Mark Of The Devil

German title: Hexen bis aufs Blut gequält

Michael Armstrong
Michael Armstrong (under the pseudonym Sergio Casstner)
Adrian Hoven
Mark Of The Devil
Herbet Lom
(Lord Cumberland)
Udo Kier
Olivera Vuco
Reginald Nalder
Michael Maien
(Baron Daumer)
Herbert Fux
(Jeff Wilkens)
Johannes Buzalski
Ingeborg Schöner
Gaby Fuchs
Doris von Danwitz
Günther Clemens
Running Time:
92 minutes
Available on DVD from Amazon.
Read on: History >> Mark Of The Devil

Mark Of The Devil - History

Filmed in the summer of 1970.

At the beginning of 1970, Paramount, in line with other major American studios, decided to close down its European production side and consolidate its ailing fortunes in Hollywood. This resulted in Armstrong's film, The Kinky Death-Wish Of Vernon Slim, being put on hold, alongside those of many other British film-makers.

Keen to get her client working again, Dina Lom, Armstrong's agent at Lom Associates, therefore quickly seized upon an opportunity to involve Armstrong in a project she was helping to package for a business acquaintance, the German actor and producer, Adrian Hoven.

This was a film Hoven had written for himself to star in and direct. Having raised partial finance for the project, he needed the balance and distribution. The major German distributor, Gloria Film had expressed interest but only if the film was made for the English-speaking market with an appropriately marketable star and director. They agreed to the package of Dina Lom's ex-husband, Herbert Lom as the star and current "hot property", Michael Armstrong as director.

The first problem arose when Armstrong read the script Hoven had written. Entitled, The Witch-Hunt Of Dr Dracula, it was, to quote Armstrong, "As if he'd seen Witchfinder General on Monday, Dracula on Tuesday and stuck the two together with a non-stop confection of hard-core porn, sexual sadism straight out of de Sade and what read to me like a Nuremberg rally speech at the end!"

Armstrong turned the movie down.

"Frankly, I was bewildered why Dina [his agent] had even considered it for me," he says, "Then when I spoke to her about it, I found out she hadn't actually read it and neither had Herbert [Lom]."

Following a further discussion with Hoven, it was agreed that Armstrong could re-write the screenplay as he saw fit. With that proviso, Armstrong agreed to do the film.

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Mark Of The Devil - Screenplay

Mark Of The Devil

Over the years, an accrument of rumours and vague recollections by actors and others have resulted in a great deal of misinformation finding its way into print regarding the making of this film. (One "authority" even states that it was shot in 3D). To correct this and prevent further speculation, here are the facts about Mark Of The Devil.

The screenplay: The reason for the screenplay being credited to the fictional name of Sergio Casstner was because a further non-German name on the credits would, technically, have exceeded the permitted number of non-German workers on the film to qualify for government tax incentives. A similar system to protect jobs operated in most countries including the UK.

Agreeing to this technicality of a credit, Armstrong started work on re-writing the screenplay.

Mark Of The Devil

According to Armstrong, "There was no actual plot, as such, in Adrian's script, The Witch Hunt Of Dr Dracula. The first few pages started out with Albino, a witchfinder, raping, torturing and burning girls as witches. His lust for a particular girl, Vanessa, who worked in the inn, led him to rape, torture and condemn her as a witch. The arrival of Gadshill Cromwell, an English witch-hunter with his assistant, Jeff Wilkins, meant even more girls being tortured and burnt. It was then revealed - round about page twenty, I think it was - that Gadshill Cromwell was actually Dracula and his coachman was a mummy. From what I can best remember of the next rambling hundred or so pages: Dracula then had all the village girls taken up to his cave inhabited by witches and subjected to a series of depraved sexual tortures, including anal and vaginal impalings presumably inspired by Vlad the Impaler. At the end, the witches flew off into the night while a voice-over spoke of a new generation rising up to conquer the world. Believe me - it really, really was irredeemably awful!"

Armstrong took as a starting point, Hoven's opening idea of a local amateur witchfinder finding his power usurped by the arrival of a State witchfinder, and set about writing a completely new screenplay which he called Mark Of The Devil.

"What interested me was the idea that the terrible things a local amateur might do are nothing to what the State will do once it takes over in the name of God and justice. I have always found it alarming how institutionalised religion so often provides justification for people to commit the most appalling crimes in the name of a loving and forgiving God."

It was a theme he had initially explored in his first stage play, The Rise And Fall Of Armageddon.

Michael Armstrong

"I set about researching the historical torture and execution of witches in Europe," he continues. "What really got to me was the crudeness of the methods used - there was nothing remotely sophisticated about them - and so I wanted to make a movie that was not only authentic but remorseless in its depiction of torture - not so much trying to shock the audience with one particularly graphic scene but rather to erode any sense of voyeurism by depicting sheer unrelenting non-stop brutality from start to finish - and with no easy, compromising feel-good ending."

Of certain scenes: "It was during this research I discovered having one's tongue torn out by the roots was the common punishment for blasphemy. There were, also, a couple of actual case-histories buried in Hoven's script which I used: one of a nun who had been raped by a bishop - incorporating speeches taken from trial transcripts of the time. The other was the case of a young baron who had been accused of witchcraft so that the Church could steal his estate - an idea which I expanded into an integral storyline within the whole. I also created the role of Christian, to provide a pivotal centre-point between the lofty bigotry, spiritual hypocrisy and corruption of the Established Church epitomised by Lord Cumberland, and the simplistic rural pagan-based ideas of Life embodied in the character of Vanessa."

The 1st draft of Mark Of The Devil was completed in four weeks and sent to Hoven and Herbert Lom.

Herbert Lom

Lom, as yet not contracted to the film, was unaware of Hoven's script, The Witch-Hunt Of Dr Dracula and, consequently only read Mark Of The Devil, which he liked and asked to meet with Armstrong to discuss his character.

At the time, Lom was in England filming Jess Franco's Dorian Gray with Helmut Berger. Meeting on set, Lom's only request for changes involved the character's implied homosexuality. Bowing to the star's sensitivities, Armstrong found Lom was happier to be impotent rather than a closet gay and he agreed to make the appropriate adjustments. Lom's only other request was to have a "nose". He felt the character needed a larger nose than his own.

Pleased that his star was happy with the script and agreeing to do the film, Armstrong flew to Munich to meet Hoven for the start of pre-production and was shocked to find Hoven not only hated the screenplay but claimed that the distributors, Gloria Film, preferred Hoven's original The Witch-Hunt Of Doctor Dracula.

Mark Of The Devil

Armstrong, still recovering from the traumas of The Haunted House Of Horror, allowed his agent to resolve the problem. As Herbert Lom had agreed to do Mark Of The Devil, there was clearly no way that the Dr Dracula script could re-emerge in any form but, to appease Hoven and, as Hoven was claiming more importantly, to appease the distributors as well, Armstrong was advised by his agent to compromise and incorporate some of Hoven's concerns into the screenplay as part of the 2nd draft.

Changes made, additional to Cumberland's sexual problem, included further authentic speeches from trial transcripts, the inclusion from Dr Dracula of a modified whipping scene with Vanessa and Albino and the enlargement of a role for the father of a family arrested for puppetry. The reason for this became clear later when Hoven cast himself as the father and his son, Percy, as the young boy.

Involved in pre-production work by day and re-writes in the evening, Armstrong recalls, "It was exhausting - especially the nightly script battles with Adrian, but I'd learnt a lot from Haunted House on ways to protect my work so, in the end, very little ended up compromised from my original screenplay."

Mark Of The Devil

Only days before shooting was due to commence, a make-or-break meeting was called by Gloria Film, the distributors. "I'd been led to believe, all along, by Adrian that Gloria Film hated my screenplay and preferred his original Dr Dracula script. I went in to the meeting all ready to do battle and was completely floored by the head of the company saying how much he loved Mark Of The Devil and wanted nothing to do with Dr Dracula which, incredibly, Adrian was still pushing to them as the movie he wanted to make. When we left the meeting, Adrian had his required guarantee for the picture and I anticipated we would now be heading for a trouble-free shoot. I assumed he'd be as delighted as I was until he said, vehemently, 'I want to kill myself. This is not the picture I want to make!' I knew, then, I was in for a bumpy ride. In fact, as I recall, I think that was probably the last polite conversation we had with each other."

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Mark Of The Devil - Casting

Udo Kier

Cumberland: Herbert Lom, like Armstrong, was part of the financing package.

Christian: Udo Kier was cast by Armstrong. He had specifically created the role for him, following earlier roles he had written for Kier in the unrealised A Floral Tale and The Kinky Death-Wish Of Vernon Slim.

Vanessa: Yugoslavian star, Olivera Vuco had been signed for Vanessa by Hoven after he had seen her in Happy Gypsies at Cannes earlier in the year. She was also part of the package.

Albino: Although Hoven already had Reginald Nalder in mind, Anton Diffring was also considered for the role. As a trivia note, the young man who gets stabbed in the bedroom after making love was cast upon Diffring's recommendation.

Baron Daumer: Like Udo Kier, Michael Maien was considered a rising young star in Germany at the time and consequently cast as a supporting name.

The remainder of the actors were all recommended to Armstrong by the casting director and Hoven and were cast by mutual consent.

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Mark Of The Devil - Shooting

Mark Of The Devil

Shooting: The majority of the film was shot in and around a castle overlooking Mauterndorf, a tiny village, an hour's drive from Salzburg, in the heart of the Lungau valley in the Tauern alps.

Castle Mauterndorf had been built in 1253 under the sponsorship of Pope Innocent IV, seized by the Turks in 1462 but reverted back to the control of Salzburg in 1490 and then remained under the order of Salsburg Cathedral as an administration centre until 1806. Restored in the 19th Century, it is now a museum carefully preserved with its period furniture and artifacts intact.

Mark Of The Devil

Virtually nothing needed to be altered or adjusted for the film's period, including the old cemetery outside the castle walls. Only the prison cells needed to be constructed. Rooms were redressed for the tavern in which Vanessa works. Almost all the torture instruments, chains and props were authentic, including the thumbscrews and those used for the famous tongue-tearing sequence.

Cumberland's coach was also authentic and thought to have been used, on occasion, by one of the castle's resident staff, a dwarf employed there as the regional witch hunter - the character on which Albino was loosely based. His room, however, proved too small for filming purposes.

Street and town scenes, were filmed in Krems on the river Danube with a days 2nd unit shooting in Vienna.

As Armstrong arrived in Mauterndorf to commence shooting, major problems were already in occurrence. Sound equipment had been left behind in Munich so the picture was shot without live sound. Contracts with artistes were such that individuals would suddenly disappear for a couple of days without warning to make a commercial in Munich, which made scheduling almost impossible. Copies of the final shooting script were not available for the cast so amended scenes were being individually typed up each night. Olivera Vuco was alternating on a weekly basis between filming Mark Of The Devil in Austria and a film about Goya in Moscow. As Armstrong recalls, "At least she brought back weekly supplies of Russian caviar for us all." To complicate matters further, the cast and crew were so mixed internationally that seven different languages were operative on the film. This meant that to communicate, Armstrong would sometimes have to speak through two or even three people before being understood. Not speaking German also gave Armstrong a terrible disadvantage in having control of his set, especially when Hoven attempted to try and take over the shooting.

Mark Of The Devil

"On the second day, we virtually had a stand-up fight on set as to whether or not Udo should stand or remain seated in his first encounter with Reggie [Nalder]. It was almost impossible to get anything filmed, we were arguing so much both on and off set. It was a ridiculous waste of valuable shooting time!"

To add to his problems, the Director of Photography, Ernst Kalinke, a strictly old school German and longtime friend of Hoven, resented Armstrong's youth and his being English, and was determined to shoot the film his way. On the first day, his attitude resulted in a running battle between them for virtually every shot. It started with Kalinke lining up a shot contrary to Armstrong's instructions and reached breaking point when Kalinke used a prismatic lens without Armstrong knowing. The resultant row and Hoven's refusal to fire Kalinke meant that Armstrong and his Director of Photography did not speak to each other for the remainder of the film. Instead, Armstrong worked exclusively with the young camera operator and left a resentful Kalinke to concentrate solely on his lighting.

"The majority of the crew were young, extremely supportive and a delight to work with - as were the cast. Really, the only sour voices on the shoot were Adrian and Kalinke who, I believe, had known each other as far back as the war. Between the two of them, it was a nightmare. I was on the phone to Dina [his agent] just about every night of that first week telling her I wanted the situation resolved or I wanted off the picture. She kept reassuring me that Hoven would behave himself and that once Herbert [Lom] arrived in the second week, everything would be different."

Mark Of The Devil

She proved to be right. As Herbert Lom arrived in Mauterndorf, Hoven returned to Munich and, for the first time, shooting went smoothly and happily. Even communication on set proved simpler as Lom could speak fluent German and was able to translate Armstrong's requirements when language problems arose. The re-appearance by Hoven for a couple of days also presented no problems. He was accompanied by a couple of journalists which, together with Lom's presence, prevented any on-set fights. They watched the tongue-tearing scene, did a couple of interviews and returned to Munich with Hoven the following day. By the fifth week, all the footage with Lom had been completed successfully.

As Lom departed, Armstrong continued shooting without problems until Hoven re-appeared and announced that he was now going to be the film's 1st assistant director and work on set to translate Armstrong's instructions to the non-English speaking extras during shooting of the crowd scenes.

"At first it seemed okay," recounts Armstrong, "We were shooting what was left of the attack on the castle. All Herbert's footage had already been filmed. So, I'd line up the shots and Adrian kept himself occupied controlling the extras. Of course, I had no idea what he was telling them to do but once he started getting carried away again, we started fighting. I'd really had enough by this time and was on the phone to my agent, wanting to get off the picture. She warned me that if I walked I'd not get paid the balance of my fee so I tried to get him to fire me. When that didn't seem to work, I ended up having a screaming match with him, telling him to fire me, which he refused to do because he said he needed my name on the picture. Then, he announced he was going to go and shoot his own torture scenes while I finished off in the cemetery, so for a couple of days we had two units shooting. I really didn't care anymore. I'd already shot the majority of the movie. Everything that mattered was in the can. The stuff left was very straightforward; the final cemetery scene and a couple of isolated cut-away scenes which couldn't deviate from what was very specifically scripted. So, while I finished off in the cemetery, Adrian filmed his own water torture, the rabbit shots and, I think he may have gone out for the half day's 2nd unit work with the coach run-bys."

Mark Of The Devil Missing Ending

For the final week's shooting, the unit moved to the town of Krems for the market-place and street scenes.

"I decided for the few scenes left, I'd try a less stressful approach to the whole problem of trying to deal with Adrian. I knew I was going to be at a severe diasdvantage now as I was about to face a complete non-English speaking crowd, bit-part actors, Adrian himself and his small son Percy. So, I decided to change tactics and play by a new set of rules. I'd tell him the action I wanted, check the camera was lined up okay then sit back and let him get on and play director before the crowds. As far as Percy's footage was concerned, it was logical to let Adrian direct his son and, surprisingly, Adrian's own scene presented no problem as he was too occupied with his performance to concern himself with anything else. It certainly made my life a whole lot easier and it stopped the on-set rows. The picture was still getting made as I intended, if in a slightly bizarre manner, and Adrian was happy running the set as a hands-on 1st - although I think my telling him what I wanted was just about the only time conversation passed between us."

Mark Of The Devil

Despite the surface cordiality on set, the rift between Armstrong and Hoven had remained unchanged and Armstrong was desperately unhappy.

"By the end of the shoot, I couldn't get back to England quickly enough and recover from the whole ordeal and I'm sure he was equally glad to see the back of me."

Armstrong returned to London, tired and severely depressed. "I was twenty-five, I'd made two shorts and two features - and three out of the four had been huge battlegrounds between myself and my producers. To have had all the realities of the industry thrown at me in such a concentrated period of time really was a baptism by fire. I didn't even know if I wanted to work in the business any more after all I'd gone through; it had been so soul-destroying."

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Mark Of The Devil -
Post Production

Mark Of The Devil

Post Production: This was done in Munich by Hoven. Armstrong remained in the UK.

"Adrian didn't want me around, obviously, and I didn't want to be around either, by that time. I'd really had enough of just about everything. Also, I wasn't too concerned about the editing," he points out, "because I always cut in camera - an old director's trick which producers hate because it means you can only edit the film one way and leaves the editor with virtually no room to manoeuvre."

Armstrong remained in the UK throughout the rest of post-production, including the sound dub.

Mark Of The Devil Missing Ending

He continues, "When I did eventually see the finished result just about every shot was pretty much in the right order, albeit somewhat crudely put together. My only complaints were the ghastly voice over of Christ's words on the cross, the abrupt muzak outbursts every time Christian and Vanessa look at each other in the early scenes and the inappropriate use of Chopin during the sex scene - which is the only confused piece of editing as I'd shot it for a montage of dissolves."

Of the famous missing end scene where the dead rise from their graves to claim Christian from Vanessa, he says: "I gather they had no idea of its meaning in the film or what to do with it. Even my PA who had been overseeing the cut had no idea how I'd planned to incorporate the footage, so they simply didn't use it. It's a pity."

Mark Of The Devil Vomit Bag

Distribution: The film premiered in Germany and became one of the year's biggest box-office successes. When screened at the Cannes Film Festival, it achieved such notoriety that it became the talk of the marketplace for years afterwards.

At the time, no film had ever shown violence so relentlessly and with such uncompromising brutality on a screen. Many countries, including the UK, banned the film outright or enforced cuts as savage as the reviews. Despite this, wherever it played, it broke box office records and provoked outcry and controversy. In particular, it proved to be one of the year's major box-office sensations when it opened in America, where the film's distributors, Hallmark, notoriously came up with the gimmick of issuing vomit bags in the theatres. Plans to open it in the UK however, collapsed when the film was banned outright. The complete uncut version of the film is still banned in the UK theatrically, on video and on DVD.

Even today, the film, now widely considered to be one of the top all-time cult classics of the horror genre, still courts controversy and engenders as much vehement criticism as it does fanatical adulation.

"Looking back," Armstrong concludes, "It was yet another learning ground. Why Adrian behaved the way he did, I've really no idea. I think, possibly, like Kalinke [Director of Photography], he may have resented my age. I encountered that quite a lot in those days, in the same way I encountered quite a lot of jealousy from certain people who should have known better. Today, it's easy to forget how different things were then and how - well - unique, really, the idea of my being a director at such a young age and with no background was, at that time. I mean, people like Adrian had been in the business for years and built a Mark Of The Devilcareer for themselves in a tough industry where you're expected to pay your dues. I must have appeared not only very presumptious but a threat - because, in effect, my insisting on doing what I wanted to do meant he'd lost control of his own movie - and, of course, originally this was a project he'd personally written and wanted to direct, so for me to come and, in effect, sweep him under the carpet and come up with a completely different movie - ? I mean, he never really got Dr Dracula out of his head. That was the movie he'd wanted to make and that was the movie he expected me to make - not Mark Of The Devil. So, really there we were: a producer still trying to make one film while his director was making another. He was also very much of the older German school of "Storm und drang" whereas I, of course, came from the English/American film background of a post war generation. I'm sure he was, in private, a charming and delightful man. I certainly didn't have any problems with him except in connection with the film, itself, but by the end, the rift was so great between us there was no way we could even have been left in the same room together. I especially felt sorry for his wife, Joyce, who was a lovely lady and, I believe, was genuinely distressed to see us fighting so much. I remember, during the early days in Munich, she did so much to try and calm things down and get everything back onto a friendly and harmonious way of working but, ultimately, it proved impossible."

It was as a direct response to The Haunted House Of Horror and Mark Of The Devil that Armstrong swore he would never direct a film again unless he had creative and producing control.

"Other film makers had managed it. I had to learn how they achieved that," he explains. "I had to learn how to play 'front office' in order to protect my creative work" - and so I completely changed my career path from that point onwards.

Mark Of The Devil

Mark Of The Devil 2 (German title: Hexen geschändet und zu Tode gequält) et al: Despite certain listings where the pseudonym Sergio Casstner appears as one of the screenwriters, Armstrong had nothing to do with Mark Of The Devil 2 at any stage. When approached, Armstrong refused even to discuss it. As a consequence, Hoven, now making creative and directorial claims for the original film's success, was able to achieve, with the sequel, what he'd wanted to do with the original film. He wrote, directed and produced Mark Of The Devil 2, himself. Alongside Anton Diffring and Reginald Nalder, he again, cast himself and his son, Percy in lead roles.

The resultant film, however, failed to achieve any kind of interest, following or box office success.

Mark Of The Devil 3, Mark Of The Devil 4, Mark Of The Devil 5 and Mark Of The Devil 6 were simply USA distributors' title changes to acquired product, hoping to cash in on the original.

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