I must admit that I had heard about both of these movies but have never seen either of them or up until 2001 heard the music from either. THE MARK OF THE DEVIL was released in 1970 and is certainly a film that has achieved a real cult status, it is notorious and known by many horror fans for being given the first ever ‘V’ for violence certificate, or was it a ‘V’ for vomit, as apparently vomit bags were handed out at screenings of the film. Either way, it was a category which it apparently richly deserved or so I am led to understand. The film is now available on DVD from Anchor Bay video and as a matter of interest I did see a copy on the shelf in a local supermarket recently, (which just shows us how times change). Released two years after the classic British horror WITCH-FINDER GENERAL. THE MARK OF THE DEVIL (HEXEN BIS AUFS BLUT GEQUALT) does have certain similarities and affiliations with the Michael Reeves movie but maybe takes things a little further in the violence and brutality department. The film starred Udo Kier as an apprentice witch hunter, Count Christian Von Meruh who is being trained in the art of torture and confession extracting by Lord Cumberland (Herbert Loom). Von Meruh believes totally in his mentor and his methods and also has a strong connection with the ways of the church. However after a series of events Von Meruh begins to realise that the Witch trials are nothing more than a sham and are basically a cruel and spiteful way of cloaking a corrupt clergies methods to enable the Church to rob the common people of money, land and possessions and to allow Lord Cumberland to seduce and rape young women. Eventually, the townspeople revolt, Cumberland escapes the angry mob but Von Meruh is captured by the towns people. The film contains some stomach churning and graphic torture scenes including a women’s tongue being ripped out of her head and nuns being raped (in the opening credits), plus numerous beatings and killings.
The musical score penned by the popular music composer Michael Holm is surprisingly melodic for a horror movie, but also contains dramatic and atmospheric compositions which are par for the course in this genre of film. The central theme, entitled ‘Liebesthema’ can be likened to the haunting theme for the TV series ‘The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe’, with just a touch of Raymonde Leferve’s ‘Soul Coaxing’. Its that sort of luxurious and haunting sound, very European and romantically slanted and maybe a little pop orientated. The central theme is heard throughout the work and the composer freshens and reinvents its sound on each outing by arranging and orchestrating it in a number of ways and using it as a foundation on which he builds the remainder of his score around and upon. It is a pleasant enough piece that in many ways evoked memories of some of the music from German produced westerns of the 1960s and 1970s. Strings take centre stage in most versions of the theme, at times being supported and embellished by woodwinds and female voices, (shades of Morricone). There is also a secondary romantically slanted theme which on track 4 is performed by solo piano; this too is an easy going and uncomplicated listen but a piece that is also effecting and enjoyable. Track 5 contains a more sinister arrangement of the theme or at least the composer fuses elements of it into the cue adding a touch of tension and urgency via the use of a spiteful and venomous sounding electric violin which literally scratches out the jagged and virulent variation of the romantic theme that certainly has the effect of making the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Track 7 is also interesting, solo female voice, organ, plucked violins and woodwinds combine to create a flowing and original sounding work.
The score also includes some urgent and dramatic cues as in track 2, ‘Hexerthema’, which contains a particularly outstanding driving and urgent trumpet performance, which is supported by snare drums augmented by strings and underlined by other percussive elements, again shades of Morricone or at least a characteristic of the Spaghetti western soundtracks of composers such as Morricone and Bruno Nicolai and their like. Having not seen the movie, I cannot comment how well the score works with the images, but it certainly works on its own as just music and is for the most part an interesting collection of themes. I particularly like the way in which the composer makes use of female voice whether it be a solo performance or a collection of voices, each time the renditions are polished and the sound that is achieved is imaginative. The scratchy sounding electric violin I also found intriguing, and Holm utilises it in a similar fashion to that of composer Jerry Goldsmith, in his more mischievous and threatening sections of GREMLINS and LEGEND. Overall Michael Holm‘s score for THE MARK OF THE DEVIL is essentially a good one that will appeal too and be of interest to many film music enthusiasts.
The second soundtrack included on the CD is THE MARK OF THE DEVIL II, which was released in 1972. The main music for this particular movie was the handiwork of Don Banks, John Scott and Sam Sklair, but whether or not the music was specifically composed for the movie is not clear. It could have been culled from other movies, which did sometimes happen as we all know. Don Banks of course is familiar to many via his marvellous scores for Hammer productions such as, THE MUMMY’S SHROUD, THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN and the excellent work that he did on THE REPTILE and RASPUTIN. The composer contributes some text book horror music for this project, and in fact I would say that the music here is of the same high quality to that of the music he composed for the Hammer studios, it is also good to have some of the composers music on disc; he has been sadly neglected, apart from a few cues on the GDI label in the Hammer series of soundtracks. John Scott too contributed some music for the score, Scott who is now a seasoned film music composer respected by many, began his career in film scoring as a composer by writing the music for another horror movie A STUDY IN TERROR, which was released during the mid 60s and involved Sherlock Holmes. Sam Sklair I must admit is a new name to me, but he has according to the CD liner notes worked on a number of movie scores as a composer and a conductor.
In my opinion the music for MARK OF THE DEVIL II, is maybe not as original as Michael Holms score for MARK OF THE DEVIL, but this does not mean to say that the music is not well written or poorly performed, because this is certainly not the case and it does have moments that are highly creative and interesting, especially John Scott’s contribution, ‘Drama Heights’ which is most definitely written in the style of John Barry. So as a whole this is a worthwhile purchase and one which I am sure will be of interest to most collectors of movie music. The CD is packaged well, with attractive and colourful art work and informative notes from composer Michael Holm and actor Udo Keir, there are also a number of stills from both movies. My advice to collectors is to seek this CD out as soon as possible, because it is a limited edition release and only 1000 disc’s have been pressed.