The Satanist, an occult-themed sexploitation/nudie film originally released in 1968, is an interesting piece of film history. Originally released in the Pussycat Theater chain of adult movie theaters, The Satanist had a decent run before its final screening in 1971. The film was reportedly never screened again after that date and never received any sort of home video release in the decades that followed. The movie was thought to be lost.
For a long time, the only way people would know The Satanist ever even existed was through the memories of the few who had seen it, and by the handful of advertisements that still exist. Then, in 2014, a single 35mm print of the film was finally discovered after more than 40 years. The Satanist was subsequently shown at various film festivals and received a 4K restoration and release from Garagehouse Pictures in October of 2016. Now the world can finally witness one of the most rare horror-nudies of all time, but after having watched it myself, I unfortunately feel that The Satanist is one of those movies where the story surrounding the film is more interesting than the movie itself.
The Satanist is about a husband and wife (Joe and Mary) who become the target of a beautiful female Satanist when they move to a small town. Joe is an overworked and overstimulated writer who has been ordered by his doctor to take it easy after suffering from a nervous breakdown, and his wife Mary is a city girl who has sacrificed her preferred metropolitan lifestyle in order to support her ailing husband. Getting away from the big city is supposed to help ease Joe’s troubled mind, but when he starts to see strange things such as a naked woman staring at him from a mirror or his neighbor magically turning into a man before having her (his?) way with a submissive topless woman, Joe is unsure if he’s having a relapse or if there really is an ominous presence coming for him. By the time he and Mary realize what is really happening, it might already be too late.
The plot of The Satanist is extraordinarily simple. It’s straightforward with no real twists or turns to speak of, and not a whole lot really happens. The run time of the film is just over an hour, but the whole story could probably be told just as effectively in about fifteen minutes. So what fills out the rest of that time? Gratuitous nudity (well, toplessness) and softcore sex scenes. When each new scene starts you can be sure it’s going to lead to an extended sequence of bare breasts and heavy petting. The nudity is really the entire point of the movie, and in that respect I think it performs admirably, but that also leads to my main complaint about The Satanist: the pacing.
The Satanist is only about an hour long, but it feels like much longer. While the inevitable nudity in every scene is understandable given the type of movie The Satanist is, I don’t think it’s necessary to completely stop the progression of the story in order to show some skin. If the nudity had been incorporated more into the plot it would have helped move the film along. As it is, it feels like the plot is merely a delivery system for a string of overlong topless romps. After the novelty of what I was watching wore off by the second scene, I found myself wanting to skip ahead once I could tell the movie was about to pause for another nudity-filled break.
On the other hand, if you realize what you’re getting into from the start and are a fan of sexploitation movies simply for the nakedness, then you probably won’t be disappointed with The Satanist. The women are attractive and the movie is, for the most part, nicely shot. What few visual effects are used are rather comical, and there is a tracking shot where you can clearly see the shadow of the rig holding the camera, but the black and white visuals are quite appealing to look at. The overall presentation of The Satanist does feel somewhat like an anomaly though.
By 1968, most films were being shot in color. There are, of course, some notable exceptions such as Night of the Living Dead, and I think subject matter of The Satanist fits nicely with the moody tone that a black and white picture can produce. But beyond the choice of shooting in black and white, The Satanist uses no live audio. The movie is narrated by the husband, Joe, and his is the only voice we hear in the entire film. A few sound effects are added here and there, and there is a nearly ever-present soundtrack of noodling guitars over a casual drumbeat, but those are the only sounds we hear. The choices in sound design, along with the way Joe narrates in a sort of matter-of-fact way, gives the movie a bit of a pseudo-documentary feel to me. Joe’s words come across as a kind of warning, a “don’t let this happen to you” kind of story, that makes it feel a little along the lines of films such as Reefer Madness. For these technical and thematic reasons, The Satanist feels like an older movie than it actually is.
The Satanist really does feel like a movie that exists outside of the time it was made. It came close to the tail end of the sexploitation explosion of the sixties before those softcore films were pushed aside for more explicit films in the seventies. But even though it came late in the canon of sexploitation, it seems to have been ahead of its time in terms of subject matter. Satanism, as in the religion created by Anton LaVey, was just beginning to emerge in the late sixties. LaVey’s Church of Satan was founded in 1966, two years before the release of The Satanist, but Satanism wouldn’t really grip the minds of the American public until the so-called “Satanic Panic” that began to emerge in the seventies. Now, I’m not saying The Satanist is in any way a serious take on Satanist philosophy. It isn’t. At all. It really just feels like director and writer Zoltan G. Spencer simply imagined what he thought Satanists might do and what they might look like without doing any real research. I just think it’s interesting that while the movie feels outdated in many ways, it also feels ahead of its time in others.
5 – Average
As a timeless curiosity, I think The Satanist is worth a watch for those of us who are fascinated by the history of film. Also, if you’re a fan of sexploitation, or of horror-nudies specifically, this could also warrant a look, though there are certainly better titles out there. For everyone else, I think you could probably skip The Satanist. There’s just not enough there on screen to hold most people’s interest for the entire sixty minutes. I’m happy the movie was found to still exist after forty years of obscurity, but I doubt it’s one I’ll ever visit again.
RECOMMENDATION FOR FURTHER WATCHING
Orgy of the Dead (1965)
I can’t say I’ve seen a ton of horror-nudies, but I have seen Orgy of the Dead. This was written by Ed Wood and features a horror setting as a flimsy excuse to string together a number of topless dance sequences. It’s pretty terrible, but terrible in that charming Ed Wood fashion that makes it eminently enjoyable. If you’re into that sort of thing.
Title: The Satanist
Director: Zoltan G. Spencer
Writer: Zoltan G. Spencer
Featured Cast: Pat Barrington, Mary Bauer
Run Time: 61 minutes
Availability: Blu-ray (buy it from Garagehouse Pictures)