Prior to its 1996 VHS release from Something Weird Video as part of Frank Henenlotter’s essential “Sexy Shockers from the Vault” series, Frank Q. Dobbs’ regional rarity ENTER THE DEVIL (1972) could have almost been construed as a lost film. While not to be confused with Mario Gariazzo’s THE EERIE MIDNIGHT HORROR SHOW (a.k.a. THE SEXORCIST, 1974), which was also released in the U.S. as ENTER THE DEVIL, Dobbs’ film was never even mentioned in such early iconic publications as Michael Weldon’s Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film (1983, Ballantine Books) or Phil Hardy’s Aurum Film Encyclopedia Volume 3: Horror (1985, Aurum Press). While SWV’s transfer was a perfectly serviceable edition of the film, Massacre Video have decided to give this atmospheric sleeper the full red carpet treatment, including a brand new 2K transfer, which thankfully never sacrifices the film’s original dusty, gritty veneer.
Driving through the barren Texan desert, an amateur rockhounding enthusiast (Happy Shahan), becomes the victim of a devil-worshipping cult, which in turn precipitates a missing person investigation by the Sheriff of Brewster County (John Martin). Since there can be (quote) “No open cases on election day”, the Sheriff assigns Jase (David Cass), one of his best State troopers, to look into this mysterious disappearance in Big Bend Country, which leads him to Villa de la Mina, a remote hunting lodge run by Glenn (Josh Bryant) and his rather guarded Mexican workforce. As Jase conducts his investigation, not only does he find the skeletal remains of the missing man, but one of Glenn’s visiting hunting group also goes missing. Then, in a late development, Dr. Leslie Culvert (Irene Kelly) inadvertently joins the investigation as she researches (quote) “weird cults” and deduces that these strange disappearances may be attributed to a fanatical portion of The Penitentes, a centuries-old fraternal brotherhood still operating in the Texan desert.
Also known as DISCIPLES OF DEATH, this is a surprisingly effective horror movie grounded in a reality that is not usually seen in such low-budget affairs, right down to some of its peripheral characters, such the politically-minded sheriff, or even the concerned doctor (Carle Bensen), who simply want to (quote) “keep the slate clean” and gain a few more votes in the upcoming election. Although centered around a secretive cult that perform ritualistic human sacrifices, the film never comes across as overly far-fetched, and although some of the rituals do appear a tad cliché (i.e., members wearing hooded robes, carrying torches and chanting incessantly), they remain wholly effective in their straightforward approach; a central sequence is particularly gruesome when a young women is nailed to a stake and burned alive. Also adding immensely to the film are the vast desert locales and abandoned mercury mines, which are stark and inhospitable; the scenes at night are especially unnerving and, in one of the film’s best realized sequences, Jase ventures out into the desert at night, culminating in a highly unexpected twist.
Released as a ‘Limited Collector’s Edition’ Blu-ray / DVD combo, this minor, almost-forgotten film looks very impressive here thanks to the efforts of Massacre Video. Detail gets a massive improvement over SWV’s scratchy DVD-R, which features a nicely nuanced transfer, highlighting not only the foreboding, arid landscapes, but the film’s numerous nocturnal rituals as well; colours are also stable and naturalistic, and many of the film’s nighttime sojourns into the desert reveal much more detail than previous versions on offer. Presented in its assumed theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, Massacre Video’s 16x9 enhanced Blu-ray does mask some image information from both the top and bottom of the frame when compared to SWV’s open-matte transfer, but at the same time, it also offers a fair amount of the picture on each side of the frame as well, and is far better compositionally by eliminating so much extraneous headroom. The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio also sounds fine considering the film’s low-budget nature while adding further prominence to Sam Douglas’ first-rate score. SDH subtitles are also provided.
Extras begin with Disciple of Death (11m29s), an on-camera interview with actor David Cass, who discusses some of his early film roles and his association with “The Duke” himself, John Wayne; plus the Texas film scene at the time and his lifelong friendship with filmmaker Frank Q. Dobbs, whom he describes as a (quote) “consummate movie man”. Of course, he also goes on to discuss his time working on ENTER THE DEVIL and the contributions of producer and DoP, Michael F. Cusack. In Video Nasty Scholar (5m40s), which is an excerpt taken from Marc Morris’ and Jake West’s exhaustive, follow-up documentary VIDEO NASTIES THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE: PART 2 (2014), author and film historian Kim Newman discusses the film and its silly inclusion in the U.K.’s so-called “Video Nasties” furor. In an added surprise, in trying to pack as many extras as possible onto their disc, Massacre Video have also included Dobb’s follow-up film, THE CALIFORNIA CONNECTION (a.k.a. THE EROTIC ADVENTURES OF PETER GALORE, 1973), a rather ho-hum early adult feature starring Rick Cassidy as Peter Galore, who attempts to rescue a kidnapped girl (Shari Kay) from the clutches of a cartoonish villain and his gaggle of women holed-up in a desert getaway. Taken from a (quote) “uncut PAL VHS rip”, picture quality is, for the most part, quite poor, but it makes for a welcome and curious extra just the same, and don’t forget to ‘stay tuned’ after the credits for a rather unexpected trailer. A stills gallery (1m39s) and a couple of trailers for some of Massacre Video’s upcoming releases finish off the extras. As with their earlier ‘Limited Collector’s Edition’ Blu-ray of Jag Mundhra’s HACK-O-LANTERN (1988), the first pressing of ENTER THE DEVIL also includes a variation of the film’s rather striking artwork as a limited O-Card. Order your copy from DiabolikDVD, and for you Canadian readers, visit Suspect Video.