Mark of the Devil (German: Hexen bis aufs Blut gequält, lit. Witches Tortured till They Bleed) is a West German horror film released in 1970. It is most remembered for US marketing slogans devised by Hallmark Releasing Corp. that included "Positively the most horrifying film ever made" and "Rated V for Violence", while sick bags were given free to the audience upon admission.
While not prosecuted for obscenity, the film was seized and confiscated in the UK under Section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 during the video nasty panic.
Count Christian von Meruh (Udo Kier) is a witch hunter and apprentice to Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom) in early 18th-century Austria. He believes strongly in his mentor and his mission but loses faith when he catches Cumberland strangling a man to death for calling him impotent. Meruh begins to see for himself that the witch trials are a scam to rob people of their land, money, and other personal belongings of value and seduce beautiful women. Eventually, the townspeople revolt, and Cumberland escapes but Meruh is captured by the townspeople.
The film contains very strong graphic torture including a woman's tongue being ripped out of her head, nuns being raped, and multitudes of beatings.Herbert Lom - Lord Cumberland
Olivera Katarina - Vanessa Benedikt (credited as Olivera Vučo)
Udo Kier - Count Christian von Meruh
Reggie Nalder - Albino
Herbert Fux - Executioner
Michael Maien - Baron Daumer
Ingeborg Schöner - Nobleman's Wife
Johannes Buzalski - Advocate
Gaby Fuchs - Deidre von Bergenstein
Adrian Hoven - Nobleman
The film is based upon Michael Armstrong's 1969 script. The original plans were led by producer Adrian Hoven, who intended to produce, direct and star in the film. Hoven's version was a completely different film rumoured to have been called The Witch Hunter - Dr. Dracula. The film was made to cash in on the success of the Michael Reeves's 1968 classic Witchfinder General.
The production was filmed during the summer of 1969 in Austria. From the beginning production was difficult, including that at least half a dozen languages were spoken on set, which caused problems for the cast and crew. Producer Adrian Hoven and director Michael Armstrong disliked each other intensely and often argued over the slightest of things. Hoven made sure a small number of the scripts were kept on set and even cut some of Armstrong's footage, so his own ideas could be inserted in the film. Because cinematographer Ernst W. Kalinke was a friend of Hoven's, they would both film scenes without Armstrong's permission. It has been debated how much of Mark of the Devil was filmed by Armstrong and what by Hoven. To give the film some historical accuracy, it was filmed in an Austrian castle where actual witchfinding interrogations had taken place. This castle also served as a museum with authentic torture tools that were used in the film.
Mark of the Devil was released theatrically in West Germany on February 19, 1970.
The film was released theatrically in the United States by Hallmark Releasing in 1972 and has been available since then on VHS in a multitude of releases from different companies, all varying in terms of the violent content, and released on laserdisc by Elite Entertainment. The film was released on DVD by Anchor Bay Entertainment in 1998 and re-released by Blue Underground in 2004, with this release being deemed the most complete version of the film. Arrow Films released the film on March 17, 2015 uncut for the first time on Blu-ray Disc in the United Kingdom and United States. The release featured the High Rising Productions documentary film Mark of the Times and a special featurete over the distributor Hallmark Releasing with the docu Hallmark of the Devil.
The film was more successful at the box office than Witchfinder General and this success is often attributed to the aforementioned advertising campaign. The film has been criticized by many reviewers for being too violent to contain any message and far too exploitative whilst dealing with a serious historical subject. Other reviews praise the film for its soundtrack, special effects, and filming locations, consisting of the mountainous Austrian countryside and stately castles.
The University of Vienna's film studies conference Mark of the Devil: On a Classic Exploitation Film was held on 3–5 April 2014.
Producer Hoven delivered the official sequel, Mark of the Devil Part II (German: Hexen geschändet und zu Tode gequält) in 1973. In addition, several VHS companies sought to exploit the title's notoriety by retitling several unrelated European horror films as sequels (including films from the popular Blind Dead series).