Reviews

Reviews 31 Days of Horror V

Nude for Satan

Nude for Satan

Nuda per Satana

Luigi Batzella

Italy, 1974

Credits

Review by Megan Weireter

Posted on 09 October 2008

Source Image Entertainment (Redemption) VHS

Categories 31 Days of Horror V

Nudity has long been a staple of the horror genre. From a practical standpoint, if you’re already getting the R or X rating for the gore you’re putting on film, throwing in some tits and ass can only help attract your target audience of teenage and young adult males. So why not? And then there are artistic and thematic considerations: The core human fears of sex and death, linked. The heightened vulnerability of the naked body under the camera’s gaze and under a killer’s knife. The implication of the film’s audience in the act of eroticizing violence.

I’m positive that the makers of Nude for Satan mulled over these and many even bullshittier ideas about nudity in horror, and figured they could make some kind of existential art film that also happened to show a lot of bare breasts and vaguely scary stuff—and while they were at it, they could go for broke on the title. Strangely, though, Nude for Satan manages to be richly textured, striking, pompous, and stupefyingly silly all at once. The back of the box says it’s a “lost masterpiece,” and though this is utterly not the case, it’s certainly a film with some interesting surprises.

Oh, the goodies this title promises! Nudity! Satanism! And… well, that’s it, really, but it’s more than enough when you’re renting a horror movie based solely on the title and the cover art. To be honest, I’d had enough experience with this sort of film that I was fearful there would be neither nudity nor Satan here at all (just as The Mutilator features no mutilations, Troll II is about goblins, The Blood-Spattered Bride is neither blood-spattered nor a bride, etc. etc.). So it’s a relief that even the ad for the distributor, Redemption, that begins the VHS release features naked vampire women getting fake blood all over each other. A promising start indeed.

No less promising is the opening shot of the film, showcasing a naked woman running through the woods in slow motion. The credits roll several Italian names by, which is usually a good sign if you like your horror gory, impressionistic, and nonsensical. (In this film, we get two out of three.) It is a dark and stormy night. A doctor with the very Italian name of William Henry Benson drives a VW Bug through the countryside. Suddenly, there’s a mysterious car accident. A beautiful woman has been injured, and there’s no help nearby except in the big scary mansion right over there—better go inside and check it out.

It turns out there’s a whole movie inside this house—and indeed, the movie is more like a carnival haunted house put on for neighborhood kids than a real movie, in that it’s packed with pretty much every hackneyed scary element the filmmakers could think of without heed to continuity or, frequently, sanity. People who disappear? Sure. People who move in and out of paintings? Okay. An extra from Disney World’s Haunted Mansion running around shrieking and laughing with a knife in his neck? Absolutely. (He might have actually come from the Hall of Presidents—he bears a striking resemblance to John Adams.) And are there plenty of drippy candles, weird shadows, a black cat, and strange ancient torture devices all over the place? Of course. Pack it all in—you can never have too much haunted house! Oh, one more thing: there’s a gigantic ancient book on a podium with pages that occasionally get ruffled by a wind from nowhere. William begins to read from it – “You will see through the darkness…” – but gets distracted. I wonder if the book will end up being important somehow?

The house is presided over by a man whose identity we can guess if we’ve read the title of the film carefully. He suggestively fondles his cane and looks intently at everybody as if undressing them with his eyes—in fact, when he meets the beautiful car accident victim, he literally undresses her with his eyes! Satan otherwise behaves decently to the victim, Susan Smith (another very Italian name), offering her a bed, a bath, and a naked woman to visit her in the bath. (Susan takes to her immediately.) But Susan is confused. She has a fuzzy memory of a man named William who helped her after the accident. Where is he? Did he come here?

William has been living large—in the same house, but also in some other plane of existence—with a curly-haired doppelganger of Susan, who accosted him soon after he entered. She calls him “Peter” and caresses him as if she hasn’t seen him in years, so, in order to get laid, William just kind of goes with the mistaken identity thing. But increasingly, time seems to have no meaning. (This is helpfully spelled out for us by several characters who say “Time has no meaning.”) Susan closes a door on a bright sunny day, then opens it again a minute later to find that night has fallen. And when she thinks she’s found William, he’s bizarrely sinister, and dressed in antique clothes. It’s almost as if everything is an illusion. (This is helpfully spelled out for us by several characters who say “Everything is an illusion.”) Even Satan seems to have his own problems, vague as they might be—problems that force him to whip a random naked woman who appears to be astrally projecting herself.

At this point – at which, in a stunning reversal of my usual thinking with these movies, I want to scream “Enough with the nudity and sex! How about something scary?” – I almost get my wish. Frightened, Susan falls into some kind of abyss and lands in a gigantic spider web, where she’s attacked very, very slowly by a huge papier-mâché spider. Finally, William, roused by her screams, escapes the embrace of the weird evil Susan-doppelgänger to come rescue the real Susan. Okay, not scary, but a pleasingly traditional horror set piece, and a breath of fresh air from the artsy-fartsiness.

But the dumbest stuff is still to come: namely, a lengthy conversation between William and his evil half about the nature of evil and selfhood. It turns out that this house is where the evil sides of people’s personalities come to live (albeit with curly hair1 and nineteenth-century clothing), and they’re all totally annoying. This scene is clearly supposed to be the crux of the film, one in which the filmmakers showcase themes about human nature’s inherent wickedness—themes that no doubt seemed very interesting over those bong hits the other night. But the film is impossible to take seriously, and not only because it’s wrapped up in the shiny package of a softcore porn movie that happens to star a giant papier-mâché spider. The other major problem is that in Nude for Satan, everyone evil – the evil doppelgängers of William and Susan, as well as Satan himself – speaks in the language of C-average college philosophy majors. “You’d be a fool to live only what you think exists,” sneers Evil William. To which Good William replies plaintively, “I live in an alienated world where reason is lost.” Admittedly, we’re probably losing something in the subtitles here, but I prefer to think that the dialogue is at least this bad in Italian.

The film is saved slightly by the predictable yet delightful ending, in which naked women and loinclothed men orgy-dance around for Satan’s amusement while Evil William makes out with Half-Evil Susan (don’t ask). But all the dancing is done halfheartedly enough that the whole thing ends with a fizzle. Never mind, though. Nude for Satan, whatever its flaws, did live up to my simultaneously low and high expectations. Had I rented this as a teenager, I’d have been flummoxed not just that it had nudity at all, but by the sheer quantity of nudity—though I’d have been sad to not get more gore, or at the bare minimum, more horror. As it is, though, I’ll remember this film less as typical Italian horror fare, and more as Subpar Hammer Film Ripoff meets Reject Red Shoe Diaries Episode—always remembering, as this film taught me, that that memory itself is “nothing but a fraction of time wrapped in the parentheses of the past.” Whatever the hell that means.


  1. If the film is correct in supposing that evil halves have curly hair, then what about me, who actually has curly hair? Does my evil half have even curlier hair? Or straight hair? Or, could it be that… I’m actually my own evil half? Truly, the mind boggles.

Information from VHS Sleeve

Nude for Satan

Year
1974

Run Time
82 minutes

Director
Luigi Batzella (as Paolo Solvay)

VHS Distributor
Image Entertainment (Redemption) VHS

Relevant Cast
[none]

Relevant Crew
[none]

Tag Line
[none]

Rating
Unrated

Clamshell?
No

Quote
“Glorious, delirious and surreal, featuring a particularly horny spider.” —The Redeemer Magazine

Masterpiece?
No

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