Sunday, March 29, 2009


Though routinely treated as a horror film (especially by Dark Sky, the company that has issued this on DVD), this is really a period-piece swashbuckler, and as such it's enjoyable, but horror fans will certainly be disappointed, as will anyone hoping for the naughty decadence that title implies. The Hellfire Club was an underground social group of the 1700's which mocked religion in a rather tame manner but was known for supposedly indulging in black masses and orgies. In the movie's opening scene, two boys spy on a meeting of the club, during which it appears as if a Satanic human sacrifice is occurring, but it turns out to be an elaborate jest leading off a mass orgy. When discovered, one of the boys is whipped by his father, the club's leader, and when he and his mother try to escape, their carriage goes over a hill. Both are presumed dead, but the boy survives. Years later, the boy has become an acrobat in a traveling circus; when he (Keith Michell) finds out his father has died and the estate has passed into the hands of his cousin (Peter Arne), the second boy from the opening scene, Michell decides to go claim what is rightfully his. He poses as a groom, gets a job with Arne, has an affair with Adrienne Corri, Arne's lover, and attempts to find a missing document which will back up his claim on the estate. He is helped out by members of his circus troupe, including his longtime love, the buxom Kai Fischer, and by a lawyer (Peter Cushing, in what amounts to a cameo) who has been trying to get evidence against Arne on charges of espionage. At heart, this is a throwback to an old revenge melodrama, which in the classic movie era might have starred Douglas Fairbanks or Errol Flynn. The closest this film comes to that kind of talent is Arne, who does a nice job reveling in his villainy without going into camp. Michell is handsome but colorless, though he's quite good in a brief scene in which he masquerades as a foppish French nobleman. The plotting is satisfactory and the fight scenes are carried off nicely. If only there were a little more blood and a lot more orgies... [DVD]

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