Tuesday, February 7, 2023

“The World Is Full of Georges” - Legacy of Satan (1974) - Film #244

The decade of the 1970s was no stranger to cinematic classics; at the forefront of classics is the film we shall discuss today, Legacy of Satan (1974), perhaps the only non-pornographic film directed by Gerard Damiano.

Not all of your universe's critics are enchanted by Legacy of Satan, however. For example, reviewer babeulous writes, "The vampire wears a 1970s pink ruffled shirt and everybody has 1970s hair." (There is no vampire in the film, of course, and the film was made in the middle of the 1970s, so it is difficult to take this respected critic's insults seriously.) Reviewer mark.waltz writes, "Hideous and unwatchable in every way." And reviewer Leofwine_drac writes that Legacy of Satan is "a film which is difficult to sit through because it feels so tame, drawn-out, and dull."

Read on for an appreciation that counters these ridiculously unfounded aspersions...

The film begins where any film with the word “Satan” in the title should: in the middle of a Satanic ceremony with a dozen scantily clad men and women, and one woman tied to a stone wall. A priestess fills the audience in on the situation: “In the beginning, it was preordained that every one thousand years, when Saturn is in conjunction with the sun and Mars is in the fifth house, only in this precise moment in astral time can this union take place.” The union is between the chained woman and Lord Rakeesh, a blond man who sits on a throne wearing a robe (later known by his human name, Dr. Mulvado).

The film cuts suddenly to the most 1970s apartment in existence, where a couple named George and Maya entertain an architect (or possibly a car mechanic, based on the dialogue) named Arthur who is quitting as one of George’s employees.

George asks Arthur why he is quitting, adding, “I wouldn’t mind if you were going on to something meaningful.”

“Don’t be so obstinate, George,” Maya scolds him. “Arthur has his own life and I’m sure he has his own reasons.”

“Well, I’ll buy that, but what?”

“Do you believe in God?” Arthur asks.

“Religion? Didn’t I tell you he’s flipping his cork?” George says, and immediately adds, “Okay, I believe in God but don’t tell me you’re going to run off to a monastery and become a monk or something.”

Bizarrely, Maya repeats her previous scolding statement almost word-for-word: “Now, George, don’t be so obstinate. Arthur has his own life and I’m sure he has his own reasons.”

Arthur explains he is interested not in God but God’s opposite, the devil.

“And witches and goblins and things that go bump in the night, huh?” George laughs.

“That too,” confirms Arthur. “At this very moment, there are forces at work. Perhaps right now there’s a messenger moving, gliding, reaching out for us.”

Mildly perplexed by his friend’s apparently sincere interest in Satanism, George asks Maya to get Arthur a drink.

The film cuts to an exterior shot of New York City, where a mustachioed man dressed in black climbs a staircase. He enters a bedroom at the top of the stairs, sees a man and woman making love, nods approvingly, then leaves the room. The love-makers are George and Maya, though their bedroom looks nothing like their purple apartment. “I wish I were well,” Maya tells George. “You know, a little more passion. I just want to please you.”

As they make love, the man with the mustache drives to a massive stone castle and opens the front doors with his mind. He gives a photograph to a man named Dr. Mulvado and a mute woman named Aurelia, after which the doctor finds Arthur licking fresh blood from a woman who has sliced a shallow slit along her arm. Dr. Mulvado tells Arthur he wants him to invite George and Maya to the castle.

Meanwhile, a sleeping Maya has a dream in which the Satanists, led by Dr. Mulvado, sacrifice a woman while burning a picture of Maya. When Maya wakes up, she feels amorous and pushes his hand toward her crotch. “Do you feel the warmth?” she asks.

They make love again, and this time Maya scratches George and drinks his blood.

The next day, in a cinematic tour de force, the downstairs door of George and Maya’s apartment opens and closes as something that is apparently invisible creeps upstairs toward Maya, who notices blood dripping from eyes on a poster on the wall.

When Maya investigates the blood, she is attacked by a now-visible creature.

Of course, everything suddenly goes back to normal, confusing Maya. (The creature never appears again.) Later, she has dinner with George, who asks what she is thinking about. “Cherry pie,” answers Maya as she pushes a steak knife through a cherry pie. “It looks like blood. Don’t you think it looks like blood?”

“No,” George responds sensibly, “I think it looks like cherry pie.”

“Now?” she asks as she cuts up the pie with the knife. “Now does it look like blood?”

“No, it looks like mashed-up cherry pie.”

Maya cuts her finger intentionally with the knife. “Now look what you made me do.” She forces George to lick her blood. 

They get a phone call from Arthur indicating they’ve been invited to a costume party, and the host will provide a chauffeured limousine as well as costumes for George and Maya. 

“That’s just the kind of thing that really annoys me, honey,” George scolds her. “You didn’t even ask me. And who the hell is giving this party?”

“I want to go, George.” She starts crying, then asks him, “Why do you keep hounding me?”

Of course, they decide to go to the party, but later, when they are getting ready, Maya admits she is afraid. The phone rings and George answers, but nobody says anything.

The film cuts to Dr. Moldavo’s mansion, where Arthur has dialed his friends, apparently to warn them to stay away. Moldavia discovers Arthur, who dismisses him. “Go and wait for me below. I will punish you later.”

(It must be noted that Dr. Mulvado wears a crescent moon pendant around his neck that looks nearly life-sized, and might be just a smidge too large to be considered fashionable.)

In the next scene, Arthur is tortured by the Satanic woman, who cut his arms and suck his blood. “Slowly,” Dr. Mulvado warns. “Not too quickly. Arthur is much too precious to be wasted so quickly.”

In the limo, Maya asks George worriedly, “Do you think I’m too cold or something like that? Do you think I could be a little sexier?” He replies that she can be cold sometimes, but she ignores his response. Eventually, they reach the mansion where the party is being held. As Maya and George walk from the limo to the house, the filmmakers cut to Dr. Mulvado in an upper-floor room as he watches them through the window. “You truly are a queen, my Maya. The gods have chosen wisely.” Then he drinks a cup of, probably, blood given to him by his mute female servant Aurelia. “Tonight must be the night to end all nights,” he says eloquently before arguing with his mute friend and then kissing her neck.

Meanwhile, Maya and George change into their costumes. Maya’s is a slightly revealing white nightgown, while George’s is a kind of silky jester outfit. Maybe?

They are given something to drink and immediately become intoxicated. Maya dances around the table while George sits back in his chair, dazed. In a hallucinogenic sequence, Maya walks through a purple corridor, stalked by robed weirdos. Then she climbs down a spiral staircase, where she is confronted by a werewolf in a blue shirt.

“How strange,” she says. “Where am I?”

“Here,” the werewolf tells her, perhaps unnecessarily. “We’ve been waiting for you.”

He guides Maya to an orgy of costumed individuals who cut each other and suck each others’ blood. The werewolf leads Maya to a dark room and tells her she needs to cross into the light. “Look!” He points into the darkness.

The film cuts to an exterior forest scene in daylight, where Maya has apparently crossed into another reality. She finds Dr. Mulvado, who tells her time is irrelevant. 

“There’s some sort of strange bond between us, isn’t there?” Maya asks.

He doesn’t respond to her directly, but he tells her he wants her to stay with him. She asks about George and he replies, “The world is full of Georges.” She takes his hand. “You will glory in my power,” he says, somewhat confusingly.

Back at the mansion, an unconscious George is carried into a large walk-in safe, which is closed and locked.

In the sunlit alternate world, Dr. Mulvado takes Maya to the bedroom of a cabin and helpfully explains his backstory. “When I was a young man, life held nothing for me. I neither loved, nor was I loved. Each day was no different than the day before. I reached out for anything, a distraction perhaps to get me out. They found me. A world with men who like I would dare to defy convention. Who would enter into darkness in order to seek light. For you see, to live, you must drink life, that fluid which rushes through each of us. That life fluid which exceeds all thirst awakens in me a hunger for the dark, the forbidden. It took possession of me. I was freed, and I thirsted for a power that few men ever dream of.”

“You frighten me,” Maya says, perhaps understanding what he means by “life fluid.” Or perhaps not.

He says, “The air is filled with demons. Charged with demons. I raised them. They are my power. Each act of horror you will see here is rushing in, homage to their magnificence.”

Cleverly, he uses his giant crescent moon pendant to cut her throat, though we see no blood.

Building to the climax, back in the real world the Satanists carry an unconscious and nearly naked Arthur to a ceremonial altar. The film returns to his opening scene as a Satanic priestess asks Lord Rakeesh to allow his followers to reign over all darkness throughout all of eternity.

Mulvado drinks some more blood and pledges his devotion to Lord Rakeesh. However, his ceremony is interrupted suddenly by the appearance of Aurelia and George, who for some reason wields what appears to be a light saber.

Mulvado stabs Aurelia to death and pleads with Lord Rakeesh to strike George down, but George hits Mulvado in the head with his light saber. To make matters worse for the evil doctor, Mulvado falls off a balcony onto a stone floor. Then George grabs Maya’s arm and leads her away from the altar.

Shockingly, Mulvado is not dead. He rises, half his face disfigured in a way that might be interpreted as hideous.

George leads Maya through the forest. She tells him to put his light saber down (“They’ll see us. And besides, it’s hurting my eyes.”) and he complies. This is just a ruse, however, as the Satanists grab George as soon as he puts the light saber down. Maya is revealed to be one of the Satanists. 

In the end, the Satanists gather in Maya’s apartment. The only way to save Mulvado is with blood, so Maya orders one of the Satanists to cut another Satanist’s throat. Mulvado drinks the blood. However, it is not enough, so Maya kills the final Satanist by stabbing her with a piece of mirror. Even the last follower’s blood is insufficient. Mulvado finally dies. Maya weeps uncontrollably and pleads to Lord Rakeesh, “Do not desert him. Bring him back to me so that we may both serve him. Give me your son!”

She turns her cheek away from the dead Mulvado, and we see her cheek is somewhat disfigured as his was. Then the film simply ends.

It is said that Legacy of Satan was conceived (and possibly originally filmed) as hardcore pornography but it was reconceived (by director Gerard Damiano or by the distributor, the infamous Bryanston Pictures) as a mainstream horror film. In any case, the film fits well into the body of films about Satanic cults in the mid-1970s. It bears some resemblance to the work of Andy Milligan in terms of settings and acting, though the dialogue in Legacy of Satan is considerably less action-packed than that of Mr. Milligan. One thing the film shares with most Satanist films of the 1970s is its tantalizing lack of clarity about the cult members' ultimate goal. It appears that Dr. Mulvado wants to give Lord Rakeesh a physical, earthly form through the union of Dr. Mulvado and his chosen bride, Maya, on a specific date that occurs only once every thousand years. If this is the plan, however, Dr. Mulvado's cult was nowhere near completion of any kind of ritual union when its meeting was broken apart by George and his light saber (which, after George's shocking demise/capture at Maya's hands, is apparently still lying in a forest somewhere near a mansion). At the end of the film, the remaining cult members' goal seems to be simple: saving Dr. Mulvado's life by giving him blood. This is unsuccessful, and it appears Maya, as the last cult member, will die soon as well, tragically eliminating the possibility of a sequel.

As far as I can surmise from my quick perusal of Gerard Damiano's credits, Legacy of Satan represents his only foray away from pornography. It must have been considered unsuccessful, as Mr. Damiano's credits include dozens of pornographic efforts after 1974, and no horror films. It must be noted that, though some might find its pacing awkward, Legacy of Satan is visually inventive, with excellent production design and costumes (George's harlequin outfit notwithstanding). Mr. Damiano, had he not found pornography more lucrative, could have had a long, innovative career in horror films.