Satan’s Wife: Dirty demon daughter

Satan’s Wife directed by Pier Carpi horror movie reviewSatan’s Wife directed by Pier CarpiSatan’s Wife directed by Pier Carpi

Those viewers who believe Patty McCormack’s Rhoda Penmark character, in the 1956 classic The Bad Seed, to be the nastiest, most diabolical little girl ever shown on film might change their mind after seeing the 1979 Italian offering Satan’s Wife. This latter picture was originally released under the title Un’ombra nell’ombra, or Ring of Darkness, but for once, I prefer the American appellation, as it is both more memorable and more suitably descriptive. An engrossing though hardly essential example of Eurohorror, the film should certainly prove of interest to the jaded fan of such fare who is looking for something different.

In the film, the viewer meets a very attractive, middle-aged mother named Carlotta Rhodes. Thirteen years earlier, Carlotta and several other women had danced and participated in a Satanic ritual … and even, shades of Rosemary Woodhouse, had sexual congress with ol’ Lucifer himself. And now, the result of that union, 13-year-old Daria, is beginning to evince signs of her demonic daddy’s, uh, DNA. In several well-done and unsettling sequences, Daria — who I suppose my main gal Ann Wilson would call a “dirty demon daughter” — shows an intimately uncanny knowledge of Charlemagne’s sorcerous activities, draws a pentagram on a tennis court, prophesies her estranged father’s death, compares the eating habits of “humans” to hyenas, and scorches a young suitor’s chest by a mere laying on of the hand. But when the meddlesome adults in Daria’s life start to suffer horrible ends, Carlotta comes to realize that a priestly exorcism might be the only hope of rescuing her devilish offspring…

A tad slow-moving in parts but always of interest, Satan’s Wife has been directed by Pier Carpi for maximum freakiness. Utilizing a negative-image dream sequence, echo effects, long stretches with no dialogue and a mesmerizing score consisting of synth, bass, and percussion (by Stelvio Cipriani, whose work on the 1978 giallo The Bloodstained Shadow had recently impressed me), Carpi manages to engender a decidedly strange, borderline surreal atmosphere.

And he is here abetted by the very fine performances of his three leading ladies. English actress Anne Heywood, who many will recall as Sandy Dennis’ partner in the 1968 film The Fox, manages to steal the film as the distraught Carlotta. Heywood, 47 years old in this picture, still looks stunningly beautiful (how appropriate that her name at birth was Violet Pretty!), almost on the order of the middle-aged Jeanne Crain (and those readers who have perused my IMDb reviews for such films as State Fair and Dangerous Crossing already know what I think of Jeanne Crain’s remarkable looks!). Whether dressed in prosaic street clothes or garbed in Satanic robes, Heywood looks simply smashing here, and offers up an effective performance. As her best friend Elena, Valentina Cortese (the former Mrs. Richard Basehart) also offers up a convincingly agonized portrayal. And in the crucial role of Daria, 14-year-old Lara Wendel, from Germany, is quite chilling indeed. Surprisingly, the film requires this young actress to appear topless in its final showdown sequence, as mother and daughter square off for a supernatural battle royale. Those viewers who were bothered by Mariora Goschen’s topless appearance on that classic Blind Faith album cover, shot when the young gal was only 11, might be similarly appalled by the spectacle of the topless Wendel here, but I suppose no harm was done, and Wendel continued to enjoy her acting career for over a decade more.

Though inevitably reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby for a bit of its running time, ultimately, Satan’s Wife feels more and more like a cousin of The Omen, as it becomes apparent that our little devilish spawn is virtually unstoppable. (Highlight here if you want to see a spoiler.)  Indeed, the film’s final image, of Daria approaching St. Peter’s Basilica, leaves the viewer with the sure knowledge that a showdown between the Devil and the Church is about to commence; what a sequel this picture could have had, if the filmmakers had chosen to continue! Little Daria vs. the Pope … the mind reels at the possibilities!

Unfortunately for home viewers, Satan’s Wife today seems to be only available on DVD from an outfit known as Mya. Just recently, I watched another of the company’s DVDs, for another Italian horror film from 1979, Island of the Fishmen, and was pleased with the print quality and adequate dubbing in lieu of subtitling. Satan’s Wife, however, is another matter, with very inadequate dubbing and a print quality that is decidedly fuzzy and scuzzy. Still, I suppose it will have to do until something better comes along. The experience to be had with this DVD incarnation is a marginally watchable one, but the film itself is surely of interest, and, as mentioned, should assuredly find acceptance in the eyes of all fans of 1970s Eurohorror…


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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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