Satanis: The Devil's Mass/Sinthia: The Devil's Doll (1970)
By: Mr Intolerance on March 4, 2010  | 
Something Weird Video| Region 1, NTSC | 4:3 | English DD 1.0 | 87 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Ray Laurent; Ray Dennis Steckler
Starring: Anton LaVey; Shula Roan, Boris Balachoff, Brett Zeller, Gary Kent, Maria Lease
Screenplay: Ray Laurent; Herb Robins
Country: USA
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The late 1960s gave rise to plenty of faddish cults and hokey religions. But I think without a doubt, the oddest one would have to be the legitimizing of the worship of Satan, courtesy of one Howard Stanton Levey – better known to you as Anton Szandor LaVey. The founding of the Church of Satan seems pretty fitting in the Age of Aquarius, and does tend to mark the beginning of peoples' fears about cults being actually dangerous, and as the Tate/La Bianca slayings courtesy of Charles Manson's Family effectively coincided with the rise of interest in witchcraft, not to mention the rise of cult figures such as Jim Jones, you could almost see that fear as being quite rational. Time to make movies to exploit that fear!

Satanis: The Devil's Mass

Anton LaVey would never say no to free publicity and always played up to the rather silly public image he contrived for himself as the pope of the Church of Satan, wearing his amusing plastic devil horns. In Satanis: The Devil's Mass, this is most definitely borne out – as an expose of pop-Satanism it's pretty light on as it's obviously very friendly to its subject, but as a documentary of a certain time and place, and the things people will believe in, and do to "prove their faith", it's actually pretty fascinating.

The structure of the film is pretty simple, moving between "talking head" shots of LaVey's neighbours opining on a range of different aspects of living near "the Black House", interviews with LaVey himself, group interviews with LaVey and some of his followers, and interviews with the followers alone (and what a motley crew they are…), all interspersed with footage from various rituals and excerpts from a Black Mass. There's no real linear structure, and the editing is rather flabby to put it mildly, but it does give what you're seeing a greater sense of verite.

Some of the interviews are hilarious: one neighbour condemns LaVey for not taking care of his house properly, one of the followers recounts her childhood as poor white trash (although you tend to be distracted by her pendulous old lady breasts swinging around while she cackles like Broomhilda), another neighbour fondly recounts tales of LaVey's pet lion before she insinuates that it was used in orgies (what a joke – can you imagine just you and your hard-on trying to handle 500 pounds of sexually aroused carnivore?), LaVey himself pontificates in a way that'd be credible to "the rubes" (as he used to refer to his followers in private, according to Nikolas Schreck's account in The Satanic Screen, although Schreck's own private agenda could be called into question seeing as how he himself was shacked up with LaVey's wayward daughter Zeena, most definitely not her father's greatest advocate), his disturbingly middle-class petit-bourgeois stooges worry that their religion is going to be infiltrated by sex maniacs (by this point we've already seen some dude face-down in a coffin getting his bare arse whipped before being led off to another coffin to bump uglies – and boy do I mean ugly – with another of the congregation inside the coffin – and they're worried about people with strange interests in sex?), and the round table discussion about masturbation needs to be seen to be believed.

And it's the sex angle that proves to be the most central here. I'm not saying it's the most important thing in Satanism, because it quite simply isn't – it's more a symbol of the repression that Satanism frees you from (this is paraphrasing what we get told in the film; me, I'm an atheist), as one of the things that the Bible (Holy, not Unholy) uses to make people feel shame and guilt, and thus manipulate them. The key to Satanism is individuality, non-conformism and self-empowerment; more an exercise in melding ideas of Social Darwinism with Nietzsche's notion of the ubermensch. But that wouldn't make good film – so there's nekkid women on altars, lots of boobs and bums, some brief frontal nudity, some very amusing Satanic prayers of intercession (one guy wants his new neighbour to fall prey to his charms, another wants his doodle blessed so that he can do lots of satisfying, pronounced, if not actually declaimed, in a way that would Snidely Whiplash proud – this is a very funny moment indeed, and in this latter case, LaVey's facial expression looks like he just kissed the wrong end of a baby), and the talk always comes back to sex, despite the gang's protestations that sex isn't the central idea powering their religion. But it is what the audience wants to see.

Despite the discussion of the freedom that Satanism brings and so forth, it all seems rather joyless. Oh, there are some laughs in a couple of the moments I've mentioned – intentional ones, I might add – but even the ceremonies when folks are getting their kit off and rolling about with each other, they look like they'd be much happier at home doing macramé. The rituals and prayers in the Black Mass seem to have about all the verve of a hanging, but without the spectacle. I don't know if the director was simply trying to make this all look sinister, or what – but I don't think that Satanis: The Devil's Mass was going to be increasing the numbers of LaVey's flock all that greatly.

Sinthia: The Devil's Doll

Our B-Feature on this Something Weird Video double bill is not good. It's really very, very bad. As in terrible. If you're a fan of trash films, the name Ray Dennis Steckler may be familiar to you. Feel free to groan, and you'd be right to do so. Steckler's Z-grade schtick in Sinthia: The Devil's Doll would appear to be to present some kind of mutant art-house/psychological slasher film with heavy Freudian overtones and a kind of Euro-vibe (indicated by the obligatory dream sequences, boobs and garish lighting, not to mention Steckler billing himself in the credits as "Sven Christian").

Sinthia is a young woman with a kind of reverse Oedipus complex – she wants to marry her father and kill her mother. As a young girl, she knifes both of them and sets the house on fire, but is wracked with remorse about her father's murder. Cue: dodgy dream sequences with lots of nudity and soft-core sex, with Sinthia's immediate future being dominated by the Devil punishing her. The punishment would appear to entail episodes in Sinthia's life featuring domineering, unpleasant mother figures, and badly moustachioed father figures, as well as at any moment of heightened emotion reducing her to crying out for Daddy. This is all told from the psychiatrist's office as she tries to find a cure for her guilt-dreams.

Like many of Steckler's other films, this becomes rapidly grating due to inept camerawork and acting, let alone direction, and the whole ham-fisted mess isn't helped in the slightest by the repetitive nature of the story and its general incoherence. Very simply: this is best avoided.
Time has not been kind to either of these films, although Satanis: The Devil's Mass fares slightly better than its counterpart, its main problems being a washed out picture and a lack of definition. Sinthia: The Devil's Doll looks like it was tied to the back of a car and taken for a scrape around the parking lot. There's a hell of a lot of grain and speckle, a soft image generally and a lot of damage. The back cover states "digitally remastered", but I honestly don't see it here.
Again, this is not the best. Both films sound quite hollow and rather muted, with Sinthia: The Devil's Doll bearing the brunt of a lot of hissing, crackling and popping.
Extra Features
As with any Something Weird double feature, you get a whole lot of bang for your buck in the Extras department, but as for the quality of that bang, well that's another story. Nevertheless, there are two featurettes: firstly British Black Mass (a five minute exploration of some London Satanists holding a very unintentionally amusing Mass done in true exploitation huckstering style, narrated by George Sanders, which is the only thing that lends any class to the proceedings – and I get the impression that maybe it was a part of a longer piece of work), and then the utterly excruciating Sex Ritual of the Occult (a 29 minute exercise in soft-core tedium billing itself as revealing secrets and educating the audience. Apparently two gay dudes having it off on a park bench is "occult" – "Gay bars are their temples! Park benches, their shrines!" The whole thing gets sillier and sillier with yet another coffin orgy, although this one raises the stakes on LaVey's, with a couple doin' the do inside the coffin, but another couple at the same time going for gold on top of the coffin at the same time, and the less said about the "voodoo ceremony", the better. It's all held together by some earnest looking fellow intoning specious gumph about moral decay and perversion, before then showing it to us gleefully), by which stage I was starting to tire a bit.

However, there was more for me to see. My Tale Is Hot! was a brief bump'n'grind strip/burlesque dance by Candy Barr bookended by some silly story about the devil trying to tempt a guy by taking over his TV set and showing him naughtiness. Feeble. Trailers? We got 'em, and my interest returned for The Devil's Hand, House of Exorcism (which features no footage from the film at all, just some Southern guy trying to sound sinister and failing dismally), Mark of the Devil Part 2 (this I'll be tracking down) and Meat Cleaver Massacre (where the title doesn't fit the film, and where I'll bet Christopher Lee, who introduces it, hadn't been told what he was promoting – it seems a little below his dignity). The whole package is rounded out with a gallery of even more promotional material, with a fitting soundtrack.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
As I stated above, Satanis: The Devil's Mass is an interesting historical curio in a Mondo film kind of way, and really, the one thing on this disc that really recommends it; I'm glad I saw it. I do appreciate Something Weird releasing these long forgotten films, but in the case of Sinthia: The Devil's Doll, forgotten might well have been the better option. I guess that you'd have to say that this is a disc that really is for the more seasoned fan of exploitation cinema looking for something a little more obscure, or in the case of the B-feature, one for real lovers of trash cinema. Sure, I like my trash, but I like it a lot more entertaining and lurid than what Ray Dennis Steckler served up this time around.

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