BR: Angel for Satan, An / Un angelo per Satana (1966)

January 28, 2022 | By

Film: Excellent

Transfer: Excellent

Extras: Excellent

Label:  Severin Films

Region: A

Released: October 26, 2021

Genre: Horror / Gothic Horror / Suspense / Thriller

Synopsis: A young heiress poised to take control of her family’s estate may be possessed by the spirit of a lurid, malevolent ancestor.

Special Features: Audio commentary #1: actress Barbara Steele, film historian David Del Valle, and Severin producer David Gregory / Audio commentary #2: film historian and author Kat Ellinger / “The Devil Statue” – Interview with actor Vassili Karis (18:26) / 1967 short film “Barbara & Her Furs” (9:26)) with optional partial audio commentary by actress Barbara Steele / Original and extended theatrical trailers / Limited slipcover.




Had Barbara Steele remained in Europe – especially Italy – during the early 1970s, she may well have appeared in giallo thrillers, but wanting a shift in screen archetypes and having marrying American screenwriter James Poe (Around the World in 80 Days, Lilies of the Field, The Gathering), the actress with magnetic dark eyes found her career choices more limited in the United States. Her busy period in feature and short films and TV slowed down, and for a while the actress downplayed her prolific horror filmography, until several of her classic Italian thrillers – especially Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1960) – migrated to home video, some in longer uncut editions previously unavailable to English language audiences.

If Bava’s tale of a witch launched her career as one of horror’s top screen icons, Black Sunday also shed new light on the actress (and director), and pricked the interest of fresh generations fascinated with grim tales of ghosts, deceit, vengeance, and crumbling castles and villas – but An Angel for Satan, billed by Severin Films as the last of her Gothic thrillers, remained one of the most elusive in Steele’s Italian filmography; in spite of having an English dub track, it was reportedly never released to English-speaking markets, and never seen by Steele herself until a recent restoration.

Director Camillo Mastrocinque had made a string of comedies with comedian Totò, and it was late in the filmmaker’s career that he directed a pair of horror films – Crypt of the Vampire (1964) with Christopher Lee, and An Angel for Satan (1966), after which the prolific writer-director largely shifted to TV before passing away at 67.

Antonio Fogazzaro’s novel Malombra has been previously filmed in 1917, 1942, and later for television in 1974. Mastrocinque’s 1966 version of this tragic romantic ghost story is a compact 93 mins. production, heavily benefiting from excellent locations – a rustic village, elegant villa, and plenty of crumbling stone structures – and really superb production design, interior sets, and fabulous costumes.

Mastrocinque’s classical approach similarly augments the production’s sheen, with fluid camera movements, and letter-perfect compositions by Giuseppe Aquari. Especially striking are the eerie night scenes and flashbacks which deepen (or convolute, depending on one’s critical stance) the story of a sculptor hired by a guardian to restore a cursed statue just as a young heiress returns to take control of a family estate.

Spaghetti western star (and Vittorio Gassman lookalike) Anthony Steffen (Django the Bastard, Arriva Sabata!) suits the role of artisan Roberto Merigi, sporting velvet capes and bearing a perpetually serious visage as he sketches, bar brawls, or awakens after a fever dream and wanders into an attic for a more severe round of misty delusions.

Steele is a perfect fit for initial ingenue Harriet Montebruno, a poised yet closeted seductress whose latent cruelty is exploited by the spirit of a cursed descendant. While there’s no overt nudity, when possessed, Harriet wreaks havoc throughout her household and in town by teasing a devoted father and husband (Mario Brega), her mute gardener (spaghetti westerner Aldo Berti), her assistant Rita (Ursula Davis), and Rita’s straight-up beau, schoolteacher Dario (Vassili Karis).

As guardian Count Montebruno, veteran character actor & director Claudio Gora steals the film with his expressive, natural visage, and manages to soften some of the plot wrinkles by making the slightly odd seem almost rational. The mass of wrinkles and dry skin makeup also enhance the Count’s aura as a slightly decrepit, by-the-book caretaker – much like the weather-beaten statues that adorn the villa’s manicured yet bleak waterside courtyard.

Francesco De Masi’s score is appropriately ornate, heavily upping the period melodrama and musty rot of the environs and infected souls with lush strings – a striking classical style quite different from his exploitation and action scores of the 1970s (Nazi Love Camp 27) and 1980s (Lone Wolf McQuade).

De Masi’s approach also compliments the insular nature of a small town to which primary access to the outside world is across a wide and misty bed of water. De Masi’s music is a real treat, although the lack of a soundtrack album at this stage may indicate master tapes no longer survive.

Not dissimilar to a giallo plot, certain shenanigans may or may not be tied to Harriet’s increasingly extended switches from good girl to naughty and mean temptress, and Steele seemed to enjoy the scope of her character, being tight laced & demur, and manipulative & cruel, whipping men and driving them to destroy their lives while intoxicated by bad girl miasma.

Angel isn’t an effects-laden film, yet there are some brief, clever tricks, and when combined with Aquari’s cinematography, it’s quite striking how much atmosphere and chills are wrought from classical cinematographic techniques. Roberto’s attic ‘flashback’ is really a montage for the audience’s benefit, and it contextualizes the curse which rapidly unfolds as the sculptor makes great progress in his restoration procedures while Harriet seems to veer towards her ancestor’s poetic fate.

As Steele’s cinematic adieu to her Italian Gothics, Angel is a lovely closer, and as both historians opine in Severin’s fine dual commentary tracks, the film also contains one of her best performances, fitting snugly within other genre entries popular during the 1960s, including Roger Corman’s own iconic Poe-themed shockers.

(Steele appeared in Corman’s gorgeous The Pit and the Pendulum in 1961, and its studio, American International Pictures, also distributed Bava’s Black Sunday, albeit in a differently edited and re-scored incarnation.)

Katt Ellinger’s solo commentary dissects the role of women in Italian Gothic thrillers, from tropes to clichés, and the power plays, which are markedly different from rival European and American efforts.

Steele’s recent commentary was recorded when the actress and producer was around 83, and while not an instinctively loquacious icon, historian & friend David Del Valle and Severin’s David Gregory manage to keep her recollections and opinions flowing, including dry pokes as co-star Steffen. In a zero-bullshit tenor, Steele explains why she walked out on the Elvis Presley western Flaming Star (1960), figuratively burned her contract with studio Fox, and soon became an icon of horror through a series of serendipitous events.

Those well familiar with her look in the horror genre – cold eyes, aristocratic profile, and dangerous provocative aura – will be quite surprised by the bonus short which seems to have fallen off the online filmographies of its makers. Barbara & Her Furs (1967) is a slight riff on Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novel Venus in Furs, which Steele reads before falling asleep in a swanky swinging sixties apartment, and experiences a rather furry evocation of the novel. Director-photographer Pierre Andro has slight portions of the novel’s prose plus schizophrenic jazz and experimental sonics driving a fashion shoot of women in assorted fur coats, hats, and perched on rugs.

Steele provides a partial commentary for the film which was shot in a day, and during a period when she had a liaison with French director Louis Malle. Although she regrets the production’s lack of time, it’s very striking to see the actress in contemporary chic hairdos and fluffy clothes (plus the World’s Noisiest Necklace), and one wonders how her career and screen persona would’ve changed had she chosen to appear in thrillers set in the present day, with modern architecture, wardrobe, and Morriconesque scores (if not scores by Ennio Morricone himself).

(A 1970 drama Fermate il mondo… voglio scendere! is unavailable on home video to English audiences, but snapshots of the poster and production stills feature Steele in several modish poses.)

Severin’s disc also includes two trailers – one a slightly longer edit that’s missing a few bits of audio – and an amusing interview with Vassili Karis who expresses his disdain for the horror genre, and offers some biting anecdotes of his entry into film and pockets of his career.

The HD transfer is very crisp, and features the original Italian dub track (with English subtitles), as well as the English track. Easily one of Severin’s best standalone titles of 2021, and a perfect addition to connoisseurs of Steele’s filmography, and Gothic shockers. Entries include Black Sunday (1960), Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Horrible Dr. Hichcock (1962), Lo spettro (1963), Castle of Blood (1964), The Long Hair of Death (1965), Terror-Creatures from the Grave (1965), Nightmare Castle (1965), The She-Beast (1966), and An Angel for Satan (1966).

From 1968 to 1980, Steele appeared in very few films, including The Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968), Shivers (1975), Louis Malle’s Pretty Baby (1978), Silent Scream (1979), and the Corman-produced Caged Heat (1974) and Piranha (1979).



© 2022 Mark R. Hasan





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