Whenever I hear about a “Brotherhood”, it’s never a good thing. So often it’s followed by Blood or Evil Mutants. (“Sisterhood” on the other hand conjures images of roaming trousers.) Googling “Brotherhood of Satan” for instance, the top search result is the official Brotherhood of Satan website complete with admission application. I declined to answer the litany of questions like, “If you have any Background with Satanism please summarize your experience in the field below.” and “How do you think the Brotherhood will benefit from your membership?”, but I have to admit that these guys know how to do evil. Nothing gives me chills like a few essay questions. The second result is the IMDB for today’s film, 1971’s Brotherhood of Satan., a surprising little film with the Devil appearing where he belongs, in the details.
Emily of The Deadly Doll’s House chose this film for me as part of our monthly movie swap, and all during February, she’s had a great ongoing event, Short Month, Short Killers focusing on the many diminutive murderers in the movies. So for my part of the swap, I chose for her the little person exploitation/western classic, The Terror of Tinytown. In return I got the one-two punch of eerie, evil children and creepy old people that is Brotherhood of Satan. The Southwestern town of Hillsboro is under the control of a coven of witches who’ve been kidnapping children. Their intent is to place their souls into the kids and renew their life, but there’s one tiny problem. There are only twelve kids in town. Then along comes Ben (Charles Bateman), his girlfriend Nicky (Ahna Capri), and Ben’s daughter K.T. (Geri Reischel). Soon enough K.T. gets snatched, and Ben has to pin his hopes on the town sheriff (L.Q. Jones), his deputy (Alvy Moore), and the kindly town doctor (Strother Martin) if he hopes to stop The Brotherhood’s diabolical plan.
Unlike The Devil’s Reign, Brotherhood of Satan doesn’t need the technical advice of Anton LaVey. Because who really needs advice when you’re making it up as you go along. Satanists are old witches who can summon tanks, make dolls cry, and control the minds of little children? Sure, sounds good to me, go. That’s exactly what this film does too. It doesn’t wait around and try to explain things. It lets the viewer connect the dots themselves as it continues to fly forth by the seat of its pants. Written by star/producer L.Q. Jones and TV scribe William Welch, the script is nothing to rave about. On the page, Brotherhood of Satan might have been a mildly better teleplay than you average Night Gallery episode. Somehow pairing this script with journeyman TV director Bernard McEveety added up to enough to call this a certified film. McEveety directs as if Flesh for Frankenstein was being made for the movie of the week. The strength of establishing character quickly is on display, but there’s also some real art house moments that add to the strangely suspenseful tale. Some of the thanks surely also goes to cinematographer John Arthur Morrill who would later capture another cult classic, Kingdom of the Spiders.
While the film’s stunningly strange look does Brotherhood of Satan a world of good, what really makes the film is the unique cast. Top billed is Strother “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” Martin, and without getting terribly spoilery, he deserves the top spot for his gleefully fun duel role. Martin was one of the stars of The Wild Bunch as was his co-star L.Q. Jones. Jones gives quite the performance as the town’s troubled lawman, but there was something about his hair in this film that made him look like he could have played Daniel Boone without a cap. Alvy Moore, who produced the film along with Jones, has little to do in the role of the deputy, but he exhibits the kind of good humor that made him so memorable as Hank Kimball on Green Acres and in dozens of other character roles. Ahna Capri (Enter the Dragon) and Charles Bateman make for an attractive, all-American kind of couple, and they along with Geri Reischel (I Dismember Mama) have a genuine chemistry that pulled me into the story.
Brotherhood of Satan was nothing like I expected. I thought it would have been a low rent piece of nonsense or perhaps at best an imposter Hammer film. Instead I was treated to a hidden gem full of devilish details that brought the film together. Plus, even though they never got around to killing, the kids were plenty freaky enough I doubt I’ll be stealing candy from a baby anytime soon. Unless the kid has really, really good candy, and I forget that I run the risk of angering The Brotherhood. There’s one thing that I won’t forget, and that’s to click on over to The Deadly Doll’s House and check out her thoughts on The Terror of Tinytown. In another month we’ll be back with another film swap, and it will be our second face to face swap, this time at Horrorhound Indianapolis!