Joe Sarno’s Veil of Blood / The Devil’s Playthings is a 1973 attempt at gothic erotic horror that has an impressive sense of style and atmosphere, but which is rather lacking in action.
Swedish sex kitten (and frequent Sarno star in the early Seventies) Marie Forsa headlines the cast as Helga, one of two young women who turn up at a remote castle to claim a potential inheritance. She’s joined by Monica (Ulrike Butz) and her blousy friend Iris (Flavia Keyt) and brother and sister Peter and Julia (Nico Wolferstetter, recognisable from Lasse Braun’s Sensations, and Anke Syring) who all find themselves staying at the castle, run by sinister Frau Krock (Nadja Henkowa). We know she’s a wrong ‘un because we’ve already seen her leading dark and naked occult rituals taking place in the castle dungeon, and sure enough, she is trying to decided which of the potential heiresses is the reincarnation of a vampiric baroness (clearly a Countess Bathory substitute) who was burned at the stake for drinking the blood of young virgins.
Cue plenty of softcore fumbling – mostly from the nubile Forsa – and extensive naked rituals, complete with penis-shaped candles, body paint and a single, rather smug looking male witch amongst the coven (which includes sexy Claudia Fielers, better known as the subject of sleazy exploitation documentary The Evolution of Snuff following her suicide aged 28). Between all this, Syring, an expert on vampires who has figured out what is going on, wanders around clashing rather sonambulistically with Honkowa while trying to warn the others. One by one, though, they all fall under the spell of the vampire cult and eventually the gorgeous Butz is revealed as the reincarnated vampire.
Veil of Blood has an atmosphere and style not dissimilar to Jean Rollin’s erotic vampire films (which Sarno may or may not have been aware of), mixing the gothic, the weird and the sexy quite effectively. Where the film is let down is by the pacing, which is deliberately slow, and the decision to shoot in English, which is not the native tongue of any of the performers. This inevitably means that the dialogue – and there is a lot of dialogue – is at best flatly delivered in a ‘phonetically memorised’ style, and at worst is quite incomprehensible. This DVD does have a German language dubbed alternative soundtrack – but no subtitles, so unless you speak German, it doesn’t help. However – the flat performances and delivery do seem to add an additional sense of other-wordliness to the film. Sexually, the film isn’t overly explicit, although you suspect that there was more shot than we see – while passed uncut by the BBFC, it’s notable that a couple of scenes have suspiciously brutal editing just as it looks as though things are getting rude. While never a hardcore film, it’s probable that this movie – like a lot of early 70s softcore – once skirted as close to the edge as it dared, and that this edition has been shorn of some raunchier moments.
Pacing and performances aside, Sarno is experienced and talented enough to ensure that the film looks remarkable – the visual style is unique and there is always something interesting to catch your eye. Like Radley Metzger, Sarno was an American sexploitation director who found a niche at the end of the 1960s in Europe, before returning home in the mid-Seventies to take up the inevitable career in hardcore, and his involvement ensures that this film feels unlike any other European or American horror film of the era, instead having that strange hybrid style he made his own.
The studied pacing, lengthy scenes of topless ritual dancing and odd performances guarantee that this is not for everyone. But fans of strange 1970s erotic horror will find much here to please them. The DVD comes complete with a brief but welcome video interview about the film with Sarno.