VIDEO ODDITIES, or VHS: Video House Safari
THE KILLING OF SATAN
For those just tuning in: what I'm doing in this series is heading down to the local video store and finding interesting movies I've never heard of. For younger readers a "video store" was an establishment that you could walk or drive to and rent Video Home System cassettes, also known as VHS tapes, and/or dvds from an actual person to take back home for your own entertainment purposes (you had to bring it back, though.) I'm basing my selection on the outrageous video boxes, the kind that helped us decide whether a movie looked like it was worth our time back in the days before the internet started telling us everything there was to know about every film before they're even released. Then I'm writing about them.
This is a bittersweet entry in my ongoing Video Oddities series, the first I've written since the closing of Alexandria's famous Video Vault. Having access to their weird and wonderful library was the impetus behind this experiment, and now that amazing catalog has been scattered unto the winds. I'll find some way to keep finding odd and interesting titles to review and keep the series going, but the truth is I'd much rather be strolling the isles of the Vault (I mean "aisles" of course...I guess I'm just itching to get to this week's movie) than scrounging for bootlegs and vhs tapes long out of distribution. But I'll forge on in the name of video, may it rest in peace. What a shame, huh? Just think: if we still had the format, Avatar could have been promoted as "coming soon...to Na'video." Too bad James Cameron, it's the kind of technology you've been advancing that killed the possibility of such a witty advertising campaign for good. (Of course I guess you could still say Avatar is coming to "Blue" Ray...but that joke would probably be lost on most viewers.)
Also I want to apologize for the eight month gap between this entry and the last one. I had most of this written several weeks ago, but my old laptop had an accident and I had to start over from scratch. That is, I had to start over from Old Scratch!
(Please don't let that terrible joke discourage you from continuing on...)
#5: THE KILLING OF SATAN (1983)
"Satan has left his killing floor -
Satan, his fire burns no more!"
-Bruce Dickinson, "Killing Floor"
Great scholars debated it for centuries; no educated concensus was ever reached. It is simply one of the most fiercely argued theological riddles of all time, a question that has become the religious equivalent of "If God can really do anything, can He create a rock so heavy that He can barely lift it?" (I guess that is a religious question - moving on.) Its origin itself is a mystery: some say it first popped up in De Natura Deorum, Cicero's dialogue on Stoic and Epicurean philosophies, while others claim it appeared as early as 360 BC in the author's introduction to Timaeus by Plato or as an extended footnote in Aristotle's Metaphysics. Muhammed edh-Dhib may have found it etched in the walls of the eleven caves where he discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls; Charlemagne is rumored to have had a Latin inscription of it gracing his banners during his campaign against the Moors for his troops to contemplate as they marched to glory. The only thing we can be certain of is that nobody dared resurrect it in the modern age until the late 20th century, when Paragon Video boldly incorporated it into one of their vhs box designs...
"What Power Should a Man Possess to Challenge the Prince of Darkness?"
Isn't that beautiful? I think it's iambic pentameter, but don't quote me on that. Today's movie really put the "odd" in "video oddity." For good measure, it also supplies the "deo," which is the Latin word for god (actually "deus" is the word for god, "deo" being the dative or ablative singular form of "deus," but stick with me here.) I've seen some strange flicks in my time but this one was notable, which is exactly what I hoped for when I saw that gorgeously drawn cover and its querical tagline. In the days leading up to my viewing of The Killing of Satan, I tried to answer the question myself. What power should a man, a commoner like me, possess to challenge the devil? The power of flight? Nah, Satan's got wings (see: Black Sabbath's "War Pigs," or Ragnarok's "Under the Wings of Satan.") Telepathy, perhaps? Something tells me the things you would see in Satan's head would most likely destroy you before you even got close enough to do any harm. Pyrokinesis? Now you're just not paying attention to the question. As Don McLean enlightened us, "fire is the devil's only friend." Maybe some kind of Iceman/Mr. Freeze-type ice power? We're moving in the right direction with that one, but it still seems short of the ultimate goal. It would take a ton of ice to kill Satan - more, I'm guessing, than an average iceman could muster. The power of shapeshifting has its possibilities: you could make yourself look like George Burns and stroll around hell like you owned the joint. That is, until you and your cigar were crushed by the giant foot of Satan. Back to square one.
I won't keep you in suspense. According to the makers of The Killing of Satan, a man should possess:
- laser hand magic inherited from your dead uncle
- the strength of Goodness
- a magic stick given to you by God
- a stylish mustache
Even with all four of these weapons at their disposal, you figure the heroes of this movie are pretty ambitious. If they can pull this one off, it would unquestionably top the list of movie killings. Sister George, a Chinese bookie, the great chefs of Europe - their deaths are just not on the same level as the Prince of Darkness. You're going after Satan, you mean business, and these guys are not "satan killers" like you hear about in the news. They are not killers who worship Satan but rather guys who have it in their mind to take Satan out...permanently. And Paragon's cover suggests that in the end it's just one man, meek, humble and mustachioed, stepping up to the task. Not only to face Satan, the cover implies, but also a vicious dog, a giant snake, a mummy and a sexy invisible lady. I know - up to this point you were thinking taking on Satan might not be too bad but then they threw in a mummy and a snake and you started to have second thoughts. Of course that consideration is based entirely on whether the movie even features these creatures, and let's be realistic: the last Paragon video I reviewed, Dr. Butcher MD, claimed on the cover to be about a depraved, sadistic, bloodthirsty, homicidal rapist of a deviate doctor who makes house calls, complete with an artist's rendition of said medical maniac, and that turned out to be pure fantasy. Not movie fantasy, an advertising fantasy. There was every possibility that a rabid dog, huge snake, bandaged zombie, transparent seductress and even Satan himself might not appear in The Killing of Satan. But that's the risk I took when I brought the movie home.
Ultimately, the biggest claim of the cover is right there in the title: Satan actually dies. His reign ends here. By the end of the movie, somebody will kill the devil. The movie itself will depict the act of killing Satan. ...Or will it?
PART I: BLACK MAGIC
The movie opens on a lush, mountainous island. A scrawny, bearded man shouldering a heavy crucifix is flagellated via wet noodle on both sides of his bare torso at the head of a large crowd marching down a nondescript path. Two other seemingly condemned men follow with giant crosses of their own. At first I thought the movie was opening with the passion, a clever bookend set-up for a movie about the devil's ultimate defeat (The Bible Part II: It's Payback Time), but the scene is suddenly intercut with a group of people elsewhere on the same island driving around in cars wearing modern clothing. I had to rewind the movie three or four times to try and figure this one out. So is the parade supposed to be modern people reenacting the crucifixion as some sort of snuff religious ceremony, or is the film literally cutting back and forth between 33 AD and the present day? Maybe it's not Jesus, it's just some criminal and they still use crucifixion as capital punishment on this particular island. Would that explain it? Or did I pick up The Killing of Jesus* by mistake?
Whatever's going on with the crucifixion party, we leave them to it and follow the group of clearly contemporary people, who it turns out are a religious sect led by an older gentleman named Miguel. They've organized for some kind of rumble against a rival, decidedly evil-er cult dressed in matching black silk outfits that look like karate gees who have apparently been causing trouble in the area, trouble Miguel et al have gathered to put a stop to. These two factions are kind of like the Chang Sing and Wing Kong - we're never told why exactly they're fighting, and no gang member on either side ever says anything, they just use magic and weapons to kill each other. Miguel seems confident enough about their chances until he sees that his enemies are accompanied by a portly fellow with curly hair and frilly mustache dressed in red tights and matching red half-cape, a man the startled Miguel identifies (in kung fu movie-quality dubbed English) as the Prince of Magic. His mere presence seems to change the tide of the battle: the good guys aren't prepared for this, and neither are we...nobody asked what power a man should possess to challenge the Prince of MAGIC!
Turns out Miguel was right to be nervous: his powers seem useless against this new foe, and a simple gesture of the Prince of Magic's hand sends Miguel's head spinning in circles around his body. Miguel is tough enough that simply having his head rotated 360 degrees like a ceiling fan doesn't kill him right away, but it does mortally wound him. His group, properly chastised, slink away from the confrontation with the mocking laughter of the Prince of Magic on their backs. All seems lost, but a dying Miguel has an ace up his sleeve and issues a simple instruction to his disciples: get me Lando.
If that isn't enough of a badass introduction to Orlando San Miguel, we meet the man himself, decked out in denim sporting a Billy Dee-worthy 'stache, being released from prison after spending years on the inside. It turns out he killed a man "in order to protect the people of my community." At one point someone describes the man's face as having been "torn to pieces," so this must have been a particularly brutal act of protection on Lando's part. Unless Lando's people specifically requested for him to beat the guy until he was unrecognizable, you figure the dude must have really gotten on his bad side. But now Lando's out and repents his past sins, determined to maintain his vow of pacifism...he took a vow! But no sooner is he home with his family - petite wife, willowy daughter, headstrong son - that death threats from his victim's scornful brother reach him through the grapevine, forcing him to once again take up arms. "I never stopped calling on god," he tells his wife as he sits at the table cleaning his gun. It doesn't make her feel better: "You paid your past deeds...and now I see your hand holding an ugly, murderous thing!" Lando turns on the sensitive side, comforts his woman and lets her know that everything will be all right.
Five minutes later Lando is dead. Dead! The vengeful brother turns up outside his house with a posse of toughs in the middle of the night and starts calling Lando out. His wife advises him to "Ignore it - go back to bed." Go back to bed?? Armed criminals are in front of our house, you're saying just ignore them and they'll go away? This questionable advice seems a little more sound once Lando's son rushes out to face the intruders and gets blown away. Devastated, Lando runs to the window but before he can do anything gets a stray bullet through his brain. He collapses to the floor, lifeless, without even getting his gun to defend himself. Killed, practically by accident! Lando is dead! Our supposed champion, vanquished! These no-good punks (who subsequently die in a gunfight with the cops) have succeeded in the killing of Lando!
Or have they? I mean yeah, they have - his body lies on the bed next to his son as the women cry over their corpses. But back on the island inhabitants are gathered around a cross-shaped arrangement of candles praying and repeating their chant requesting Lando's presence: "Orlando San Miguel...Wherever you are...heed the prayer of your Uncle Miguel...hear our calling..." (nobody thought to use a telephone?) Continuing their summons into the night they seem persistent enough, but none of them even knows Lando is dead. I started to wonder if Lando was NOT the mustachioed hero of the cover...maybe it's the Prince of Magic, a flunkie for the devil who trades sides a'la Darth Vader? We're 10 minutes into the film, and already things seem hopeless.
* Japanese title for Mel Gibon's Passion of the Christ.
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