Monday, September 24, 2012

DVD Review: IN THE DEVIL'S GARDEN (1971)


IN THE DEVIL'S GARDEN (1971)

aka: Assault; The Creepers; Satan's Playthings; or Tower of Terror  

Label: VCI Entertainment 
Region Code: 1 NTSC
Dration: 91 Minutes
Rating: R
Video: 16x9 Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 and Enhanced 5.1 Surround 
Cast: Suzy Kendall, Frank Finlay, Freddie Jones, James Laurenson, Lesley-Anne Down, James Cosmo
Director: Sidney Hayers
Tagline: Don't Go Down in the Woods today...

Synopsis: In this slickly made thriller, a 16-year-old girl is brutally assaulted and raped in the woods near her London
school. Struck dumb by her experience, she remains so until a second girl is murdered. The school art teacher (Suzy Kendall) claims to have seen the killer -- who looks like Satan himself -- and she decides to set him a trap with herself as bait. A British flavored giallo, and a ripping good whodunit!


The Film: In the Devil's Playground (1971) begins at the end of a school day as the kids are dismissed for the day, a young teen in a white blouse and pink skirt with knee high stockings cuts through the forest nearby. Listening to her transistor radio she walks carefree along earthen path. What she does not realize is that she's being observed from off the path by someone stalking her every move.When the attacker makes himself known she flees in terror and we get a pretty decent chase scene. Near an electrical tower she is caught, partially stripped and raped - she's left in a semi-catatonic state unable to identify the perp who's face is never revealed. The attack is violent but the film does not hang over it, the film instead chooses a close-up of the young woman's muffled suffering. This is perhaps the first clue that what we're in for here is more aligned with a police procedural whodunit than a stylish and violent Giallo along the lines of Dario Argento's Deep Red (1975) or Lucio Fulci's Don't Torture a Duckling (1972), the sexualized violence is tame and the cinematography is very workmanlike, not dissimilar to a made-for-TV production. Likewise the score is obnoxiously 70's television oriented and took me right out of the moment, really ghastly stuff.

After the attack the young ladies of the academy are warned not to walk alone for fear of another attack but a girl named Susan unwisely cuts through the forest and pays for her ignorance when she is attacked and raped. When the school's art teacher Julia West (Suzi Kendall, Torso) realizes that young Susan is not among the group of girls she's driving home she is told that she went through the wood. Alarmed by the thought of harm coming to the girl she drives hurriedly down the forest path hoping to catch up with her but loses control of the car on a muddy stretch and spins out of control stopping askew in the road. Steadying herself and about to drive off she catches a glimpse of someone in the brake lights through the rear window illuminated by the red glow of her tail lights, someone whom looks strikingly like Old Scratch himself, Satan, it's a great effect and nicely framed. The figure quickly disappears from sight and she realizes that he was huddled over the body of young Susan who's been strangled to death.

As the typically incompetent authorities investigate they find it hard to swallow that Satan is the culprit and instead focus on more Earthbound suspects including an obnoxious crime scene reporter (Freddie Jones, Dune), Greg Lomax (James Laurenson, The Monster Club) a psychologist and the pervy husband of the school's strict head mistress - yup, there's a full arsenal of red herrings but it's not hard to figure out who the culprit is.


The Giallo elements are pretty weak, we get a unseen killer stalking young women adorned in the traditional black-leather gloves but none of the sexy style we get from an Argento, Fulci or Martino. When the killer's identity is revealed it's not a surprise, his identity having long been broadcast several times over thus the mystery of the whodunit is altogether lost. Slightly redeeming this entry is a snappy finale that starts with the use of an experimental drug called "Pentothal" meant to bring the first catatonic victim out of her dumb struck state, it's very solid and goes a long way toward redeeming the film with a "shocking" reveal followed by a close quarter struggle culminating at the scene of the original attack and ending with someone set afire in a crackle of high voltage electricity - it's fun stuff but not enough to fully redeem a film that starts in really fine fashion but labors to keep one's attention and in the end, despite a punchy finale, is an exercise in whodunit mediocrity.

The acting is pretty solid throughout, particularly Suzy Kendal who herself is no stranger to the Giallo having appeared in both Sergio Martino's Torso (1973) and Dario Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) among many others. There's not a rotter in the bunch, but it's just dull in a dry, very stuffy British sorta way which might have had a lot to do with my lack of interest in the film. What I loved was pretty much anything shot in the forest which was well-shot, great atmosphere and creepy - particularly the numerous woodland chase scene with plenty of creepy POV shots.

DVD: VCI Entertainment presents In the Devil's Garden on DVD for the first time in the US with an anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer. It's sourced from a clean print but I wanna say this is a PAL to NTSC conversion with some of the tell-tale video jitters, the image is soft, murky and colors are muted. We get two audio options, a English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix and enhanced 5.1 Surround Sound. The audio is a bit boxy with no depth to it and that awful score isn't helped by the poor fidelity either. The menu is a simple static menu and there are no bonus features on the disc.



Verdict: In the Devils Garden has some of the elements of a black-gloved Giallo but at it's heart is more of a straight whodunit and lacks the sleaze and style of an Argento, Martino or Fulci. As a thriller it's mildly successful but as a Giallo this is disappointing, maybe I am just a perv but I wanted a bit more sleaze with my blacked-gloved shenanigans, it almost went there but pulled back against it's darker nature much to my dismay. 2.5 Outta 5

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