Here’s another installment featuring Joe Dante’s reviews from his stint as a critic for Film Bulletin circa 1969-1974. Our thanks to Video Watchdog and Tim Lucas for his editorial embellishments!
The undeniable appeal of “Unspeakable Cults! Bizarre Rituals! Erotic Rites!”—not to mention “Actual Human Sacrifice on the Bloodstained Altar of Baal”—can be counted on to put over this fakey Mondo‑Witchcraft documentary in action‑ballyhoo situations and drive‑ins. Fast play‑offs and hard‑sell are prerequisites to offset disappointed word‑of‑mouth reaction to the Trans American release, but lively grosses should be forthcoming on exploitation values alone. The newest effort from Luigi Scattini and the Italian producers of last year’s SWEDEN HEAVEN AND HELL tries for shocking sensationalism but can’t manage more than some half‑hearted nudity, incantations and writhing around, overlaid with a listless narration telling how each sequence “is just one more sacrilege to add to the growing list.” It opens and closes with some made‑over additional US footage shot by R.L. Frost, including an interview with a police lieutenant on the lookout for drug‑crazed hippie witches and warlocks in Centola, California. Then it’s on to England and the first of several black mass rituals, each one duller than the last, though there are usually some naked acolytes on hand, at least.
Once the ceremonies build to the inevitable “macabre orgies” promised in the ads, the narrator sanctimoniously suggests these are acts “which conscience dictates we shouldn’t photograph,” and so we don’t get to see them. Other highlights include a Louisiana voodoo rite where “nudity is required of the participants so that the spirit of Gombala can pierce their flesh.” The frenzied black dancers cavort with snakes, drink blood and eat what are supposed to be entrails before falling naked in an exhausted pile. “We weren’t allowed to film the native rites of self‑mutilation in Rio and Brazil,” says the narrator, but luckily we purchased “8 millimeter home movies” of these events, mostly comprised of more writhing around on the ground, and shot from surprisingly sophisticated angles. Back in California, the “hidden camera” secretly films the presumed sensual ecstasies of hippie cultists who get naked on cue, drink blood and participate in mass rape while high on LSD and entrails. As seen from a discreet zoom‑lens distance, everyone seems to be having a good time, and the lighting, hidden behind the bushes, is very professional.
Angeli bianchi… angeli neri (“White Angel… Black Angel”). 1970. Trans American Films (P.A.C. Caravel Productions). Movielab Color. 82 minutes. Directed by Luigi Scattini and R.L. Frost.
Narrated by Edmund Purdom (and Alberto Bevilacqua in the Italian version), WITCHCRAFT ’70 has not yet had an official domestic video release. However, the title is available from mail order sources Midnight Video and European Trash Cinema.