Mark of the Devil Blu-ray Review

The shockingly graphic exploitation classic finally hits Blu-ray in a wonderful package from Arrow Video

Mark of the Devil is one of the more notorious exploitation films in cinema history. Written and directed by Michael Armstrong, its American distributor included vomit bags with every showing. The 1970 film was only recently passed uncensored in Armstrong’s native Great Britain by their film board. Taking a cue from the very successful Witchfinder General, Mark of the Devil stars a young Udo Kier serving an apprenticeship as a junior witchfinder in Europe. Breaking away from the more conservative mold of Hammer’s films in the 1960s, Mark of the Devil features very graphic torture sequences that even today can still make audiences squirm in their seats.

Mark of the Devil is the grandfather of modern torture porn, the first truly shocking film that made audiences uncomfortable with what they were seeing on screen. The graphic torture and execution scenes appear mostly authentic, which must have been frightening to audiences in the Seventies that weren’t prepared for this kind of explicit material. What gets lost in the conversation is that Mark of the Devil is also a strong movie with a message about corruption of all kinds. The Church used its powers to keep the European nobility in check. Highly effective at getting that message across, the movie ends on an ironic punchline that is unforgettable.

Albino (Reggie Nalder) is a local witch-hunter and completely dishonorable character. He is fond of abusing his power and accusing any woman that looks askew towards him as being a witch. A young apprentice of a master witchfinder, Christian (Udo Kier) crosses paths with the creepy Albino when a beautiful servant girl, Vanessa (Olivera Vuco), is accused of being a witch. Christian quickly becomes smitten with Vanessa, recognizing she is not a witch but a victim of Albino’s demented charges. Christian’s mentor arrives on the scene, Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom).

Mark of the Devil takes a modern perspective on witchcraft in the hopes its historical message is not diluted.


Hiding behind an air of sophistication and learning, Lord Cumberland first seems a wise man that takes his profession of witch-hunting seriously. We soon learn he is nearly corrupt as Albino, using his powers as witchfinder for the aims of the Church. This becomes most apparent when a lord is accused of being a sorcerer. Any noble executed for witchcraft forfeits all his property to the Church. This strikes at the heart of the film, revealing some of the real reasons behind the witch-hunting phenomenon in European history.

Christian begins to realize that Lord Cumberland is not the esteemed man he thought, urged on by his desire to help save Vanessa. Their conflict leads to an unforgettable and bitterly ironic ending.

Mark of the Devil is an odd duck for an exploitation film. It is more a period drama at times, concerned with critiquing religious corruption when not getting graphically violent. Its scenic Austrian setting and lavish production design are far less gritty than latter horror and exploitation films, recalling Hammer Films’ excellent production values in the Sixties. There are no supernatural elements, Mark of the Devil takes a modern perspective on witchcraft in the hopes its historical message is not diluted. What sets it apart from other British horror films of the period are the brutal, explicit scenes of torture and violence, including rape and execution.

Modern audiences should handle this film better than viewers first did in the Seventies. Decades of torture porn from franchises like Saw have desensitized many viewers. Do not let its reputation fool you; Mark of the Devil is definitely worth a look if you are into classic horror films. Its themes and message still speak to us today. Lord Cumberland is one of horror’s most realistic antagonists, a villain disguised as a respected member of the community doing evil in good’s name.

Movie ★★★★☆

Mark of the Devil Blu-ray screen shot 4

Arrow Video brings to America the new Hi-Def film transfer that first saw light last Fall in the UK. This is another beautiful film transfer in 1080P resolution, taken almost entirely from the original camera negative with guidance from director Michael Armstrong. Mark of the Devil was practically abandoned on home video the last few decades, seeing a number of censored releases with erratic quality on home video. Arrow Video has corrected all those wrongs, fully restoring the movie with loving care and exacting precision. They have done an exemplary job with Mark of the Devil, the film looks better than it ever has since 1970 and as good as it will ever look on Blu-ray.

The new film scan is loaded with fine texture and detail, a completely film-like appearance without intrusive artifacts. The color grading is perfect for film stock of this vintage. They avoid the revisionist impulse to darken the contrast or remove its gaudy color palette. Encoded with a high-bitrate AVC effort, it transparently replicates the new digital film master to perfection without affecting grain structure.

The video itself is razor-sharp with deep black levels. The color correction has been handled with a deft touch, bringing out excellent chroma resolution. Albino’s crimson red jacket is a vivid costume in the film, exquisitely rendered in 1080P resolution. Close-ups have immense depth and extraordinary detail, viewers will be shocked at the amount of unfiltered, high-frequency content evident in this Blu-ray presentation. Reproduced below is the provided information in the included booklet about this transfer:

Mark of the Devil was digitally restored for this release by Turbine with all work done at DigiSite and Imagion Facilities in Germany. The original negative was transferred, graded and restored in High Definition. For a few scenes, a dupe negative had to be sourced, resulting in some inconsistencies in presentation. This is down to historic censorship issues with the film, in which scenes of extreme violence were originally removed. The original English Soundtrack that accompanies the film exhibits occasional lapses in picture synch, owing to the fact that a great many voices were dubbed in post-production.” 

Video ★★★★☆ 

Arrow Video includes both the German and English dubs for Mark of the Devil in mono 1.0 PCM sound. Neither are extraordinary sounding. The needed amount of dubbing for the German production reveals lapses in fidelity and tape damage. The dialogue is perfectly intelligible, if a little reedy in the upper frequencies. The melodic score enjoys a slightly better fate. The enjoyable recording has a fuller sound with clean fidelity. Director Michael Armstrong reveals he had no part in the score – he didn’t hear it until after the film was released. The film was shown with Hi-Fi Stereo in some theaters and that audio appears to be lost to history at this point.

The audio is not quite the unqualified success of the film restoration but is certainly satisfactory for a 1970 exploitation film. Arrow Video provides newly translated subtitles from the German soundtrack as English SDH in a white font.

Audio ★★★☆☆

Almost as entertaining as the movie itself is a fantastic documentary on classic British horror from the 1970s and a lavish booklet with in-depth essays. I would call this a perfect home video release if it had included one commentary found on the Austrian Blu-ray that featured a number of participants, including Udo Kier. The included commentary with Michael Armstrong is okay but his delivery of information is a little scatter-shot for my tastes.

Arrow Video has authored this Blu-ray for both Regions A and B.

Audio Commentary by Michael Armstrong – Hosted by Calum Waddell, the director talks at length about his research into witch-hunting and the background that led to this film. He’s very comfortable breaking everything down, talking how Lord Cumberland’s problem was originally intended to be his homosexual desires for Christian in place of the impotence actually used in the movie. Armstrong does ramble at times but Waddell keeps him on point.

Mark of the Times (47:37 in HD) – A feature-length documentary from High Rising Productions on the emergence of the ‘new wave’ from British horror directors that surfaced during the Sixties and Seventies. It includes contributions from Michael Armstrong, Norman J. Warren, David McGillivray, Professor Peter Hutchings, and famed film critic Kim Newman. As a fan of classic British horror, this is a smart, entertaining documentary. I loved it nearly as much as the movie and it is essential viewing for fans.

Hallmark of the Devil (12:12 in HD) – Author Michael Gingold looks at the American distributor for Mark of the Devil and other exploitation films, Hallmark Releasing. They included vomit bags for audiences since the level of violence was so extreme for the time. A featurette that helps provide context for the film’s notoriety.

Mark of the Devil: Then and Now (07:06 in HD) – A visual comparison of how the film’s settings looked during filming and today.

Interviews with composer Michael Holm and actors Udo Kier, Herbert Fux, Gaby Fuchs, Ingeborg Schöner and Herbert Lom – Each person gets their own interview, some running as long as 24 minutes. Most are in German with English subtitles. The video quality on these interviews aren’t very good, but the fairly recent interviews reveal many anecdotes that would otherwise be lost to history.

Outtakes (03:03 in HD)

Gallery – Dozens of posters, press stills, lobby cards, and other photographs from the film. Rarely has a home video edition for any film included so many in such vivid quality.

Trailer (03:27 in HD)

Reversible Sleeve – Featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys.

Illustrated Collector’s Booklet – Over 40 pages long, this deluxe booklet features new writing on the film by Adrian Smith and Anthony Nield, plus an interview with Reggie Nalder by David Del Valle, all illustrated with original stills and artwork. One of the best of its kind with very informative writings and lovely graphic design.

Extras ★★★★★

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review as a screener that may not represent the retail disc. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

  • Arrow is getting trickier, Mark of the Devil has one of their first known easter eggs. A hidden 40-minute featurette filled with outtakes is on the disc. It
    is accompanied with no music. To access the easter egg, highlight the ‘Outtakes’
    option in the special features area and press RIGHT on your BD
    remote.

  • Man, 40 minutes is a pretty steep bonus to keep hidden.

  • My best guess is that the disc was mistakenly authored. The 3-minute footage of outtakes was supposed to be the easter egg and the 40-minute one the visible feature.

  • Koroshiya1

    Thanks for the heads-up about the easter egg. Movie and disc are really nice, even if it’s just for the production values imho.