To kick of a list of What's Very Right is a great cast includes Nunsploitation vet Anne Heywood ("Nun of Monza" and "Nuns of St. Archangel") as well as veteran Euro-actresses Valentina Cortese and Irene Papas as witches who are realizing the full, terrible price they've paid for infernal power, joined by Marisa Mell and John Philip Law, together again over ten years after "Diabolik." Lara Wendel puts in a very good turn as the little girl whose soul belongs to Satan, walking the line between little girl and blossoming woman with an eerie efficacy. Fourteen at the time of filming, there are some uncomfortably sexualized moments surrounding Wendel's character Daria. She's a demonic Lolita imbued with deadly psychic power who evokes jealousy in women, lust in men, and eventually fear in all who encounter her.
Things get off to an appropriately psychedelic start with an UH-mazing opening credits sequence. Four dancers in diaphanous gowns prance around a fountain before being joined by four men in red leotards, who do a Dance of Love that includes a nude lambada and a re-enactment of the four witches' pact with Satan. That, my friends, is five minutes in camp movie heaven for this viewer. Part "Xanadu," part "Rosemary's Baby," and all brainfuckling, this is definitely in my top ten opening credits sequences of all time.
The story follows Carlotta Rhodes (Anne Heywood) as she attempts to save her daughter Daria from falling over to the Dark Side. Early in the story, it becomes clear that her efforts are too little, too late, and in spite of enlisting the aid of her coven as well as a Catholic priest (played by John Philip Law and conveniently in the clutches of a crisis of faith, leading him to shrug his shoulders when he realizes he's participating in an occult-though-not-Satan-flavored ritual), Daria's powers escalate, eventually leading to a confrontation between mother and daughter that has fatal results for one of them.
Sadly, the movie doesn't sustain the degree of AWESOME suggested by its credits sequence for long and it becomes pretty clear pretty early on that Carpi is determined to waste a capable cast and a cool plot with an overly talky script and static cinematography. The film is very literal--there are plentiful scenes of mid-range dialogue with a close-up on the reaction. Granted, the close-up on reaction is generally on the face of a beautiful, dignified cinema star, and I'm never going to complain about seeing the likes of Marisa Mell featured full-frame, but it's not an effective way to build atmosphere and tension.
What tension exists is derived from the interactions between the older (yet still beautiful) witches and Nadia, who has chosen to follow the Left Hand Path wholeheartedly and enthusiastically. Her burgeoning, youthful sexuality is at odds with the adult women, who have been thwarted in their quest for lasting, fulfilling relationships with men since their bodies and souls are owned by Satan, who shows up en flagrante delicto with his Eurotrashtastic white scarf and accusatory glare to frighten off any potential suitors. Mortal men are victims in this universe, from Daria's father who is killed in a Devil-assisted plane crash to the Catholic priest who is overwhelmed by black magic powers during his attempted exorcism of Daria. Even poor Martin, the gawky classmate who takes a fancy to Daria, is ultimately doomed. It's a matriarchal world; yet at the heart of the matter is the very male presence of Satan, manipulating events from the shadows (or from the spotlight--this movie loves to use dramatic spotlighting, lemme tell you).
Stelvio Cirpiani's electronic soundtrack recalls Goblin's work on "Dawn of the Dead," sometimes quite literally indeed. The music used during the exorcism sequence uses an incredibly similar bass line and progression of percussive sounds, to the point where it feels almost lifted in its entirety!
This piece of occult-themed fluff is elevated above fluff status--granted, just above fluff status--by Lara Wendel's captivating performance. Daria owns every scene she appears in, from her tense interactions with her mother through her commanding outbursts in her middle school classroom. She has a menacing look in her eye that reads as absolutely diabolical, putting her at least in a runner-up spot for the Creepy Kid Hall of Fame.
As a Coulda-Been, "Ring of Darkness" is entertaining and watchable, but it plays more like a made-for-TV melodrama with underage boobage than as a Satanic shock film.
Huge thank-yous go out to Brian Horrorwitz of Trash Palace for providing us slavering geeks with a thirst for obscure weirdness with a place to purchase movies like "Ring of Darkness!" Take a peek at his excellent selection of titles and tell him the Tenebrous sent you :)