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'The Touch of Satan' (1971): A Review

The Touch of Satan: Gentle, yet firm.
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The Touch of Satan

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The seventies was one of the most productive times in America cinema, seeing the creation and release of some of the most beloved films ever created: ‘Taxi Driver’ (1976); ‘Eraserhead’ (1977); ‘The Godfather’ (1972), and these and more were produced during a brief but wonderful time when Hollywood gave directors tremendous freedom, before the invention of the “blockbuster” ruined that, and reduced Hollywood to the merchandise-obsessed approach that it still follows to this day. But not every film made during the swinging seventies was a masterpiece, or work of groundbreaking entertainment as Don Henderson’s ‘The Touch of Satan’ (1971) proves (though Henderson does get credit for having one of the most honest titles in cinematic history as his film itself could only have been made and released into cinemas with help from the Dark Master himself).

While on his way to California, the laconic Jodie Thompson (Michael Berry) decides on a whim to make a brief side trip to a farm, where he meets and quickly falls in love with Melissa Strickland (Emby Mellay), the farmer's “daughter”. However, not long after that Jodie learns that Melissa is in fact a 120-year-old witch, and that her less-than-coherent (and quite homicidal) "great-grandmother," Lucinda (Jeanne Gerson), is actually her sister. Despite her insistence that she is possessed by Satan, Jodie insists on following her around like a recently adopted puppy, staying by her side even when her sister goes off the edge and murders a local policeman (among others), before starting to set her eyes on Jodie himself as her next possible victim.

Unlike a lot of terrible films, ‘The Touch of Satan’ boasts a cast that, while not the greatest stable of actors, could’ve been a whole lot worse (as other films have proven). But while the leads Berry and Mellay do a passable job in terms of acting (their occasional long pauses becoming rather irritating as the film progresses), ultimately it’s the script their given that prevents Henderson’s from rising out of its Z-grade status. The dialogue is not only awkward at times but atrociously written, a few of the more ridiculous gems being Melissa‘s insistence that she lives on a walnut “ranch” (not farm but ranch, as if walnuts were livestock), and her even more unintentionally hilarious delivery of the line “This is where the fish live” upon her and Berry’s arrival at a lake (Yes, Melissa. Fish do live in water, very good).

But even more aggravating than the film’s lackluster dialogue are the glaring plot-holes that appear to be evenly distributed throughout the film in order to ensure that from beginning to end the plot of Henderson’s work never borders on the edge of “making sense”. Initially, we are introduce to walnut-ranchers Luther (Lee Amber) and Molly (Yvonne Winslow) as Melissa’s parents, until the film reveals that Melissa is actually a 120-year-old witch, and not an 18-year-old girl. What the film neglects to mention, however, is who the heck Luther and Molly really are then, since they cannot be Melissa’s parents, nor her sister Lucinda’s children. Are they distant relatives? A pair of yokels who adopted Melissa and her homicidal sister despite all of the townspeople shunning her for making a pact with Satan? How did they ever come about and become a family? If you’re a glutton for punishment, you can watch the film more than once and try to figure it out, but the reward versus the risk doesn’t seem worth it.

Even more bewildering, however, than the aforesaid “family” plot-hole is the murder of a police officer at the half-senile hands of the preternaturally spry Lucinda. During the course of the film, Lucinda’s ill-defined homicidal rages have attracted the attention of the local authorities, one of whom shows up at the Strickland walnut ranch and finds evidence that Lucinda is responsible. Then, while talking on the radio to the local dispatch, Lucinda stabs the officer to death, an act of murder that her family (or whatever the Stricklands are to her) quickly covers up by pushing the dead officer and his car over a cliff. And the police do nothing after this. They don’t send an officer out to see what became of their other officer when his call suddenly stopped, nor do they go searching for him or his missing vehicle. Either the authorities are too busy handling all of the other farm-implement-related murders that evidently plague their small town, or the cop who got killed was such a jerk that their glad he’s gone and out of their lives. Again, feel free to try and figure it out for yourself since neither Henderson nor the screenwriter can be bothered to do it for you.

Lacking any genuine frights, suspense, and anything remotely akin to “logic”, Henderson’s ‘The Touch of Satan’ has little to no redemptive value save as a piece of ‘so-bad-its-good’ cinema, where its unintentionally hilarious dialogue and sheer affront to reason will provide more laughs of mirth than screams of fright to audiences willing to put up with the madness that is Henderson’s film. If you’re looking for a good unintentional comedy, then ‘The Touch of Satan’ is a perfect choice, while anyone in search of actually frights, however, are better off looking elsewhere, anywhere really, for their horror fix.

Find the nearest Blockbuster (assuming they still exist) near your home so you can rent this film almost immediately. Or, if you prefer that movies came to you instead, set up a Netflix account and start your ordering as soon as possible.