You can’t really go wrong with Peter Cushing, so expressively constrained he carries menace or blessed determination with him as two side of an innately-intense dichotomy that makes him compel even in the mildest of films. So powerful is the Cushing aura that it even works over a distance of forty years and, as recently seen, in CGI form.
In this film, also known as Land of the Minotaur, he is let down by a pedestrian script and some reptilian directing from Kostas Karagiannis even though there is still plenty to entertain. The screen is as sun-bleached as the parched locations and the pace a strength-sapping climb in arid Grecian hills but events are enlivened by an interesting electronic score from Brian Eno as well as the tight-fit presence of Luan Peters.
|Donald Pleasence and the magnificent Luan Peters|
A couple of western tourists have vanished under mysterious circumstances… well, mysterious to the Father but we’ve already seen their ritual slaughter before the title credits, as mysteries go this is more Columbo than Murder She Wrote. The priest is convinced it’s the return of an ancient evil and, unable to trust the local police - Fernando Bislamis is great as Sgt Vendris: an officer with so many things on his mind… calls on a favour from an old friend.
|Jane Lyle and Kostas Karagiorgis|
|Vanna Reville, Nikos Verlekis and Donald|
They present Father Roche with an old ring with the image of a Minotaur cast on it but he tries to put them off investigating the location where it was found: there’s danger there he knows it.
Will they listen? Will they heck… Off they scoot in the mystery machine and set up camp on the edge of a foreboding walled town up in the mountains… The following Beth takes the combi and her short-shorts into the village to buy some provisions. She is briefly held spellbound by a strange child in the store, whilst her pants have a similar effect on male shoppers.
Outside, struggling with her shopping and her mighty mid-seventies platform shoes, she meets an even stranger presence in the form of Baron Corofax (Peter Cushing) who charms her immediately with his serpentine stare and easy charm. Cushing conveys so much evil intent even as he smiles at the young woman casting his eyes heavenward as if in challenge to his master’s ultimate enemy. The Baron presents as trustworthy old money but all his chivalry is masking something unpleasant and as Beth smiles sweetly in her suddenly vulnerable hipster clothing we know she’s in for trouble.
|The Baron, the kombi-van and the shorts...|
Cut to someone new as another jet brings in Laurie Gordon (Luan Peters) in search of her missing boyfriend… she joins the priest and the private eye and the three drive out to the mysterious town where the young white couples have gone a-missing. There’s a bit of funny about Milo’s driving – New York minutes past too fast for Father Roche and soon they are mingling with the sinister villages, their something to hide attitudes clear for all to see.
|Donald, Luan and Kostas|
The trio stay at the local inn – home to the starey-eyed girl and her nervous father. It’s been a long dusty trip and so, hooray, Laurie decides to have a bath! This is good news for so many men of my age and the sight of Luan Peters in bubble-bath is not at all gratuitous as it allows the director to illustrate her vulnerability, which is, after all, next to clenliness… a window creaks and hooded faces look through, seven levels of moral perversions on their mind. Milo arrives to find Laurie fainted and steadfastly refuses to believe her story… got to string this one out a little further.
|And the Oscar for best use of soap goes to...|
So, in the interests of plot exposition, perhaps it’s a good thing that Laurie is next to vanish, carelessly left behind as the players align and this all boils down to a battle between the Baron and the Priest and Milo’s humanistic brute force against the hooded hoards’ pagan force.
|The fearless Minotaur cult hunters|
Dusty Verdict: The Devil’s Men is worth a look for sunshine, Luan and the two old masters but the story is a little lacking in impact. Almost every move is telegraphed from Milo’s hackneyed Greco-Manhatten attitudes to the inevitability of those sacrificed and even those saved.
Kostas Karagiannis directs with a deliberate hand and, whilst there are some good moments, these are never sustained and in the end everything is a just little too neat. Cushing and Pleasence do their best but there’s precious little for Luan to do other than scream, take a bath and wear the most outrageously tight white trousers, whilst Kostas Karagiorgis fires off one liners with as little effect as his bullets against the Minotaur’s followers.
The Devil’s Men is available on DVD from all the usual sources.