Friday, October 29, 2021

Nude for Satan / Nuda per Satana (1974)

“Think of nothing but the fact that you are marrying me, and are promising to love and obey me forever, past death, into eternity!” – Vincent, Lord Satan (Louisa Bronte)

A movie called Nude for Satan already sounds pretty good without even knowing the plot. The notion of satanic panic combined with Italian exploitation resulted in an impulse buy for me. When I looked the DVD case over, I was like, “yes, please!” Plus, it’s from the same director, Luigi Batzella, of The Devil’s Wedding Night (1973) and The Beast in Heat (1977). And, it stars one of the most amazing Italian scream queens, Rita Calderoni. There’s lots of promise here. 

If you are watching the Dutch Sodemented DVD version of this film, there will be porn, as in hardcore inserts of other actors and body-doubles legitimately bumping uglies. If you think that will take you out of the movie, I would recommend one of the DVDs released by Redemption instead, or check it out on Redemption TV.

On the surface, Nude for Satan seems like a pretty low effort movie, but despite a certain cheap feeling I got from it, there’s also something authentic and ominous about it. The atmosphere and the spooky synth soundtrack, by Alberto Baldan Bembo, creeped me out, and the film did tend to grab me at times, particularly in the way it purposefully disorients you by playing with night and day perception. Even though I can’t really praise it for having the most spectacular set designs, being a fan of this medium, I did feel at home. It’s a flawed comfort movie. 

There are a few instances where ‘70s movie magic happens, such as the gluttonous dance and orgy ritual scene (complete with fog and slow-motion editing) looked over by Satan (James Harris), which, by the way, seemed pretty harmless to me.

Satan in this reminds me of the perilous love interest figure that’s usually found in the Satanic ‘70s pulp gothic romance novels (the ones with the beautiful covers) that the female lead usually can’t help being drawn to against her better judgement. Here, Satan embodies the caped Dracula motif but isn’t really all that menacing and is mostly a philosophy spouting romantic with unclear motives. I guess the idea is that he has deceptive charm. Now, Satan’s butler (Renato Lupi) on the other hand is a menacing creep. He’s how I imagined Saint Fond, from Marquis de Sade’s Juliette (1797), looked. Saint Fond is quite possibly the evilest character I’ve ever come across in a book, so it seems fitting to me he would be Satan’s butler.


 

The opening scene of a nude Rita Calderoni running through thunder and the foggy, moonlit woods, in dreamy slow motion, with her open nightgown flowing in the wind, is purely the right ascetic for this film and perfectly sets the tone. It works more like an overture to a passion opera. 

While en route on an emergency call to a stormy and sleepy village late one night, Dr. William Benton (Stelio Candelli from Demons (1985)) swerves his white Volkswagen off the road to avoid a ghostly figure of a woman (Calderoni) that’s suddenly appeared in front of him. She vanishes, and as William is investigating, another car comes screeching along and crashes. William finds an unconscious woman, Susan, (Calderoni again) with her body hanging out of the crashed vehicle. He carries her into his car, where she comes to. They have a brief exchange before she falls unconscious again. William dramatically grabs his gun and heads out to get help. He comes across a strange man (Harris), who’s obviously not the Devil. He points William to the direction of a castle that just happens to be a few yards away where he might be able to find help. From here, the story, expectedly, transitions in to that familiar, cozy ‘closed circle’ setting, which involves a small cast of characters isolated in Satan’s surreal castle.

The two lead characters, William and Susan, have walked into a scenario seemingly orchestrated by the devil, in a somewhat similar vein as Mario Bava’s Lisa and the Devil (1973). Not as good, obviously, but it still gets the job done for me personally. 

Two lustful ghosts, Peter and Evelyn, haunt the castle. They are also played by Candelli and Calderoni as they represent the shadow versions of William and Susan. They appear to come from a different era and are lost lovers looking for one another, but instead they find the living modern light counter parts of their lost lovers. It starts to become apparent that these ghost lovers act as a distraction to trap William and Susan in Satan’s lair, which has this magical feeling of existing outside of time, where present and past have no distinction. It’s a comforting dream, like being on a paradisical deserted island with your lover but with an underlying feeling that something sinister has trapped you in a romanticized past. It’s all very beautiful, unnerving, cozy and perilous at the same time.

When she falls asleep in the castle, instead of your typical nightmares, Susan dreams of making love with the castle’s servant girl (Iolanda Mascitti) while engulfed in white transparent fabrics set to this hypnotizing theme that sounds like feminine ghost vocals. This love scene is a kind of relaxing extended interlude (with an ASMR quality to it) before the action starts to ramp up a bit.

Shortly after Susan awakens from her erotic dream, she snoops around the castle to discover the butler engaging in quite brutal bondage with the servant girl, who also apparently has visions of meeting with the demon Astaroth (who’s also Satan’s rival) after drinking from Satan’s really big chalice (great acting from Mascitti here). Susan flees this visual in terror only to fall down a deep pit and land on a spider’s web. The film seems to be going for a terrifying scene here, but it involves an obvious looking papier mâché spider that many viewers might have a hard time getting over. I personally thought that this spider attack might have been a throwaway scene if it weren’t for Rita Calderoni’s strong response to the spider. She manages to sell her terror with her screams and overall committed performance. Rita makes it work with the way she can act out fits of hysteria that I also recall fondly from her previous work in Renato Polselli films. Apparently, Batzella wanted Rita for this film because he was impressed after seeing her in Polselli’s The Reincarnation of Isabel (1973).

While Susan is caught in the spider’s web, she cries out for William, who can hear her screams from another part of the castle. He’s in bed with Evelyn (thinking she’s Susan, who’s gone crazy from the car accident). I like the way he can hear Susan crying his name while also looking into Evelyn’s face, finally realizing she’s not really Susan. I thought this was a pretty chilling moment.

I do like the two lead actors' dual roles in this film. Candelli is able to play it straight faced as Doctor William Benton while also chewing the scenery as Peter, his shadow self, too. I’m not too sure what the movie might be trying to say about human duality, (perhaps overcoming your dark side?) but it does provide the opportunity to cast the lead actors in light and dark roles that, although familiar, gives us the chance to enjoy the actors going for two different personalities in the same film. There is something fun about that.


 

Rita Calderoni is a marvelous co-lead character with facial expressions that are always en pointe for every situation. Her spirited performance is high-energy and pretty much makes the horror aspect of the film work. She acts the hell out of the final act, with one open breast in the wild that’s a reprise of a look she rocked in The Reincarnation of Isabel

Nude for Satan is cheesy goodness that both hits the spot and unnerves me a little with its cheap and dark content. I didn’t think it had the greatest stage sets, but it still benefits from the Castle interior and grounds of the eleventh century Monte San Giovanni Campano Castle. Some of the daytime scenes on the castle grounds just look magnificent and surreal since they purposefully pop up abruptly sometimes when it seems like it was supposed to be the middle of the night.

There’s certainly better among the Satanic Eurocult oddities from the ‘70s, such as The Devil’s Nightmare (1971), Curse of the Devil (1973), and Satan’s Blood (1978), but Nude for Satan is still such an unusual and curious find that does have its moments. It’s special to me, personally, because it was one of the first times that I felt I was really going off the deep end when it comes to Italian horror.  

Nude for Satan does live up to its title in a number of ways, yet it doesn’t quite gel as a great film nor does it stand up to similar movies like Lisa and the Devil or even Batzella’s own The Devil’s Wedding Night, but I hope there’s still enough love left for Nude for Satan these days. Here’s to a Blu. 

© At the Mansion of Madness




 

No comments:

Post a Comment