Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Brotherhood of Satan (1971) - A Review

At first glance, The Brotherhood of Satan appears to be nothing more than another B-movie trying to capitalize on the success of Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. The box art to the old VHS informs you that it’s all about got old people using children as part of a satanic ritual. So, why bother?

Well, take a closer look at the credits. It’s directed by Bernard McVeety, a director best known for his work on TV westerns including 52 episodes of Gunsmoke. Co-written and co-produced by: L.Q. Jones, an character actor who, up until this point was best known as one of the Sam Peckinpah Players, as well as having countless TV western credits to him name. In fact, McVeety directed Jones on an episode of The Big Valley. Not only that, but it also starts TV western and Peckinpah mainstay, Strother Martin who was featured in a number of high profile and well regarded movies during this period.

So, what exactly are these folks doing putting together a low budget film about Satanists? Well, the locale should tell you something. It’s set in the west, in the desert, in the middle of nowhere. While the story takes place in the ‘modern day’, the setting gives it the sense of isolation that we’ve seen in every western from High Noon to the stagecoach way station in The Tall T. In addition, Jones and Martin were ‘besties’, so I assume that Martin has just supporting a pal.

The concept in nothing unusual: a young family get stranded in a small town filled with mysterious, and less than friendly locals. Slowly we learn that people are somehow prevented from leaving town and that a good number of children have a gone missing.

Why are all of the children in town disappearing? Well, it is the incredibly selfish old people. Apparently, they can’t get enough of the good life, and want another go round. Somehow, the planned satanic ritual will transfer their souls into the bodies of these children. Sort of like Freaky Friday, but really freaky. It all ends in one of the nuttiest finales you’ll ever see on film. It’s a frenzied massacre that comes across as neo-psychedelic. In fact, there are some very avant-garde, artsy moment in this film, which seems strange coming from a TV director.

There are also some nice set pieces, most notably a scene in which someone is beheaded by a knight on horseback. WTF? The atmosphere is established well in certain scenes, especially the portrayal of heat, which gives the sense that this town is actually hell on Earth. The stuff involving the children is well down, as they are very, very creepy. So, what’s the downside? Well, it does drag a bit in the middle, as we wait for the third Act to get started. In addition, the power that is bringing this town to its knees is pretty ill-defined. In particular, one scene in which a doll with some form of telekinesis kills a husband and way is laughably melodramatic. The acting is all over the place, and particularly weak amongst the seniors in the cast. I do like the fact that the priest pronounces ‘coven’ like Mark Borchardt from American Movie.

All in all, this is a weird film, worth watching to try to connect the dots between Peckinpah westerns and A Boy and His Dog. It looks good, and is sufficiently strange to keep a viewer engaged, but it has a ton of pacing issues and Strother Martin and his group of satanic seniors might actually ham it up a bit too much.

Make of Break: It's a break for me, and it's the acting. The mood and setting were decent, but the acting among the coven member really ruin the chances for any tension, but didn't veer into SBIG territory.

MVT: The location. Placing this in an isolated desert town helped the story immensely and also helped differentiate it from urban films such as Rosemary's Baby.

Score: 5.25 out of 10. It's a decent time waster and interesting to see this particular group put a film together but it does drag in spots. I caught it on TCM Underground a couple of years back, but revisted it via Crackle.


  1. Good review. I agree completely. Here's a few more shots:

  2. Great review, Scott. I'm a bit disappointed to hear Strother Martin wasn't at least enjoyable. At first glance, I thought he was Richard Harris on the VHS box art.

  3. thanks! He was enjoyable, it's just that the over the top stuff hurt any chance the film had of building tension. Harris would have been a hoot!

  4. Fun review, I needed another reason to fear old age.