The Devil’s Nightmare / The Devil’s Longest Night / The Devil Walks at Midnight / Succubus / Vampire Playgirls / Castle of Death / La Notte Terrificante del Demonio / La Plus Longue Nuit du Diable (1971/1972) ***
Redemption Video strikes again. Unlike most of the movies in the Redemption catalog, this Belgian-Italian co-production had already seen release in the English-speaking world, both theatrically and on home video. The Devil’s Nightmare/La Notte Terrificante del Demonio/La Plus Longue Nuit du Diable is a bit tame by its current distributor’s usual standards, without a lot of gore and with far more tease than actual nudity, but it’s also much better written, acted, and directed than the likes of Nude for Satan or The Reincarnation of Isabel.
In Berlin, during the waning days of World War II, high-ranking Wehrmacht officer Baron von Rhoneberg (Jean Servais) is on leave with his adjutant, a corporal named Hans, to witness the birth of his child. Von Rhoneberg’s young wife dies giving birth (I can’t say I’m surprised— labor takes a lot out of a woman even without the Eighth Air Force to complicate matters), but when the midwife breaks the bad news to the baron, all he seems to care about is the sex of the newborn child. I guess von Rhoneberg really wanted a boy— after the midwife tells him he has a daughter, the baron has Hans herd her down to the basement, at which point he stabs the infant in the heart with his bayonet.
When we next catch up with von Rhoneberg, it’s a good quarter of a century later, and he is living a life of seclusion at his ancestral castle. An extremely pushy reporter is trying— trying— to interview him for some sort of article on his home and its history, but the baron just wants to be left alone. He sends the reporter packing, explicitly saying as he does so that she is not allowed to take any pictures on her way off of the castle grounds. Naturally, the reporter pays this prohibition no heed at all; in fact, she embarks on a veritable self-guided tour of the estate, snapping photos all the while. This is a big mistake, though, because her wanderings lead her straight into the arms of something very nasty. The villagers who find her corpse later remark that she looks as though she died of sheer fright— the only mark on her body is an oddly geometrical burn on her left wrist.
Meanwhile, a tour bus full of well-nigh insufferable doofi (who, alas, are to be our heroes this evening) has encountered some unforeseen difficulties not far away. They’re already well behind schedule, and the main road through the hills leading to their destination appears to be blocked. There is a ferry that will get them to where they’re going if they turn back and take an alternate route, but the strange-looking local in the black cloak of whom the bus driver asks advice (Daniel Emilfork, from Kill! and The Doll, whom we’re going to see a lot of before this is all over) says it stops running after dark, and there’s just no way the bus is going to get there by nightfall. The only thing for it, or so it appears, is to head over to Castle von Rhoneberg and attempt to impose upon the baron’s hospitality.
One assumes it’s the fact that this bunch aren’t going to be writing any exposés that makes all the difference, because von Rhoneberg has his butler— who turns out to be his old wartime adjutant— prepare rooms for all the tourists. The funny thing, though, is that all the arrangements have already been made by the time the baron’s guests arrive at the castle door. Hans says that a woman whose voice was unknown to him telephoned to explain the situation, and he naturally assumed the call came from someone in the tour group. Be that as it may, Hans conducts everyone to their rooms, rattling off the stories of the infamous deeds that took place in each, seemingly oblivious to the possibility that tales of exorcism, murder, and fatal accidents might seem off-putting to von Rhoneberg’s guests. The bus driver, a grouchy old man named Mason (Lucien Raimbourg), and a seminarian called Albin Sorrel (Jacques Monseau) each get separate rooms. A fourth room goes to the constantly bickering Howard (Lady Frankenstein’s Lorenzo Terzon) and Tanya Foster, while the young and lovely Regine (Shirley Corrigan, from Dr. Jekyll and the Werewolf and Secrets of a Call Girl) and Corinne (Ivanna Novak, of Violent Protection and The Big Bust Out)— who are the subject of much of that bickering, incidentally— get paired up in a fifth. The camera lingers in each chamber just long enough to give the audience some idea what each of the characters is about, and then it’s time-out for a surprisingly modest lesbian sex scene starring Corinne and Regine. Finally, 8:00 in the evening rolls around, and the seven visitors emerge to join their host for dinner.
About halfway through the second course, Baron von Rhoneberg acquires an eighth guest. A stunning redhead named Lita Müller (Erika Blanc, from The Night Evelyin Came Out of the Grave and Mark of the Devil II) knocks on the door and asks to be allowed to stay the night. Martha the maid (who seems to know the girl) tries to send her away on the grounds that the tour group have already accounted for all of the guest bedrooms, but Hans (who clearly has no idea who Lita is) overhears the conversation and contradicts Martha— evidently there’s one room left after all. Lita comes to dinner just as the baron is satisfying Regine’s curiosity about the family curse that Hans had alluded to earlier. In an obviously calculated moment, the new girl walks in wearing an eye-poppingly skimpy gown just as the baron finishes explaining that an ancestor of his made a pact with Satan according to which each firstborn daughter of the von Rhoneberg family would become a succubus. And just to make sure we’re all on the same page, Albin Sorrel helpfully clarifies that a succubus is a female demon who uses her sex appeal to “lead men to perdition.”
So can you guess how Lita is going to be spending her night? Yup— she’s going to lead von Rhoneberg’s guests to perdition one by one (or two by two, in some cases). Now obviously, this means that she’s got to be the baron’s daughter, and indeed she is. Despite spending his life taking even such drastic measures as infanticide to insure that he would escape the von Rhoneberg curse, the baron ended up with a Hell-spawned daughter anyway as the result of an affair with Martha. Martha kept her daughter’s birth a secret, and her boss never did catch on. Eventually, all but Albin Sorrel fall to the succubus’s temptations, and she immediately slays each of them while their souls are in a state of mortal sin. The strategy Sorrel adopts in a desperate gambit to un-damn his erstwhile companions— and the ramifications that follow from it— is probably this movie’s most effective and surprising plot twist.
It may ultimately be just another trashy European sexploitation horror flick, but The Devil’s Nightmare has some unexpected strengths. Though it is compromised by a lack of thematic follow-through, the conceit that Lita has one potential victim for each of the Seven Deadly Sins is a cool touch— remember, this was 24 years before Seven. And Erika Blanc makes a terrific succubus. Not only is she exceedingly sexy in a predatory way that I somehow can’t quite put my finger on, she also has an extraordinarily expressive face that the most minimal makeup can transform from beguiling beauty to repellant ugliness. Then of course there’s the whole matter of the ending, which I’m not going to talk about beyond to say that it plays very skillfully on audience expectations. I’m a little disappointed that we never get to see what’s underneath those tight little shorts Shirley Corrigan wears, but The Devil’s Nightmare has enough to offer otherwise that I don’t really mind all that much.