Satan’s Slave (1976)

It’s Catherine’s Birthday. You’re Invited to Her Torture Party.

Theatrical poster for 1976's Satan's Slave

After a freak car accident claims the lives of both her parents, Catherine Yorke finds herself in the hands of three total strangers: her uncle Alexander, her cousin Stephen, and Alexander’s secretary/Stephen’s jilted lover Frances. Under their care and guidance, Catherine works through her grief remarkably fast, hampered only be the gory psychic visions that she suddenly has to endure. They’re somehow tied to a witch named Camilla who was tortured and executed by puritans a few hundred years ago, and who Alexander, a devoted Satanist, has made it his life mission to return from the dead.

The ladies of 1976's Satan's Slave

With plenty of sex, violence, surrealism, and impressive special effects on display here, SATAN’S SLAVE proves to be entertaining enough at least for a single viewing, despite (or perhaps because of) the tacky aesthetics and tasteless proceedings. It offers enough of a mystery to keep you guessing, and enough sleaze to keep you blushing.

I don’t know what it is about satanic cinema that demands so much nudity, but there’s plenty of it on (full frontal) display here. There’s also an unhealthy abundance of sex, sadism, and sleaze. One of Catherine’s hallucinations/psychic visions shows the treatment that Camilla received at the hands of her enemies—including being stripped naked, tied to a tree, lashed with a whip, and branded like cattle. The first time we lay eyes on Stephen, he is plying a young woman with alcohol in preparation for date rape, the threat of sexual mutilation, and eventually murder. If that didn’t make him deviant enough, he also seduces—or allows himself to be seduced by—Catherine, who not only sleeps with him, but immediately afterwards professes her love for him and begins planning their lives together. Satan loves incest, it would seem, so it’s a theme that pops up with some regularity in these movies.

Michael Gough in his devil robes, as seen in 1976's Satan's Slave

Another thing that Satan must love? Garish silky red robes with purple capes. A lot of his devotees seem to dress like bad Batman villains from the 1960s TV show. Which is almost fitting here, as Alexander is portrayed by Michael Gough, who played Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred Pennyworth four times, beginning with Tim Burton’s BATMAN in 1989.

There are a couple of scenes that may seem somewhat familiar to fans of the horror genre, even the first time they see them. One of them is something of a twist on possibly the most sacrilegious scene depicted in THE EXORCIST, which was released three years prior, as a nude woman is sexually violated by another with a wooden cross as part of a satanic rite. The other is when Catherine finds a corpse pinned to a door by a butcher knife stabbed through her gaping mouth. It is a reveal straight out of pretty much any slasher franchise that you can imagine, though it preceded just about all of them. The movie as a whole, though, is influenced greatly by Hammer films, but with the more lascivious details cranked way, way up.

SATAN’S SLAVE was written by David McGillivray, so you can blame him if you’re offended by anything in the film. He’s also the scribe behind such genre films as HOUSE OF WHIPCHORD (1974), FRIGHTMARE (1974), HOUSE OF MORTAL SIN (1976), SCHIZO (1976), and TERROR (1978). He has also done some work in the adult film industry (which lead to the production of DOING RUDE THINGS (1995), a documentary on the British sex film based on his book of the same name); on television, and in recent years has scripted a number of short films in the WORST FEARS series, as well. In 1995, he edited a single-issue magazine entitled Scapegoat, in response to increasing censorship of the times. He cameos in much of his own work, and can be found here as the priest in the witch-whipping scene.

Director Norman J. Warren also did his time in adult cinema, with HER PRIVATE HELL (1967) and LOVING FEELING (1968). Not wanting to be pigeonholed as a sex director, he turned down the opportunity to direct THE WIFE SWAPPERS (1970) and spent the next several years editing commercials and documentaries for other people. He and Les Young, the camera operator on his adult output, decided to make their own film and spent a year trying to get the finances together. When their attempts mostly failed, Les put up the majority of the funds (he holds a producer and cinematography credit on the film) by mortgaging his home, his company, and by selling his car. Warren personally recruited McGillivray, whom he was acquainted with, to write the script, and the rest is horror movie history. Warren went on to helm the aforementioned TERROR; the sex sci-fi flick SPACED OUT (1979; written, in part, by Bob Saget!); ALIEN PREY (1981); INSEMINOID (1981); and BLOODY NEW YEAR (1987).

Candace Glendenning, who filled the role of Catherine, mostly played on television, but she did appear in the genre films TOWER OF EVIL and THE FLESH AND BLOOD SHOW (both 1972). Frances was played by Barbara Kellerman, who can also be seen in QUATERMASS and THE QUATERMASS CONCLUSION (both 1979); the HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR episode entitled “Growing Pains” (1980); THE MONSTER CLUB (1981); and the rabies horror mini-series THE MAD DEATH (1983). Martin Potter, who portrayed Stephen, also appeared in Fellini’s SATYRICON (1969), the twin-based thriller GOODBYE GEMINI (1970); the laughable horror CRAZE (1974); the Chris Boger adaptation of MARQUIS DE SADE’S JUSTINE (1977); and the Philip Marlowe film THE BIG SLEEP (1978).

Scene from 1976's Satan's Slave

Besides his appearances in the BATMAN films, Michael Gough can also be found in HORROR OF DRACULA (1958); HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM (1959); KONGA (1961); THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962); DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965); THE SKULL (1965); THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE (1967), as The Master of the Moon; the Joan Crawford circus thriller BERSERK (1967); the witchy CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR (1968); the infamous TROG (1970); THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973); the Oscar nominated THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL (1978); killer snake flick VENOM (1981); THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW (1988); SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999); CORPSE BRIDE (2005); and ALICE IN WONDERLAND (2010). He passed away in 2011 at the age of 94.

SATAN’S SLAVE is also known as EVIL HERITAGE, which is a much better title. Not only is it never really explained who the slave of Satan is supposed to be, but it would also prevent the film from being confused with the Indonesian horror movie SATAN’S SLAVE (1982). The title was deemed more marketable than its original moniker, and tacked on by the distributor Brent Walker.


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