Saturday, January 02, 2016

ASYLUM OF SATAN (1972) / SATAN’S CHILDREN (1975) Double Feature DVD Review

For years now Something Weird Video has been the savior of the drive-in exploitation film. SW has rescued hundreds of low budget or no budget flicks from (in most cases, well deserved) obscurity and made them available to fans of cheesy, badly made classics the world over. No other company is as tireless in their efforts to bring American regional filmmakers to the notice of an appreciative audience and thankfully, SW has taken to the digital video era the way a turkey-headed drug maniac takes to sin! After first issuing several single movie DVDs with loads of extras the company decided that they could do better if they packed two (or more) movies on each disc and loaded them with juicy extras. This was a brilliant idea as, for the most part, the movies on these DVDs are not very good. But the sheer amount of fun material turns each disc into a three hour bad movie party. Fans of strange cinema can find everything from adventure films, horror films, sword and sandal epics and crazed biker movies on SW double feature DVDs — truly something for every bizarre taste.

Here I present a review of one of these double feature discs but I must warn you that it is now out of print. There are ways to see these two mad films but this disc now fetches ridiculous prices on the secondary market. Just think - I bought this DVD off the shelf at a Borders in 2002. Wow! Both disc and store are long gone.

I can honestly say I've never seen a good William Girdler film. I haven't seen all of his movies, but having screened several of them I can truthfully state that they all stank. Of course, I must also admit that although they were all bad, each successive film was a little better made than its predecessor. (Of course this gradual improvement ultimately results in The Manitou, so it's not as if this path led to greatness.) While it's tempting to call him the Ed Wood of the South the analogy doesn't quite work because Girdler seemed to be aware of his faults and tried to compensate for them. I would like to think that if Girdler hadn't died in a tragic helicopter accident he could have eventually been a major player in Hollywood. He might still have never made a good movie, but it would've been fun to watch him try. Since Asylum of Satan (1972) was his first movie I'm willing to cut it some slack, but it's still pretty damned bad. Filmed entirely on locations in Girdler's hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, the film follows the story of hapless concert pianist Lucina Martin (Carla Borelli). While recovering from a nervous breakdown she is transferred against her will to an asylum run by the sinister Dr. Jason Specter (Charles Kissinger). Here she's introduced to several fellow patients with phobias or anxieties as well as seeing strange silent inmates who wear hoods at all times. When Lucina's beefy, plaid-wearing boyfriend Chris Duncan (Nick Jolley) starts trying to locate her the film shifts from neutral to first gear and doggedly stays there for the duration. It soon becomes apparent (even to Lucina) that the good doctor is up to no good as the other patients are forced to suffer their worst fears come to life. (Or at least as close to their worst fears as can be handled on a shoestring budget.) As Dr. Specter and his staff prepare his girlfriend for a satanic sacrifice, Chris goads the local police to raid the asylum to save the poor girl. 

Complete with a fiery and incomprehensible finale, this is fine low-budget cheese. Never once scary or involving, Asylum of Satan still manages to entertain on the so-bad-it's-good level. There are a number of things to love about the film — the groovy 1970s guitar-laden soundtrack, the multiple roles played by Louisville TV personality Charles Kissinger, the hysterically overdone dialog between Chris and local cop Tom Walsh, the loud plaid clothing Chris sports throughout the film, the inept special effects, etc. The movie is a bad film lover's goldmine and this DVD even makes it more fun by including a great commentary track with Majestic International Films' Jeffery Houge and William Girdler biographer Patty Breen. Ms. Breen, webmistress of, truly loves the flick and understands that it's awful but endearing at the same time. She packs the track with tons of information and is also very funny when suggesting possible drinking games for the film as well as pointing out how Nick Jolley is the most anti-sexy leading man of all time.

The second movie on the DVD is Satan's Children. This one was lensed in Florida and is actually a step further down in quality from its co-feature. Troubled teenager Bobby (Stephen White) has a lousy time at home with a jerk of a stepfather and a sexually teasing stepsister making life unbearable. He storms out of the house one night only to be beaten up and gang-raped by gay bikers! Let me say that again - Gay Bikers. He is raped by gay bikers. Madness!

The bikers dump Bobby near a compound of Satanists who take him in and, under the orders of Sherry (Kathleen Archer), nurse him back to health. Sherry is in control of the commune... uh... I mean coven while their leader Simon is away. She takes a liking to Bobby but others in the group feel he's unworthy of suckling at the Devil's teat. After Sherry tortures a lesbian coven member (Satan appears to really hate homosexuals) and hangs several others that disagree with her orders, Simon shows up and punishes Sherry by burying her in the ground to the neck and letting ants sting her. Simon then tells Bobby that because homosexuals raped him he is too weak to be a member of Satan's worshipers. Bobby decides to take matters into his own hands, starting with tracking down the biker trash that started this whole mess. 

This film is truly demented. Hilarious and mind-bendingly homophobic it seems to have been made by folks with little or no idea of reality or filmmaking. It does reach a wonderful level of twisted sleaze that keeps it fairly entertaining but all the fun to be had is unintentional. Satan's Children is a great example of mid-70s regional filmmaking at its best...or worst, depending on your outlook. Inept, cheap and poorly done on almost every level, it could only be loved by the people who made it — or sick freaks like me!

Something Weird has packed this DVD with plenty of extras to make the wretched movies go down easier. There is the aforementioned commentary track and also about seven minutes of rare Asylum of Satan behind-the-scenes footage. Included in the DVD keepcase is a 4-page booklet of liner notes by Patty Breen (entitled The Devil Went Down to toLouisville: Girdler, The Devil and Asylum of Satan) that go into detail about the making of the film and provide an outline of Girdler's life and career. Other extras include a welcome set of drive-in horror film trailers, a gallery of horror comic covers set to music by The Dead Elvi, and two shorts from the Something Weird vaults. The first is a short bit of burlesque called Satan's Dance that's exactly what you would guess. The second is the almost indescribably insane 30-minute featurette entitled The Soul Snatcher, which tells the story of a pair of evil, satanic shoes. Has to be seen to be believed!

While the audio and video on this DVD is far from top quality, I'm sure everything looks as good as possible. I'm just grateful for the chance to see these odd little films which would remain hidden if it weren't for Something Weird Video. Some may complain that the films are awful — and they are — but if you watch a movie called Satan's Children and expect a quality production you're living in a dream world. These movies are a different kind of cinema. Eccentric cinema! So gather some like-minded friends, make some popcorn, grab a drink and settle back for a close approximation of the 1970s drive-in experience.


Nick Rentz said...

Isn't Three on a Meat Hook a lost film? Grizzly and Day of the Animals are my favorites of his. If Girdler hadn't died he probably would've found work at Cannon Group.

Rod Barnett said...

Three on a Meat Hook was issued on DVD in the UK for sure - years ago, but it was out there in one form or another.

Steven Millan said...

First off,THREE ON A MEATHOOK was not too long ago released onto DVD two years ago,and second,I'm sure that both SATAN'S CHILDREN and ASYLUM OF SATAN will someday resurface on the likes of a Vinegar Syndrome or Code Red DVD/Blu ray release.

Rod Barnett said...

My goodness, you are correct! Here's the link to it on Amazon-

Nick Rentz said...

I don't know why I was thinking it was considered lost. Thanks for the update.