“Hope died last night.”
Demonic-possession was a staple of 70’s cinema, largely due to the world-wide success of The Exorcist (1973), but while many of the films that followed in the wake of Friedkin’s classic seemed to wallow in depravity, few followed this strategy to the extremes of The Devil Inside Her. Set at the beginning of the 19th century, it’s the story of a devoutly religious family and the horrors that stem from two sisters falling in love with the same man. When Hope (Jody Maxwell) overhears muscular farmhand Joseph (Dean Tait) asking her sister Faith (Terri Hall) to run away with him, she wanders into the woods verbalising her distress. In doing so – completely inadvertently – she invokes a devil and condemns those around her to a nightmare from which they may never escape.
Although it’s not a scenario brimming with obvious erotic potential, Zebedy Colt’s twisted tale does contain copious carnality – consensual and otherwise. The devil’s means of wreaking havoc is to assume the form of the earth-bound characters, and undermine their relationships with his unbridled degeneracy. His first act is to morph into Joseph, a guise which he uses to seduce Hope and rape Faith. Thereafter, the shape-shifting proceeds at a dizzying pace, as one family member after another falls victim to his trickery and manipulation. The outrages culminate, perhaps predictably, in an incredibly debauched, orgiastic ceremony – a ceremony in which Hope and Faith are assigned two very different roles.
Cheap, primitive and badly acted, The Devil Inside Her remains utterly compelling due to it’s relentless onslaught of weirdness and excess. Many films from this period featured scenes of, for example, coercion, but the dementia apparent herein is of an entirely different order. The tone is more akin to an underground movie – or a particularly wild exploitation film – than a sex film, rendering the frequently shocking the sexual aspects only half the story.
While the merits of its thematic concerns will reside largely in the eye of the beholder, there can be little doubt that this was made quickly and cheaply. Indeed, I was very surprised to find that it was made after Colt’s accomplished Virgin Dreams. The overwhelming majority of The Devil Inside Her takes place outdoors – which goes some way towards alleviating the need for props and period details – but more could have been made of the stunning locations and the prevalence of zooms point to a low budget and hurried shooting schedule. As for the special effects, they barely warrant the name, with one character transforming into another courtesy of a puff of smoke and glaringly obvious ‘jump’ cut. The climactic orgy isn’t a shining example of cinematic technique either, with excessive infernal lighting and some appallingly mismatched hardcore inserts.
The acting, well, it’s extremely hokey but not entirely inappropriate. The film appears to have been shot without direct sound, and the post-sync dubbing simply adds to the other-worldly atmosphere. Colt himself – playing the Father – sports an extremely unconvincing beard, and Nancy Dare – as the Mother – an equally obvious wig. Taken as a whole, the artifice begins to look like a deliberate stylistic choice – almost Warhol-esque , although we’ll probably never know for sure. Finally on the subject of aesthetics, Rob Dumont makes for a particularly menacing devil, with his KISS-style make-up and studded leather choker. The seventies apparel does tend to undermine the period-setting though.
Ultimately, it’s difficult to call The Devil Inside Her ‘good’ without stretching the word beyond all recognition. It’s weak from a technical point of view and questionable from most others, nevertheless, it’s not a film that’s easily forgotten. Whether by accident or design, Colt and co. have fashioned a sex-film that will offend more people than it excites, that’s more likely to provoke nocturnal terrors than emissions, and that’s all the more interesting as a result. Some of the most memorable Golden Age films seem determined to alienate their natural audience, and so it is here. The impoverished production values are hardly unprecedented, but the dark imagery and transgressive sexual activity will be anathema to many hardcore fans. They might not be such a barrier to fans of underground or ‘psychotronic’ cinema.