There’s just something about evil, Satanic priests, isn’t there? I mean, it’s an idea that worked in Fulci’s City Of The Living Dead (where the priest became a zombie) and Carpenter’s Vampires (where the priest became — surprise! — a vampire), among others, so hey, even Nick Millard can’t mess it up, right?
Well, yes and no. 1975’s Satan’s Black Wedding is probably the closest thing to a technically accomplished Millard film (and yes, this is an actual, honest-to-goodness film, shot on real 35mm and everything!), but it’s still haphazardly (to put it kindly) edited, prone to incongruous sound drop-outs (and drown-outs when dialogue gets buried beneath the library-track musical score), and strangely blocked so that the actors look like they’re actually addressing no one in particular when they’re supposed to be holding conversations with people who are right there on set with them, but hey — that’s all just part of the charm, right?
Where this shot-in-San-Francisco 63-minute “feature” unquestioningly succeeds, though — even by typical “good” movie standards — is in creating a Hammer-like atmosphere on a tiny fraction of the average Hammer film’s budget. To be sure, the story itself is a mess, revolving as it does around a bereaved brother (Greg Braddock) investigating the ritualistic suicide of his sister (Lisa Milano) only to come across a priest-turned-Satan-worshiper-turned-vampire (Ray Myles) who may have played a part in sis Nina’s demise and is working on a dastardly plan to — well, I’ve seen this thing three times now and I still can’t tell you what Myles’ Father Daken character is exactly after, and the ending, which finally goes some way (mind you only some way) toward making sense of the title seems to have been dropped into the movie out of nowhere just to wrap things up quickly, but in fairness to Millard (who once again is directing this one under his frequently-used “Nick Philips” pseudonym) he does manage to make the journey itself interesting, even if the final destination is a muddled, poorly-thought-out amalgamation of “ideas” that don’t exactly gel together in any way, shape, or form.
And on the subject of things we need to make allowances for, the acting in this flick is so subpar that it’s almost breathtaking to behold at times, particularly Braddock’s Mark Gray character, who supposedly functions as our point of audience identification given that he’s the protagonist and all, but frankly has all the charisma of a soggy cardboard pizza box. Myles gives it a go as the dastardly living-dead priest, but apart from that everyone is is clearly just going through the motions. At least those motions are drenched in a pleasingly creepy little helping of dark and foreboding atmospherics, though, with Millard employing low lighting, genuinely interesting camera angles, and more-authentic-looking-than-they-have-any-right-to-be-given-this-flick’s-$10,ooo-or-so-budget sets to good effect and proving to his detractors that he’s not just some hack who only knows how to point, shoot, and get the thing in the can.
So yeah — masterful stuff this most assuredly isn’t, but given its often painfully obvious limitations, Satan’s Black Wedding gets the job done a whole heck of a lot better than any right-thinking person would think possible. It doesn’t rise above the level of “pleasant little time-waster” by any means, but considering what (and who) he had to work with, the fact that Millard even came away with that much is pretty damn remarkable. The end result doesn’t necessarily make a whole lot of sense, but it’s definitely a consistently-engaging and in some respects even surprisingly well-executed head-scratcher.It’s also worth noting that the DVD it’s featured on , namely Shock-O-Rama’s “Nick Philips Horror Trilogy,” is a damn solid little package that includes not only Satan’s Black Wedding, but Criminally Insane and Criminally Insane 2, as well. While CI2 comes with no extras that relate to it specifically, both Satan’s Black Wedding and the first CI come with Millard commentary tracks moderated by 42nd Street Pete (that frankly aren’t that great and often contain interminably long periods of no one talking — but hey, Nick does at least try to explain the ending for this one, to the extent that he even can) as well as superb “making-of” featurettes that actually go a lot further in terms of explaining how and why these movies got made than the commentaries do. All in all it’s an extremely worthwhile release that can usually be found at a very affordable, even bargain-basement, price. The picture transfer is a nicely-enough-remastered full-frame job and sound is 2.0 mono which does the best it can given the wildly uneven quality of the original source material. All of which is not only perfectly adequate, but even appropriate, given the “we’re doing what we can with what we’ve got” ethos of Millard’s work in general.