snoop through the indexes of new books by Carlos Clarens and Ivan Butler. The key still from Atom Age Vampire showed a screaming blonde struggling in the grip of an interesting ugly-mug monster man with a shock of white hair (top picture; no, she’s not Laura Dern). When I finally caught up with the English language cut its edit seemed the worst of any import I’d yet seen. The dubbing was simply terrible, with little effort at synchronization. The voice talent was acceptable but the combination of a weak English script and ragged cutting made the story all but incoherent.
Many years later, the Hardy Encyclopedia of Horror gave a listing for Atom Age Vampire informing us of the film’s original title: Seddok, l’erede di Satana. The name Seddok was completely new to us. The rest of the Italian title translates as ‘The Heir of Satan.’ This was news as well as the English dub made no mention of anything satanic or even supernatural. A little later the great Video Watchdog magazine published stills from a striptease scene not in the U.S. cut. As with other Euro-horrors of this time a racier Continental version was out there somewhere begging to be seen. VW’s Tim Lucas dispelled the oft-repeated false assumption that Mario Bava was the producer of Seddok. The name ‘Mario Fava’ has been identified as a nom de cinema for producer Elio Ippolito Mellino. In 1960, before Black Sunday, was Mario Bava’s name such that a production might encourage the confusion?
A longer Sinister Cinema VHS did not satisfy my curiosity, as the story was still difficult to follow. Atom Age Vampire joined a number of other Euro-horrors that we couldn’t see in uncut and presumably racier original versions: Mill of the Stone Women (Il mulino delle donne di pietra), The Head (Die Nackte und der Satan), Blood and Roses (… et mourir de plaisir), The Vampire and the Ballerina (L’amante del vampiro), Playgirls and the Vampire (L’ultima preda del vampiro).
Terminal Video Italia’s PAL DVD is a big surprise. To begin with it’s almost 103 minutes in duration, a full fifteen minutes longer than the longest U.S. release. With the PAL 25 fps rate this aligns with the 107 min. length stated online for the original film, so I’m satisfied that this release is uncut. Some U.S. video and TV versions were only 70 minutes long.
The full movie could actually use some cutting. As not too many U.S. viewers have seen it I offer a full synopsis, with Spoilers:
The main titles are an extended set of title cards, and much of the information on them is repeated in a series of credits at the end. The story conflicts are established in the first reel, whereupon all character development ceases. Freighter first mate Pierre (Sergio Fantoni) comes to a strip club to tell his sweetheart Jeanette Moreneau (Susanne Loret), a blonde with a perfect complexion, that their engagement is off unless she stops dancing for men. Not getting the answer he wanted, Pierre leaves for good. Susan is so upset that she quits her job (?) and then crashes her car. In hospital, Jeanette feels that her life is over because she’s been left with a permanent grotesque scar on one side of her neck and face. She takes to parting her blonde hair Veronica Lake- style. Mysterious visitor Monique Riviere (Franca Parisi) tells Jeanette of an experimental clinic where her scar can be removed. As requested, upon her release Jeanette goes there secretly. Monique works for, and is in love with, Professor Alberto Levin (Albert Lupo), who has made a breakthrough with regeneration drugs Derma 25 and Derma 28. He was ‘inspired’ in this line of work after visiting Hiroshima and seeing the damage to survivors — he keeps photos of burn victims in an album in his office, along with souvenir glass bottles melted by the A-bomb blast, given him by the Japanese Institute for Radiological Research.
Prof. Levin’s ‘breakthrough’ is never defined. He keeps changing his mind as to what works best to regenerate unsightly scars, his serums or blasts of radiation in his handy irradiation chamber, a phone booth that fills with photogenic clouds of smoke. Levin says outright non-sequiturs such as, “…the relationship between body and soul has not been established,” yet no mention is made of anything supernatural or satanic. Levin employs a mute, weak-minded manservant named Sacha (Roberto Bertea), who loves Monique from afar.
Monique has a burn scar on her forearm. Derma 28 has only been tested on animals, but she insists on serving as a guinea pig to prove her love for Levin. Her scar vanishes all but instantaneously. When Jeanette arrives, clutching a fur around one side of her face, a familiar pattern is established: Levin’s miracle cures only last so long before Jeanette’s scars return, as magically as they disappeared. He must keep repeating his procedures, and when he runs out of his supply of Derma 28, he must kill women to obtain more of the substance, which is derived from a gland in the neck.
A clumsy love triangle emerges. Levin becomes enamored of Jeanette, and ignores her protests that she loves another. Monique suffers on the side but continues to support the Professor in the hope that she’ll come to his senses. He returns to Monique only long enough to murder her, and steal her gland to use on Jeanette.
That brings in the police commissioner (Ivo Garrani of Black Sunday) and a dull investigation subplot. The commissioner is trying to quit smoking, a running gag that (surprise) sees him accepting a cigarette only in the last scene. Monique’s death is ruled ‘a paralysis of the heart.’ When Pierre returns from the sea and begins to snoop around, the commissioner visits the clinic again, and only asks a few mild questions. Sacha does not know that Levin has killed Monique. Jeanette gives him a letter to mail, but he dutifully takes it directly to his employer. Jeanette is still unaware that Prof. Levin has no intention of letting her go.
Seddok finally becomes a monster movie at the forty-seven minute mark. Taking advantage of a news report of an escaped gorilla, Prof. Levin injects himself with Derma 25, which we’re now told actually causes ‘mutations’ like the scars on Hiroshima burn victims. This makes him into a scaly fanged monster, so he can run amuck with a scalpel. He strangles women he finds on the street and slices out the key gland to surgically splice into Jeanette. Why Levin must monster-ize himself to commit these crimes is a question we’re not supposed to ask. We never see him handling the gland, nor do we see any surgical scenes showing how he installs these new glands into Jeanette without leaving a scar. After killing, he returns to the lab and ‘normalizes’ himself in his irradiation chamber.
With the second such repetitive murder a nosy middle-aged lady (Nina Franchetti?) tells the commissioner that the killer is not a gorilla but a monster she remembers from her dreams, with the name ‘Seddok.’ A nosy reporter dubs the mystery killer with that name in his newspaper coverage, a decision he regrets when the silly lady becomes Seddok’s next victim.
Not that dedicated genre fans will be bothered, but much of Seddok consists of inconsequential dialogue scenes. Levin keeps sweet-talking Jeanette into staying and trying another cure; she protests but makes only one more attempt to escape. She actually meets Pierre for a moment on the docks, before Levin and Sacha knock him unconscious and spirit her back to the clinic again. Pierre insists that Jeanette is alive, with her face restored, but the commissioner refuses to believe him. Another pointless police visit takes place. Levin is mistakenly eliminated as a suspect when, followed to a movie theater, he slips away from the cops to attack a prostitute near the beach. The cops wise up only when an autopsy reveals that Monique’s neck has been mutilated like the other victims.
The conclusion introduces a good confrontation, only to wrap things up in standard fashion. Professor Levin confirms that Jeanette is now cured for good (how?) and insists that she elope with him. As he begs her to comply, he spontaneously turns back into the hideous monster Seddok. Weary of hanging around the strip club drinking, the all-but-useless Pierre now rushes in to fight Seddok, only to be knocked unconscious a second time. With the cops closing in, Seddok carries Jeanette to the greenhouse, where he intends to kill her so no other man can have her. Not realizing that Seddock is his employer, Sacha saves the damsel in distress by stabbing Levin in the back with a garden implement.
Seddok, l’erede di Satana is one of a half-dozen horror films seemingly inspired by Georges Franju’s Les yeux sans visage. What was copied was not Franju’s pulp poetry or surreal approach but the raw story elements of crazy medical experiments and women murdered to restore beauty to a particular mutilated love object. It also filches the basic idea of The Man Who Could Cheat Death, with a gland used not to regain youth but to effect instantaneous cures. Professor Levin is also a Dr. Jekyll copycat, repeatedly turning himself into a monster until he loses control over the transformations.
The show indeed has everything needed for a good sordid horror picture. Mad surgery and disfigured females abounded in 1960 horror releases fare produced far and wide — from England’s Circus of Horrors to Hollywood’s The Hypnotic Eye. In 1959-1960 the theme of rape became almost a casual requirement for crime movies, dramas and even westerns. The fixation on violence toward women would seemingly reflect a desire to punish women for being beautiful and sexually desirable. Seddok may be the film’s monster but the key image is Jeanette’s face, both with its burn scar makeup and wrapped in bandages. What good is a beautiful toy if one can’t destroy it?
Director Majano has the good sense to use mysterioso lighting schemes to accent the scaly monster masks and clawed hands. Makeup man Euclide Santoli was a prolific artist (The Pink Panther!) but I don’t see more monster movies on his filmography. Seddok begins with pocked skin and exaggerated features, and later has more of a reptilian appearance, but with a nose like a gorilla. He doesn’t look like a scarred Hiroshima victim, an association that one might expect from an even seedier horror effort. Chalk up the bomb evidence displayed in Hiroshima mon amour as yet another key influence — the photos that Levin shows the commissioner come from the first batch of real bomb victim documentation.
Seddok looks different in different scenes because more than one makeup method was employed. Some shots may use inanimate masks. His first close-up transformation is achieved with stop-motion animation, apparently with a dummy head. The animation of the face in transition is fairly arresting, and the shot ends with Seddok’s hand reaching up to his face, pixillation- animated. The large, doll-like eyes look odd, but the shot is fairly effective. I can imagine that actor Albert Lupo didn’t mind being excused from ten hours in a vise to hold his head still, as Lon Chaney Jr. had to do for several werewolf movies. Other transformations also appear filmed with dummy heads, but using overlapping dissolves, not animation. I wish that the 1957 I Was a Teenage Werewolf was available — for a cheap film, its transformations are pleasingly expressionistic, combining camera moves and ripple dissolves.
The monster may be good, but not the character logic. Jeanette refuses to quit her job as a stripper to please Pierre, but then quits anyway, immediately after he leaves her. It seems at first that she cares only about her beauty, but then she says she’ll do anything for Pierre (except anything sensible like trying to escape). Jeanette can see that Prof. Levin is obsessed with her; one would think that a cabaret stripper would know well how to deal with inconvenient suitors. Each time Levin bursts forth with another declaration of love, she reacts as if it’s a complete surprise.
It’s understandable that Monique would endure the continuing abuse of Prof. Levin, while Sacha admires her from afar. But when Monique dies Sacha doesn’t seem concerned. Sacha is an obvious ‘Ygor’ character yet the lazy screenplay does little to make him sympathetic. He’s timid and transparent in his emotions yet can be devious with Jeanette and with the police when hiding her sleeping body.
Professor Levin’s mental state is similarly scattered. He’s a love-struck obsessive, unable to control his passions — yet also a calculating cheat and a ruthless murderer. He considers himself a medical genius yet chooses his procedures almost at random. He’s just as surprised when his cures work as when they don’t. Levin isn’t even a mysterious closet megalomaniac, as was the frighteningly convincing Dr. Genessier in Le yeux sans visage. Why the police don’t nail him immediately is a mystery. He never explains what he’s doing at this expensive-looking clinic and lab. The incurious cops accept his explanation that he’s ‘taking a break.’
Director Anton Giulio Majano worked primarily in Italian TV. His direction is serviceable if not distinguished; the credit for the monster scenes should be shared with his cameraman Aldo Giordani. Majano’s actors are better than okay considering the general character inconsistency. Susanne Loret has the key role, and as we lose interest in her the movie fades as a serious contender for greatness. She’s certainly pretty although her dark eyebrows don’t always seem ‘right’ with her bright blonde hair. The most familiar actor is Sergio Fantoni, who most of us will remember as the Italian officer from the war adventure Von Ryan’s Express. Top-billed Alberto Lupo is unfamiliar, despite a busy career; his top credit is fifth billing in Carol Reed’s The Agony and the Ecstasy. Ivo Garrani’s police commissioner is the only other player who stands out — he’s in the original Hercules as well as Bava’s Black Sunday.
Seddok has always had an appeal if only because its storyline is jammed with so many goofy ideas. We always wondered if Italian writing credits consisted of one or two real scribes and then six more brothers-in-law added by the producer; perhaps everybody who contributes an idea or two is given credit, just as a basic rule. Co-writer Alberto Bevilaqua went on to receive credit on Mario Bava’s memorable Black Sabbath and Planet of the Vampires.
Although no beauty, Terminal Video Italia SRL’s Region 2 PAL DVD of Seddok, l’erede di Satana is an adequate encoding of this once- elusive bit of early Italo horror filmmaking. The good B&W image appears to come from an intact film element, with acceptable contrast and sharpness. The flat-letterboxed format is unfortunate, but the film at least has not been pan-scanned; it’s possible that the 1:66 ratio was enforced with an in-camera matte.
The film’s most prestigious credit goes to the prolific composer Armando Trovajoli, who provides an ominous cue for Seddok’s prowling scenes and a somewhat overdone romantic theme for use elsewhere. The movie doesn’t generate the romantic buzz to match the music.
The Italian audio has a bit of hiss and crackle but is reasonably well mixed. I am assured that almost all Italian genre pictures at this time were post-dubbed. The synchronization is fine. U.S. buyers need to be aware that the audio and subtitles configuration isn’t export-friendly, even if you have the required all-region player. The good Italian track comes with Italian subtitles. An alternate English-language track appears to have been prepared for export. It’s muddy and indistinct, but not distorted. The only good solution is the one I found, which is to have a spouse handy who is fluent in Italian. My one semester of that language forty years ago only stretches so far. To obtain an Italian-speaking spouse, I suggest looking for ethnic-sounding names in the telephone book.
It’s fun to discover the ‘salacious censored continental’ content in these genre pictures. Hammer and other English companies occasionally prepared topless scenes for export to France and Germany, knowing that the BBFC wouldn’t pass them for local use. Italy also enforced harsh national censorship, that producers happily circumvented for export versions. A ragged splice once excised most of Susanne Loret’s striptease performance that begins Seddok. This uncut encoding tells us two things — she is indeed topless (with pasties) for a couple of seconds, and overall, her dance is decidedly un-erotic. Although Seddok returns to the strip club for a number by a black artiste in a bikini (Glamor Mora), the only additional nudity involves a couple of rather sheer nightgowns worn by Ms. Loret at the clinic. Seddok contributes to the notion that mad surgery horror requires female patients to wear negligee-grade hospital gowns whenever possible.
The disc has chapter stops but no extras.
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Seddok, l’erede di Satana (Atom Age Vampire)
Region 2 PAL DVD rates:
Movie: Good but for horror fans Very Good
Video: Good flat-letterboxed 1:66
Sound:Italian track: Very Good; English track: Fair -minus
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? N0; Subtitles: Italian only
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: January 19, 2017
Text © Copyright 2017 Glenn Erickson