Paul Naschy's third historical outing proved to be not just the best of the loose trilogy but perhaps his finest work ever, a feat rewarded with a couple of nods at Fantasy Film Festivals. Interestingly, it presents yet another facet to the question of Evil which is so often treated in films boasting a medieval setting: indeed, in THE DEVIL'S POSSESSED (1974), he had been a Satanist; in INQUISITION (1976), an oppressor and – eventually – victim of Devil worship; whereas, here, he is the personification of all that is unholy, since he plays Lucifer himself in human form (his face occasionally taking a red sheen for maximum impact)!
Naschy's script, too, is undoubtedly his most fascinating – as its episodic structure intelligently takes a logical progression. The Devil (disguised as a wanderer) meets with a man who directs him to a nearby house for shelter, but proceeds to kill him instead. Then, he meets a younger man being tormented by his blind master, whom he helps and takes under his wing. Going to the indicated premises, he seduces the crippled woman while her husband is away at work but subsequently denounces, and brands (which scene even became the film's poster), as a whore and robs of her savings. Later on, he goes to another family, where he purports to save a dying girl's life – the price being to share her mother's bed (even getting her pregnant, with the begotten child's fate left hanging in the balance by the film's conclusion and the woman herself a suicide!).
Our 'heroes' next hit upon a caravan – where Naschy plays the idiot to distract the noble couple at its head, while his companion cleverly gets rid of their entourage (by promising gold but leading them into a deadly trap). On to a convent (to which he and his ally turn up dressed in the habits of two friars they had come across and assaulted) where, naturally, superstition and repressed sexuality are rampant – thus easy prey to The Devil's wiles. Here, however, he had counted without the nuns' lusty gardener who gives him a piece of his mind on sensing the threat to his 'territory'! They wake up in a whorehouse, where the two obviously find themselves at home – but this time their ties are irrevocably severed (though not before the young man is allowed glimpses into mankind's less-than-encouraging future via newsreel footage of WWII, the Holocaust and the Atom Bomb!), when Naschy sells his partner to a gay nobleman!!
The boy takes revenge by having the lackeys of his new master (thanks to whom he is finally on his way to Court, and to where he had previously hoped Naschy would lead him) crucify his former companion/tutor – leading to a brief but striking moment where The Devil asks a stone figure of the martyred Christ how could he have given his life for such an ungrateful species as the human race! The film ends with a reversal of its opening sequence: Naschy helping out an apparently weary traveler and being turned upon yet again
only he now opts to show off his omnipotence, and merely – jeeringly – laughs in the face of man's selfishness and greed.
While fully displaying the inherent appeals of this type of film, namely cinematography (by "Euro-Cult" stalwart Alejandro Ulloa, with especially nice candle-lit interiors), production design, costumes and music, the tone here is curiously – yet endearingly – bawdy (with the star himself participating in nude scenes and sarcastically exclaiming "Vade retro, Satanas!" while bedding the convent's Mother Superior). This was actually the style adopted by countless erotic comedies of the "Decameron" variety that emanated from Italy earlier in the decade; a speeded-up orgy, then, clearly bears the influence of Stanley Kubrick's A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971).
Incidentally, I had recently come up with a premise in which the coming of the Anti-Christ is treated in Bunuelian, i.e. agnostic, terms – and I knew Naschy's effort would be among those I was required to watch for inspiration! In conclusion, in view of the recent discussion I had with Michael Elliott about the star's work, I ended up acquiring the intriguing sci-fi piece THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK (1976), which I will be checking out presently...